Genesis 4:1 - 26
NKJV - 1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, "I have acquired a man from the LORD. 2 Then she bore again, this time his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
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God refused Cain's offering because he refused Cain. The narrative makes it really plain. It tells what they brought as an offering to God. 'Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering he had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell' (Gen 4:4,5). A casual observer would wonder why God is rejecting Cain and his offering. Readers of this narrative, five-thousand-years-plus later, after reading more of the story of creation, after reading about the shedding of blood for the remission of sin, conflate and confuse the reason Cain's offering was refused. (Did you notice how half of what the scripture says was just omitted?) The scripture says, 'Cain and his offering.' The question has the same omission. The scripture also says, 'God had regard for Abel and for his offering.' Neither man is spoken of separately from his offering. It's clear and concise; their value is inseparable. Abel is accepted because of the nature of his spirit, so his offering is accepted. The opposite is true of Cain, so his offering is not accepted. Neither man's offering was 'unacceptable,' something in which the LORD found no value. If that was so, neither man would have been in that business. They brought to God the things with which God had blessed them. The five-thousand-year-later-hindsight crowd says, 'the reason Cain's offering was rejected was because no blood was shed in his offering.' Never mind that blood isn't mentioned anywhere in the story. 'Fat portions' yes, blood, no.. Why was Abel accepted? Forget the offering for a second.. Why was Cain not accepted? Again, forget the offering. Each man is said to be regarded or disregarded by God along with their offering. What did God say to Cain to let him know that he and his offering were not accepted by God? What he said to him tells us also what the issue was. He says, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you don't do well, sin is crouching at the door." (Gen 4:7) God is talking about how Cain came to him in worship. He had a frown on his face; he was in a bad mood. They weren't coming to God in the spirit of confession of sin, they were giving an offering to God in thanksgiving. Nothing is said about burning anything on an altar. Blood isn't mentioned. God's assessment of Cain's spirituality is confirmed 2 verses later. Cain "spoke to Abel his brother," and when they were in the field Cain killed him. What did he say to Abel? Cain's disposition is the reason God rejected him and warned him about how sin would sneak up on him and hold him hostage. He told him that if he didn't get it together sin would be "crouching at the door." As we can see, it was. All of this about his offering setting God off is regrettable. His attitude, the ease at which he killed his brother is ignored, and he's thought of as being disobedient about what he was told to bring to God in worship. When God reminds him that he only accepts offerings of animals, he gets angry; so angry that he kills his brother because of it. That's errant bible study! This isn't about the offerings, that's not how God operates. That's like saying God only accepts prayer and praise if we recite a psalm of praise like Psalm 150 or a prayer like Jesus' in Matt 6. This is about the heart of each man. You're either accepted into God's presence, and your worship is received or you're rejected and so is your worship. In worship, God only wants back from you what you've been given by him. Nothing is said about their offerings being sin offerings which later, would require a blood sacrifice. There were grain offerings, peace offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings... hundreds of years later.
Two reasons that occur to me would be that, first, regardless of how sincere Cain might have been in his actions, he was offering an item resulting from his own efforts -- reflecting an underlying attitude that he could please God or attain salvation through his works. And, second, his offering (unlike Abel's lamb) did not involve the shedding of blood -- indicating a lack of awareness on Cain's part of the gravity of sin, and the depth of the sacrifice (that is, life itself) that was necessary to atone for it.
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