Cain and Abel: Part 4 of 6 (series: Lessons of Genesis)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:

And the Lord had a high regard for Abel’s offering, because it was that which he had conceived and designated to be used for sacrifice, and was a suitable type and representation of the Messiah, and His sacrifice; and the Lord appreciated it even more because it was offered up by faith, and in consideration of the future sacrifice of Christ, which is of a sweet smelling savour to God, and by which sin is atoned for and the Lord is satisfied—“Abel had faith. So he offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did. Because of his faith Abel was praised as a godly man. God said good things about his offerings. Because of his faith Abel still speaks. He speaks even though he is dead” (Hebrews 11:4). God smiled upon Abel’s sacrifice, accepted it, and expressed His pleasure; that He was pleased and satisfied with it. The Lord probably consumed it by fire from heaven, as he did on many occasions—“and fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat on the altar. When all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Lev. 9.24). (Also see 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1; 1 Kings 18:38). The words, "had respect to," signify in Hebrew,—"to look at anything with a keen earnest glance," which has been translated, "kindle into a fire," so that the divine approval of Abel's offering was probably shown in its being consumed by fire.


“Unto Abel and to his offering” suggests that He accepted Abel first and then his gift—“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, But the prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15.8). The sacrifice was accepted for the man, and not the man for the sacrifice; but still, without a doubt the words of Moses imply that the substance of Abel's offering was more excellent and suitable than that of Cain's, and one can hardly doubt that this was the idea the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had in mind. Abel's sacrifice was fuller than Cain's; it had more in it; it had faith, which was wanting in Cain’s. It was also offered in obedience to Divine instruction. The universal prevalence of sacrifice points to Divine instruction as the source rather than to man's invention. If Divine worship been of purely human origin, it is almost certain that greater diversity would have prevailed in its forms. Besides, the fact that the manner of worship was not left to human ingenuity under the law, and that will-worship (arbitrarily invented worship: would-be worship, devised by man's own will) is specifically condemned under the Christian dispensation—“Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:23)—favors the presumption that it was divinely appointed from the first.


God hates wicked people, whose hearts are evil and their lives malicious, and even their sacrifices are an abomination to him. God has sacrifices brought to him even by wicked men, to soothe their conscience and keep up their reputation in the world; but their sacrifices are not accepted by God, because they are not offered in sincerity or for a good reason; they play-act with God, and their devotions are a lie, and for that reason they are an abomination to Him. But God has such a great love for good people that even though they cannot bring an expensive sacrifice, their prayer is a delight to Him. Praying graces are his own gift, and the work of his own Spirit in them, with which he is well pleased. He not only answers their prayers, but delights in their talking to him, and in doing them good.


5But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.
But God did not have any respect for Cain’s offering; not because of the substance of it, as some have thought; not because he was ignorant of his sinfulness, and consequently proud; not because the heart of Cain was no longer pure, but had become saturated with a criminal disposition, since that did not occur until his offering was rejected. But the reason God did not respect his sacrifice was because it was not offered in faith and sincerity, but in a formal and hypocritical manner, without any thought given to the Messiah and His sacrifice, and without any consideration for the glory of God. God did not approve of it, and He showed Cain that He was not pleased by ignoring it. We are not informed of the manner in which God showed his approval of Abel’s sacrifice, but it was probably, as in the case of Elijah, by sending down fire from heaven, and consuming the sacrifice (see Ge 15:17;

Jud 13:20); but God simply ignored Cain’s.


Cain’s reaction clearly shows he was far from having a right state of mind, since there was no sorrow for sin, no spirit of self-examination, no prayer to God for sympathy or pardon. Yet the Lord does not immediately abandon the callous and thoughtless transgressor, but instead He will patiently argue with and instruct him as to how he too might obtain the same blessing of acceptance which his younger brother enjoyed.


And Cain was very wroth,
And Cain was very angry with God, because he did not accept his offering, and with his brother, because he and his sacrifice were preferred to he and his sacrifice; and he began to boil with jealousy. That displeasure which should have been turned inward, against his own proud heart, was turned against his innocent brother. Both were highly privileged, yet Able made a much better use of the advantages which he shared in common with his ungodly and wilful brother.


Abel should have been angry at himself for his own unfaithfulness and two-facedness, by which he had lost God’s approval; and his countenance should have fallen in repentance and holy shame, like the publican’s, who “would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven” (Lu. 18:13). But, instead of this, he lashes out against God, as if He was biased and unfair in distributing his smiles and frowns, and insinuating He had done him wrong. “The foolishness of man perverteth his way,” and then, to make bad worse, “his heart fretteth against the Lord” (Prov. 19:3). His envy of his brother, provoke him to conceive a hatred for him as an enemy, or, a rival. It is not unusual for those who have made themselves unworthy of God’s favor by their arrogant sins to resent those who are dignified and distinguished by His approval.


and his countenance fell.
“And his countenance fell,” which is a facial expression that we are all familiar with. Perhaps God was the only One who saw the cheerfulness disappear from his countenance, and the look of dejection; and instead of lifting up his gaze towards heaven; he looked down at the earth; he looked surly, miserable, and sullen, ill natured, full of hatred and revenge, and in his mind he envisioned various ways in which he could vent it; he knit his brows and gnashed his teeth, put on a surly countenance; and there in his face were all the signs, not only of grief and disappointment, but of rage and fury; though some interpret it an expression of shame, jealousy, and confusion.


Cain’s anger was undoubtedly rooted in pride. He couldn’t bear that his brother was accepted before God and he was not. It is even possible that this was public knowledge, if God consumed the sacrifice with fire as a sign of acceptance. The epidemic of sin is quickly becoming worse. Cain now commits the rather sophisticated sins of spiritual pride, hypocrisy and murder.


6And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?

And the LORD said unto Cain,
“And the Lord (Jehovah) said unto Cain,” speaking either through Adam, or more probably directly by his own voice. The Lord has not yet give up on Cain; He reasons with him in hope that he might repent and ask for mercy. He asks a question which implies that there is no rational cause for his present feelings. Neither should he be angry at his brother, because his offering has been accepted, or upset with himself, because his own has not. These are not the kind of feelings a person should have when in the presence of the just and merciful God, who searches the heart. Submission, self-examination, and correction of what has been wrong in his approach to God, are the only appropriate acts on such an occasion. The Lord will direct his attention to this matter in the next sentence.


Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
Of course, God knew the answers to those questions, but He wanted Cain to know and stop what was happening inside himself. These words were spoken as a gracious warning, and to prevent the crime which Cain was beginning to conceive in his mind. The Lord was undoubtedly aware of his wrath and resentment, but He wanted to bring him to a conviction of his sin or sins, which were the cause of God's rejecting his sacrifice, and then see things as God does, to repent and change his mind and actions. He wanted to show him that he had no reason to be displeased, either with Him or his brother, for treating him and his offering different from his brother and his offering; since the fault lay in himself, and he had no one to blame but himself and his own conduct, which in the future he should take care to control according to the divine will; because if he did, things would take a different turn.




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