Barry Newman's Blog

July 22, 2011

Science and Genesis 4: 1 – 26 (part IV)

Filed under: Genesis,Science — barrynewman @ 10:58 pm

Cain’s reaction and his confrontation with Yahweh

Two descriptions are given of Cain’s reaction to Yahweh looking favourably on Abel and his offering but not on him and his offering.  He glowed greatly and his face fell. These references to visible physical characteristics certainly depict emotional responses but carry with them concrete evidence of Cain’s inner feelings.  In the context, “glowing greatly” seems to be a clear reference to considerable anger but it is not immediately clear what might be meant by “his face fell”.  There is a tendency to see it as a reference to sadness or depression.  However in the context it more likely indicates something that would be more closely associated with anger, even simply anger itself. There is only one occurrence in the Hebrew Scriptures, outside of Genesis 4: 5, 6 of a reference to “face falling”. The text in Jeremiah 3: 12 reads, “I will not cause my face to fall on you (Israel) for I am merciful.”  This looks something like God (not) frowning and this is the way that the NIV translates that text.  “God not frowning” seems to be a physical way of referring to his not being angry (or not continuing to be angry). God says he will not be angry with Israel because he is merciful. The text in Genesis 4 is probably better translated with both physical features being portrayed: Cain is glowing greatly and his face has fallen. Taken together or even separately they are probably both physical signs of Cain’s anger. Mankind is on a steady decline.  First shame, then fear and now anger.

Yahweh responds to these physical features as signs of serious inner emotional responses, and asks him, “Why are you greatly glowing and why has your face fallen?”  Translating the text without interpreting what either of the physical features mean, allows us to understand God’s question indicating, on first glance, that God does not know what Cain’s physical characteristics signify.  For example, they could be mistaken for extreme embarrassment.  It is a little like those questions God put to the man in Genesis 3: 9, 11 – “Where are you?” etc. as if God doesn’t really know! Cain, unlike the man however, makes no response.  Perhaps we are meant to interpret this as a sign of Cain realising it is actually better to maintain silence than to state the truth.  On the other hand, the text could be read as Yahweh not allowing Cain the opportunity to respond.  He has not asked a question for which he expects a response.  He knows the answer to his own question.  He has simply confronted Cain with the inappropriateness of his considerable anger.

Yahweh follows his question with a piece of advice in the form of another question and then gives Cain a warning.  The question, “”If you do right will you not be accepted?” has commonly thought to be a reference back to the offering that Cain had made.  The question is thought to carry the implication that he had not done what was right and for that reason he and his offering were not looked upon favourably.  However, the Hebrew for “acceptance” and “looked with favour” (literally, simply “looked to”) is quite different.  Given what immediately follows, there is a case for connecting the notion of “doing right” with what occurs later rather than with what has gone before, with the idea of acceptance having a connection with both what has just happened and what might happen.  Furthermore, the Hebrew for “acceptance” can carry with it the idea of dignity and status.  By Yahweh “looking to” Abel and his offering but not to Cain and his offering, Cain has felt a loss of dignity and his status lowered.  Read this way, the warning that Yahweh gives to Cain may be understood as a reference to Cain operating with dignity and no loss of status.  Besides, the question and the warning are connected with a waw indicating some intimate connection between them and translating it as “and’ rather than, for example, “but” would not seem inappropriate (but see below).

Perhaps “And, if you do not do right …” is to be considered as an incomplete statement.  Cain is being faced with the two alternatives, Doing right or not doing right.  If you do right, then you are accepted.  If you do not do so, then …  Beware …  As an alternative, the “doing right” might be better understood as “having an appropriate attitude.”  In that case what Yahweh says is, “If you have the right attitude (and abide by that attitude) does not acceptance (by me) follow.  But (rather than “and”) if you have an inappropriate attitude, realise the dire circumstances in which you are placed – sin is crouching at the door and it wants to get at you but you must master it rather than the other way around.”  This seems the preferable view to this writer.  The “waw” still forms an intimate connection between the question and the statement but one does not have to appeal to an unfinished statement.

In understanding “sin is crouching at your door”, Walton takes note of the fact that “The word translated ‘sin’ is a feminine form, yet the participle … (‘is crouching’) is … masculine singular as are the pronominal suffixes connected to ‘desire’ and ‘rule’” and appeals to the possibility that a reference is being made to the idea of a “well-known Mesopotamian demon who lingers around doorways … ‘Sin’ is then portrayed as a doorway demon waiting for its victim to cross the threshold.  From the Old Babylonian period on in Mesopotamia such demons were considered evil and were thought to ambush their victims.” (264)  The warning to Cain, coming as it does from Yahweh himself, should provide adequate reason for Cain to abandon whatever was in his mind.



  1. Barry, sorry I don’t want to be a pest but thought you might find the following explanation interesting. The Old Testament is full of foreshadows and object lessons. Take for example Cain and Abel. The standing question is why did God reject Cain’s offering and receive Abel’s?
    Hebrews 11:4 says…By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

    Clearly, faith was the differential. So they were offering to God and God rejected Cain’s offering because of faith. This is where it gets interesting because Cain clearly offered to God the fruit of the ground by faith. We know this because Cain gave with expectation (hope). Cain expected and hoped that God would receive his offering. So the question remains, how was faith violated?

    We know the answer as a result of Cain’s reaction to God’s rejection. Cain was hurt and became angry when God rejected his offering. Cain felt that God was rejecting him. Cain’s transgression of faith was not in the giving (by faith) but rather in the lack of receiving by faith. We receive grace by faith unto salvation (not works).

    In the book of Jude, we hear about those that have gone the “way of Cain”, the self-justified. We are not to go the way of Cain but rather follow the way to life, Jesus Christ.

    We must settle in our hearts, are we saved by God or by our works? I say by God!

    Comment by Rick — March 8, 2012 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

    • Hi Rick again,

      Thanks for the comment. I think I hold much the same position on Cain but perhaps what I wrote in that part of the series said something quite different. I’ll look at it agin some time



      Comment by barrynewman — March 8, 2012 @ 9:59 pm | Reply

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