By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
Many people are aware of some of the elements of the story regarding Cain and Abel.
Many are aware, for example, that God accepted the worship of Abel and rejected the worship of Cain.
They are also aware that Cain killed his brother Abel.
People are usually also aware that Can was sent away from his family after being given a special “mark” from God that would ensure people would not kill him when they saw the mark.
Indeed, the Book of Genesis tells us of these important facts:
Genesis 6:1-17 (ERV)-1 Adam had sexual relations with his wife Eve. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Cain. Eve said, “With the LORD’S help, I have made a man!”
2 Eve gave birth again to Cain’s brother Abel. Abel became a shepherd, and Cain became a farmer.
3 At harvest time, Cain brought a gift to the LORD. He brought some of the food that he grew from the ground, but Abel brought some animals from his flock. He chose some of his best sheep and brought the best parts from them. The LORD accepted Abel and his gift.
5 But he did not accept Cain and his offering. Cain was sad because of this, and he became very angry.
6 The LORD asked Cain, “Why are you angry? Why does your face look sad?
7 You know that if you do what is right, I will accept you. But if you don’t, sin is ready to attack you. That sin will want to control you, but you must control it.”
8 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” So they went to the field. Then Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
9 Later, the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain answered, “I don’t know. Is it my job to watch over my brother?”
10 Then the Lord said, “What have you done? You killed your brother and the ground opened up to take his blood from your hands. Now his blood is shouting to me from the ground. So you will be cursed from this ground.
12 Now when you work the soil, the ground will not help your plants grow. You will not have a home in this land. You will wander from place to place.”
13 Then Cain said to the LORD, “This punishment is more than I can bear!
14 You are forcing me to leave the land, and I will not be able to be near you or have a home! Now I must wander from place to place, and anyone I meet could kill me.”
15 Then the LORD said to Cain, “No, if anyone kills you, I will punish that person much, much more.” Then the LORD put a mark on Cain to show that no one should kill him.
16 Cain went away from the LORD and lived in the land of Nod.
17 Cain had sexual relations with his wife. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son named Enoch. Cain built a city and gave the city the same name as his son Enoch.
The story of Cain’s murder of his brother is well-known. Even the ancient Chinese language contains clues that reflect this!
“In the Chinese culture the elder brother is shown regard by using the respectful address elder brother , rather than calling him by name. He was literally the spokes man , and important representative for the family, as shown by this character . A similar character has the same pronounciation in the Chinese but means cruel, fierce, violent, or inhuman and is used in reference to killing. The figure itself shows a mark on the body, even as Cain, the original elder brother and the first cruel and passionate murderer had been marked by God. In the Chinese writing is used in many words to donote killing or cutting. Therefore this mark on the elder brother was very significant in designating him as a murderer. In past years, criminals in China were tattooed on the cheeks or forehead so that for the rest of their lives they would be recognized as outcasts from society. This custom could well have been derived from a knowledge of the ancient story of Cain. It is also surmised that by the broken mouth he was no longer regarded as the spokesman for the family.”. (C.H. Kang & Ethel R. Nelson, The Discovery Of Genesis: How The Truths Of Genesis Were Found Hidden In The Chinese Language, 1436-1443 (Kindle Edition); St. Louis, MO; Concordia Publishing House)
Why was Cain’s sacrifice rejected by God and Abel’s accepted? Many Jewish legends redound some interesting theories:
“The Jews themselves found the story puzzling and elaborated it in order to find a reason for God’s rejection of Cain and for Cain’s murder of Abel. The earliest legend tells how every time Eve had children she gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, and that they were given to each other as man and wife. In the case of Abel and Cain, Adam tried to change this and planned to give the twin sister of Cain to Abel. Cain was bitterly dissatisfied. To settle the matter, Adam said to them: ‘Go, my sons, sacrifice to the Lord; and he whose sacrifice is accepted shall have the young girl. Take each of you offerings in your hand and go, sacrifice to the Lord and he will decide.’ So Abel, who was a shepherd, took his best lamb to the place of sacrifice; but Cain, who was a tiller of the ground, took the poorest sheaf of corn he could find and laid it on the altar. Thereupon, fire descended from heaven and consumed Abel’s offering so that not even the cinders were left, while Cain’s was left untouched. Adam then gave the girl to Abel, and Cain was very angry. One day, Abel was asleep on a mountain; and Cain came upon him and took a stone and crushed his head. Then he threw the dead body on his back and carried it about because he did not know what to do with it. He saw two crows fighting and one killed the other, then dug a hole with its beak and buried it. Cain said: ‘I have not the sense of this bird. I, too, will lay my brother in the ground,’ and he did so. The Jews had another story to explain the first murder. Cain and Abel could not agree as to what they should possess. So, Abel devised a scheme whereby they might bring an end to the disagreement. Cain took the earth and everything that did not move; Abel took everything that moved. But in Cain’s heart there was still bitter envy. One day, he said to his brother: ‘Remove your foot; you are standing on my property; the plain is mine.’ Abel ran to the hills but Cain pursued him, saying: ‘The hills are mine.’ Abel took refuge on the mountains, but Cain still pursued him, saying: ‘The mountains, too, are mine.’ And so, in his envy, he hunted his brother until he killed him.”. (William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letter To The Hebrews, 156-157 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press)
There is a passage of Scripture in the Book of Hebrews that sheds some light for us on this topic.
