Summary: By Faith, Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain did. But what does that mean? What made the sacrifice more acceptable? And what can that mean for us?
OPEN: I read from a Children’s book the story of Cain and Abel.
You know, it’s odd - we ALL seem to know the story about Cain and Abel. But Cain gets more “PRESS” from Scripture than Abel does. Cain is mentioned in 18 verses but Abel ONLY gets 11 verses (about 1/3 less attention). But the PRESS that Cain gets is all BAD press - He’s a bad man; He’s an angry man; He’s a murderer. God tells us in I John 3:12 “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.”
Cain’s actions were “EVIL?” Here in I John we’re told Cain’s evil actions LED HIM to murder his brother. In other words Cain’s evil actions didn’t start with murdering his brother. His evil actions came even before the murder of Abel.
Now, some people believe that Cain KNEW he had to offer an animal sacrifice and - because Cain refused to obey God in giving an animal sacrifice - that’s what made his actions evil. The only problem is… that’s NOT what the story says:
Genesis 4:2-5 tells us: “Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground (he raised crops). In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.”
Do you read anything in there about God ASKING for an animal sacrifice? (NO) In fact – Abel is a keeper of sheep… so he brings a sheep. Cain is a worker of the ground… so he brings crops. Each of them brings what they’ve raised to give to God. So, if each of them brought what they’d raised as a sacrifice, why would God accept Abel’s gift and reject Cain’s?
I don’t know but, if the problem isn’t with the gift it’s got to be with the giver.
Down through Israel’s history, God repeatedly rejected sacrifices from Israelites because there was something wrong with the GIVER, and NOT because of the GIFT.
In Isaiah 1:11, 13, 15-17 God says “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats…. Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. … I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting…. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil; Learn to do good; Seek justice; Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless; Plead for the widow.
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
The problem (for Israel) wasn’t with the gifts. The problem was with the giver. God was telling them: “Clean yourself up… then bring your offering. Jesus said essentially the same thing.
In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “if you are offering your GIFT at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
The problem wasn’t with the gift. The problem was with the giver.
Now, the Bible doesn’t say what was wrong with Cain… but we have a hint. The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it." Genesis 4:6-7
Cain’s sacrifice was rejected (at least in part) because of a heart condition. Cain’s heart wasn’t right before God. And so we’re told in Genesis 4:5 “(God) had no regard FOR CAIN and his offering.”
But Abel’s heart was right before God. Genesis 4:4 tells us “the LORD had REGARD FOR ABEL and his offering.”
So, what was it that made Abel’s heart right before God? Hebrews 11:2 tells us – it was his faith in God. “For by (FAITH) the people of old received their commendation…. Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.”