Monday, May 27, 2013

God's reproof of Cain's evil anger

I recently quoted commentaries from John Calvin, John Gill, and Matthew Henry in answer to a question on the meaning of Genesis 4:7.
"If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him."

One surprising reply was this:
"Those are absurd commentaries, twisting the language to avoid the obvious. The passage is a direction for Cain to repent. It has nothing to do with Able [sic]. But when you deny free will, you have to twist God's words into something He did not say."

Nothing to do with Abel? Wasn't he the one who was murdered?

But to interpret it this way , "sin's desire shall be for you, but you shall rule over him" - I ask, how can sin (which is not a person) "desire"? And also, how can one say that Cain ruled over sin? Was it not the very opposite, that sin was Cain's ruler (cf. John 8:34; Rom. 6:16)?

And you have provided no answer to the argument given by Calvin: "I omit to notice that to the Hebrew word for sin is affixed the mark of the feminine gender, but that here two masculine relative pronouns are used."

From these arguments it is very obvious that the relationship between the firstborn Cain (and the ungodly) and Abel (and those saved by grace) is meant in this last phrase, as part of the reproof emphasising the wickedness of Cain's anger. It applies indirectly to all those who follow afterward, since it is ordinary for the ungodly to exercise dominion over the persecuted saints in this present evil age.

God says these things, and they are recorded here for us, to show us the sinfulness that is each one of us, apart from grace, since though Cain was reproved by God Himself, yet he reacted to that reproof by murdering his brother. In this we see more of the terrible results of the Fall, and the manifestation of the seed of the serpent.

In the murder of Abel, we see also that the destruction of this wicked seed is necessary for the salvation of the church, as God demonstrates when He sends the Flood to preserve His church (at that time reduced by apostasy and persecution to only Noah's family) as a type of the final judgement.

This is probably the worst place to look for something good in man's ability, since this passage only shows his slavery to sin despite being reproved by God Himself. God demonstrates by this what fruit we produce by our fallen nature, our hopelessness and misery apart from His grace. We see here our need for Christ, that promised seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), in whom Abel trusted by the grace which Cain did not receive according to the sovereign purpose of God.

Enough of my thoughts, here are the excellent commentaries I referred to above:

Calvin explains:
"And unto thee shall be his desire. Nearly all commentators refer this to sin, and think that, by this admonition, those depraved hosts are restrained which solicit and impel the mind of man. Therefore, according to their view, the meaning will be of this kind, ‘If sin rises against thee to subdue thee, why dost thou indulge it, and not rather labor to restrain and control it? For it is thy part to subdue and bring into obedience those affections in thy flesh which thou perceivest to be opposed to the will of God, and rebellious against him.’ But I suppose that Moses means something entirely different. I omit to notice that to the Hebrew word for sin is affixed the mark of the feminine gender, but that here two masculine relative pronouns are used. Certainly Moses does not treat particularly of the sin itself which was committed, but of the guilt which is contracted from it, and of the consequent condemnation. How, then, do these words suit, ‘Unto thee shall be his desire?’ (240) There will, however be no need for long refutation when I shall produce the genuine meaning of the expression. It rather seems to be a reproof, by which God charges the impious man with ingratitude, because he held in contempt the honor of primogeniture. The greater are the divine benefits with which any one of us is adorned, the more does he betray his impiety unless he endeavors earnestly to serve the Author of grace to whom he is under obligation. When Abel was regarded as his brother’s inferior, he was, nevertheless, a diligent worshipper of God. But the firstborn worshipped God negligently and perfunctorily, though he had, by the Divine kindness, arrived at so high a dignity; and, therefore, God enlarges upon his sin, because he had not at least imitated his brother, whom he ought to have surpassed as far in piety as he did in the degree of honor. Moreover, this form of speech is common among the Hebrews, that the desire of the inferior should be towards him to whose will he is subject; thus Moses speaks of the woman, (Gen_3:16,) that her desire should be to her husband. They, however, childishly trifle, who distort this passage to prove the freedom of the will; for if we grant that Cain was admonished of his duty in order that he might apply himself to the subjugation of sin, yet no inherent power of man is to be hence inferred; because it is certain that only by the grace of the Holy Spirit can the affections of the flesh be so mortified that they shall not prevail. Nor, truly, must we conclude, that as often as God commands anything we shall have strength to perform it, but rather we must hold fast the saying of Augustine, ‘Give what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.’"

Also Gill:
"but rather it refers to Abel; and the meaning is, that notwithstanding his offering was accepted of God, and not his brother Cain's, this would not alienate his affections from him, nor cause him to refuse subjection to him; but he should still love him as his brother, and be subject to him as his eider brother, and not seek to get from him the birthright, or think that that belonged to him, being forfeited by his brother's sin; and therefore Cain had no reason to be angry with his brother, or envious at him, since this would make no manner of alteration in their civil affairs: 'and thou shall rule over him', as thou hast done, being the firstborn."

And Henry:
"That he had no reason to be angry at his brother: “Unto thee shall be his desire, he shall continue his respect to thee as an elder brother, and thou, as the first-born, shalt rule over him as much as ever.” God's acceptance of Abel's offering did not transfer the birth-right to him (which Cain was jealous of), nor put upon him that excellency of dignity and of power which is said to belong to it, Gen_49:3. God did not so intend it; Abel did not so interpret it; there was no danger of its being improved to Cain's prejudice; why then should he be so much exasperated? Observe here, (1.) That the difference which God's grace makes does not alter the distinctions which God's providence makes, but preserves them, and obliges us to do the duty which results from them: believing servants must be obedient to unbelieving masters. Dominion is not founded in grace, nor will religion warrant disloyalty or disrespect in any relation. (2.) That the jealousies which civil powers have sometimes conceived of the true worshippers of God as dangerous to their government, enemies to Caesar, and hurtful to kings and provinces (on which suspicion persecutors have grounded their rage against them) are very unjust and unreasonable. Whatever may be the case with some who call themselves Christians, it is certain that Christians indeed are the best subjects, and the quiet in the land; their desire is towards their governors, and these shall rule over them."

This is much like how Paul instructs us to pray and seek the good of those who have the rule over us (because God will have all men to be saved - even kings and governors [not everyone nor even the majority, but of every sort]).

Cain of course, would not hear this reproof, and ignored the obvious injustice of his anger. So it is today. Despite the peacefulness of Christians waiting on the just vengeance of God in due time, seeking the good of their persecutors to whom they are subject, these sons of Cain still rise up to murder the children of God for no other reason than to satisfy their own rage. The wicked have no peace, like the troubled sea. 
photo credit: Fergal Mac Eoinin via photopin cc