Genesis 4 records the account of Cain and Abel. Both brothers brought an offering to the Lord from their own labors. Since Abel kept sheep, he brought the best of his flock. Cain, as a farmer, brought an offering of food which he had grown. God approved of Abel’s offering, but not of Cain’s. Cain’s reaction was anger. God loved Cain, and gave him the opportunity to be accepted.
While the scriptures do not specifically state why God did not approve of Cain’s offering, we can find some clues. Verse 4 says that Abel brought the choicest of his flock to God. However, verse 3 indicates Cain only brought some produce – not the best of the crop. Cain may have been missing the desire to give the best of what he had to God. This thought is reinforced by Cain’s reaction of choosing to follow his anger and kill Abel. Cain could have accepted God’s instruction and believed God’s word that he could change and then “do well.”
Which brings us to verse 7, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin (or a sin-offering) is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” The word translated “sin” also means “sin-offering.” It is likely that God had an animal sin-offering nearby that Cain could have sacrificed. God may have been establishing the picture that an animal sacrifice pre-figured the death of Jesus as our sin-offering. Hebrews 9:22 teaches, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”
The other clue we have is found in Hebrews 11:4 (NLT), “It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.” Abel’s sacrifice was more acceptable to God because it was “by faith.”
This account is helpful to us today because we learn how we may please God with our offerings. First, we must be sure that our attitude is one of humble appreciation for God’s provisions. Also, while animal sacrifices are no longer appropriate since Jesus, as the antitypical lamb, completed his sacrifice at Calvary, we need to have faith in the merit of Jesus’ sacrifice.