Most of us are familiar with the story of Cain and Abel from children’s classes at church. But have you ever taken the time to really dig into this story? To go past the felt board and really look at the tragedy and find the hope of the Gospel buried within these few verses brings a freshness to this story and gives its truths more impact and makes them more memorable.
Cain and Abel: The Offering
Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, “I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.” (Genesis 4:1)
In the previous chapter, we read of the consequences of Eve’s sin. We know that sin would lead to death, but showing mercy, God delayed death. He said Eve would have pain in childbirth but the fact remained that she would give birth. Yes, there was a curse, and sadly that is what we often focus on the most. However, there was a wonderful blessing. This blessing would even eclipse the curse of the pain of childbirth.
“Though Eve bore him with the sorrows that were the consequence of sin, yet she did not lose the sense of the mercy in her pains. Comforts, though alloyed, are more than we deserve; and therefore our complaints must not drown our thanksgivings.” ~ Matthew Henry
This birth, not only comforted Adam and Eve in the fulfillment of God’s prophecy that they would have children, but it also reaffirmed His prophecy that one day, a Seed of Eve would crush Satan.
Adam and Eve were humbled at the mercy of God, they were joyful at the fulfillment of the prophecy, and were hopeful in the greater prophecy.
Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. (Genesis 4:2-5)
Abel was a gentle shepherd that offered an acceptable sacrifice. This is a shadow of our gentle Shepherd who became the perfect Lamb and was offered up as the perfect sacrifice. Jesus fits into the role of both the Shepherd and the Lamb.
We don’t really know why God did not accept Cain’s offering. There are likely several reasons.
One reason is the difference in character of Cain and Abel. Abel is referred to as a righteous man in Scripture (Matthew 23:35), but Cain is called an evil man (1 John 3:12).
“Abel was a righteous man; he is called righteous Abel (Matt. 23:35); his heart was upright and his life was pious; he was one of those whom God’s countenance beholds (Ps. 11:7) and whose prayer is therefore his delight, Prov. 15:8. God had respect to him as a holy man, and therefore to his offering as a holy offering.” ~ Matthew Henry
Cain was an evil man. This is revealed in the next few verses. We do not often see people as wicked, but, over time, their fruit often is revealed to be rotten. Proverbs 15:8 says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” This was the case for Cain. He was a wicked man and thus God did not accept his sacrifice.
Another reason God may have not accepted Cain’s offering was because it was an offering of the fruit of the ground and not at the shedding of blood. Atonement for sin is only made through the shedding of blood (Leviticus 17:11).
By not offering a blood sacrifice, Cain was not acknowledging that fact that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Cain could not claim ignorance regarding this truth because God had sacrificed the first animal to cover Adam and Eve’s shame of sin. In doing that, God showed them that death must come as a result of sin and established how atonement must be made for sin.
Cain was either claiming he was without sin, thus was not in need of atonement or he was rejecting the form of worship that God had established that would be pleasing to Him. This is another reminder to us that we cannot worship God however we feel and expect God to accept our worship. God only accepts the worship that He has revealed to us in His Word as what He finds pleasing. Anything else, no matter how “sincere” we are, is an abomination to Him.
“Cain’s was only a sacrifice of acknowledgment offered to the Creator; the meat-offerings of the fruit of the ground were no more, and, for aught I know, they might be offered in innocency. But Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement, the blood whereof was shed in order to remission, thereby owning himself a sinner, deprecating God’s wrath, and imploring his favour in a Mediator.” ~ Matthew Henry
This practice of blood being shed for the atonement of sin is foreshadowing Jesus shedding His blood as the ultimate Atonement of the sin of God’s children. To reject this practice, this idea, is to reject the promise of the Savior.
Cain revealed how prideful he was in this instant. Just as the pride of Adam and Eve thinking they could be like God lead them into sin, Cain’s pride starts him down a path that would end in misery.
His anger with God for rejecting his sacrifice is so deep and so strong that it begins to show on his face. He is so angry that it is evident to everyone.
“Cain was very wroth, which presently appeared in his very looks, for his countenance fell, which bespeaks not so much his grief and discontent as his malice and rage. His sullen churlish countenance, and a down-look, betrayed his passionate resentments: he carried ill-nature in his face, and the show of his countenance witnessed against him.” ~ Matthew Henry
Cain had no right to be angry with God. He only had himself to be upset with. He had offered the inappropriate sacrifice and he would bear the shame of the rejection.
“It is a certain sign of an unhumbled heart to quarrel with those rebukes which we have, by our own sin, brought upon ourselves.” ~ Matthew Henry
Cain was also angry with Abel. He had absolutely no reason to be upset with Abel but jealousy is a vicious sin that leads to hating another without reason.
If you have been a Christian for any time, you may have noticed this in your own life. You may try to live a quite life (1 Thessalonians 4:11) and pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14). However, you are ridiculed, hated, and persecuted for no reason. As darkness is repulsed by the light, so it is with those outside of the family of God are repulsed by the lives of God’s children.
Any Bible reader should not be surprised by this. Jesus, Himself, tells us in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” Again, in Mark 13:13, Jesus says, “You will be hated by all because of My name.” Christ never promised His followers a life of “health, wealth, and prosperity.” Rather, He promised that we would be hated, reviled, and persecuted. This fact was nothing new in the New Testament, however. It is revealed right away in the story of Cain and Abel.
“It is common for those who have rendered themselves unworthy of God’s favour by their presumptuous sins to have indignation against those who are dignified and distinguished by it.” ~ Matthew Henry
Cain was arrogant and angry. Rather than confessing his sin and offering a more appropriate sacrifice, he allowed anger to consume him.
Talk about a cliffhanger. This would give any silver screen drama a run for its money. What will happen next? Will Cain see the error of his ways, confess his sin to God, and beg for forgiveness? Will Cain and Abel’s relationship be healed and they will live out the rest of their lives supporting in love?
Sadly, most of us know how this story ends. Yet, we beyond the tragedy, we can see God’s attributes of love, mercy, and long-suffering.
Praise God for His awesome attributes and may we all pray that God will convict us of our sin and grant us repentance before sin consumes us.
- Matthew, Henry. 2017. “Chapter 4 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary – Bible Gateway”. Biblegateway.Com. https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/matthew-henry/Gen.4.1-Gen.4.26.