And in process of time, it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And God had respect unto Abel and to his offering. But unto Cain, and to his offering, He had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. Genesis 4:3-5
Before we can really get into this, we should gather a brief understanding of the various specific offerings addressed in Scripture. From the Book of Leviticus, we know that there are a variety of offerings given for specific reasons, in specific contexts. For the sake of time, if you are interested in going into all of the specific variations of offerings, find yourself a Companion Bible by E.W. Bullinger and research Appendix 43.
For the purposes of this subject, the word used for “offering” in verse 3 is “minchah” and it means, “a present, as such. Hence, a gift-offering, not necessarily to secure admittance, but to secure favor.”
This offering is specifically a gift. And it is to secure and maintain God’s favor upon the one who presents it. As far as the gift goes, the choice is yours. And this is where I think the crux of the lesson lies. Because herein lies an option - a choice we are allowed to make on our own as to how we will secure, and how much we care about securing God’s favor. Or, perhaps more aptly put, in this is free will, and in free will, our heart is openly exposed to the Heart Knower.
So what was the difference between the two offerings? We are not told in Scripture what was specifically wrong with Cain’s offering, but we can deduce it by being told what was specifically right about Abel’s.
“And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof...”
More specifically, the Hebrew states Abel brought “the firstlings, and the fattest ones too”. Abel, given the free will option, brought the best that he had to God - and in abundance, while Cain kept the best for himself. Abel brought MORE than was asked for - Cain brought the bare minimum required of him. This is the simple, foundational difference of what the brothers brought to secure God’s favor.
And God’s response to Cain’s countenance falling because God was not pleased with him?
And the LORD said unto Cain, “Why art thou wroth? And why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door....
The curious thing to me here is that God did not punish Cain for his scant offering. It was, after all, Cain’s choice to bring what he would. God simply “had not respect” of it. He, in other words, was disappointed with the gift.
One might say here, “Well, it was a gift - isn’t it the thought that counts? Seems like God is kind of picky about expecting things of people... Seems kind of demanding and high maintenance from where I sit.”
Admittedly, at first glance, I pondered this same thing. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized God didn’t need the gift(s). He didn’t need the fruit and He didn’t need the firstlings. What God was doing was exposing character, and His disappointment, at least to my understanding, was the inescapable reality of the self-serving lack of love in Cain. I believe God was saddened by the essence within this child. Self-love doesn’t just put God second in your life, it puts anything that comes up against self second.
Cain was not deficient of anything necessary for comfort and survival. He was surrounded by family; he could commune with God, he had an abundance of food, and warmth. He had no reason to believe he would not have abundance or safety in the future. He most likely had no concept of anxiety or fear because he had never had cause at that point to experience such emotions. And yet his natural urge - his first and primary impulse was to keep the best for himself - while Abel’s urge was to fervently and zealously give the best he had to the God who had provided him all these things to begin with.
Hebrews 11 (which uses Abel as its first specific example of faith) says this of Abel:
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh. - Hebrews 11:4
Judging by this verse, and the phrase “more excellent sacrifice than Cain”, one might think God had put the two brothers in competition with one another. Yet we know two specific things from Scripture that make this impossible: 1) God is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11) and 2) God is the same yesterday, today, and He will be forever (Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17).
It should be acceptable then to say, that given this information, the only thing that made Abel’s gift “more excellent” than Cain’s was that it came from a place of sincere love, while Cain’s came from a place of an inconvenient obligation to have to give something... Abel gave as though giving to someone he loved above all things; while Cain treated God like a distant Aunt he really didn’t know very well, but his parents told him he had to buy something for, so he got her some random generic trinket that cost him next to nothing but got the job done and got him off the hook.
This same resounding principal can be found throughout the Bible from beginning to end. Why does God find this particular issue of such fundamental import that He would repeat and record its happening to us over and over and over again?
The fundamental, and quite possibly the only mandatory principal that defines true love is free will. There is NOTHING in the entirety of the created universe that quite exposes what one truly loves other than free will. An entity that is forced to love, is not a loving entity; it is one under duress, ruled by fear and oppression. This is not how our God works.
