Question: Can you explain why Cain’s offering was rejected and Abel’s offering was accepted as in Genesis 4:3-5?
Answer: I do not know if I can explain this to anyone’s satisfaction other than my own, but I will try according to my best understanding. The scripture referred to read thus: “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 the Lord 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.”
It seems evident that the practice of making offerings to the Lord had already been established at this time and a time appointed for them because the text reads, “In process of time” this happened. And it seems to indicate that both Cain and Abel showed up at the place at the same time as if by appointment. Cain was a tiller of the soil (farmer) and he brought an offering of the produce from his labor (the fruit of the ground). This has always been an acceptable offering to God, and He commanded the children of Israel at the time of their harvests to present the first fruits of their wheat, barley, olives, and the like to the Lord, and said in Numbers 18:12-13, that the best of these things which the children of Israel offered to the Lord was to be given to the priests as their portion. So it would appear that up to that point the offering itself was not the problem. This was a thank or gratitude offering.
Hebrews 11:4 mentions Abel’s “gifts” (plural). Abel, no doubt, brought the same kind of thank or gratitude offering as Cain. But he also brought a lamb from his flock in addition to this. A lamb was always a sin offering, typical of “The Lamb of God” Jesus Christ, our great sin offering. In bringing a lamb, Abel acknowledged himself to be a sinner in need of an atonement and redemption, and offered it for his sins. Cain’s sacrifice lacked this and showed an attitude in him not to recognize himself as a sinner and showed a lack of penitence and humility, and light consideration of the promise of a redeemer. There are many such as he today who make a sacrifice to the Lord but don’t go far enough, and therefore the sacrifice they do make is not acceptable.
But let us look a little farther into this and see how it may affect us and apply to us today. The text says that to Abel and to his offering God had respect and to Cain and his offering he did not have respect. Let us notice that God connects the offering right up with the offerer, and if He cannot respect the offerer, He cannot respect his offering. John mentions Cain in I John 3:12, and says he was of that wicked one and his works were evil. No doubt his attitude was defective in that he showed no penitence and recognition of sinfulness and need of an atonement and redeemer and did not include in his offering a suitable sacrifice for this purpose. But beyond that, he had evil works in his life and evil in his heart which God knew; and this all together rendered him unacceptable to the Lord and consequently his offering was not acceptable.
Let us pursue this idea a little farther and see if that is always God’s attitude toward people. In Isaiah 1:13-15, we read, “Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I can not away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.” Here is described an outline of the very system God ordained for the children of Israel to worship Him. But also here is a strong indictment He laid against them in their backslidden and corrupt state. And He makes it very positive that it is all an abomination to Him and He hates the whole thing all the rituals and ordinances and observances which He Himself had commanded being carried on by a backslidden and corrupt people. He could not respect them so could have no respect for their offerings.
Proverbs 15:8 says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord:…,” and Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” God will not even hear and respect our prayer unless the heart is right toward Him and we are acceptable to Him.
In the first chapter of Malachi, God is pronouncing some pretty strong judgments against the children of Israel for their wrong doings and their insincerity in their offerings and service to Him, and in the latter part of verse 10 we read, “…I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand.” Again we see He would not accept their offering when He could not respect them. Proverbs 28:9 says, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” God requires strict reverence and obedience to His Word, and if one fails to honor and reverence God’s Word, his prayer will be abominable unto God. This all is emphasizing the fact that if God cannot respect us, He cannot respect our offering. This is forever His attitude.
In Malachi 3:3, speaking of the work of Jesus Christ in salvation, it says, “And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” Mention is made here of the “sons of Levi” because the priests were of that tribe, and the entire tribe was set apart to take care of the tabernacle and minister about the holy things. They were typical of the redeemed ones in this dispensation who are a “royal priesthood” (I Peter 2:9), and are made “kings and priests unto God.” (Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10; Revelation 20:6). The tribe of Levi with its priesthood was a special, particular type of the New Testament priesthood (the saints who are a royal priesthood) and whose duty and responsibility is to minister about the holy things of God.
We see in this text that they had to be saved, redeemed, purified, purged, cleansed from their sins and made holy before they could be acceptable to God and offer an acceptable sacrifice to Him. Let us face up to it and accept it; God cannot have respect to our sacrifices, service, and worship to Him until He can have respect unto us.
The real clincher text in regard to Cain is I John 3:12. “Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” There is no itemized statement of the evil works which he did, so we don’t know. It is just merely stated that “his own works were evil.” Even by the standards of that period he was a villain, and God could not respect him; hence, could not respect his offering.
Perhaps some in our day are doing much work for God and making great sacrifices for Him whose hearts are not right in His sight, and who have attitudes, feelings, resentments, affections, motives, and desires in their hearts which are not acceptable to Him and their lives are not clear before Him. Consequently, they are not receiving God’s approbation and blessings upon their lives which would ordinarily be experienced if they were in a condition where God could have respect to them and then to their sacrifices.