Yesterday we discussed why Cain attempted to make an offering to God in the first place. God had not yet commanded sacrifices and offerings, so why did Cain give one to God? In today’s post, we look at the question about why God rejected Cain’s sacrifice but accepted Abel’s.
Various Explanations for why God Rejected Cain’s Sacrifice
Some argue that the problem was with Cain’s offering itself.
God wants blood, we are told, and Cain brought only fruit. Only death atones for sin. Yet nothing is said anywhere in the text about this being a sin offering. And besides, later in the Pentateuch when Moses gives instructions to the Israelites about the sacrificial system, fruit and grain offerings are said to be acceptable to God.
Others take this a step further and point that Abel brought the firstfruits from his flock (whether we understand this to mean the firstborn lamb or the first batch of milk) whereas Cain brought the last portion of his harvest.
But once again, this is not something which is explicitly stated in the text. Since the flood had not yet occurred, it is unlikely that there were seasons, and so fruit would have been produced all year long.
Finally, some argue that it wasn’t fruit from the last harvest of the year (for there was no such thing), but rather, the fruit of the ground, that is, fruit that had fallen off the tree and was lying on the ground, and therefore, not the best part of the harvest.
But again, this explanation is nowhere in the text, and must be read into what is there.
So why then did God accept Abel’s offering but not Cain’s?
God seems to explain why right in the text.
He tells Cain that if he does well, he will be accepted (Genesis 4:7).
We saw yesterday that Cain was trying to give God’s fruit back to Him. God is telling Cain now that acceptance is not dependent upon giving God His fruit back.
The problem with Cain, it appears, was that he was trying to please and appease God by giving God what he thought God wanted, namely, fruit. Cain was apparently trying to manipulate God by giving God back His fruit so that God would allowing Cain and his family back into the Garden of Eden.
By offering fruit to God, Cain was trying to the savior of his family.
God gently rebukes Cain and tells him he is already accepted and loved, that nothing is required. All God wants is for Cain to live well, to do what is right. If he doesn’t do what is right, rather than being the savior of his family, Cain will fall into the same trap that his parents had fallen into, and will become prey to sin. In fact, God warns Cain that sin is already crouching at Cain’s door, seeking to devour him.
The problem with Cain’s offering wasn’t with what Cain offered. The problem was with Cain’s heart in the offering.
Why then does God accept Abel’s offering?
The text simply doesn’t say. But it seems likely that if Cain’s offering was not accepted because he was trying to please and appease God through an offering of fruit, then maybe Abel’s offering was accepted because he had no ulterior motive. He was simply following his older brother’s example.
He saw Cain give fruit, and though, “Oh, is this how we thank God for what He has provided? Okay. I will give something too.”
For Abel, the offering of the firstfruits of his flock (which was probably the first batch of milk) was an act of worship to God and a way of saying “Thank you.” He had no desire to control or manipulate God into doing something for him or for his family. This seems to be how his offering differed from Cain’s, and therefore, why his offering was accepted while Cain’s was not (cf. Heb 11:4).
And of course, we all know how the story ends. Cain, the one who wanted to save his family from their sins, ends up taking his family deeper into sin by becoming the first murderer of the human race. Despite God’s warning about sin seeking to rule over Cain, Cain becomes jealous of his brother Abel, and murders him (Genesis 4:8).
The Sacrificial System in the Bible
Genesis 4 nevertheless begins to lay the groundwork for why the sacrificial system developed and what God thought about it.
Nevertheless, when people give gifts, God is pleased to accept them if they are given with the right motive and intention. He does not want humans to give offerings in an attempt to manipulate or control Him into doing what humans want, or as a way of getting back into God’s good graces.
As God told Cain, we are already accepted. We don’t need to do anything, other than live our life the way God desires. This is what God wants.
Of course, if we do end up giving something to God out of love and thanks to God for what He has given us, God is fine with accepting it, not because He needs or wants it, but because He recognizes such offerings as the acts of worship that they are.
Clive Clifton says
I looked at Leviticus ch 7 and there was no reference there to a milk offering rather than a blood offering and to do with the skin of the animal, that was to be given to the priest. So I still think Adam probably killed an animal to use the skin for clothing for himself and Eve and obeyed Gods instructions as did Moses as to how the animal was to be used for food and sacrifice. I’m assuming God instructed Adam with the same information as He gave to Moses.
Please read Genesis 3:21. In this verse God made tunics of animal skin for Adam and Eve. This established the blood of the convenant . Also this the first blood sacrifice made by God himself. Maybe by killing of the animal God used the blood to wash away Adam and Eve sin.
Or the animals just died naturally because that point isn’t necessarily taught here
Gerrie Malan says
Some interesting food for thought Jeremy. On face value it seems to me we are once again confronted by the Hebrew focus on the “what”, while we Westerners stick doggedly to our Greek philosophical insistence on wanting to read it as “how”?
Gerrie Malan says
“What matters most to God is the heart of the worshiper.” Declared by God at various times through the Bible record – Is 29:13; 1 Sam 16:7 & Matt 15:8.
How descriptive of God’s grace. Where would we have been today with our many theologies and 40 000 or so denominations if the accuracy of our “doctrinal offerings” were the absolute measure for acceptance in God’s eyes?
Christians see the world through the eyes of their faith. For protestant Christians especially, this means through whichever interpretation of the Bible to which they subscribe. As many interpretations justify war, persecution, intolerance and exploitation, this is a significant problem. Biblical interpretation has been and is weaponized. That is where we are in the world and church today.
