Monday, December 07, 2015

Crouching at the door

6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen 4:6-7, NASB).

As two commentators explain:

In this understanding the expression reverses the earlier imagery of Cain's "downcast" face. When Cain practices what is right, there will be an uplifted face… K. Mathews, Genesis, 1:269-70. 
"It will be lifted up"–this probably refers to Cain's face, which has fallen. In other words, his countenance will no longer be one of despondency and dejection. However, if Cain continues to do wrong, then sin will hound him–sin is lurking, waiting to pounce. J. Currid, Genesis, 1:145. 

Among other things, this is a reference to depression. To my knowledge, it's the first reference to depression in world literature.

Then there's the additional image. It may depict sin/depression as a predator that's lying in wait on the porch. 

Some commentators think this alludes to the Mesopotamian tradition of a doorway demon. One prima facie problem with that interpretation is the anachronism. If this preserves a real conversation between God and Cain, then there was no such Mesopotamian tradition at the time God spoke to Cain.

In principle, the Mesopotamian tradition could be based on something much earlier. And a demonic presence would dovetail nicely with Gen 3. 

Still, there's nothing in the imagery that implies that. It can easily be taken to be a personification of sin/depression as an ambush predator. The point of the doorway metaphor is that  doors function to keep things out. It marks the barrier between inside and outside. The moment you open the door you either risk letting unwanted intruders inside, or you leave the safety of your shelter to venture out into the unprotected wild. 

Connecting this to the theme of depression, for people who suffer from it, depression is like a crouching predator that waits for you, stalks you. You may shake it off, but you never know when it will return. You may face it when you get up in the morning. It follows you, shadows you, overshadows you. Just when you think you put it behind you it's right around the corner. A very apt metaphor for depression. 


  1. Thanks, Steve. Such a good post!

  2. While my vote would be for the predator option, let me suggest a case for the Mesopotamian option. We know from the synoptic gospels that exact quotations were not the standard of the day.

    It is conceivable that, assuming exact quotations weren't the standard of the day, that Moses through the Holy Spirit, recorded the conversation using the language of his day. Assuming a conversation in Genesis 3 during that time period wasn't in Hebrew, this would make even more sense.

  3. Steve wrote: Still, there's nothing in the imagery that implies that.

    I agree. I don't think it implies or even hints at a demon. However, I wouldn't be surprised if as a matter of fact God also knew that if Cain persisted in his current attitude and behavior a demon might take advantage of that and get a foothold. I don't think the original audience of Genesis 3 would have or should have inferred demonic activity. However, we under the New Covenant might be warranted in thinking a demon could potentially be involved (as I did in my previous statement). Music can affect attitudes and can open or protect one from demonic influence (cf. how David's music soothed Saul's mind and inhibited demonic influence).

    Like they say, bad and/or sinful attitudes are like the stench of garbage to flies. They attract demonic oppression. Since they have no sense of "fair game." They kick you while you're down. It's also been said that "Flies don't land on a hot plate." One way to help prevent demonic oppression is to get or stay on fire for God.

    Though, in God's providence sometimes God want us to experience times of discouragement/depression in order to teach us certain lessons. But that's not a license to wallow in depression since God also ordains all of our sins. God ordaining all of our sins is no excuse to keep on sinning. Similarly, God ordaining our discouragement doesn't free us from the duty to fight for joy. What God allows/permits has no direct bearing on our duty to be obedient or to have a positive/hopeful attitude. "Rejoice in the LORD/Yahweh/Jehovah" is a command, not a suggestion.

    They say you shouldn't tell a person who's depressed to just "shake it off." In one sense I agree. Most people who say that have no idea how debilitating depression can be. Just telling someone to "shake it off" can be the most insensitive thing one can do. It can make the depressed person even more depressed and even bitter. Often the statement can be interpreted as uncaring, unloving.

    Having said that, it is still the duty of a depressed Christian to fight depression and to attempt to "shake it off." That can be done in various ways. See my blogpost where I've collected some resources on dealing with depression as well as giving my own recommendations.

    My blogpost is: Dealing with Spiritual Depression