Cain and Abel: Part 3 of 6 (series: Lessons of Genesis):
by John Lowe
The season of the year was probably the ingathering (The time when the family comes together in a central place.), when the fruits of the earth would be harvested and there would be new birth in the flock, and when the first family would come together to celebrate—with a subdued thankfulness—the anniversary of their creation. This would seem to be the proper season to bring an offering to the Lord, in gratitude for the abundance of good things they had been blessed with; the same as the Israelites, who in later times held a feast for the ingathering of the fruits of the earth—“And the feast of harvest, the firstfruits of thy labours, which thou hast sown in the field: and the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field” (Exodus 23:16). And the situation here seems to have been the time when Cain and Abel have arrived at the age of freedom of choice and self-dependence, and they solemnly come forward with their first voluntary offerings to the Lord. Up till now they may have come under their parents, who were then the ones who actually made the offering. Now they come on their own account, and with their own offering. If Cain and Abel offer to God, we may imagine it was because it was the habit of their parents before them, and they are merely following their example, but there is no way to verify this. They had parental examples, no doubt; but whether Adam and Eve had ascended far enough from the valley of repentance and humiliation to make a bold offering to the Lord is a question we cannot answer. The deep sense of shame in the first offenders would make their confidence and faith grow very slowly. It would be more natural for their children, being one generation removed from the actual transgressors, to make the first approach to God with an offering.
that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
The word translated “offering” is explained in Leviticus 2:1 to be an offering of fine flour, with oil and frankincense. It was in general a Eucharistic or gratitude offering, and is simply what is implied in the fruits of the ground brought by Cain to the Lord, by which he testified his belief in Him as the Lord of the universe, and the dispenser of secular blessings. Cain‘s offering of corn, herbs, seeds, etc. was good and acceptable except is was incomplete, because the burnt offering could not be without the meat offering.
It is the opinion of at least one commentator that Cain brought what was left of his food, or simple and trifling things, such as flax or hemp seed. He brought it either to his father, as some think, since he was the priest in his family; or rather he brought and offered it himself at the place appointed for religious worship, and for sacrifices. It is highly probable it was near the entrance of the Garden of Eden, where the Shekinah, or the divine Majesty, was, and appeared in some remarkable manner. There is another opinion that believes Cain brought his offering to the tree of life because cherubim guarded the tree of life (Genesis 3:24), and cherubim are always associated with the dwelling place or meeting place with God (Exodus 25:10-22). Cain and everyone else on the earth at that time probably met with God at the tree of life, where the cherubim were.
Cain, whose name means "acquisition" is a type of the ordinary man of the earth. His religion was destitute of any adequate sense of sin, or need of atonement. This religious type is described in 2 Pet 2. Seven things are said about him:
1) he worships in self-will
2) is angry with God
3) refuses to bring a sin offering
4) murders his brother
5) lies to God
6) becomes a vagabond
7) is, nevertheless, the object of the divine solicitude.
4And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock
“And Abel” was a shepherd, his flock consisted of sheep; and the firstlings (firstborn) of the sheep is the lambs that he brought to the ingathering of his family, where he presented them as an offering to the Lord. Lambs, perfect and without a single blemish were afterwards frequently used in sacrifice, and were a proper type of Christ, Jehovah's firstborn, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world: a lamb without spot and blemish is a fitting representative for One who is innocent, harmless, and meek. Later the Lord would demand that the first born of every animal be given to Him—“that you shall set apart to the Lord all that open the womb, that is, every firstborn that comes from an animal which you have; the males shall be the Lord's” (Exodus 13.12).
These animal sacrifices were slain; because their fat is offered. Blood was shed, and life taken away. To us who are accustomed to eating animal food, there may appear nothing strange here. We may suppose that each brother offered that which was the produce of his own hard work. But place yourself in that primeval time when only the fruit tree and the herb bearing seed were given to man for food, and we must feel that there is something new here.
The simple facts are these. The Lord said, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain" (Hebrews 11:4). There was clearly an internal moral difference in the intention or disposition of the brothers. Abel had faith—that confiding in God which is not bare and cold, but is accompanied with confession of sin, and a sense of gratitude for His mercy, and followed by obedience to his will. Cain did not have this kind of faith. He may have had a faith in the existence, power, and bounty of God; but it lacked that repentant returning to God, that humble acceptance of His mercy, and submission to His will, which constitute true faith. It must be then, that the faith of the offerer is essential to the acceptableness of the offering, even though everything else may be equal.
There is also a difference in the things offered. The one is a vegetable offering, the other an animal; the one a presentation of things without life, the other a sacrifice of life; therefore, there is "more in it" than in the former. The two offerings are expressive of the different kinds of faith in the offerers. They are an outward symbol of the faith of each. The fruit of the soil offered to God is an acknowledgment that the purposes of this earthly life are due to him. This expresses the barren faith of Cain, but not the living faith of Abel. Abel has realized that life itself is forfeited to God by transgression, and that only by an act of mercy can the Author of life restore it to the repentant, trusting, submissive, loving heart. He has thought about the suggestions of sympathizing mercy and love that have come from the Lord to the fallen race, and cast himself upon them without reservation. He slays the animal of which he is the lawful owner, as a victim, in that way acknowledging that his life is owed for sin. But he offers the life of the animal in place of his own, not as if it were of equal value with his own, but as an indication that another life, equivalent to his own is required, if he is to go free by the as yet unfathomable mercy of God.
From this, we arrive at the conclusion that there was more in the animal than in the vegetable offering, and that it is more essential to the full expression of a right faith in the mercy of God, without having access to the light of future revelation. Therefore, the nature of Abel's sacrifice was the indicator of the genuineness of his faith. And the Lord had respect unto him and his offering; thereby indicating that his heart was right, and his offering suitably expressed his feelings. This finding is also in keeping with the testimony of Scripture, which views the outward act as the simple and spontaneous indication of the inward feeling.
and of the fat thereof.
“The fat thereof” may refer to either the actual fat of the sacrifice, which later on was claimed by the Lord for his own—“And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat is the LORD'S” (Leviticus 3:16) (the fat was removed from all the parts intended for the sacrifice of peace offerings, and burnt.): or to the fattest of his flock, the best lambs he had; the fattest and plumpest, and those which were most free from defects and blemishes; not the scarred, or lame, or sick, but that which was perfect and without spot; because God is to be served with the best we have.
This is a proof that flesh was eaten before the Flood, since "there would be no reason for the Lord praising Able for bringing the fatlings for his offering, if he did not eat them himself."