SOURCE: Robert L. Waggoner, Gospel Advocate, 10/20/1983, p. 625.
Why Did God Reject Cain and His Offering?
By Robert L. Waggoner
The most frequent answer given is that Cain did not make a blood offering like Abel. Those who claim that Cain’s gift should have been a blood offering, rather than “of the fruit of the ground” (Genesis 4:3), generally assume that the offering was for the purpose of obtaining the forgiveness of sins. They then note that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). However, offerings to God in Old Testament times were not always for the forgiveness of sins. To argue that Cain made an offering in order to obtain forgiveness of sins is to speak where the scriptures does not speak.
Moreover, the argument that Cain should have given a blood sacrifice also assumes that Cain and Abel were subject to the law of Moses (or one like it), because “the law requires that … without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). However, Cain and Abel lived at least fifteen hundred years before the law of Moses came into effect. Scripture does not inform us what laws regulated their offerings.
Finally, the answer that Cain should have given a blood offering fails to realize that even during the law of Moses, one type of acceptable offering was the meal offering (Leviticus 2), which would definitely be classified as “fruit of the ground.” If, during the law of Moses God accepted an offering from the fruit of the ground, why would he not also accept an offering from the fruit of the ground before the law of Moses?
The fact is that neither the Genesis record nor any other scripture either declares or implies that Cain and his offering were rejected because it was not a blood offering. That answer assumes too much. It also obscures an awareness of the real reason why God rejected Cain and his offering, and by that obstruction, blinds us to a valuable lesson.
The reason why Cain and his offering were rejected can be discovered by learning why Abel and his offering were accepted. Abel offered by faith. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings (Hebrews 11:4). Because faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17), we know that Abel had received instructions from God regarding his offering. We do not know what those instructions were, nor if any specific promises were associated with them. We do know, however, that God was pleased with Abel because he accepted him and his offering (Genesis 4:4), and commended him as a righteous man (Hebrews 11:4; 1 John 3:12).
No one can have faith in God without receiving the word of God. Yet, the receipt of God’s word does not guarantee that the recipient will believe in God. That Cain also heard God’s commandments regarding the offering is evident because he knew he was supposed to bring an offering to God. However, Cain apparently either did not believe God, or he did not consider God’s instructions very important, or both.
In order to please God, however, it is not only essential to believe in God’s existence, but also to act with the belief that God will reward those who seek him (Hebrews 11:6). On the other hand, those who believe that God will reward them for their offerings do not hesitate to give. They know that they cannot give too much because they believe that God will surpass their giving with his bountiful blessings (Mark 4:24; Luke 6:38). Therefore, they give their best, and they give liberally.
On the other hand, those who do not believe God will reward them for their offerings believe that whatever they give will be to their own loss. They may believe in the existence of God, but they do not believe that God will do them any good. Therefore, whenever they give, they give only a token, and that usually because of pressure, and primarily on such occasions as they know they are seen by men.
This contrast in attitude about giving was demonstrated by Cain and Abel. Since Cain was a tiller of the ground, and Abel a keeper of sheep, it is reasonable that each should have offered from what they had (unless God required otherwise, and there is no evidence that he did). The very strong implication of scripture is that Cain gave only a token to the Lord, while Abel gave his best. The Torah (the translation by the Jewish Publication Society of America), makes this contrast sharply: “Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the soil; and Abel, for his part, brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock” (Genesis 4:3-4).
The primary thrust of the passage is not upon the nature of their offerings, whether plant or animal (although that contrast is evident), but rather upon the quality of their offerings. The excellent quality of Abel’s offering reflected his faith, while the absence of excellence in Cain’s offering demonstrated his lack of faith. God rejected Cain and his offering because Cain did not offer in faith.
When commenting about Cain’s hatred for Abel, the apostle John declared that Cain’s works were evil and Abel’s were righteous (1 John 3:12). Since their offerings are the only works of which we know anything, prior to Cain killing Abel, it is only reasonable to conclude that Cain’s offering was considered evil because it was without faith. And since Abel, although dead, yet speaks to us by his gifts (Hebrews 11:4), we must also conclude that only by expecting to be rewarded, and by that expectation being motivated to give our very best, will we and our offerings be acceptable to God. Any offering to God less than our best is not good enough! It is faithless! It is evil!