I had such an interesting conversation with my mother one morning regarding Cain and Abel and their offerings to God. I love how God works, how He reveals Himself to us, who He is. He is so good!
For whatever reason, that morning the thought hit me that there’s a lot that’s left out of the Bible. I don’t think the unsaid things are unimportant. I think that God gave us inquisitive minds and wants us to search them out. A lot of times as I’m reading scripture, I’m picturing the events and accounts as if they would happen in this day and age. While cultures and norms may be different, experiences and technologies may be broader, at the core people are still the same. That morning I had first wondered if the depravity and wickedness present in the world at the time of Noah was better, the same, or worse than the depravity and wickedness present in this day and age. I was fairly satisfied with the verbal exploration of that question, but it sparked another thought: What prompted Abel and Cain to bring an offering to God? (I have *mostly* stopped questioning the mental acrobatics of my tricky brain…so I just went with the leap from question A to question B.)
But seriously, what prompted them to bring an offering? The Bible doesn’t say, it just says that they did. I wasn’t even getting into the difference between their two offerings, or Jehovah’s response to them (that came later). I was just curious because the account goes from Eve giving birth to Cain and then Abel to them bringing offerings. What prompted them to do that? There’s a lot left out there, and inquiring minds want to know.
The biblical account goes from Adam and Eve being evicted from Eden after their fall into disobedience, to Eve giving birth. We don’t know how much time elapsed, but we do know that there had to be at least enough time for her to conceive, carry, and give birth to both children separately, and enough time for those children to grow up and adopt their own individual work. Abel was a keeper of flocks, and Cain was a tiller of the ground. So they’re busy, productive, working and active, going about their daily lives. And they bring an offering to the Lord.
I looked up the definition of the Hebrew word translated “offering” and found that it means to apportion, to bestow. It means a donation, a tribute; a gift, a present. So they brought the Lord a present. Where did they learn that? Why did they do that?
There are things my daughter does now because she learned them from me in her growing up years, things I didn’t specifically set out to teach her. I set out to teach her things like walking and talking, how to use a spoon and chew with her mouth closed, how to do laundry, how to clean the kitchen, how to make good choices, to reason and deduce; and she learned those things. But she also learned how to love her own children because, however imperfectly, I loved her. The same way I had learned to love her because of my parents’ love for me. I kept coming back to that in my mental exercise that morning.
Adam and Eve had to teach their children about God. They had to talk about Him. They had to introduce their children to Him. They had to model the act of sacrifice, of worship, of offering. That was their job as parents. The difference between Cain and Abel and their individual attitudes just highlights the individuality of the human race, doesn’t it. But they had to learn about God from their parents. Word of mouth. Observation.
I find it so interesting that Adam and Eve were able to model a relationship with their Creator to the point that Abel got it. He understood. He brought his offering to the Lord, and it met the criteria of a sacrifice; it showed that he was sorry for his failings and short comings. It was a temporary cover, but it was the system that God put into place, what the first family had to work with. And God was pleased with his sacrifice. I think God saw Abel’s heart and knew that he got it. He understood that he fell short of the glory of God, that he missed the mark, and he understood that the shedding of innocent blood covered his own sins, albeit temporarily. Just as God looked at Cain’s heart and knew that he didn’t get it, or didn’t care.
I’ve read the account, read some commentaries, some notes, and I confess I wondered what was the problem with Cain’s offering. Cain was a farmer; Abel was a rancher (basically). Cain brought his offering of the fruit of the ground. Wasn’t that the point? Wasn’t that his tithe? But there was a big difference between their offerings. First, it was the wrong material – no blood in a turnip. So from that I can conclude that he wasn’t concerned with missing the mark, atoning for his sins, having a relationship with his Creator. But also, the Bible says it was “an” offering. It wasn’t even the firstfruits. He picked some corn and grain and tossed it God’s way. It’s good enough. He didn’t give a fig about the spirit of the process, he just had the chore to do. He wasn’t thinking about his sin; he didn’t care about the shedding of blood. My gift has to be good enough, he thought. But it wasn’t even his best. Just grab some whatever and bring it was his mindset to the best that I can surmise. So not only didn’t he get the point of the sacrifice, he didn’t even care enough to comb through his fields for the best of the produce. This wasn’t a present; it was a slap in the face.
Abel brought the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. He brought the best. He knew that he himself wasn’t capable of maintaining a right standing before God, so he sorted through his flocks and found the very best that had been produced, the prettiest, the purest, the most spotless and perfect of his flock, and gave it to God. He got it.
He learned it from his parents who must have told him and his brother about what they had and what they lost, and how much God loved them to still want to talk to them after what they did, and how He should have just killed them dead right then when they messed up but didn’t. How they still had hope and still had a relationship with their Creator. And Abel got it. He got the point of it all. He got the message. Cain didn’t care.
We still have those same two points of view some 6000 years later. It’s been that way from then on hasn’t it? From Noah to now, some get it and some don’t. But those of us who get it have a responsibility to model it for everyone else. Through our examples, some others will get it and their souls will be snatched from the grip of death.
Adam and Eve messed up big. They doomed the entire race to live under a curse, to fight and work and worry and scrape and claw through this life. But God still loved them, and they still loved Him, and they modeled a relationship with Him in such a way that Abel understood, and later on so did Seth. It is true that as the human race has continued and expanded, more and more have the mindset of Cain, but thank God there are still Abels.
(Random thought: I realized in thinking about all this that Abel was the first human in heaven, the human who has been with Jesus the longest. How cool is that!)