Cain and Abel

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4, NKJV)

We are told, by the writer of Hebrews, that Abel brought a more at the excellent sacrifice than his brother:

Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. (Genesis 4:2-8, NKJV)

Notice that Cain and Abel, had different occupations: Cain was a farmer, and Abel was a sheep rancher. The text says “in the course of time,” meaning that this was not the first time they had brought offerings to the Lord, in fact they had brought similar offerings many times before, probably over many years. Obviously both Cain and Abel were adults at this time, and had their own homes and families. Both Cain and Abel were very aware of the Lord’s requirements regarding offerings.

Even though it’s not explicitly stated in the text, the Lord had obviously desired a blood offering, even though at this time in history men were not eating meat. The requirement of a blood offering had been revealed to Adam and Eve when the Lord made clothing for them (Genesis 3:21). Even though Cain was fully aware that the Lord had required a blood sacrifice, and that He also required the first of his produce, Cain merely bought brought the remnants of his own personal meal. Further, it is implied in that Cain brought a skimpy portion to the Lord. Instead of bringing the entire required portion, Cain brought significantly less. Cain had decided to first feed himself from his harvest, and then, almost as an afterthought, brought the remnant to the Lord as an offering. Needless to say, the Lord was not impressed with Cain’s offering.

When the Lord expressed His disregard for Cain’s offering, Cain became enraged. Cain didn’t like the fact the Lord require an offering to begin with, much less that He required a blood sacrifice which would represent a significant sacrifice on his part. Cain did not recognize his need for redemption since he was very self-righteous. When the Lord questioned Cain’s inappropriate anger, He made a statement that was actually a double entendre: “sin lies at the door,” can also be interpreted as “the sin offering lies at the door.” Perhaps Cain was in his house at the time and a lamb was actually lying by the door of his home, it which case the Lord was pointing out that the solution to the problem was actually very close at hand. But the statement also had a far more sinister interpretation: that if Cain continued to entertain sin in his heart, then sin, like a wild animal, would pounce upon him, overpower him, and ultimately dominate him. Obviously Cain made the wrong choice.

At the same time that Cain is feigning obedience, Abel was actually celebrating obedience in an ecstatic display of worship. Able carefully and deliberately went through his flock, and selected the choicest (fattest) of the firstborn sheep. Even though he probably had no intention of actually eating the animal, since we have no record of anyone eating meat before the flood, he chose a generous portion of what he had, and gladly gave it to the Lord as a blood sacrifice. Rather than trying to meet the bare minimum quota required by the Lord, Abel gave a very bountiful portion, far exceeding the minimum requirements. Abel wasn’t pretending to worship the Lord, he was ecstatically worshiping the Lord with all his heart. As David would say a few millenniums later: “I will not ‘offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing.'” (2 Samuel 24:24, NKJV)

If we look at the attitudes of Cain and Abel, it is obvious that Abel was in love with the Lord, while Cain actually despised the Lord. When an individual lives in a love relationship with the Lord, he/she lives in the constant expectation of blessing.

Faith is the outward exhibition of a genuine loving relationship with the Lord God. Those who truly love the Lord have incredibly firm expectations of blessings from the Lord. They joyfully seek to be holy, simply because the One they love is holy. Because they live close to the Lord, they know that the Lord hears and answers all their prayers, and they know that all trials and temptations are from an Enemy who not only hates the Lord, but also hates all who love Him! That is what faith is: knowing that the Lord will generously reward every genuine act of loving obedience at the proper time, no matter what the temporary cost may be.

Copyright (c) 2008 Jon Straumfjord