“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.” (Hebrews 11)
But what made it a better offering? Here’s the story in Genesis 4:
“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel also brought an offering – fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. 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.’ (Genesis 4:2b–7)
If these offerings were some kind of spontaneous Thank-You, then rejection seems a tad churlish. But we have no record of an Instruction Sheet for “How to do Offerings” that Cain violated, unless we’re not interpreting those “coats of skins” (Genesis 3:21) that God provided correctly, as a way of approaching God through the sacrifice of animals.
At any rate, his heart was not right before the Lord, and his offering was not “in faith” as was his brother’s. Therefore, God rejected his gift…Mark Batterson noted, succinctly, that “…the true value of an offering isn’t measured by how much we give. It’s measured by how much we keep… By definition, a sacrifice must involve sacrifice…”
Or is it possible that Cain’s offering was somehow the wrong type? Hebrews 9:22 , Leviticus 4:25–26, and Leviticus 17:11 all connect the shedding of blood with the atonement of sin. This foreshadowed Jesus Christ as the only blood sacrifice that could truly atone for our sin. Had Cain filled in the wrong form and not received his due benefit?
But this is thin. I’m reading too much into the text. And -if you want to be precise about it, this wasn’t a Sin Offering anyway, but a Thanks Offering. It wasn’t guilt but gratitude that prompted the offerings.
So then, was Cain’s offering rejected because it was not of high enough quality? There’s a hint of this, that Abel offered “of the firstborn of his flock,” while saying nothing about the quality of Cain’s offering. But it’s circumstantial and speculative.
The New Testament deals with the issue twice. First, our text in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.” It’s a question of faith.
Look too at 1 John 3:11–12: “We should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous.”
His works were evil! The Genesis account doesn’t quantify these “evil works” that preceded the murder but it does explore the very important issue of Cain’s reaction. Cain was defiant. The Bible says “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’” (Genesis 4:5b–7). God provided a “way out,” but Cain, in his pride and stubbornness, allowed sin to rule over him—ultimately driving him to commit the first murder. He (as we all) are responsible for our response to be repentant when being confronted with our wrongdoing.
Cain was anything but repentant. He wanted to make the rules, and he didn’t want to change his ways.
We must come to grips with one thing: God, as Creator, is sovereign over His creation. While there are proximate reasons for God’s decrees, what ultimately makes “right” right and “wrong” wrong? God’s sovereign choice. This does not mean God is capricious or arbitrary; God is always reasonable because He is the creator of reason. If God’s actions seem to conflict with or transcend man’s sense of “reason,” that doesn’t mean God is wrong; it means His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8).
Our part is to make sure that our actions are right and that our hearts are in the right place. In the case of offerings, that includes humbly giving from the firstfruits (does God deserve any less?) of our labour with a cheerful heart, understanding that such works themselves do not save us, and gladly accepting instruction, correction, and even rebuke from the hand of the Almighty.
The lesson of Cain is that sin and rebellion runs through our attitudes and our actions, and that the two ultimately cannot be divorced.
And in the offering of our daily choices, God examines our hearts. Jared Brock outs it brilliantly: “Somewhere, somehow, at some unknown intersection between prayer and work, God indwells our humble offering—God indwells us—and turns human actions into spiritual awakenings.”
It’s not what you do -quantity, quality, regulations – that matters most, but the way in which it is done and the consciousness you put into it. When all your actions are consecrated to God, there will be no longer activities that are superior and activities that are inferior; all will have an equal importance — the value given them by the consecration.
And “a cup of cold water in my name” will be a wonderful statement of love.