Please, anyone, explain why God would “reveal” his will in such a problematic way: in several historically and culturally fluctuating languages and through poetry, story, symbol, parable and metaphor—all forms open to endless reinterpretation? Is it enough to say such interpretive diversity doesn’t matter, even in the face of it’s destructive consequences? And given such far flung and conflicting interpretations what is it that the Bible reveals?
Gerrie Malan says
Problem is the stains of Greek philosophical techniques through the centuries = the traditions brought aboard by the humans. Jesus also addressed this in taking the religious leaders of Jerusalem to task (Matt 15:6).
Lightfoot (1658) summed the need of one seeking true understanding (and not interpretation) up well: “For, first, when all the books of the New Testament were written by Jews, and among Jews, and unto them; and when all the discourses made there, were made in like manner by Jews, and to Jews, and among them; I was always fully persuaded, as of a thing past all doubting, that that Testament could not but everywhere taste of and retain the Jews’ style, idiom, form, and rule of speaking.”
“And hence, in the second place, I concluded as assuredly that, in the obscurer places of that Testament (which are very many), the best and most natural method of searching out the sense is, to inquire how, and in what sense, those phrases and manners of speech were understood, according to the vulgar and common dialect and opinion of that nation; and how they took them, by whom they were spoken, and by whom they were heard. For it is no matter what we can beat out concerning those manners of speech on the anvil of our own conceit, but what they signified among them, in their ordinary sense and speech. And since this could be found out no other way than by consulting Talmudic authors, who both speak in the vulgar dialect of the Jews, and also handle and reveal all Jewish matters; being induced by these reasons, I applied myself chiefly to the reading of these books. I knew, indeed, well enough, that I must certainly wrestle with infinite difficulties, and such as were hardly to be overcome; yet I undervalued them all, and armed myself with a firm purpose, that, if it were possible, I might arrive to a fuller and more deep knowledge and understanding of the style and dialect of the New Testament.”
When sports teams run into a losing streak we often hear the fans crying out: Back to basics. It is a lesson we can do well to remember in our reading of the Bible. Unless the Bible indicates clearly the existence of more than one meaning, there cannot be more. Applications of principles may be varied according to our time, but not the meaning. Unfortunately religious leaders of old have ignored this and religious leaders are ignoring it today.
Jeremy Myers says
Amazing questions, and so true. How thankful we can be for a gracious God!
Gerrie Malan says
Jeremy, I have never come across the milk-idea before and therefore checked a number of Bible versions (Holman’s, Benner’s Mechanical translation, Green’s Interlinear Bible, AESV Torah, NET, Jewish Publication Society, Tyndale and Geneva) , as well as Hebrew word studies (Strong’s, Zodhiates)and a concordance. As far as I could find, it seems the word used in Gen 4:4 means firstling (or firstborn). Of all these versions only the Geneva used first fruits.
Thanks for your post and the stimulation to look closely at an event that I really never considered in depth before.
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, I may well be wrong. The view certainly is not common. Though at least I didn’t invent it!
Even though it does not describe vividly in Genesis 3 about God required sacrifice to replace Adam and Eve sin, but God showed Adam and Eve how to replace them as the one who should die because of their sin, by killing an animal and make the clothes for them. I think it makes sense, since we learn in the whole bible that the consequence of sin is death and the death and blood required to be right again with God and there is nothing can compare with the death and blood of Jesus to clean our sin.
Since I understand that sin is everything against God, and that what Cain did, he wanted to make offering as what he wants, not what God showed Adam and Eve to do. and what God want.
it is not about offering, but about Cain obeyed God’s instruction or not. So, its his heart. he wanted to rule and do whatever he wanted to do, including gives offering to God.
Jeremy Myers says
that is the traditional understanding, and it may be right. I am just not fully convinced that God actually killed an animal to make clothing for Adam and Eve. The text doesn’t say that He did this. Only that He gave them skin to wear. It’s an odd phrase…. Anyway, you are right about Cain. He wanted to rule and do whatever he wanted. It was this heart condition that made his offering unacceptable.
I agree with you, I was not sure as well how God make the clothes for Adam and Eve, It did not written in the bible. But the more I learn about His character, I can only understand that He always shows us the most important part in the story which we can learn from it, which is the condition of human heart after sin.
Justin Wiles says
I think you’re definitely on the mark about the condition of their hearts.
Hebrews 11:4 says “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.”
So Cain, as you mentioned, wasn’t in the right place to offer his sacrifice, but perhaps Abel also knew a little more than simply following his brother’s example.
Jeremy Myers says
Good point about Hebrews 11:4. Whatever Cain’s sacrifice actually was, the real problem was with his heart.
JOSHUA KYEREMEH says
Were Cain and his brother instructed by God to give the sacrifice or what was the required method of sacrifice?
I agree with the statement about cains motive. We know God can see our heart and know what is behind our actions. All of our sins can be held under o e umbrella. It always goes back to covetness. When we want what we see or see what others have we dont. That leads to covetness and covetness leads to all other sins. We lie to get what we want we steal for what we want and kill for what we want. I believe God saw what was in cains heart and knew that this would lead him to do this. He spoke to him gently to avoid his action of murder. It shows such great love from God in that moment and such restraint from He that can destroy and create at the same time. Thank you for the insight on this story.