So why was it wrong for Cain to bring the product of his own hands? This is what Abel did. Abel was a shepherd and brought the firstling of his flock. This was accepted by God. Cain also brought the results of his efforts, but God did not accept it. Does it seem a bit unfair to you? If it does, you are not alone. Many people feel this way
One of the reasons that some view the offering of Cain’s as an entirely appropriate type of offering was not only because it came from the result of his occupation, buy they also liken it to the meal offering that was instituted by God in the Law of Moses. I also made mention of this in the previous post.
The Purpose for Cain’s Type of Offering
This meal offering, sometimes also called the grain offering, was among the several types that God instituted in the Law of Moses. The meal offering was distinct from the sacrifices involving animals in some important respects. One of these differences was that the meal offering was not meant to be for the atonement for sins, but instead an offering whereby the man or the woman could show gratitude to God for the fruit of his or her labors. It was also a way in which the people would ask God to bless their efforts.
The grain offering was, in some ways, similar to the tithing that we do today. By our tithing, we show that we recognize that all the material goods that we possess really do not belong to us, but that they are instead entrusted to us by God. The act of our tithing demonstrates our understanding of this fact and also reaffirms it in our own minds.
In addition, the grain offering was not totally consumed by God as was the burnt offering. The burnt offering, the type such as Abel brought to the Lord, was given as an atonement for sin and involved a blood sacrifice. This sacrifice was completely burned on the altar to demonstrate that it all belonged to God in its entirety, and thus was consumed by Him.
The meal offering, given instead to show thankfulness and for consecration, was partially consumed on the altar and partially by the priests. Again, this is as our tithing today demonstrates. In our tithing and with a sense of sharing, we give to God a portion of what our hands have produced, and a portion of it we retain for our own use.
These are the purposes of the meal offerings. These offerings were never intended to carry a teaching of an atonement for sins or for making a person righteous. In fact, the meal offering includes no thought of sin. It is, instead, an obedient man or woman who is sharing with God a portion of what his or her hands have produced.
Cain, in bringing this offering to God, demonstrates his thankfulness for what God provides, as does the meal offering, but Cain does not recognize his need for atonement. He is not demonstrating his need to ask for forgiveness of sin. It is this omission that also demonstrates his lack of faith. It is relatively a straightforward thing to recognize the provision of the Lord for daily food and success in growing crops, but it takes a deeper faith to recognize our complete helplessness in atoning for our sins. This presence of faith was the first aspect of Abel’s offering that made it acceptable to God.
The Purpose for Abel’s Type of Offering
Abel, in bringing the proper form of worship to God, demonstrated his own need for atonement and a recognition of God’s sovereignty. Abel may not have understood completely why this form was necessary, but he offered his sacrifice in faith and in obedience. In this way, we see the relationship and correlation between the faith of Abel and the form of his sacrifice. For worship to be acceptable and correct, both the faith and the form must be present.
It is for these reasons that Abel found acceptance in his offering of the firstlings of his flock. By his offering, Abel demonstrated his faith by adhering to the correct form of the sacrifice. This, after all, is also what the writer of the book of Hebrews said:
By faith, Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks (Hebrews 11:4 NAS).
We should also notice in this verse the use of the preposition “through.” Abel obtained a testimony that he was righteous through his sacrifice. It is not that the act of the sacrifice itself had the power to impart or to perform the righteousness. However, by conducting the offering in the correct manner and in the correct form, Abel demonstrated his righteousness that came through faith. The actual righteousness is not something that can be obtained by means of sacrificing, but only by faith. Here then is the second use of the preposition “through” in this verse. God testifies that it was not only the gifts of Abel (Abel’s offering) but also through faith. Abel understood what Cain also should have understood, but in addition to understanding, Abel also obeyed. He made his offering in the correct form in his demonstration of faith.
How was it that Abel understood this and Cain did not? Again, I must mention that in the brevity of this whole account, there is no doubt much that occurred in the lives of Cain and Abel that is not mentioned in the text. Nevertheless, we can see something in the narrative that would lead us to see why it is that Cain should have understood these concepts as well as Abel. We see this in the lives of Cain’s own parents, Adam and Eve.
What Adam and Eve Learned
In the chapter in Genesis proceeding the one concerning Cain and Abel, we are told of the fall into sin by Adam and Eve and of their own inadequate attempt to rectify the situation. After sin entered into their existence, they saw their nakedness in a new perspective and tried to make coverings for themselves. This they did by sewing together some fig leaves, which no doubt did a very adequate job in providing the covering that they sought, but were inadequate in other ways.
