Cain and Abel

Cain and Abel were sons of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman God created. Their story is found in Genesis chapter 4.

Genesis 4:1-12

1 The man [Adam] knew Eve his wife. She conceived, and gave birth to Cain, and said, "I have gotten a man with Yahweh's help." 2 Again she gave birth, to Cain's brother Abel. Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 3 As time passed, it happened that Cain brought an offering to Yahweh from the fruit of the ground. 4 Abel also brought some of the firstborn of his flock and of its fat. Yahweh respected Abel and his offering, 5 but he didn't respect Cain and his offering. Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. 6 Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why has the expression of your face fallen? 7 If you do well, will it not be lifted up? If you don't do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it." 8 Cain said to Abel, his brother, "Let's go into the field." It happened when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel, his brother, and killed him.

9 Yahweh said to Cain, "Where is Abel, your brother?"

He said, "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?"

10 Yahweh said, "What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood cries to me from the ground. 11 Now you are cursed because of the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 From now on, when you till the ground, it won't yield its strength to you. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth."

In this story, we have two brothers, Cain and Abel. They are both hard workers. Abel was a shepherd. Cain was a farmer. They both seem to be making a decent living from the earth, but they know that that is not all there is to life. They know there is a God. After all, they are the sons of Adam and Eve, the first people that God created and placed on the earth. They know firsthand from their parents who God is. They know how He created them, how He walked and talked with them in the garden of Eden, and also how punished them and drove them out of the garden when they sinned by eating from the tree which He told them not to eat from. So they know God is real, and that they need to make things right between themselves and God.

Really, their situation isn't a whole lot different from ours today. We know there is a God as well. He still makes His presence known today. Creation tells us about Him. Psalm 19 tells us, The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. You can't look at the nighttime sky when all the stars are out in all their splendor without knowing that someone infinitely more powerful and awesome than you or me had to create them. It's the same thing when you see spring flowers, or hear the birds, or feel a gentle breeze. But in addition to the world God made, He has given us His word, and it reveals who He is and what He expects from us. He is real, and He created us, so we are accountable to Him. We need to make sure that things are right between God and ourselves.

So both Cain and Abel knew they needed to be accepted by God, and they both brought offerings to Him. Cain brought some of his crops. Abel sacrificed a lamb. We are told that God looked with favor on Abel's offering, but not on Cain's. Now, why was that? It seems unfair for God to favor one brother over the other. Did He just like Abel better than Cain?

No. There is a reason behind everything God does, and I think that the difference has to do with what each of the offerings represents. Cain's offering represents effort. It takes a lot of effort to grow a good crop. Ask anyone who has a garden. It takes many hours to till the soil, plant seeds, tend the plants, and harvest the crops. So Cain's offering involved a lot of effort, but that's not what God was looking for.

On the other hand, Abel brought a lamb. His offering represents a substitutionary death. An innocent lamb had to die on Abel's behalf so he could be acceptable before God. And although Abel probably didn't understand it at the time, this is a picture of the far greater sacrifice that Christ would make on our behalf. Christ Jesus was the perfect, holy Lamb of God. John the Baptist called Him the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). He came to this world and lived a sinless life, doing nothing but good, yet he was killed as a lamb that is led to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7). He was crucified, and God allowed this to happen because He was dying to pay the penalty for our sins. "Yahweh has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). Him who knew no sin [Jesus] He [God] made to be sin on our behalf; so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21).

So, Cain's offering represents human effort, Abel's offering represents the substitutionary death of Christ on our behalf, which is why God looked with favor on Abel's offering, but not on Cain's.

What about you? What kind of offering are you bringing to the Lord? Many people bring an offering of religion. They think that going to church, or saying prayers, or giving to the poor will give them favor with God and earn them a place in heaven. Those are all good things to be doing, but they won't make you right with God. Jesus talks about some religious people in Matthew 7. He says "Many will tell me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?' Then I will tell them, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity'" (Mat 7:22-23).

Many others depend on their own conscience. They think that if they just generally live by the golden rule and treat other people right, that will be acceptable to God. Again, that is something we should all be doing, but it won't make you right with God. Rom 3:23 says all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.

What then is the offering needed to make things right between God and ourselves? The offering has already been made. Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3). We just need to accept his sacrifice on our behalf. We need to come to Him with an attitude of repentance, saying like the tax collector of old 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' (Luke 18:13). One who believes in the Son has eternal life, but one who disobeys the Son won't see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36). The one who has been justified through faith has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1).

It may be that all your life, you've been depending on the wrong offering, counting on your own effort to make you right with God rather than trusting Him because Christ died for you. Maybe God's Spirit is saying to you this very minute that you need to put your trust in Him. Heed his voice. God told Cain that if he would offer the right sacrifice, he would be accepted, but if not, sin was waiting at the door for him. Cain chose to reject the Lord's voice, and he ended up killing his brother. If the Lord is calling you, don't put Him off. Now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).