Genesis chapter 4 is about Cain and Abel. It records the first murder and the first death. It seems that Cain was upset that the LORD did not accept his offering but accepted Abel’s offering (Genesis 2:5). That made Cain very angry and he later killed his brother, Abel (Genesis 2:8).
This scripture is one of the most debated scripture. There are many interpretations to why God did not accept Cain’s offerings. Some pastors would preach that it is because Abel brought the firstborn of his flocks (Genesis 4:4) while Cain simply brought some of his crops (Genesis 4:3). There are also preachers who argued that God did not accept Cain’s offerings because there was no blood shed and hence no forgiveness of sins. So which is correct?
We must realise that there is a piece of information provided in Genesis 4:7 where the LORD said that Cain did not do well and sin is at the door of his heart. We do not know what is it that Cain did not do rightly. However, the fact that sin is outside his door waiting to attack him is a clear hint. This means that whatever reason that we conclude with should give a good explanation to why sin could be outside the door of his heart.
Hence, in this post, we are going to study the scriptures to find out the answer. Let’s check out scriptures to the below questions/cases and find the answer base on:
- what the scripture says (i.e. we will use scriptures to interpret scripture);
- the truth that God is our heavenly Father who loves us with a perfect love;
- the relevance to Genesis 4:7, i.e. the reason why God did not accept Cain’s offering can also explain why sin was outside the door of his heart.
As there are not much details provided in Genesis chapter 4, we might not have a difinitive 100% yes or no to each case presented below. However, we will use an elimination process to identify the answer which is 100% certain base on the above 2 criteria.
1. Was Cain’s offering not accepted because there was no animal sacrifice?
Many preachers explained that Cain’s offerings was not accepted because there was no animal sacrifice, no blood shed, to atone for their sins. However, we do know that in the book of Leviticus, grain or food offering was taught to the people of Israel.
“When you present grain as an offering to the Lord, the offering must consist of choice flour. You are to pour olive oil on it, sprinkle it with frankincense, and bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests. The priest will scoop out a handful of the flour moistened with oil, together with all the frankincense, and burn this representative portion on the altar. It is a special gift, a pleasing aroma to the Lord. The rest of the grain offering will then be given to Aaron and his sons. This offering will be considered a most holy part of the special gifts presented to the Lord.(Leviticus 2:1-3)
The above scripture is evident that God accepts offerings that are non animal, where there is no blood shed. In Leviticus, description of 5 different sacrifices are provided. 3 of the 5 relates to the worshipper’s fellowship with God (worship offering) and these worship offerings were tailored to the person”s ability to give, and each had a special significance. As for the other 2 offerings, they are compulsory (compulsory offering) when sin had interrupted fellowship with Him:
|Type of Offering||Significance|
|1.||Burnt Offering||Devotion of the worshipper to God|
|2.||Grain Offering||Pointed to God’s provision in life|
|3.||Peace Offering||Thankful worshipper fellowship with God|
|4.||Sin Offering||Compulsory, covered sins of uncleanness, neglect, or thoughtlessness, provided restoration for the sinner while reinforcing the seriousness of sin.|
|5.||Guilt Offering||Compulsory, covered sins of injury to God and others, provided compensation for the injured or offended party.|
As Genesis 4 did not give us details of whether Cain was bringing a worship offering, or whether he did not bring a compulsory sin or guilt offering, we cannot conclude that not bringing an animal, not having blood shed was definitely the reason why Cain’s offering was not accepted. Moreover, the relevance of this reason to Genesis 4:7 is not strong.
2. Was it a procedural or quality mistake?
In Leviticus 2:1-3, we read that when they bring a grain offering, it must be of choice flour. There are very detailed instructions provided. For example yeast is not to be burnt as a special gift to the LORD (Leviticus 2:11). Did the LORD provided such instructions to Cain and Abel and Cain did not follow it? As there is insufficient information provided in the bible with regards to this, again, we cannot conclude that this is a definite reason why Cain’s offering was not accepted. This reason also provide little relevance to Genesis 4:7. Moreover, there are scriptures in the Bible, such as in the case of Saul’s giving the burnt offering and peace offering but lacking the faith to wait for Samuel (1 Samuel 13), leading to him being rejected by God. Then in Matthew 23:23 where Jesus commented that the Pharisees were careful to tithe but missed out the more important thing –justice, mercy and faith.
