What is sin? pt 2 of 3

In part one of this study, “What is sin?”, we learned that sin is breaking Elohim’s commands which is defined in Hebrew and Greek as “missing the mark”. And we examined the first recorded instance of this occurring: the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. We read how the serpent twisted the truth to plant the seed of dissatisfaction with Elohim’s Word which then sprouted into sin. And we saw sin’s devastating cascade of consequences summarily ending in the separation of man from his Creator, the underlying purpose of all the enemy says and does. Hallelu Yah that in His grace our Father provided a way for us through the sacrificial life of Messiah Yeshua, prefigured first in His covering of Adam and Chavah and later through the sacrificial system given to the sons of Aharon, the priests. Knowing end from beginning Yehovah then declares the victorious outcome to the serpent, that though the enemy would strike Messiah’s heel of humanity, the Son of David would strike his head and crush his authority entirely. And so the divine struggle continued.


In Judaism, it is believed that there are 613 commandments in the Torah. Of the 613, there are 365 which are termed “negative commandments”, and 248 which are termed “positive commandments”. In western culture we might refer to these as two broad categories of “do’s and don’ts”. If Yehovah gives instruction to do something, that is a positive command. If He says not to do something, that is a negative command.  If disobeying Him means doing what’s wrong, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that obeying His instruction means doing what’s right? In the narrative of the fall of man, we learned that disobedience to a negative commandment of Yehovah is sin. We will soon discover that disobedience to a positive commandment is also sin. This is intuitive as our walk with the Almighty can be viewed as a path in which His Word lights the way. Therefore, His instruction to stay on the path (positive command) functions for the same purpose as His instruction to not stray from the path (negative command). The violation of either lends the same result: damaged relationship with Elohim and separation from Him.


It just so happens that the example of breaking a positive command occurs in the very next generation after Adam and Chavah in Genesis 4. And it is in this same narrative of Qayin and Havel that we also find the first mention of the word “sin” in the Scriptures. The text tells us that Qayin worked the soil and Havel kept sheep. It’s not surprising then that Qayin’s offering would be of produce while Havel’s offering would be of his flocks. Their offerings represent their livelihood and there is nothing inherently wrong with either. So why is it that Yehovah had regard for Havel’s offering but not that of Qayin? It cannot be that Elohim has no regard for offerings from the soil for one of the five primary types of offerings in the Torah, the minchah, is a grain offering (Lev 2) and grain offerings also play profound importance in many of the holy appointed times of Yehovah (Lev 23). Perhaps a closer look at some of the key words used in the Hebrew Scriptures will give us insight into what is occurring between Qayin and his Maker.


In Gen 4:4-5, the Word tells us that Yehovah “had regard” for Havel’s offering but “had no regard” for Qayin’s offering. The Hebrew word translated “had regard”, yisha, means “to gaze, to look at, to have regard”.1 It is used in Isa 17:7-8 to demonstrate that one’s gaze is directed to what is desirable (Yehovah) and away from what is not (idols). We are told in Heb 11:4 that Havel offered “a more acceptable sacrifice”, but still are not told what made it more acceptable. We know that Yehovah does not need our offerings:


“Hear, O My people, and I speak, O Israel, and I witness against you: I am Elohim, your Elohim! I do not reprove you for your slaughterings, and your burnt offerings are continually before Me. I do not take a bull from your house, nor goats out of your pens. For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains, and all moving in My field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not speak to you; for the world is Mine, and all that fills it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? Offer thanksgiving to Elohim, and pay your vows to the Most High. And call upon Me in the day of distress – let Me rescue you, and you esteem Me.” Psa 50:7-15 ISR


And we know that it is our faith which makes us acceptable to Him:


“But without belief it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to Elohim has to believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him.” Heb 11:6 ISR


Therefore, it must be that the problem here with Qayin is a matter of the heart. Is there anything in the text which may reveal this potential heart problem?


The Word says that Qayin’s offering was fruit from the ground, while Havel’s offering was the firstborn and its fat. We must realize that in the same way there is a difference between the firstborn and any other animal, there is also a difference between the firstfruit and any other fruit of the ground. One indicates first and best, the other indicates average. Could it be that Qayin brought the leftovers of his harvest while Havel brought his most valuable lamb? This would answer why Yehovah looked favorably upon Havel’s offering because He was pleased, not necessarily with the items per se, but with the humble heart which supplied them. Similarly, our Master looked with favor upon a poor widow who also brought a humble offering:


“And sitting opposite the treasury He saw how the people put copper into the treasury. And many rich ones put in much. And a poor widow came and threw in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. And calling near His taught ones He said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those putting into the treasury, for they all put in out of their excess, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her entire livelihood.’” Mark 12:41-44 ISR


In response to Yehovah’s lack of favor, the Hebrew text states that Qayin became hot and his face fell, painting a very descriptive picture of Qayin’s physical appearance. But what is important is to understand what caused these physical characteristics. What was happening to Qayin? His body was responding to his spirit, manifesting physically what was occurring in his heart. Because we are beings of body, mind, and spirit, what happens in one will very likely ripple into the others. We don’t know if it was jealousy, fear, pride, covetousness, self-centeredness or some combination, but whatever source seed, it was nurtured in Qayin’s heart and blossoming in his body. Do our bodies give us similar clues? Do we recognize that problems and symptoms in our bodies can be indicators of sin sickness in our hearts? Surely this is true in many but not all cases (John 9:2-3). Because our wisdom is fallible, we cannot discern with certainty the source of any symptom we see in our bodies, and especially not in the bodies of others. Yehovah counseled Qayin regarding the reason for his physical symptoms. Similarly, it is our responsibility to ask our omniscient Creator to reveal the source of our symptoms and then address them accordingly.


