Genesis 4 Devotional
By Pastor Lawrence
In the previous chapter, God brought immediate judgment upon the human race because of Adam’s sin and rebellion in the garden. And yet, even in the midst of this judgment, the Lord has shown mercy. For, although the ground was cursed because of sin and man is frustrated in his labor of bringing fruit from the ground, he is still blessed with food to eat and air to breathe. And although the woman experiences much pain in her labor bearing children, she is still blessed with offspring and with hope for the human race. In the first verse of ch.4 there is a partial fulfillment of that hope in the birth of her son Cain. And we see something of Eve’s ongoing faith in God when she says, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Then, later on, she gave birth to Abel as well.
In the next verses we see the two sons bringing offerings unto the Lord, Cain’s from the field and Abel’s from his flocks. What would cause them to bring such offerings in the first place? Did they just decide one day that they were going to give to the Lord a sacrifice from some portion of their bounty? Did Cain suddenly say to himself, “I think I’ll give the Lord some fruit from the harvest? He might like that.” Or did Able say, “I think I’ll kill one of these lambs and offer it to God? Surely God will be pleased with the fat from this dead animal.” Of course not! They didn’t just come up with the idea of giving to the Lord an offering. Rather the Lord told them what to give and how to give it.
How do we know that? For God condemns the two priests, Nadab and Abihu, in Leviticus 10 for offering “unauthorized” fire before the Lord. We see this as a consistent principle throughout the Scriptures that God authorizes and regulates His own worship and that it is a sin for men to worship the Lord according to their own will and imagination. The very reason God gave Israel the book of Leviticus is so that they would know how to approach God in the proper manner and to offer the appropriate sacrifices, from burnt offerings and sin offerings to fellowship offerings and thank offerings. Surely, He gave similar directions to Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel as well many years prior.
The Lord would have done this because the offering and the sacrificial system was His idea not man’s. He was the one who shed the blood of the animals in order to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness and guilt. They thought their fig leaves were good enough, but the Lord showed them what He required. In fact, not only did the Lord show them what He required, but when He required it and where to bring it as well. In v.3 the text reads “in the course of time Cain brought his offering,” but, literally in the Hebrew it reads, “at the end of the day he brought his offering.” Well, that could refer to the evening sacrifice that was later offered in the tabernacle, or it could refer to an appointed time, a special time of worship. Again, we don’t have the details of when God expected the offering, but surely Cain and Abel knew the Lord’s will in this regard.
They also knew where to bring it. As much as God speaks about the proper place of worship throughout the OT, surely God would have told them where to make their offering. Now if in the tabernacle they were to worship before the Lord’s presence near the Ark of the Covenant guarded by the cherubim, I can only imagine that those in Adam’s family were to offer their sacrifices before the Lord’s presence near the entrance to the Garden of Eden where the cherubim stood along with the flaming sword. For later on even the walls of the tabernacle are made to look like the Garden of Eden. But whether I’m right about this or not is not important.
What is important is to understand that God alone determines what an acceptable offering is because He is the one who has graciously provided the offering for sinners in the first place. Cain and Abel knew exactly what the Lord required of them: to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with their God.
So why did God accept Abel’s offering and reject Cain’s? Part of the reason was likely because of the offering itself. Again, Moses doesn’t tell us in this passage what the Lord required of them, but later on in Scripture we know that God desires the first and the best of the crops or the flocks, for he deserves only the best. He is the King. He is the Lord. He is our Creator and Redeemer. How could we possibly give him the leftovers? Well, Moses tells us that Abel gave the Lord his best. He gave him from some of the firstborn of the flock and he also gave him the fat portions, which were the tastiest and the best. Cain, on the other hand, merely brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering. It doesn’t say that he gave of the first fruits of the harvest, nor the best of the first fruits, just some of the fruits. Certainly, that was a problem, for Cain did not bring what the Lord required, rather he brought what was second best or even something worse. Now understand that his actions were sinful because he did not do what God required. And this was no ignorant mistake on Cain’s part. He was fully aware of God’s will and yet he did not submit to it.
But there was more to Cain’s sin than just his actions. The Lord could see that his heart was not right. In Hebrews chapter 11, verse 4 the author states that it was “by faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain.” What was it that Cain lacked? He lacked faith. But faith in what? Again, the writer of Hebrews tells us that “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” What was it that Abel hoped for and was certain of that Cain did not see? Abel believed God’s promise in the coming messiah and when he offered his paschal lamb unto the Lord, he did it by faith in the Lamb of God who was to come and to take away his sin. You see, Abel’s hope did not lay in some animal, but in the one whom the animal represented. His faith was in Jesus.
But what about Cain? Cain’s error did not come from offering a fruit offering as opposed to an animal sacrifice. For, just as Jesus is the Lamb of God slain for us, he also is the first fruits of those who have been raised from the dead. Both offerings were prescribed by God to signify the Messiah to come and they were to offer both types of offerings by faith in God’s promises. But Cain did not believe. He did not come before the Lord with faith in the righteousness and sinlessness of Christ. He came before the Lord in his sin and in the state of his condemnation. Even if he would have offered the right sacrifice or the best of the first fruits of the soil, God still would not have respected his offering for he did not offer it in faith in Christ.
We will see this more clearly later on in the Old Testament when the prophets continually speak out against the sacrifices of Israel. God speaking through them said, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! They are detestable to me. I cannot bear them. My soul hates them. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”
Sometimes the problem was with the sacrifice itself, the Israelites would give to the Lord animals that were crippled or crops that were spoiled, but more often than not they would offer the right sacrifices but not by faith in Christ or out of love for God. They offered their sacrifices only out of duty, out of a sense of fear and expectation that if they gave the Lord what he wanted, he would give them what they wanted that they might spend what they received on their own sinful pleasures, but God cannot be mocked and he will not accept such an offering.
It’s interesting one of the commentators suggested that God showed his favor to Abel by consuming his sacrifice upon the altar. Again, that would fit well with what we know later on in God’s revelation. For in Leviticus 9 we read that “fire came out of from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offerings and the fat portions on the altar. And when the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell face down.” Well, if that is the case then most likely God showed his displeasure with Cain’s offering by ignoring it and allowing it to spoil, smelling just as foul as the inclinations in Cain’s heart. Food for thought…