Again I need to mention that we need to look beyond the simple facts of the story to see the allegorical and symbolic implications. Their newly felt shame at their bodily nakedness was symbolic of the fact that for the first time, Adam and Eve felt that there was something about themselves that they felt that they needed to hide from God. They were no longer completely honest with God.
Recognizing this new situation and wanting to return to the time when their relationship with God was completely open and honest, they tried on their own to rectify the situation. The leaves were inadequate, because they represented man’s own efforts to correct a situation that could only be corrected by God.
This inadequate understanding of the gravity of the problem demonstrates the need for faith. Adam and Eve by their actions showed the lack of the faith aspect in their attempt because they tried to remedy their condition themselves. They thought that they could bring about a renewed relationship with God merely by their own efforts.
But there are some situations can only be rectified by God. Atonement is one of those situations. Adam and Eve and later Cain needed to recognize this and we ourselves must recognize this.
God had to kill an innocent animal to make a suitable covering. Fig leaves may have covered just as well as anything else, but when God came on the scene, he made for the man and woman coverings made from skins of animals. These skins were, of course, more durable, but I do not think that this was the principle reason that the skins of the animals were more effective in rectifying the present need. To make this clothing, an animal had to be sacrificed. In this, we see the primordial teaching on the requirement of a blood sacrifice to make atonement for a sinful act or a sinful life. This teaching was later refined in the giving of the Law to Moses (and of course perfected and fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus Himself, once and for all time), but even here with Adam and Eve, it is apparent.
What Abel Learned
This teaching is evidently something that Abel obeyed but Cain did not. Cain showed his complete lack of obedience by thinking that the form of the sacrifice was not important. He thought that whatever his hands produced would be a suitable offering. Indeed, it is suitable as demonstration of worship and thankfulness, but entirely unsuitable for the forgiveness of sins. We can never, merely by our own efforts and by what our own hands produce, attain forgiveness of sins.
It was because of this that when the Lord had no regard for his offering, Cain became angry and perhaps discouraged. He saw this rejection of his sacrifice as a judgment upon his own efforts. However, Cain missed the point that the atonement for sin is not done by one’s own resources and efforts, but by that which is supplied to us by God and only through the efforts and the means of God.
It is for these reasons that Abel found acceptance in his offering of the firstlings of his flock. By his offering, Abel demonstrated his faith by adhering to the correct form of the sacrifice. Cain did not.
The First Homicide
If you know the story, you know what happened next. First the Lord tries to correct Cain, saying to him, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
God puts the choice before Cain. Cain had to choose whose voice he would follow. It is a choice we all must make. Are we going to begin to learn to live by listening to what God tells us, or are we going to do what we think is the best? We may think that our way is more reasonable than God’s way, so we believe that our manner of dealing with our lives is better.
At least that is what Cain decided. The passage continues: “Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him” (Genesis 4:8 ESV).
The text tells us that Cain spoke to Abel, but it does not tell us what they talked about. However, by what happened after they spoke, I think that Cain convinced Abel to go out to the field with him so that he could kill him. This was a premeditated murder.
Kinder and Gentler?
In this brief account, one of the aspects history of mankind is summarized in succinct form. The reasonings of men and women may start out sounding high-minded and noble, but in the end, it all leads to violence. We see it playing out again in our world and in our own society. For decades in our country, we have been slowly abandoning the teachings of God because they seemed too restrictive and narrow. We wanted a kinder and gentler society.
What has resulted? We now have a society that, like Cain, is angrier and more violent than ever. Blood flows in our streets and in our school-yards.
Life is in the Blood
The Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
Cain answered, “I don’t know. Who am I? Am I my brother’s keeper?”
God responded, “What is this that you have done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground!”
God taught the ancients a fundamental truth of existence: Our life is in our blood (Leviticus 17:14). It is for this reason that the presence of blood has a preeminent role in the sacrifices to God. The blood is the life, and all life belongs to God. It does not belong to us.
And the blood of the murdered Abel cried out to God. The blood of innocent victims around the world continue to cry out to God to this very day. It is no wonder that the world cannot find peaceful solutions to its problems.
The Last of the Sacrifices
All of the sacrifices given to God in the Old Testament, beginning with the sacrifice given by Abel, all the way through Noah and Moses and the prophets and priests, are finally fulfilled and culminate in the New Testament by the sacrifice of Jesus Himself.
The writer of the book of Hebrews recognized the importance of Abel’s offering, showing us that the final fulfillment of what Abel did came when Jesus gave his own life on the cross of Calvary:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God...and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of that Abel offered up with his sacrifice. (Hebrews 12:22-24)