As CS Lewis puts it: “Remember, we Christians think man lives forever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or hellish creature..... both good and evil increase with compound interest” (pages 117 and 119-20)
What Cain outwardly declared by his offering was the hierarchy of his inner workings. Self, with Cain, came first. The same thing that divided Lucifer from God has now divided his progeny from God. It was selfishness and pride that were the cause of Cain’s unacceptable sacrifice. And it was these same idols that caused his response to this event.
For what did Cain do afterwards? Did he apologize to God and run back to his supplies and grab the best that he had and bring them back to God and lay them at His feet? Did he try to explain that he didn’t know how important this was to God and that he would do better next time? Did he attempt to understand where God was coming from and what the true purpose of this offering was?
No. What Cain did was allow his anger to spur his pride. And instead of placing the blame at his own feet; instead of considering himself and his actions and wondering what HE had done wrong - Cain blamed his brother for bringing a sacrifice God was pleased with. Cain, in his heart said, “My brother Abel made me look bad”. Is this a stretch? I don’t think so. Why else would Cain have slain his brother?
Have you ever found yourself doing this? Are you punished for wrong doing and because of the punishment, get angry, and then try to lash out at others, or blame others, or God for the suffering you earned?
To quote CS Lewis, he says this about pride:
“Pride is essentially competitive... We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is comparison that makes one proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.” - Mere Christianity - Page 122
Lewis might have continued onto say pride is also what makes one feel inferior to others. It was this feeling, I believe, of coming second to Abel, and the rage that followed, that caused Cain to rise up against his brother and slay him.
My point in all of this expounding is to consider yourself. What “free will” offering have you given God lately? How do you prioritize Him? Where do you place Him in your day? Your week? Your year? Do you attend church because the people of your congregation will inquire if you do not attend? When you go to church, or sit down for a Bible study, or pray, does it feel like an “obligation”? Do you do it only when you’re in troubled times? Do you only pray when you have something to ask for?
Proverbs states, “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit.” - Proverbs 14:8
If you aren’t being blessed; if you feel estranged from God; if you feel distant, and alone, and scared, perhaps you might consider the condition of your “free-will” offering. Christ tells us the most important commandment is the first one.
“I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” - Ex. 20:2-3
It does not take long to realize that if one breaks any commandment, they are automatically in breach of this first Commandment as well. Whatever has caused you to break a law of God’s is guilty, at least for the moment, of being your idol.
If you lie to keep the peace, then peace is your idol for the moment. If you cheat to win money, then in that moment money is the thing you’ve put above God (or the pride of winning). But the real kicker is, that any sin you commit is committed because somewhere in your being you have decided two things: 1) My logic says..... (which means you have chosen your own way and your own solution over God’s in spite of His orders - which proves an instantaneous lack of faith on your part) and 2) you have decided that your personal desire is more important to you for that moment than your obedience to God.
And in this regard, there is really only one idol - and that is self. All idols begin and end with self-worship. And self-worship is a direct result of a severe lacking of faith. Because in reality, if you really loved self, you would love the possibility of an eternity of self. Self never wants self to suffer, or die. But in order to save self, one must totally release self. This is God’s order, and the only way to achieve eternity. The only way to save self is to live for God, and in turn, live for His children and His cause - A COMPLETE SACRIFICE OF SELF..... Hmmmm.... all of a sudden, what Jesus did seems abundantly more profound to me.
Matthew 16:26 - For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Consider your daily offering to God. Ask yourself what your extra sleep, or your hobbies, or your social calls, or your movies, or your video games, or your sporting events are worth to you. Ask yourself what you are prioritizing above your zeal and love for your Lord. If you are having problems; if you feel jammed up, ask Him to reveal them to you. You might just be surprised with the answers you get. For the moment, they will most likely not be very comfortable - but they may very likely change your future - both tomorrow, and for the eternity.
I am so glad that God judges us according to what is in our heart and not by the outward show.
It is so difficult nowadays to find even committed Christians devoid of the attitude of Cain.
Is it any wonder then that the world in general is losing all sense of morality and integrity.
I enjoyed your essay and can see many modern day comparisons.
Everyone wants to be a 'leader.' So few want to be 'the servant of all' in anything but word, and yet that is the touchstone attitude that Jesus left for us as Christians.
A really enjoyable read.