That’s what I thought for the longest time.
What was so wrong with Cain’s offering that God would reject it? Poor Cain!
I hear that thought from others, too, until they take a closer look at what happened – what really happened – and they see Cain has no one to blame but himself.
It’s right there in Genesis 4.
“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits
of the soil as an offering to the LORD.” ~ Genesis 4:3
The Bible doesn’t record the moment Cain learned about bringing an offering to God, but we know that conversation happened, because we see him bring an offering to God without any questions.
Since Cain was a farmer, it makes sense to us that he’d bring some of his crops as an offering.
“And Abel also brought an offering—
fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.”
~ Genesis 4:4a
Since Abel was a shepherd, it also makes sense to us that he brought an offering from his flock.
Surely God wanted them to bring the best of what they had. Right?
“The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” ~ Genesis 4:4b-5
Here’s where we jump to Cain’s defense. Why is God playing favorites? What’s so wrong with Cain’s offering?
Look closely at this next verse, and we’ll see our answer:
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 4:6-7
(Of course God knew why Cain was angry. He asked these questions to help Cain realize the true reason for his anger and what he must do about it.)
“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?”
The Truth: Cain didn’t do what he knew was right.
He knew he wasn’t bringing the right offering. He brought what he decided he could bring and God should accept.
I don’t want to keep paying these high gas prices, but if I put water into my gas tank, my car won’t run. It’s not the right fuel for my car. The car manufacturers decide what makes my car run, not me.
Cain brought the wrong offering.
Even if Cain had brought the best crops in history, it wouldn’t matter. Champagne in my gas tank wouldn’t work either. It’s not about bringing our best. Our best is worthless. (Isaiah 64:6 reminds us that our very best deeds are no better than filthy rags in light of God’s righteousness. Ephesians 2:8 confirms we are saved by grace alone, not by anything we do.)
God accepted Abel and his offering, not because God liked Abel better, but because Abel brought the right offering.
Simple solution! Go get the right offering and bring it.
It wasn’t too late for Cain. God lets him know that If he’ll go and get the right offering, he will be accepted just like Abel was accepted.
How did Cain respond?
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. ~ Genesis 4:8
While they were in the field together, Cain could have chosen a firstborn of Abel’s flock, but he chose to kill Abel instead.
God had offered Cain grace, but he rejected God’s grace and refused to bring the right offering.
Cain didn’t want to bring the right offering. He wanted to decide for himself what is an acceptable offering and what is not. He wanted to be in the place of God. (Where have we seen this before? The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. — Sorry. I couldn’t resist that cliché.)
A good friend of mine once told me, “I’ve lived the best life I can live, and if that isn’t good enough for God, then oh well.” My friend also rejected God’s grace. He wasn’t interested in coming to God the right way — the only way.
My friend’s heart reflected Cain’s heart:
“No! I do as I please. You’re not the boss of me. I can come to You any way I want, and You’d better be ok with that.”
Cain never repented. He was never sorry. So tragic.
But why couldn’t the offering be from the ground and not from the flock?
I see at least three reasons:
- The ground was cursed, and thus it cannot cover sins. Therefore, it can’t point to Christ. (It can’t give us, what I call, a Red Thread Clue.) God accepted grain offerings for thanks and praise, but not for sin.
“To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,” ‘Cursed is the ground because of you;'” ~ Genesis 3:17
- The animal from the flock was sinless, thus it gave us a picture of Christ.
“For we do not have a high priest [Jesus Christ] who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” ~ Hebrews 4:15 [Brackets mine]
- Abel’s offering reflected the penalty and payment for sin, thus it points to Christ, whose death would pay for our sin.
“With His own blood–not the blood of goats and calves–He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.” ~ Hebrews 9:12
Bottom Line: Abel brought the right offering — the offering that points to Jesus, who was the Right Offering.
Abel chose to come to God the right way with the right offering, looking forward to the day when God’s Son would come and be the right offering — the perfect offering — for the sin of the world.
Cain chose to come to God his own way, and when given the chance to come to God the right way, in the stubbornness of his heart, he refused. If my way isn’t good enough for you, God, then fine! Forget it!
If that’s our attitude, we will pay the same steep price Cain paid:
So Cain went out from the LORD’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. ~ Genesis 4:16
Please, don’t miss this:
There is only one way to come to God and that is through Jesus Christ. All other ways lead us out of God’s presence forever.
If you’ve decided to come to God through Jesus, I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment or email me privately at jwilund(at)me(dot)com.
If you haven’t decided yet, and would like to talk, I’d love to hear from you as well.
For more articles in The Red Thread series, click here.