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God’s Admonition of Cain


God’s Admonition of Cain

“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” (Gen. 4:7).

“Is sin personified in this verse? Did Cain have the power to overcome sin?”—these are the questions of a reader, in connection with the above text.

In the last three issues of the News, I have dealt at some length with the question of the relation between God’s foreknowledge of all things and the sin of man for which he is responsible. It might be well for the reader and questioner to re-read those issues, for the questions posed above, especially the last one, are part of the same question discussed recently in the News.

As far as the first question is concerned, whether sin is personified in Genesis 4:7, the answer to that question is affirmative. Yes, indeed, sin is personified here.

Personification is frequently used in Scripture. It is a figure of speech in which human activities are ascribed to inanimate creatures. This powerful figure of speech is used with great effect in God’s Word. Some familiar personifications are the following.

“The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Chittim it is revealed to them” (Isa. 23:1). These ships are told to “howl” or cry, in a personification, for the great market city of Tyre, to which they frequently sailed, was to be destroyed.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37). Jerusalem was only a city but it is here described as engaging in the murder of prophets and resisting the salvation of her children, for the religious representatives of Jerusalem (v. 13) tried (but failed) to stop Christ gathering Jerusalem’s elect children (John 6:39-40; 10:27-29), as Augustine, Peter Martyr Vermigli, John Calvin, John Knox, Francis Turretin and many other worthies rightly explain ( Jerusalem was, however, the capital of Israel since the time of David and would now be destroyed for her sins—which meant that the nation of Israel would no longer exist as the theocratic nation (Matt. 23:38; 21:42-43).

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory” (I Cor. 15:55)? Death is personified as the enemy and final destroyer of men, but the believer mocks the grave’s power in the hope of rising again through the power of Christ’s resurrection.

“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22). The creation also shall be saved through Christ’s redemptive work, and it is here pictured as longing for the day of the general resurrection.

Isaiah 44:23 is an exhortation flowing from the redemption of God’s people and the blotting out of their sins: “Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.” More personification is seen in these verses concerning the Lord’s return to judge at the end of the world: “Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice” (Ps. 96:12) and “Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together” (98:8).

In Genesis 4:7, sin is pictured as a power that can destroy the sinner. When one takes the road of sin against God, every sin he commits makes other and more heinous sins more likely. The first act of adultery may only leave a guilty conscience, but it opens the door to the next one and the next one—each one easier and more to be desired, until it all leads to sexual perversion such as we see all about us today.

By the way, the last clause of Genesis 4:7 is better translated as an imperative, so that Cain is commanded by God: “But do thou rule over it.”

The second question has to do with the statement: “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” The questioner is asking if the statement, “if thou doest well,” implies Cain’s spiritual ability to do well and possession of a free will.

First of all, the questioner ought to ask himself this question: As it stands in the text, is it not a true statement? Can anyone on the face of God’s earth deny that in doing well one is accepted by the Lord? That statement is so obviously true that it is impossible to understand how anyone can possibly deny it.

Therefore, to imply that the statement means that a totally depraved sinner is able to do what is pleasing in Jehovah’s sight is a totally unwarranted deduction. The error lies in a premise that the Arminian accepts as true but that is, in fact, false. The error is this: God will not demand of a person that which he is unable to do.

The demand to do well is implied in the text. It has to be. Jehovah does not withdraw the demands of His law on the grounds that the sinner is incapable of performing the good. God is holy, just and righteous. His moral perfection requires that He must continue to demand righteousness of the sinner. God created him in true righteousness. Man deliberately squandered these gifts. He can no longer do what is righteous. Does God now say, “Oh, I am so sorry you did this terrible thing. I will no longer ask you any more to do that which I formerly required of you.” No! That would be unjust.

If a man owes you £10,000 and turns a profit of £100,000 on a project he finished, but squanders the money on a world-wide trip, justice demands that he still be required to pay you. His plea that he is broke does not release him from his obligation to pay his debt. You have every right to take him to court and obtain a court order that compels him to pay it. His plea that he is unable to do so means nothing. He was able to pay it. He, by his own foolishness, made himself unable to pay the debt. He is to blame. He must still pay what he owes.

Jehovah does no less. God’s command to the totally depraved sinner must be heard by him. The sinner will not get away with pleading, in the great judgment day, his inability as if it were an acceptable excuse.

How thankful we must be who by faith flee to Christ, who has paid the debt for us and so made us, out of sheer grace, acceptable to God!

Prof. Herman Hanko, emeritus PRC Seminary

Last modified on 18 April 2015
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Additional Info

  • Volume: 15
  • Issue: 12
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001


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