“And the Angel of Yahweh called to Abraham — a second time from heaven. And he said, ‘In myself I swear, utters Yahweh; because of this thing that you have done in not sparing your son, your only one, I will surely bless you and your seed will surely be great as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the lip of the sea. And your seed will take possession of the gates of his enemies. And in your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed on account of your obeying my voice.”
“Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed; he did not say, ‘and to the seeds,’ as if it were to many, but to one. ‘And to your seed,’ which is Christ.”
The promise of God’s blessing does not go out to all of Abraham’s children, but through Isaac and his line. But when we get to the New Testament, a greater depth to God’s plan and design is unfolded in a way that helps us to see the plan and work of God. For in the ultimate sense, it is not through one’s biology that one inherits the promise of God, but through the great “Seed” or “Offspring” of Abraham, that is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the seed that was always in view here and the promise finds its meaning and fulfillment in Christ Jesus. Through faith in him, not through our biological lineage, we are made part of the inheritance of God.
Indeed, such was always the case, for it has always been through faith that men have been saved. Abraham believed (had faith in) God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3). And Paul continues that the promised does not come through the Law or works of the Law, but through the Righteousness of Faith (Romans 4:13). Why is this? It is because if we were able to earn salvation on our own merit, not only would the idea of God sending a Savior become nonsensical, but then there would also be no room for grace (Romans 4:16).
But if it is by grace, it is no longer by works, for grace would no longer be grace.
And thus, when God makes this promise to Abraham, he intentionally uses the singular of “seed” or “offspring” to make it clear that the inheritance is being guaranteed by one very special and distinct offspring of Abraham, Jesus the Christ. And in Christ, though faith, a multitude of believers from all of the nations have been brought in. How will the seed become a blessing to all of the nations? Surely, there is no greater blessing that comes than from hearing and believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Even here, in the promise given to Abraham, is the anticipation of the worldwide evangelistic campaign of believers seeking to fulfill the Great Commission.
And what about the gates of their enemies? That sounds pretty militaristic, particularly for a nation that has spent most of its history under the dominion of other nations. Again, we find language that anticipates the church and the consummation of all things. For what is it that Jesus tells Peter when he establishes the church?
And now I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
Notice the language of the Gates of Hell? As Christians, who is our enemy? All too often we get stuck in the mindset that there is no spiritual reality. Yet, what is it that the Apostle Paul teaches us regarding our true enemies?
“Put on the whole armor of God so that you will be able to stand against the schemes of the devil because we are not engaged against blood and flesh but against rulers and against powers and against the cosmic powers over this darkness and against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.”
Indeed, the gates of the enemy promised to Abraham are the gates of the strongholds of our enemy the devil. And like the Israelites were to put the cities of the pagan Canaanites to the sword, devoting them to destruction, we too are given the call to devote the spiritual strongholds in this world to destruction as well, for God will give us the gate of our enemies (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).
Yet with promises like this, how is it that Christians live such a timid life? It seems that we have abandoned the weapons of our warfare. We have abandoned discipline and discipleship and we have abandoned prayer. Sure, we may pray over our meals or for a friend who is having a hard time, but do we really pray with the expectation that God will act in this world? We may do our Bible studies, but do we really study the Bible as if we really believe that it is profitable for us in every area and venture of our lives (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? We read about putting on the whole armor of God, guarding our mind with the helmet of salvation and our hearts with righteous activity, but do we really seek to live that out? When we have a headache, what is our first action? Take an aspirin or pray? Not that there is anything wrong with taking an aspirin, God has blessed us with many medications and remedies for our aches and pains, but what do we do first? Do we live and act as if there are spiritual realities around us? If we do not, we are engaged in warfare with the wrong enemy … and we wonder why we are not prevailing!
While the pastor must confess that he will fail his flock, the world makes a different profession. The world says, “I will deceive them” or “I will ensnare them.” How much more sinister is this response than the one that went before, yet how often has this been our experience. The world promises us wealth and success if we just compromise this or that set of morals—which at first seems small, but like a drug, it demands more and more and more. At first it might take the form of justifying a little lie, then it may grow into envy coveting either the wealth or the success of another. Gradually it progresses from there onward. We end up make idols of the things of this world and in doing so, we compromise God’s law as a whole.
Jesus speaks of the cares of the age and the deception of riches as that which chokes the Word of God in our lives (Matthew 13:22). The cares of life often fill our days and rob us of sleep. We pretend that we are just trying to be responsible citizens and parents who provide for our families, but how often those words, while well intentioned, are placed in our mouths not by the Holy Spirit, but by those who are of this world. Yet this world and the things therein are passing away (1 John 2:17). While sounding noble, such cares betray a lack of reliance upon the promises of God to provide for his children.
