Episode 4: Why did God reject Cain’s Offering and Accept Abel’s? (Reading: Genesis 4, Ezra 4, Matthew 4 and Acts 4)
A most curious incident happens in Genesis, chapter 4. Adam and Eve have been banished from the Garden of Eden, and they begin a family. Cain is the firstborn, and he grows up to become a farmer. Abel is the second child, and he becomes a shepherd. Here is the story of Cain and Abel from Genesis 4:
The man was intimate with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. She said, “I have had a male child with the Lord’s help.” 2 She also gave birth to his brother Abel. Now Abel became a shepherd of flocks, but Cain worked the ground. 3 In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also presented an offering—some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but he did not have regard for Cain and his offering. Cain was furious, and he looked despondent.6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? 7 If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”10 Then he said, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11 So now you are cursed, alienated from the ground that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood you have shed.12 If you work the ground, it will never again give you its yield. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” – Genesis 4:1-12
If you’ve ever felt like a failure as a parent – I have, many times – then consider Adam and Eve, the first parents. Their eldest literally killed their second born – what a horrific thing to endure for a father and mother! Adam and Eve lived in perfection and paradise, and within a very short time, the world went from sinless beauty to horrifyingly dark. Sin is that way, isn’t it? It can start out small and seem somewhat innocuous, but sin always leads to worse and worse consequences. James describes the slippery slope of sin this way:
“Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. ” – James 1:15
God saw what was coming, and warned Cain to turn away from his jealousy and lust for anger, but Cain ignored the warning, and killed his brother in cold blood. Most of us that read this passage can see why Cain did what he did – it is not justifiable in the least, but we have all been upset when one person is commended, and we are not. A more mysterious question is this: Why did God reject Cain’s offering, and not Abel’s? Sadly, the Bible doesn’t say directly, but there are some very solid clues that point us in the right direction. Hebrews 11:4, for instance, tells us this, ” By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through his faith. ”
At least part of the answer is that Abel’s sacrifice was by faith, and Cain’s was not. Another clue might be found in the letter of Jude in the New Testament. In that letter, the church is warned about a group of false teachers who have turned away from the ways of God, and have, “have traveled in the way of Cain.” Again, the specific error of Cain is not identified, but in the context of Jude it does seem to have to do with false teaching/false practice/false worship.
Our final major clue, and the one that I believe is the most important, comes to us in Leviticus chapter 17:11, ” For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement.”
In the eyes of God, the only way for sin to be atoned for – (atone means to make amends or reparation, to make things right) – is for there to be the shedding of blood. Because the life of an animal or human is in its blood, the only way to cover sin – to pay for sin – to make things right – is for there to be the spilling of blood. Abel’s sacrifice recognized this truth and adhered with it, but Cain’s sacrifice did not. I believe that this simple fact explains why Cain’s sacrifice was rejected. Not because God loves shepherds more than farmers, but because only blood can cover sin – nothing else…not vegetables, not offerings, not money, not power, not fame, nor possessions. This is why Jesus had to come and die – why His perfect blood had to be poured out. Because only blood can cover sins. Imperfect blood – the blood of normal animals and humans is limited in its effect, but the blood of a perfect and sinless human is infinite in its covering effect. Therefore the writer of Hebrews tells us:
22 So Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.23 Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. 24 But because He remains forever, He holds His priesthood permanently. 25 Therefore, He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do—first for their own sins, then for those of the people. He did this once for all when He offered Himself.Hebrews 7:22-27
Now that, my friends, is the good news. The sacrifice of Jesus was ONCE for all. We don’t have to earn our way in to Heaven. For all who look to Jesus in faith believing – their way into eternal life with the Father is paid for by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the spotless lamb.