Most of us have read about Cain and Abel. They are even well known by those outside the Church as the brother who murdered his brother. Cain was the murderer, and his younger brother Abel was the victim.
In speaking of Cain and Abel I am using Genesis 4:1-16 in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) since it is the most accurate English translation. We see in the passage below that Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd.
“…Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.”
We don’t know how old they were, but obviously their parents, Adam and Eve, had explained to them what happened in the Garden of Eden. I’m sure they explained to their children how God clothed them with garments of skin to cover their nakedness after they sinned against Him. Perhaps God also explained to them the necessities to satisfy how they would worship Him. Nevertheless, one day they both came with an offering to present to God.
“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.”
Was this the first gift they ever presented to God? I don’t know, but perhaps all was fine up to this point. I don’t know. Anyway, let’s read what happened next.
“The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.”
Uh-Oh, now somebody’s got a problem. When I was much younger I used to scratch my head in puzzlement about this. God accepted Abel’s gift, but why wouldn’t He accept Cain’s gift? Abel was a shepherd and gave from his flock. Cain was a farmer and gave from his harvest. So what’s the big deal? Oh, it is a big deal, a very big deal.
Big Deal #1: Notice that Cain brought “some” of the fruits. It doesn’t say the “best” of the fruits, but “some” of the fruits.
When my Dad was alive and well, he would raise green beans and sell them by the bushel. Everyone wanted to buy his green beans, because they knew that as good as the beans were on top, they would be just as good all the way to the bottom of the basket. He would sell ‘no junk.’
I have a feeling that Cain’s green beans may have looked real good on top, but progressively worsened further down in the basket.
Notice that Abel gave “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” He gave the best, in other words, from his flock. But this still isn’t the reason God did not look with favor on Cain’s offering.
Big Deal #2: The difference between the two offerings is one thing; i.e. the blood. Beans, turnips, cabbage, tomatoes, potatoes, etc. do not produce blood, but the firstborn of Abel’s flock had to give its innocent blood to be an offering.
God did not clothe their parents, Adam and Eve, with lettuce and onions. He clothed them with the garments of skin from an animal(s). The innocent had to die to clothe the guilty. Hebrews 9:22 says, “And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
Many years down the road God provided a final offering for mankind. This offering was His Son. His Son, innocent and guiltless, would shed His blood on a cross so that all who come to Him in faith would be clothed in His righteousness once for all.
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). The result is that we are all guilty, and there is not one drop of innocent blood in any of us. Therefore, not one of us can be an offering unto God. We cannot clothe ourselves and we cannot clothe anyone else. Only God can do that, and He does so by the blood of His own Son, Jesus Christ, every time one comes to His Son in faith. All that is required from God is that we put all of our faith in His Son. That’s all. Let’s read on.
“So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
Let me tell you what I think Cain was thinking. This is only my opinion of course, but I think I’m right in this case.
Cain is thinking, “I worked out in the hot sun all summer. I pulled weeds. I plowed. I watered the ground. I staked the plants. I gathered the harvest. I worked like a dog. I’m tired. My hands are calloused. My skin is browned from the heat of long summer days, and this is the appreciation I get? My brother Abel just walks around and sits all day while his sheep follow him from pasture to pasture. I’ve worked hard. What has he done? How dare God to reject my offering and accept Abel’s offering!” I really believe that Cain’s eyes were on his own work and not upon the grace offered by God through the shedding of blood.
Maybe Abel didn’t work quite has hard as Cain, but he did work. However, it isn’t Abel’s work that God accepted. It was his obedience in providing a blood offering. I think Cain knew God required a blood offering, but he was like so many people today who think their work should satisfy God’s requirement for an offering.
When Abel gave the “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock,” he took the best he had of the flock and sacrificed it in the memory of the animal(s) that God had to slay to clothe Adam and Eve, and in anticipation of the Son of God who would be slain for the sins of the world.
Abel looked forward in time to the cross, while we look back in time to the cross. The point of reference is the same. Only the work of Jesus upon that cross and the grave that remains empty satisfies God. The only thing left for us is ‘faith.’ That’s all God requires.
Cain missed the point. He thought it was about work. He wanted to do it his way. Many today miss the point. They want to do it their way. God says there is one way.
““Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”” (John 14:6 NASB)
The only way to come to the Father is by faith in His Son.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NASB)