This is a very interesting story and there is a lot going on, so we will look at these verses in a context so that the meaning intended can be brought out. Cain (“a smith, spear”) and Abel (“breath”) were brothers by Adam (“blood of God) and Chava (“life giver). They had other siblings (Gen 5.4) not named in Scripture. Abel was a shepherd and Cain was a farmer, and in v 3 it says that they both came to give offerings “at the end of days” in Hebrew, which means it could have been a Sabbath or the end of a particular time span.
Knowledge of the type of offerings God required will be needed to understand what is going on and you must look up the Hebrew words being used here. A good study of the Book of Leviticus will bring out these meanings, so we won’t get into too much detail here, but it will give insight into what these two were doing.
The “korbanot” or sacrifices meant that man can “draw near” to God and the root for “korban” is the same as the word “karav” which means when a husband and wife “draw near” in a sexual union (Isa 8.3). It means very close, and that is what is being conveyed by the word for sacrifices, korban. So we see here that the korbanot did not start with Israel, but they were done since the beginning of creation. The Lord performed the first korban in Gen 3.21 after Adam sinned. This day may have been what would later be known as Yom Kippur, and an idiom for Yom Kippur is “the day Adam sinned.” God taught Adam about the korbanot and this knowledge was passed down to their descendants. We see Noah offering korbanot called an “olah”, or burnt offering, in Gen 8.20-22 and Abraham offered them. Jacob offered peace offerings, known as a “shelem” and Moses told Pharaoh the people were going out into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord, and this was before the Exodus and Sinai.
In our passage, Cain brought an offering from the ground called a “mincha” in Hebrew and in v 3 this meant that it was probably a thank offering (todah) involving some sort of bread offering (Lev 2; 6.14-23 for more detail). Abel on the other hand brought a blood sacrifice and it was a “chata’at” or sin offering (Lev 4.1-5-5.13; 6.24-30; 8.14-17; 16.3-22). We know that whatever was going on, God required a chata’at (sin offering) from Cain because the Lord accepted, or had regard for, Abel’s offering and did not for Cain’s.
So, Cain became angry and thought that his status as first-born was being rejected. This caused him to be very upset. In Gen 4.6 the Lord asked Cain “why are you angry?” In v 7 the Lord tells him what to do. He says “if you do well” which means “if you are innocent and with no sin” then his mincha offering would have been accepted. But, Cain has sinned, like anyone else, so he needed a chata’at or sin offering. Then, once the sin offering was given, he would feel better because it would have been accepted, too.
But the Lord said “if you don’t do well (or if you have sinned), sin is crouching at the door.” Now, what he is saying is this, after a closer look. In Hebrew, the word for sin there in v 7 is chata’at, the word for sin offering. The translators of the KJV and the NASB just use the word “sin” but sin offering is implied. You will see this omission in other places. In particular, where it says that Yeshua became sin for us in 2 Cor 5.21, what is implied is “a sin offering for us.” Yeshua didn’t “become sin” because that would have made him “defective” and not able to be a sin offering, which had to be without blemish.
Isa 53.10-11 says that Yeshua was a guilt offering (asham) and he implied in John 6 and Luke 22 that his body was a mincha, or bread offering. In Hos 4.8 it says that “they shall feed on the sin of my people” but what is implied is a “sin offering.” There are many places in the Bible this happens, and Gen 4.7 is another example. Ephesians 2.14 says that Yeshua is “our peace” but it implies “peace offering” or “shelem” in Hebrew. There are many more examples of this, but you get the picture.
So, the Lord was requiring a sin offering, a chata’at, from Cain, not a bread offering, or mincha. That is why his offering was not accepted, it had nothing to do with his perceived rejection as the first-born. He then goes on to say the “sin offering is crouching (meaning stretched out in submission) at the door (or available for him to offer right now).” Verse 7 ends with “and unto you (Cain) shall his (Abel) desire be, and you (Cain) shall rule over him (as first-born).”
As first-born, he had ruled over Abel, and Cain feared that this was lost because the Lord accepted Abel’s offering. The Lord tried to arrest his fears. All he had to do was bring the sin offering as required, but Cain’s pride got in the way, so he decided to take matters into his own hands and killed Abel, thus assuring him of retaining the status of first-born, or so he thought.
This is what Jude 11 is referring to when Jude talks about the “way of Cain.” It is when our pride gets in the way of doing what God wants us to do, and many have gone that way. Well, Cain’s plan didn’t work out and he was driven away.
To study the Scriptures requires many things. You will need to study history, the language of Hebrew and Greek, the culture of the time, geography, the Temple and its services, the festivals, Hebrew idioms and phrases, biblical concepts and biblical time. This is just to name a few. You have to read the Scriptures as if you were there at the time it was written, and you need a true teacher from God. Sad to say that the majority of those who teach the Scriptures have not been sent by the Lord and those who listen to them are too lazy to do the work. They want to be told what to believe. We want to encourage anyone who reads the articles on the site to study the things mentioned above and you will move from one who could tell someone what God said to someone who can tell someone what God means, and they are two different things.