3. Was God displeased with Cain because he did not give the best as what Abel did?
Having read Genesis chapter 1 and 2 and discovered the extend that God created everything with us as the focus of His love and that we are created as God’s children, I am confident that our heavenly Father loves us regardless of whether we brought the best of our crops or just some of our crops to Him. As a parent myself, although I will be so pleased to learn that my child would keep the best he has for me, my love and liking for him will not get any lesser if he were to be stingy and not give his best to me or if he is lazy and not give anything at all. In fact, as long as he has the heart to give a gift to me, I would treasure it greatly, regardless if it is the best of what he has or not. I will be so full of praises so as to encourage him in his good behaviour. We are made in the image of God, if we being imperfect can think this way as a parent, how much more our heavenly Father who is perfect and loves us with a perfect love. Our LORD Jesus told us that if we can have faith even as small as a mustard seed, that alone is sufficient for us to unlock heaven’s gate of power:
He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20 (ESV)
Matthew 17:20 tells us that God knows our weaknesses and the passing mark is set to be extremely low. If we were to consider all the great men of God, they all made great mistakes in life. Abraham was so cowardly that he lied twice that his beautiful wife was his sister. Moses killed an Egyptian, but he became the greatest prophet of God. David was a murderer and adulterer, but the LORD remained faithful in His promise to David. Peter denied Jesus 3 times but the LORD built His church upon Peter (Matthew 16:18). Apostle Paul martyred many believers of Jesus but the LORD used him mightily and a large portion of the New Testament was written by Paul. That’s who our heavenly Father is. He will not reject Cain’s offering simply because Cain did not give the best. Also, by not giving the best in offering does not explain explicitly why sin could be at the door of Cain’s heart. Now, there is a difference between not giving the best (probably out of our weaknesses) and not giving the best because of unbelief ( not believing that God is sovereign and that He loves us. Instead, doing the sacrifice out of obligation or simply as a ritual). In Matthew 23:23, Jesus was very strong in his comments about the Pharisees being hypocrites. They were so careful to obey the law to tithe but their hearts were not right. This is what Jesus said:
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Matthew 23:23
There is another scripture in Mark 12:41-44 about the widow offering the 2 mites where Jesus commented that she gave more than anyone because she gave out of poverty:
Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much.Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans.So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury;for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Mark 12:41-44, NKJV
From the above scriptures, we know that God is not concerned about how much we give and whether we followed every rituals precisely. The LORD searches our heart. The widow gave sacrificially because she believed in the LORD, she believed that He is her provider, He is a good God and He will supply all her needs. So if Cain did not give his best because he did not believe that God is good and that God loves him, then that might be a possible reason. So, let’s be more specific and analyse if it was a lack of faith that God rejected Cain’s offering.
4. Was it a lack of faith that Cain’s offering was not accepted?
In Hebrews 11:4, apostle Paul wrote that it was faith that caused Abel’s offering to be accepted:
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Hebrews 11:4, ESV
It seems that Hebrews 11:4 already gives the answer to why Cain’s offering was not accepted! However, the problem is, what is the meaning of Hebrews 11:4? How do we link the offerings to faith? So let’s analyse Cain in terms of his faith. As we read how he responded to the LORD’s punishment, it gives us a glimse into what was his relationship with the LORD and what he thought of the LORD God:
And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth.” (Genesis 4:10-12, NKJV)
And Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:13-14, NKJV)
If we compare the punishment that the LORD pronounced in Genesis 4:11-12, to Cain’s response in Genesis 4:14, you would have noticed that Cain said that the LORD had bannished him from the LORD’s presence. That was not what the LORD had said. We can see that Cain had the opinion that the LORD disliked him so much to have him banished from the LORD’s presence. Cain said that he was driven out from the face of the ground. Was that true? Was that the punishment that the LORD pronounced on him? No, the LORD said that the ground will not yield its strength, meaning will no longer yield good crops for him, not totally not yielding any crops for him to eat. The LORD was not out to have him killed (Gensis 4:15) but Cain thought that the LORD did not care if he be killed (Genesis 4:14).
When we think that God does not love us, that God is against us, that is when we are not having faith. The truth is God loves us, even without us doing anything for Him. He simply loves us because He is our heavenly Father. Even without us asking, He already intricately planned many things to bless us because He loves us, perfectly. If we can believe this perfect love of our heavenly Father, we are having faith.
Opposite of faith –Believing lies
Now, let’s revisit Genesis 4:3-9. Cain must had, for a long, long time, believed a lie, from the devil, that God loved Abel and not him. It was something that was accumulated over a long period of time because a sound person who could later build a city (Genesis 4:17), could not have been so angry that he could plot and kill his brother over just one incident. So that anger, hatred and dislike for his brother had been there for a long, long time. The scriptures mentioned Cain first, in bringing the offering. This gives an indication of Cain’s ernest desire to win the favour of the LORD through his effort. This is another lie that he believed — Cain believed that God did not love him because he was not good enough and hence he should work hard to gain the favour of God. It is also a lie to believe that he could succeed in gaining the favour of God through his effort. He brought the fruits of his labour, he wanted the LORD to like him. Believing in these lies enable the devil to bring the final blow — discouragement and despair— when his effort was rejected.
