In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. 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 4:3–5
Genesis 4 tells the story of Cain and Abel, two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain presents an “offering” of crops to God, while Abel presents an “offering” of flocks to God. These offerings were acts of worship for them, much like songs, tithes, and acts of service are modern day acts of worship to God. Early in this story, a point of conflict is introduced when God “looked with favor” on Abel’s offering, but not with favor on Cain’s. Why would God be pleased with one person’s act of worship, and not with another person’s?
It would be easy for us to interpret this story as a lesson about how God views different types of offerings. Perhaps God approved of Abel’s offering because it was from his flocks, while frowning upon Cain’s offering because it was from his crops. It’s important to note that the issue is not about the nature of the offering. God makes clear, later in Scripture, that He accepts all types of offerings, from flocks and crops to worship and tithes.
The issue in this story lies in the quality of the offerings. The text says that Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” while Cain brought “some of the fruits of the soil.” Fat portions were considered to be among the most valuable parts of the animal, especially fat portions from first-born animals. While there are technically no fat portions or first-born portions of crops for Cain to offer, an analogous description would be “firstfruits.” Elsewhere in Scripture, God asks worshippers to present him the firstfruits of their crops. The fact that Cain’s offering is missing this important detail, the word “firstfruits,” suggests that what he presented to God was substandard. It was not the firstfruit of his crop.
This story challenges us to think about the quality of the offerings we present to God in our own worship. Are we giving God our leftovers, or are we intentional about giving God our very best, the firstfruits of our worship, our tithe, our service, or anything that we present to God as an offering?
Cain and Abel
1 Adam a made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. b She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth c a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering — at portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 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.”
8 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.
9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”
15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.
19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.
23 Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
25 Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” 26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.
At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.