Most of the translations of Gen 4:7 read something like (LEB):

If you do well will I not accept you? But if you do not do well,
sin is crouching at the door. And its desire is for you,
but you must rule over it.

I also read the Greek version (LES) seeking clarity:

Have you not sinned if you offer rightly but do not divide rightly?
Be still! His recourse will be to you, and you will rule him.”

What does this mean in the Greek version? Why does it seem to differ so much from the Hebrew? What does "divide rightly" mean? Who's "recourse will be to" Cain? Who will Cain "rule"?

3 Answers 3


The editors of the Oxford Jewish Study Bible, with no further comment, mark the Masoretic Text version of the verse you quote:

Meaning of verse uncertain

Perhaps someone more knowledgeable can explain further exactly why the Masoretic Text version of the verse is considered to be ambiguous.

With regard to the Septuagint version, I think the best explanation is that we are seeing God here consoling Cain on account of His (God's) rejection of his (Cain's) sacrifice:

God looked upon Abel and upon his gifts, but he did not pay attention to Cain and upon his offerings. He grieved Cain very much, and he fell in face (4:5-6)

God had rejected Cain's sacrifice because whereas Abel had brought the firstborn (ὁ πρωτότοκος) of his sheep, Cain's sacrifice was not the choicest of what he could have offered:

Abel offered a sacrifice of the choicest, but Cain without choice. Abel chose and offered the firstborn and fatlings, while Cain offered either the ears, or together with them the fruits which were there at the time. Although his sacrifice was poorer than the sacrifice of his brother, still if he had offered it not with disdain, his sacrifice also would have been pleasing (Ephraim the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis).

God's consoling of Cain at this juncture makes Cain's sin of slaying Abel all the more grievous, since God had already told him not to be troubled by his mistake.

John Chrysostom commented here:

Behold what an unutterable condescension of concern! God saw that Cain was possessed, so to speak, by the passion of envy; but see how, in His goodness, He applies to him a corresponding treatment so as to raise him immediately and not allow him to drown ... [God says to him,] Since you have sinned, "Be still," calm your thoughts, be delivered from the shock of the waves which besiege your soul; calm your agitation lest to your earlier sin you add another more serious ... He desires to meeken the rage and fierceness of Cain and restrain him from rising against his brother (Homilies on Genesis)

The phrase that the LES translates as divide rightly is μὴ διέλῃς (mē dielēs). διέλῃς is the word used in the parable of the Prodigal Son:

καὶ εἶπεν ὁ νεώτερος αὐτῶν τῷ πατρί· πάτερ, δός μοι τὸ ἐπιβάλλον μέρος τῆς οὐσίας. καὶ διεῖλεν αὐτοῖς τὸν βίον.

And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them.

I think it is best understood here as "set apart." Cain did not properly set apart what should have been offered to God, whereas Abel did.

  • Do you have any thoughts on whose "recourse will be to" Cain? Is this Abel's recourse? In Hebrew, God says sin "is crouching" [רבץ ravats], which apparently might be a cognate of Akkadian rabitsu, which can refer to a judicial worker who leads prosecutions, cross-examinations, accusations, etc. Assuming the LXX offers any clarity of the Hebrew, is God saying that Cain will have to endure Abel's correction, but, being the firstborn, he will still "rule" or outrank Abel?
    – el_maiz
    Mar 18, 2020 at 17:23
  • This word has a meaning of refuge - obviously because (all) the land belongs to Cain.
    – grammaplow
    Jan 22, 2023 at 11:56

We might consider the other meaning that God gives to the word "sin", in that it stands for the literal sin offering of the animal sacrifice, which is how Young's translates this verse.

"Is there not, if thou dost well, acceptance? and if thou dost not well, at the opening a sin-offering is crouching, and unto thee its desire, and thou rulest over it.'" (Gen. 4:7, YLT)

The same meaning is seen in Dan. 9:24 -

"...and to seal up sins,..." (YLT), or

"...and to make an end of sins,..." (KJV)

where Christ's sacrifice would be the end of the animal sin offering sacrifices.

In other words, the animal became sin, taking on the substitution or replacement on the altar for the human sinner. When the animal was brought before the priest at the altar, and the man laid his hand upon the head of the lamb (et al), the sin was considered to be transferred to the animal. Thus, "sin crouching at the door" could very well mean the animal sin offering was literally crouching at the door or gate to the garden.

In that case, God was telling Cain a double meaning: 1)that He had made another provision for the proper animal sacrifice that He had told both Cain and Abel to offer by sending an animal to wait at the door of the garden, and 2) that the spiritual affect of sin waits to overpower if Cain gave into that temptation (Rom. 6:12).

As God had given mankind dominion and rule over the animal kingdom (Gen. 2:26), then Cain was being told that he had dominion over the animal that waited at the door to be sacrificed, and at the same time to spiritually maintain control over the temptations to fall away from God's will.

Cain could have made a bargain with Abel to trade his crops for an animal to offer, but his pride got in the way. The temptation over powered him, and he did not master it, and did not obey the command to obtain and offer the correct sacrifice God had instructed.

Excerpt from Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary on Gen. 4:7 -

"sin lieth at the door—sin, that is, a sin offering—a common meaning of the word in Scripture (as in Ho 4:8; 2Co 5:21; Heb 9:28). The purport of the divine rebuke to Cain was this, "Why art thou angry, as if unjustly treated? If thou doest well (that is, wert innocent and sinless) a thank offering would have been accepted as a token of thy dependence as a creature. But as thou doest not well (that is, art a sinner), a sin offering is necessary, by bringing which thou wouldest have met with acceptance and retained the honors of thy birthright." This language implies that previous instructions had been given as to the mode of worship; Abel offered through faith (Heb 11:4).

unto thee shall be his desire—The high distinction conferred by priority of birth is described (Ge 27:29); and it was Cain's conviction, that this honor had been withdrawn from him, by the rejection of his sacrifice, and conferred on his younger brother—hence the secret flame of jealousy, which kindled into a settled hatred and fell revenge." (Source: Biblehub)


In Greek Septuagint the meaning of the passage is this: "Have you not have brought (your offering) correctly, not correctly divided (what's due), have you erred? Relax, yours is the land on which your brother lives and you will rule over him." [1]

The word ἀποστρέφω [2] has a meaning of refuge, as in the land to where to return. And there is no "but" but you rule over him, there is an "and" καί [3] and you will rule over him.

It has a logical connection thus to the 4:9 "I'm not my brother's guardian" and then 4:10 "the voice of your brother's blood cries to me from the land"

[1] Apostolic Bible Polyglot

[2] LSJ - Ancient Greek dictionaries - ἀποστρέφω

[3] LSJ - Ancient Greek dictionaries - καί

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