For the next six months, I’m reading straight through the Old Testament. Since it’s a bit longer than the New Testament, it requires reading bigger chunks of scripture each day. We will move through it pretty quickly, reading anywhere from 6-8 chapters a day. I’m not attempting an overview but just letting God’s Word speak. Wherever He gets my attention, that’s what I’ll focus on.
Today I read the very familiar story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4. I’ve read this story many times and heard a lot of sermons on it, but today I noticed one line that I’ve never paid attention to.
Abel and Cain have brought their respective offerings to God. Cain was a farmer, a tiller of the ground, so he brought “of the fruit of the ground.” Abel was a keeper of flocks, so he brought “the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions.” The words used to describe Abel’s offering are very specific, which tells me God had given instructions on what kind of offering He would accept. “Firstlings” and “fat portions” are the very words we find later on in scripture when Moses records the details of the sacrificial offerings to be made by the priests. We don’t know how much detail He had given this first family (Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel), but obviously, some parameters had been laid out. Abel had followed God’s plan and his offering reflected that He had listened to God’s instructions.
Was the problem that Abel brought a “blood” sacrifice and Cain did not? I don’t think so. Later on, in Exodus, we’ll see that the “firstfruits” of what was produced in the field were part of God’s desired offerings. We aren’t told specifically why, but I believe the issue was more Cain’s attitude of what he could bring to God. No mention is made of “firstfruits.” Cain simply picked up whatever he was willing to give God, regardless of its quality or when it was produced. He reminds me of when I just go through the motions of worshipping God, thinking He will be pleased and proud that I bothered to come at all.
Abel had listened to God’s instructions and his worship reflected that he desired to honor God. Cain appeared to want to honor God but was making his own rules up about how he wanted to worship and what he was willing to give up.
Here’s the line I never noticed, and it comes after God reprimanded Cain and refused his offering. Notice He does not reject Cain, but He does reject what Cain brought to Him. He offers Cain redemption – a second chance to do what is right – but warns him that sin will be his master if he gives in to it.
Genesis 4:6-8 – Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
Cain told Abel.
They had a conversation about this.
Cain was obviously hurt. He felt rejected. He felt spurned by God and was jealous of Abel’s relationship with him. What he couldn’t see was his own part in it. He went to Abel for some confirmation – some commiseration – some affirmation of his sinful attitudes and actions but obviously did not find what he was looking for.
Abel had to affirm God’s words. Instead of comforting Cain in his sin, he confronted him, which set Cain on a path of jealous vengeance. I can only imagine the thoughts he had that persuaded him to kill his brother in a fit of anger. Cain failed to see that Abel was speaking life to him. He felt condemned (rightfully so, because he was wrong) but he rejected God’s conviction and took his anger out on his brother who was simply the messenger of God’s words.
Isn’t that typical today?
Those of us who desire to honor and obey God’s Word will find two responses when we point out the obvious sin in our culture. Some will repent and turn away from their sin when the Holy Spirit convicts them, but many will simply grow angry at the messenger.
All around us we see churches (and I use that word loosely) that have compromised the clear commands of God in His Word in the name of love, tolerance, and acceptance. They have told people it doesn’t matter what you bring to worship – bring whatever you want, and only what you’re willing to give up. If you want to cling to your sin, that’s okay. God loves you anyway.
These are words of death, not life. To tell someone they can remain in their sin and be accepted by God is a lie – a lie from the father of lies, the devil. It is to condemn them, not to comfort them. But we ought not to be surprised when they react in violent resistance when we speak truth instead of affirming them in their sin.
We all have a bit of Cain in us. We want to come to God on our own terms, and if we are not careful, the sin that is crouching at the door will master us. Instead, let’s be like Abel. Let’s listen well when God tells us the truth. Let’s honor Him by living holy lives that please Him – that is our “acceptable offering” when we come to God through the precious blood of Jesus, who died for our sin. And let’s be brave and bold enough to tell others the truth when they come to us to commiserate or excuse their sin, even if it costs us our lives.