Are We Rewarded for Good Deeds?

Cain and Abel #6

Gen 4:7 is one of the most powerful verses in the Bible.

After rejecting Cain鈥檚 offering, God speaks to him and gives him a paradox to contemplate, a paradox that should guide him, and every person, throughout our lives. This verse, as we will see in a follow up post, also defines sin, and instructs us how we must deal with it.

But before we can continue to verse 7, let鈥檚 start with verse 6.

Are we rewarded for good deeds? Genesis 4:6 English translation next to the original Hebrew Bible text 6. "And God said to Cain, why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?"
Verse 7: covered in the following discussion


In verse 6 Cain is upset after God turned down his offering. God is asking him why he is angry and upset. The expression:  

谞指驻职诇讜旨 驻指谞侄讬讱指
Your face has fallen

visually describes Cain鈥檚 feeling. We can clearly see in our mind鈥檚 eyes a person who is burdened by the weight of his negative feelings and thoughts, which do not allow him to lift his face up. When we see a man like this, we know he is suffering, upset, sad, or even depressed, but we cannot tell for sure what these negative, burdening feelings are. This is the state of Cain when God speaks to him.

If you do good deeds

Verse 7 presents to us a paradox. It has two contradictory meanings, each of them consistent with the text. The contraction starts with the double meanings of the word 砖职讉讗值转.

On one hand, 砖职讉讗值转 means: to be lifted, to rise, to stand tall. In this is the case,

讗执诐转值旨讬讟执讬讘, 砖职讉讗值转

Means that if you do good deeds (or if you improve) you will rise, or you will stand tall, or the sin will be lifted, or you will be able to lift your fallen face (谞指驻职诇讜旨 驻指谞侄讬讱指). There are many subtle ways to interpret these two words. But regardless of the precise meaning, this interpretation tells Cain that if he is a good person, he will reap the benefit of his good behaviour. The text continues to elaborate:

讜职讗执诐 诇止讗 转值讬讟执讬讘
And if you do not do good deeds (or improve)

Sin will crouch at your door (诇址驻侄旨转址讞 讞址讟指旨讗转 专止讘值抓). Under this interpretation we read the sentence as two opposite options: if you are a good person, you will be lifted, and if you are not, sin will be awaiting you.

Exactly the opposite can be read if we interpret the word 砖职讉讗值转 as suffering or the endurance needed to carry heavy weight, as we can see, for instance, in Deut. 1:9 when Moses says:

讜指讗止诪址专 讗植诇值讻侄诐 讘指旨注值转 讛址讛执讬讗 诇值讗诪止专 诇止讗 讗讜旨讻址诇 诇职讘址讚执旨讬 砖职讉讗值转 讗侄转职讻侄诐
And at that time, I will not be able to carry (the burden) of you alone.

Under this interpretation, whether you will be good or whether you will not be good. You will be carrying sin, and nothing is promised to you in return.

The first interpretation, naturally, is the common one, but not because of the text. The text, deliberately, does not tell us which of the two is the correct one. The reason the first is the popular one, is simply because it is what we want to believe in. That is that 鈥淚f I do good deeds, I will be rewarded.鈥 After all we all want to believe in being rewarded.

It is much more difficult to comprehend the possibility that we need to be good for the very sake of being good, and nothing is promised in return.

This, by the way, is the heart of the book of Job. Yet, we mostly prefer to push this thought to the back of our minds. How difficult it is to know that we should do good, because good is what we should be doing, and not because we are expecting a reward. After all, if we do good deeds expecting a reward, are we good people or are we merely opportunistic?

Which of the two interpretations of the verse is the correct one?

I believe that the Bible deliberately hide it from us, forcing us to contemplate this paradox over and again. Because contemplating paradoxes, for which no logical answer exists is where non-logical truths start to emerge.

This is what spiritual growth is: when we let our inner self come to the surface. Only then can we look into our own hearts and know if we are those who do good things for the sake of being rewarded or do we do them because they are the right things to do, regardless of what our consequences to ourselves might be.

But this is not all. There is more to contemplate in verse 7. We will continue with it in the next post.

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10 months ago

The paradox you describe might change the understanding of our original relationship to sin completely. I find it an amazing insight and an intense topic to contemplate on, that once we do not expect getting rewarded by God after doing good deeds anymore, we might be on our way to… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Lea
10 months ago

Thank you Lea for your blog. There are two different issues your are discussing here. The first is that the second interpretation tells Cain not to accept a reward for being good. (more on that will come in the next positing). There is a big difference between doing things because… Read more »

Reply to  Ran Fuchs
10 months ago

Thank you for your explanation. I clearly find the second interpretation of the verse an amazing eye opening. This is actually a point most churches rarely teach us. They warn us of punishments after doing bad things and promise us a reward from God if we are trying to be… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
10 months ago

Thank you Lea for another thought provoking question. Whenever someone tells me about being punished for bad deeds and being rewarded for good deeds (at least as far as this world is concerned) I always send them to the book of Job. The Bible devoted a whole book exactly to… Read more »

10 months ago

I always wonder why every image of the two brothers shows Abel as a meek person, shaved, angel-like, and Cain as a person with a fierce facial expression. Actually Abel was the person who killed animals.

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Eleonora
10 months ago

An interesting question indeed. I never thought about it, but now I looked at a few pictures and you are absolutely right. I think it comes from the fact that we like simple things. We like the bad guy to be really bad and look bad, and the good guy… Read more »

Reply to  Ran Fuchs
10 months ago

Actually it amazes me how easily we get a negative impression and also to what extend the outer appearance can influence our prejudices. When i saw these images first time as a child, i was convinced about Cain being a bad person and Abel the poor kind brother who could… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
10 months ago

Thank you Eleonora. This is precisely what I am trying to do with the Bible here. Look for what is really written, for the different ways to read it. Because too often what we think we know about the Bible, and the way we act based on what we think… Read more »

8 months ago

[…] is the second post about Gen 4:7. In the previous one, we discussed whether doing good deeds guarantees a reward (at least in this world). Here the verse […]