Key Verses (Genesis 4:3-8)
“And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.”
When Adam and Eve were sent away from the garden due to their disobedience, God made clothes for them out of leather (Genesis 3:21) to cover their nakedness and to provide shelter from the elements. God had to kill animals, His precious creation, in order to clothe the two people who chose to disobey His Law. Moses does not offer that much detail into this scene, relegating it to only one verse, but it’s fairly easy to infer what happened. I don’t believe Moses omitted details purposefully, rather he omitted the details because what happened was obvious to him and his compatriots.
When God killed the animals to clothe Adam and Eve, He also instituted the sacrificial system. At its most basic, the sacrificial system works in the following manner: every time a person sins, a sacrifice must be made as a symbol of atonement. Prior to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, people were told to bring a lamb or baby goat, without blemish, to be used as a sacrifice. Doves were also acceptable for the poor, also without blemish. God taught the principles of this system to Adam and Eve: how to offer sacrifices as a symbol of atonement for their sins. In turn, Adam and Eve passed this knowledge on to their descendants. Moses didn’t include this information in the book of Genesis because the sacrificial system was second nature to the people of his day. You wouldn’t add brushing your teeth to your daily calendar reminders, or to-do list, because brushing your teeth is almost instinctual.
As an aside, the sacrificial system was not instituted for God’s sake, but for our own sake. Imagine having to kill a baby animal every time you told a lie. It would make it a lot harder to lie, wouldn’t it? It would make you think about the sin you are about to commit if you knew that blood would be spilled due to your transgression. In Hosea 6:6, God speaks to His people and states that He “desires mercy, not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings”. This idea comes up again in Matthew 9, when Jesus is addressing the religious leaders of His time regarding His fellowship with sinners. God did not institute the sacrificial system because He enjoys seeing His precious creation bleed to death. He instituted it, as early as the expulsion of Adam and Eve, because He wanted us to think about the consequences of sin before we commit the sin. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Let’s return to the story of Cain and Abel. The latter listened to his parents and sacrificed what God required, an animal without blemish of the first fruits of his flocks, while Cain sacrificed what was most convenient, the plants he tended for sustenance. The consequence was that God brought attention to Cain’s actions and how inadequate his sacrifice was to prevent future sin. Cain couldn’t look the sheaf of grain in the eye as its blood spilled upon the ground because the sheaf of grain doesn’t have eyes that convey its despair as life drains from its body. The sheaf of grain doesn’t have blood nor a means to cry out as the knife slides across its throat. Cain did not feel the pain of that perfect baby animal as it died to make atonement for sin, he just burned a bunch of vegetables or whatever he had at hand. He may as well have done nothing and it would have been better.
Cain’s thinking went along these lines: “God will accept anything I bring to Him, because He is merciful and loving”. While that last part may be true, Cain’s reasoning in the matter was due to selfishness, not lack of resources. If you have nothing more than two mites to offer, God will accept your sacrifice (Luke 21:1-4). However, Cain had a lot more than two mites to offer, but he decided that God will accept whatever was at hand as a sacrifice. God’s Law and His rules are not trivial. They exist for a good reason: for the sake of us sinners. The Law of God points the sinner back to Christ as the only one who is perfect and just and good. The sacrificial system pointed the early people to Christ as well, because the system was a symbol of the blood that must be spilled, and the suffering that must be endured, as a consequence of sinful man’s actions.
Cain had options to follow God’s rules in this matter. He could have asked Abel for a lamb or goat as a gift, or even exchanged some of the work of his hands for the animal. I’m 100% certain that Abel would have gifted a lamb to Cain so that the latter can make a sacrifice to God. Cain could have also trapped a wild animal to use as an offering. However, Cain decided that it would be too much work to go through this process every time he needed to make a sacrifice, so Cain decided to make his own laws, substituting God’s Law for convenience.
How much is this lesson still applicable to our lives today? Do we not offer sacrifices of convenience rather than sacrifices of faith? Do we pray to God asking for more blessings, or do we pray to God thanking Him for the blessings He has already poured out for us? Do we hold the Law of God sacred and immutable, or do make our own rules that resemble the Law, but are in fact selfish so that our lives may be easier? Do we substitute a half-effort into God’s work, thinking that God will be pleased with whatever we feel is most convenient to give? I am just as guilty if not guiltier of all these things and more. I’m not here to judge, but to reflect. Cain’s sin happened due to a lack of introspection and a lack of repentance. I do not want to fall into the same trap.
Please reflect on these matters and look to God’s perfect Law and understand that it was not written to be a stumbling block in front of us. God gave us the Law because we need to understand how perfect He is. In understand the perfection of God, we understand how far we are from this standard. This understanding leads us to Christ’s righteousness, His faith, without which we would not be able to stand before the Almighty.
Our Lord in Heaven, on this blessed Sabbath I ask that we may all hide your word in our hearts so that we may not sin against you. I am thankful for your perfect Law, which gives us the context and guidance we need in these last days of the Earth’s history. I am thankful for the perfect sacrifice you’ve provided for us in the form of the Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection represents the culmination of your plan of salvation for us sinners. You are the Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, and you are the only one worthy of praise. You are our living God and you answer our prayers in our time of need. I thank you for allowing me to know you, and I thank you for showing me that you know me as well.