Yehovah tells Qayin, “If you do well, will you not be accepted?”.2 What’s interesting about this statement is that the verb for “do well” (teytiv) is in the Hifil form.3 This is a verb stem which indicates not only an active but a causative voice. Qayin was to cause to do well. This illustrates challenge and struggle and going against the flow. When everything within the flesh propels us to go one way, causing ourselves to do good is the choice to surrender those feelings and intentionally follow what is good out of love for the One who said it is good. It is self-sacrifice. It is trust. Is this not what Elohim ultimately desires? If we cause to do good, will He not accept our efforts? The Hebrew word translated “accept” is se’et and means “lift, carry”.4 This is the polar opposite of the previously described “falling” of Qayin’s face. Consider, then, the progression of the Hebrew verbs from these verses: cause to do good, not hot/angry, face not fallen but lifted, and Yehovah gazes. Can we see the lesson? Can we hear our Father’s heart? If we surrender and cause ourselves to do good, will He not accept our efforts? He would then gaze at us and we would have no reason to turn our face away from Him. We would see Him “face-to-face”.


Unfortunately, this instruction is not what Qayin chose. He did not choose obedience to this positive command of Yehovah, causing himself to do good. And Elohim warns him that by doing so, “sin (chattat) is crouching (rovetz) at the door”.5 Now, I’ve always thought of this statement as describing sin in anthropomorphic terms as some ugly monster lurking behind bushes in the front yard, but I’ve recently realized that a much more sobering picture comes into focus after studying the meaning of the word, rovetz. It means, “to lie down, rest (flocks, an exhausted beast of burden)”.6 It is used to describe what a donkey does to alleviate itself from beneath a heavy burden (Ex 23:5). It is used to describe Elohim’s remnant who will be at peace and rest from fear (Zeph 3:13). Now think about why Yehovah used this word to describe what happens when we disobey His instruction. Sin doesn’t lurk in the shadows. It gets invited to our front door! When we refuse to do what Yehovah says is good and right, we tell sin to get comfortable, to lie down and rest, to be at peace and without fear of reprisal. When we rebel against Elohim’s commandment, we allow sin to take up residence at the door to our hearts, the place reserved only for the Good Shepherd (John 10:7-10). Yehovah is the rightful proprietor of this heart real-estate and desires to exercise His love, protection, power, and authority there. But He has given us free-will, even to lock Him out. And when we choose disobedience, this is exactly what we do, willfully shoving Him aside and making a bed for the one with the flattering tongue. Legally, we give ownership to the enemy over this area of our hearts. Meanwhile, the lover of our souls looks on with hands tied by our rebellion, waiting for the day we will remember and return to His commandment (repentance), thereby evicting the enemy and restoring the King to His rightful place on the throne of our hearts.


Sin’s desire is to rule over us but we are told to rule over it.


“Be sober, watch, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in the belief, knowing that the same hardships are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” 1Pet 5:8-9 ISR

“So then subject yourselves to Elohim. Resist the devil and he shall flee from you. Draw near to Elohim and He shall draw near to you. Cleanse hands, sinners. And cleanse the hearts, you double-minded!” Jam 4:7-8 ISR

This is not a game. This is war, and it is a matter of life and death. In the same way that Yehovah warned Qayin regarding sin’s residence in his heart, the Ruach ha-Qodesh (Holy Spirit) convicts us through His Word of our own sin. At that point we have a choice. Either we will let sin rule over us and lead us to death, or we will rule over sin and put it to death. These are the only two options. There is no middle-of-the-road alternative. There is either hitting the mark or there is missing the mark.  There is either obedience to the commandments of Yehovah or there is disobedience to them. And as can be seen from the sin of Adam and Chavah, obedience to the serpent meant disobedience to our Creator. What then does disobedience to Yehovah mean but obedience to ha-satan (Satan)? To quote Bob Dylan, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”7


In closing, this is what we have learned so far:


The first occurrence of sin (Gen ch 3):

  • Sin is disobeying Elohim’s commandments
  • Adding to the Word paves the way
  • Sin is based on coveting
  • Sin drives us to hide from Elohim
  • Sin damages our relationship with Elohim
  • Sin damages our relationships with each other
  • Sin requires “atonement” (covering)
  • Sin separates us from life


The first mention of sin (Gen ch 4):

  • Sin turns Elohim’s face away
  • Sin turns our face down; good lifts it up
  • Sin is found in the absence of good
  • Sin wants to subjugate/devour us
  • We are to rule over sin
  • Sin robs heart ownership from Elohim and hands it over to the enemy
  • Sin reveals an underlying heart problem


Based on these truths, it is not surprising that Elohim uses obedience as a heart test to determine our love and faithfulness to Him:


“And you shall remember that יהוה your Elohim led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you, to prove you, to know what is in your heart, whether you guard His commands or not.” Deu 8:2 ISR

“And יהוה said to Mosheh, “See, I am raining bread from the heavens for you. And the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, in order to try them, whether they walk in My Torah or not. And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.” Ex 16:4-5 ISR

“And they were to try Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commands of יהוה, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Mosheh.” Judg 3:4 ISR


In the third and final installment, we will ask some basic and pointed questions about sin and allow the Whole Testament, Genesis to Revelation, to guide us in all truth.



1 “ישׁע”, HALOT, Accordance 11.2.4.

2 Gen 4:7 ESV

3 “תיטיב”, HALOT, Accordance 11.2.4.

4 “שׂאת”, HALOT, Accordance 11.2.4.

5 Gen 4:7 ESV

6 “רבץ”, HALOT, Accordance 11.2.4.

7 Dylan, Bob. “Gotta Serve Somebody.” By Bob Dylan. Slow Train Coming. By Bob Dylan. Columbia Records, 1979.

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