The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”
God’s message for Cain is relevant for all of us. Do not be too mindful of another to the point of jealousy, rather worship and serve the Lord with the means and opportunities He has given you. God pays attention to everyone’s faith: “The eyes of the Lord go to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward him” (2 Chron. 16:9). Each of us must deal with the sin and the temptation of our lives – this we must master – and not busy ourselves too much to worry about someone else’s temptation, except in how we may pray for them and support them.
Cain and Abel, the first brothers, had very different temperaments and characters. Cain worked in the field and Abel was a shepherd. They both made offerings to God, presumably they brought them to Adam, their father and leader of the clan, who served as priest as well. Their sin nature was then their spiritual reality, causing them to be spiritually dead and in need of a spiritual resurrection. Today in the Church Age we gain this by Christ, through our faith in Him and through His Spirit’s work in us. In that day, however, the Lord moved in mysterious ways, through conscience, and, undoubtedly, through some family and social witness, to bring to bear upon their hearts what they should and should not do. The consistent reality was that God revealed Himself to people and the people embraced that revelation with faith, repentance, and worship.
Abel’s sacrifice God received, and Cain’s He rejected. Why? Why is anyone’s worship of God received by God and another person’s is rejected? We can find three simple reasons for their difference. First, there was a difference in their character. Cain had not learned to master sin. It crouched at his door and ruled his heart. Moody, angry, brooding, jealous – this was his personality.
Second, the nature of the sacrifices were different. Cain brought the fruit of the ground, but the idea seems to be that he brought the leftovers to God. It was not a matter of love but a matter of convenience. Love always gives more than what is required. Abel brought the blood sacrifice of an animal, and more than just the sick or weak among the flock, he brought the best, the first born and the fat portions. This is the first record in the Bible of someone shedding blood as an atoning sacrifice for sin and in worship.
Third, Abel offered his in faith, and Cain did not. What Abel did he did for God, for His glory, and what Cain did he did for Cain, for his acceptance in the family clan. We can imagine the two brothers sitting around the family in the evening, hearing Adam and Eve talk about the Garden of Eden, of their time walking with God, ruing their loss, wishing to return. The same message that provoked faith and a desire to know this God in Abel, provoked anger, resentment, and morose selfishness in Cain.
Many questions arise on this matter. Was it simply a matter of the blood sacrifice versus the sacrifice of grain? In the Mosaic Covenant there were grain sacrifices as well as blood sacrifices, and there were allowances for the poor farmer who had no animals also, that they could offer a dove. God never condemned any person whose worship was sincere, who sacrifices were of the best that he had even though it may not seem much to others. The “Widow’s Mite” (Mark 12:41-44) teaches us that. Abel offered the best he had and Cain did not.
But the heart of a true worshiper also always searches for truth, and he grows in his knowledge of how best to please God. Later in Hebrews 11:4 we read, “By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts and through faith.” Childlike faith is required for salvation, simple trust in God and in the gospel, but in another place we read, “When I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). We cannot remain as immature children, but are expected to grow and mature. The one who loves God and is devoted to Him will be led into the truth. Abel’s blood sacrifice was the more honorable by its nature, and we presume that this was more than just chance, but it represented a greater heart of worship and a more profound understanding of God’s redemptive plan on the part of Abel.
Today often people take great pride in giving a little thing to God that they did not want in the first place, and imagine that God would be impressed with such a gift. They lack the simple character that sees God as God, and that all of our offerings to Him are to be done humbly, gladly, and in faith.
God’s message to us, through His quote to Cain, is not to worry about how He blesses another, but to be faithful ourselves, and to recognize the temptations that we face and to master them. He is here to help us each day to follow Christ.