The world masquerades its temptations as love and care for us, while in reality, the world hates us and the one we serve (John 15:19). Like a treacherous counselor, the world pretends to be our ally, all the while manipulating our thoughts and actions toward sedition against the great King and High Priest, Jesus Christ. Our ego is flattered and our lusts are excused. These are the ways of this world.
How essential it is for a person to keep their guard up against such treachery. The Apostle Paul warns us to be careful that no one takes us captive through vain or empty deceit (Colossians 2:8) and the author of Hebrews warns against the hardening that comes through the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). It is likely, though, that Paul offers the strongest warning on this matter to the church in Thessolanica when he warns that with the coming of Satan’s influence and that the reason we are ultimately deceived is because we have refused to love the Truth and in turn, rejected salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). How often we are guilty of desiring the so-called comforts of the world that we choose to allow ourselves to be deceived, yet do not consider this willful deception to be a rejection of God’s Truth!
How do we protect ourselves from this deception? The psalmist sets 8 principles before us in the second stanza of Psalm 119.
- We must guard our way according to God’s word (Psalm 119:9)
- We must seek God with our whole heart (Psalm 119:10)
- We must store up God’s word in our heart (Psalm 119:11)
- We must seek to learn God’s statutes (Psalm 119:12)
- We must declare to others the law of God (Psalm 119:13)
- We must delight in the testimony of God and in his ways (Psalm 119:14)
- We must meditate on God’s precepts (Psalm 119:15)
- We must delight in the law of God (Psalm 119:16)
Seek these things, the Psalmist insists, and you will guard the way that is before you. Deception is all around; do not fall prey to the wiles of the devil, but indeed, guard yourself with the whole armor of God which he has given to you (Ephesians 6:11).
Can Sin Crouch and can sin Desire?
Genesis 4:7 (ESV) “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
Literal Translation: “Will not, if you do good, to lift up? And if you do not do good, sin is laying at the door. And it’s longing is toward you, and you must rule over it.”
The question that was asked, is this passage simply personifying sin of does God’s word somehow suggest that sin is an entity which can act on its own volition? The simply answer to the question is that sin is being personified by God to emphasize the point that God is making with Cain. God wants Cain to truly understand the power that sin has over him, so the comparison that is being made is of a predator crouching in wait at the threshold of his home—ready to strike—and that it has a desire for Cain.
While the simple answer is that God is personifying sin for the sake of emphasis, perhaps the more interesting question is why might God have communicated in this way with Cain? To answer that question, we need to know something about what is literally being communicated.
First, as you can see above, the initial question, when translated literally, makes rather awkward and unintelligible English. And such is not overly unusual when going from one language to another—especially with idioms, so a few notes must be made up front. First of all, the Hebrew language often uses word order to add emphasis to those things that are found at the beginning of the sentence, though typically not as much so as Greek. In other words, what is being emphasized is God’s beginning question—“Won’t this take place…?” Oftentimes when my son has been disobedient, instead of just telling him that he was wrong, I will ask him a leading question so that he speaks the truth about his action. I might ask “Surely, you didn’t think that such and such was okay to do…,” and in doing so, add a great deal of emphasis on the word, “Surely.” Usually, when confronted in this way, my son responds by hanging his head and saying, “no, dad…” I think that the word order and structure of the initial question lends itself to this tone on the part of God. God knows that Cain knows right from wrong, God knows that Cain knows that he sinned, and God also knows that Cain knows that he needs to repent, but the leading question is designed to force Cain to respond properly—yet Cain’s heart is hardened and he refuses to repent.
The second thing that we need to note is the word af’n” (nasa), which means, “to lift up.” While this term broadly refers to picking or lifting up anything in particular, it is also sometimes used in a judicial sense to some being restored to favor before a king, as with the cupbearer being restored to his office in Genesis 40:13. That seems to be the context of its use in this particular pattern—if Cain does right (in this case, repenting of his heartless offering and make a proper offering, sacrificing what is first and best of his crops), then he will be forgiven. Thus, the concept that the ESV is seeking to capture as they translate this word as “be accepted” is this idea of Cain’s being restored to proper fellowship with God. Note too, that af’n” (nasa) is being used in it’s infinitive form, and thus carries with it no subject (as my translation above reflects), and though this makes awkward English, it is meant to remind us that in the repentance (doing what is good in God’s eyes), the process of lifting up—the process or legal restoration to his original position in the covenant community—takes place. Yet, of course, if he chooses what is not good, in comes sin.
