“Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering” (Genesis 4:4)
The story of the offerings of Cain and Abel is interesting. The Bible tells us about the two brothers who engaged in two distinct professions. Cain, the older brother, worked the soil, and Abel, the younger one, was a shepherd (Genesis 4:2). Both brothers brought their offerings to the Lord. Cain “brought some of the fruits of the soil” (3). Abel also brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” (4).
“The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering, He did not look with favor” (5).
The question that has stirred extreme controversy is: Why did God accept the offering of Abel and not that of Cain? They both brought to God what they had (2 Corinthians 8:12). So why did one receive favor, but the other did not?
Many have postulated that it was because Abel offered a blood sacrifice, while Cain did not. Those who support this argument maintain that in the Old Testament, blood sacrifice was the right offering that pleased God. Taken that way, it becomes clear why Cain did not receive favor from the Lord. But that claim has no direct scriptural support.
In the Levitical sacrificial worship, God instituted the grain offering (Lev. 6:14) alongside the other blood offerings. In Exodus 23:19, the law required worshipers to:
“Bring the best of the firstfruits of [their] soil to the house of the Lord.”
So, what was wrong with the fruit of the soil Cain offered to the Lord? Why did the Lord disfavor his offering?
On the same side of the argument for bloody sacrifice, Mackintosh maintains that Hebrews 11:4 “sets the whole subject before us most distinctly and comprehensively” [C.H. Mackintosh, Genesis to Deuteronomy, pg. 38].
“By faith, Abel brought a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous when God spoke well of his offerings” (Heb. 11:4).
The implication here is that because God commended Abel as righteous, the offerings the two brothers presented were for the removal of their sins and into right standing with God. It implies further that Abel, who brought the blood offering, was the one who got it right with God.
For, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22).
Good argument, but the problem with this interpretation is that there is no mention of the sin offering in the Genesis scripture. The Book of Hebrews has become the only source of reference. But even there, the writer does not make an emphatic statement on the subject of sin offering. For, God declared Abraham righteous not because he offered a blood sacrifice, but by believing God.
Warren Wiersbe also argues in His commentary on: “God had revealed to Adam and his descendants the true way of worship, and Abel obeyed God by faith” [Hebrews (Be Confident, pg. 807]. Again, that is inference from Genesis 3:21, and as Lawrence O. Richards writes, it is “Scripture’s first word of forgiveness won by the shedding of blood.” [The Bible Reader’s Companion, pg. 27]. The text does not speak about God instructing Adam on the way of worship, as Wiersbe claims. The faith of Abel then becomes the central issue. The question then is, how did Abel exercise faith in God by his offering?
Abel’s offering was exceptional. He selected it from the firstborns of his flock, and the Lord regarded it with favor (Genesis 4:4).
This scripture is central to our understanding of why the Lord favored Abel’s offering (Genesis 4:4b) and not that of Cain (5). It speaks to the primary way to please God, without which, He takes no pleasure in whatever a person does. Since Hebrews 11:4 reveals that Abel’s offering was faith-driven, there should be no further argument in the matter of Genesis 4:4 other than to understand that God looked with favor on Abel’s offering because Abel approached Him by faith. Abel trusted God. Therefore, he came to Him with his offering in a way that pleased Him—by faith.
Trusting God implies confidence that He exists. It is a bold statement that we accept everything about Him and His word. That is faith. Anyone who approaches God with this mindset is deliberate in manner and measure—respectable, with the heart, with love, and with generosity. That’s why the Holy Spirit showed us how profuse Abel was with his offering—fat portions from the firstborns of his flock. It reveals the willingness of Abel and his joy at the opportunity to give to God. In the law, the Lord required the people to offer the fat portions of the sacrifice to Him (Lev. 9:19, 24; 10:15). It showed their faith in Him.
“If the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.” (2 Corinthians 8:12).
God is the only one who knows our hearts. He is able, therefore, to judge in this matter of Cain and Abel. His judgment is perfect, and here, it reveals the willingness of Abel and the lack of it in Cain. The same applies when we come to offer to Him.
The text tells us that Abel offered from the firstborns of his flock (Genesis 4:4). Now, that is crucial. Giving away the firstborn is difficult if confidence in the beneficiary is absent. Our natural tendency is to give to others only when we have satisfied ourselves. That’s why leftovers are easy to give away.
The Holy Spirit offers no description of Cain’s offering. The reason is simple to find. There was nothing commendable about it! The language of Genesis 4:3 instead suggests it was plain and casual. There seems to be no sense of awe and reverence in Cain’s presentation. It sounds like an offering coming from an unwilling person—just a religious act to fulfill all righteousness. Most revealing of all, Cain’s response to God’s intervention (Genesis 4:6-16) demonstrates his lack of faith, without which he couldn’t please God (Hebrews 11:6).
Giving must come with faith if it is to please God. The motive must be correct and deliberate. It should come from the heart. Finally, it must be generous.
That is the difference between the Cain and Abel saga. It is the difference that determines whether God will look favorably on your offering. Fortunately, a change of heart and attitude is possible, as the Lord told Cain (Genesis 4:7).