Unforgiveness, jeolousy, hatred and unbelief
When Cain brought his offering to the altar, he was already harbouring anger, unforgiveness, jealousy, inferiority complex and hatred towards his brother. These feelings were in him for a long, long time and he could not overcome them because he did not believe that the LORD already loved him immensely, unconditionally, perfectly and nothing lesser than Abel. The unbelief caused him not able to overcome his feelings of anger, unforgiveness and other negative thoughts, leading to having evil intentions in his heart (1 John 3:12) for a long time. This is the reason why his fellowship with God was broken and his offering was not accepted. The evidence of this analysis was given in Genesis 4:7 when the LORD said to Cain:
If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it. Genesis 4:7
How to rule over it? It is simply by believing in the truth that the LORD loved him immensely, unconditionally, perfectly, and nothing less than his brother. He did not have to do anything to earn the love of the LORD. He simply had to believe this truth that the LORD loved him unconditionally. But he did not believe. When he did not believe, that unbelief alone is the foothold for the devil to control him. He became a slave to sin (John 8:34) and belonged to the devil (1 John 3:12). Unbelief (a lack of faith) is the key for sin to enter his heart, to control him and led him into discouragement, jealousy, anger, hatred and finally murder.
The truth — the LORD God loved Cain all throughout
All throughout Genesis chapter 4, we can see the love that the LORD God had for Cain. When his offering was rejected, the LORD God came to speak to Cain. He did not leave Cain alone and ignored him. He told Cain that sin was at the door of Cain’s heart. So Cain must overcome it. In fact, if Cain could realise that the LORD God cared for him and came to him, and believed and dwelt on the love of God, he would have discovered that he was the one being loved and favoured. No need to hate his brother! However, Cain did not allow himself to believe that the LORD loved him immensely. Instead, he focused on trying to get rid of his brother. Did God banish Cain from His presence? No. Cain was still successful in what he worked on. He married, had children and even built a city (Genesis 4:17). If the LORD God was against Cain, he would have been wiped out like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and like in the case of the people during Noah’s time. However, Cain did not allow himself to believe how much the LORD God loved him and how gracious the LORD had been with him. Instead, Cain chose to leave the presence of the LORD (Genesis 4:16). The bible had no record of Cain returning to the presence of the LORD.
Unforgiveness can hinder our prayers
Jesus told us in Mark 11:22-25 that when we have faith in God, we can move mountains. however, unforgiveness can hinder our prayer.
I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. Mark 11:24-25 (NLT
When we are badly hurt by others, unforgiveness can overwhelm us. The key to break free from unforgiveness is to believe that God loves us. Look at what David wrote in Psalms 3 when he fled from his son Absalom:
So many are saying, “God will never rescue him!”
But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain.
Instead of getting angry with his son and all his enemies, King David believed that the LORD loved him. In fact, the reason that Absalom rised up against King David to seize his throne was actually a punishment that resulted from David’s adultery sin with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband. Despite this, King David believed that the LORD is compassionate and had forgiven his sins and would answer him when he cried out to the LORD. That is faith. Now, imagine if Cain had believed that God loved him so immensely, what do you think Cain would be doing? He would have been like king David, enjoying the time with the LORD, knowing that the LORD favoured him. Jealousy and hatred would not be able to make residence in his heart. Recall also, our LORD Jesus taught us:
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24 (NKJV)’
Matthew 5:23-24 is another scripture that tells us that a broken relationship with a brother can affect our prayer, worship and fellowship with God. This scripture supports the analysis that Cain did not have the faith, he did not believe that the LORD loved him. He believed the lies of the devil and his heart was harbouring a lot of negative thoughts. As a result, his offering could not be accepted. For that reason, the LORD said in Genesis 4:7 that sin was outside the door of his heart waiting to attack him. The LORD told Cain that he should rule over it, i.e, by believing that the LORD loved him and not allow those lies to take residence in his heart.
Hence, we can conclude with confidence that the reason why God rejected Cain’s offering was because he did not believe that God loved him. In other words, he had no faith in God. As a result of his unbelief, anger, jealousy, discouragement, hatred, unforgiveness and all kinds of sinful thoughts could find their way into his heart.This reason is well supported by many scriptures and particularly Genesis 4:7. So, when we believe that we are perfectly, unconditionally loved by our LORD God, and this is the truth, sin has no more grip on us (John 8:31-32). When we dwell in the presence of the LORD, enjoying his love, favour, blessings and provisions, the devil cannot lie to us and cannot destroy us. The devil will always want to convince us that we are of no value, that we are not loved, that God is angry with us, that God is against us, punishing us. When we believe such lies, discouragement, hatred, jealousy, anger, low self esteem, suicidal thoughts and all sorts of evil will find a way into our hearts to cause us to sin and destroy us. My child, God loves you. That is the truth. It is His love that caused Him to send His only begotten Son, Jesus to come and die for you so that you can be set free. I pray for the person reading this post that the love of God will fill your heart. Know that the LORD God, Creator of this universe, loves you deeply. You are His child. He loves you perfectly. This means that whatever difficult situation you are facing, know that God can turn your situation around. He is here to help you. There is hope. Know that when you have Jesus Christ in your life, miracles happen. You may be weak in certain areas but Christ’s power is perfected in your weakness. His grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).