This raises the issue with respect to what is “good” and what is the relationship between “good” and “sin.” The concept of “good” is understood in a number of ways, but in its absolute sense (from which we should derive our applications of the concept) only applies to God (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). Psalm 119:68 is the basis for this concept:
“You are good and you cause good to be;
teach me your statutes.”
Note the structure of this psalm. God is described as good—where the idea of “good” is functioning as a predicate nominative. In other words, “good” is being portrayed as part of God’s essential character and reciprocally, “good” cannot be defined apart from a discussion of God and who he is. The psalmist continues, though, by stating that not only is God good, but God’s work is good. This second use of the term good, moves from the adjectival use of the word Good (a reflection of God’s character) to the participial use of the term, reflecting his ongoing actions. In addition, the Hebrew uses the Hiphil stem of the verb in this case, which reflects causative action—in other words, God is the one who causes all good to come about.
One note that we need to make in relation to this is the way in which we use the term “good,” because even as Christians we rarely use it in its absolute sense. We often express the idea of good in relationship to our preferences, other people, or our general comfort. And while they are all legitimate uses of the term, “good,” the general term must derive its meaning from some sort of inviolable standard. God is the only one who can set such a standard. This, of course, provides a problem for unbelievers who reject God’s presence, but in rejecting God, to where will they turn for the measure of what is good? If they determine that preference determines the meaning of good, all intellectual interaction is reduced to meaningless babble—one can turn to the beginning of Genesis 11 to see what happens to a culture that cannot communicate with one another in any meaningful way. If the unbeliever looks outside of himself, to perhaps the state, for a standard for good, they are reduced to excusing Nazi Germany for their execution of millions of people, for those in government saw themselves as doing good for the German people. If you look to the Nuremburg trials, they defined good in terms of that which preserved life (though one might ask from where they adopted that absolute definition). Yet many who would advocate such a definition would also advocate abortions, which terminate the life of an unwanted baby. The unbeliever is reduced to an endless cycle of confusion and frustration unless he can appeal on some level to a supernatural standard, and then he has trapped himself in an unwanted contradiction. If you don’t accept God as being who he is—and being the source of the definition of good—then you cannot use the term in any meaningful sense. At the same time, this causes a great deal of practical difficulty for many Christians, because if you accept that God provides the absolute definition of what is good, we must define what is good on that basis, not on the basis of our own comfort or preferences—and that causes Romans 8:28 and similar passages to be taken in a very different light compared to how most Christians look at the passage. Thus, while God does work all things for my good, what is ultimately good for me is not my comfort, health, or financial blessing, but being conformed into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
So, for Cain to do good, he must repent from his sin—and in this case, sin stands as the direct opposite of good. The term we translate as “sin” in the Old Testament is taJ’x; (chattath), and is derived from the verb aj’x’ (chata), “to miss the mark” or “to fail to hit the target” (see Judges 20:16). And then, what are we missing when we sin? We are missing God’s perfect standard (Matthew 5:48). This, of course, is why we needed a redeemer who could come and live a perfect life on our behalf as well as to pay the debt we owed on account of sin (retributive justice). Thus sin is not an entity wandering about on its own, but it is the result of our failure to live up to God’s perfect standard—and willful sin, being that God has revealed his law, is an intentional missing of the standard, and is thus outward rebellion against God’s holy and good character.
There is one more note that we need to make on this passage, and that is of the language of “desire.” The Hebrew term employed in this verse is hq’WvT. (tishuqah), which refers to a “longing” or a “desire” for something. What is particularly interesting is that while this term is only used in two other places in the Old Testament, one of those places is in the previous chapter: Genesis 3:16 (the second other place is in Song of Solomon 7:10). What is also interesting about this is that in both of these cases (Genesis 3:16 and 4:7) the word lv;m’ (mashal) is used in conjunction with it. The verb lv;m’ (mashal) refers to ruling over something or someone. In both cases, the desire is defined as something that must be ruled over—in the first case, Adam ruling over Eve in spite of her desire for him (or for his position as many understand it) and in this case, Cain ruling over sin’s desire for him (or to destroy his relationship with God as part of the covenant community).
The reality is that the struggle with sin, while an inward spiritual struggle, is like wrestling against a wild beast seeking to destroy, but instead must be dominated and ruled over. Not only is God using this language to emphasize the urgency of Cain’s repentance, but also to communicate to us the very real battle that we face—one that is not a battle against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities and thus we must take up the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11-12).