This curious figure of speech seems to have been originated by
the mistranslation in the Authorized Version. Usually the mind is
able to form a literal picture which is like the thought presented
by the figure. But I have never been able to see the parallel
here. A mat often lies at my door, but sin is not at all like a
doormat. The thought which is usually extracted from this phrase
is something like this: If thou doest not well, sin is the cause
of [your evil deeds or] your non-acceptance. This would imply that
Abel was accepted for his well-doing, which is most misleading,
for his sacrifice was accepted, not he himself, apart from it.
The figure extracted from these words leads to a deplorable
misunderstanding, and it is greatly to be regretted that it should
mislead a reader of the Bible just as he is about to enter the
door of divine revelation.
A concordant rendering falls right in line with the vital
revelation of the passage. It reads: "At the opening a sin
[offering] is reclining." True, there is no extra word for
offering in the Hebrew, but this is the case in hundreds of
other places. It is the well-known figure of association. A thing
is called by the name of the most pertinent part. A ship may be
called a sail or a steamer when we refer to its movement, a
bottom when we speak of its cargo. So a sin offering is usually
called a sin in numerous places in Exodus and Leviticus and
Numbers, and is so translated in our revered Authorized Version
(Ex.29:14, etc., Lev.4:3, etc., Num.6:11, etc.) Jehovah is not
blaming Cain for his misconduct in general, but for his failure to shelter
himself under a sacrificial offering,
such as his brother had brought.
RESTORATION, NOT DESIRE
I have often puzzled over the meaning of the next sentence:
"unto thee shall be his desire." The only antecedent for "his"
seems to be sin. Shall sin's desire be unto Cain? But why waste
time over an insoluble mistranslation? A restored Hebrew text and
a concordant version present no difficulty. It reads: "for you is
its restoration." The Hebrew really reads thshubthu. The
stem shuq denotes RUN-ABOUT. But the Septuagint reads apostrophe
FROM-TURN. The nearest Hebrew stem which has a meaning similar to
this is shub RETURN. The Hebrew q is much like the b, and may
easily be mistaken for it in handwritten manuscripts. It was the
sin offering, which reclined at the door, to which the "his"
referred. For Cain was its restoration, but he refused to accept
it, and was not restored to fellowship with Jehovah.
RULE OVER IT, NOT HIM
In the languages of inspiration, the third person singular of
the verb may be either it, him, or her. Cain could hardly
rule over Adam, or over Eve. Neither had he the right to rule over
his brother, Abel. And he certainly could not rule over sin! But
Adam and his race were told to sway over the lower animals
(Gen.1:28). There is no doubt that Cain could do as he wished
with a sheep of the flock, which was so tame that it reclined at
the opening of the tent. So he had no excuse whatever. God had
provided a sin offering for him, just as He provided His Son to
be a sin offering for our sakes, that we may be becoming God's
righteousness in Him (2 Cor.4:21).
Much further truth along this line is furnished by Abraham
and his sons. But this may be the subject of a separate article.