Hebrews 11:4-By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.
From this passage, I want to suggest that there were three basic reasons why Cain’s sacrifice was rejected.
Cain’s Sacrifice Was Rejected….Because Cain Rejected The Standard Of Worship
The inspired writer tells us that Abel’s Sacrifice was accepted because it was offered by faith. This shows a contrast between the sacrifices of Cain and Abel, so that Cain’s sacrifice was not offered according to “faith.”
Yet what does this mean?
In the Bible, the word faith carries with it three ideas: knowledge of God and His Word; trust of God and His Word; and obedience to God and His Word.
In fact, all three of these elements are seen in countless ways in the “Hallmark Of Faith” in Hebrews chapter eleven, where the great heroes of faith through this chapter are considered and put forth as examples for us.
Yet how do we receive faith in God? How do we learn to trust Him?
Romans 10:17-So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Please notice that the only way to receive faith is by the Word of God.
So for Abel’s sacrifice to be accepted by God because it was offered by “faith,” then that means it must have been offered according to the Word of God.
In other words, Abel’s sacrifice was offered according to the pattern of acceptable worship that God’s Word provided.
Therefore, since Cain’s sacrifice was not according to “faith” like his brother Abel’s sacrifice was, then we see that his worship must not have been offered according to the Word of God.
In other words, Cain’s sacrifice was not offered according to the Word of God.
This speaks volumes to us about the subject of worship. If we offer God worship that His Word has not approved and authorized, He will not accept such. Worship that is not founded on the Word of God is not according to faith.
Hasn’t it been the same way throughout time?
Leviticus 10:1-2-(ESV)-1 Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.
2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
Matthew 15:9-AND IN VAIN THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE COMMANDMENTS OF MEN.
Colossians 2:23-These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
The phrase “will-worship” or “self-imposed religion” is very interesting in the Greek:
“”‘will-worship’ (ethelo, ‘to will,’ threskeia, ‘worship’), occurs in Col. 2:23, voluntarily adopted ‘worship,’ whether unbidden or forbidden, not that which is imposed by others, but which one affects.” (W.E. Vine, Merrill Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words, 62662-62668 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)
“Thayer-“1) voluntary, arbitrary worship; worship which one prescribes and devises for himself, contrary to the contents and nature of faith which ought to be directed to Christ.” (Joseph Henry Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, E-Sword edition)
The first reason why Cain’s worship was rejected was because of authority.
Cain’s Sacrifice Was Rejected….Because Of The Sacrifice He Offered
Yet these facts about the rejection of Cain leads us to another factor about why his worship was rejected by God. Cain’s choice of sacrifice, as contrasted with Abel’s, teaches us a great deal about why God rejected Cain. Look carefully at what we are told in Genesis:
Genesis 4:4-Abel also brought of the FIRSTBORN of his flock and of their fat. And the LORD respected Abel and his offering,
Please observe that Abel offered of the “firstborn” of his flock.
Several Hebrew scholars throughout time have suggested that one of the reasons why Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was rejected was because Abel was offering the BEST he had in worship to God, and Cain wasn’t.
In fact, one ancient Hebrew history book, the book of Jasher, tells us this about the account of Cain and Abel:
Book Of Jasher 1:15-16-15 And it was at the expiration of a few years, that they brought an approximating offering to the Lord, and Cain brought from the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought from the firstlings of his flock from the fat thereof, and God turned and inclined to Abel and his offering, and a fire came down from the Lord from heaven and consumed it. 16 And unto Cain and his offering the Lord did not turn, and he did not incline to it, for he had brought from the inferior fruit of the ground before the Lord, and Cain was jealous against his brother Abel on account of this, and he sought a pretext to slay him.
Cain’s inferior sacrifice demonstrated how he viewed worship itself, and by extension, it shows us how he looked upon God. He did not view God as deserving the best he had to offer; and therefore his sacrifice was rejected.
Hasn’t this been a problem of mankind all through history? For example:
Malachi 1:8-And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” Says the LORD of hosts.
Malachi 1:13-14-You also say, ‘Oh, what a weariness!’ And you sneer at it,” Says the LORD of hosts. “And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; Thus you bring an offering! Should I accept this from your hand?” Says the LORD.
14 “But cursed be the deceiver Who has in his flock a male, And takes a vow, But sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished—For I am a great King,” Says the LORD of hosts, “And My name is to be feared among the nations.
Isn’t it much the same way today?
Consider how people view attending church services, for example.
How often do people allow the things of this world to come before the assembly of the saints?
How often do we make excuses for not coming to church services?
I once had a lady tell me some years back that she could not come to church services for a week or two because she had a hangnail.
And people are often in services…until their favorite team is playing or their children’s basketball practice or game is on Sunday.
Should God accept such worship? Should He accept part-time devotion from people who signed on for life-time discipleship?
Cain’s Sacrifice Was Rejected….Because Of The Spirit He Continued To Manifest
Cain had God’s Word, and yet he clearly rejected it (as shown above). Yet what we see in Cain goes beyond the sacrifice he offers and the standard of worship he did not submit to: it shows us a spirit of wickedness he refused to repent of. By looking at Cain, we can see through his worship what his real issue was: a problem of the heart.
Cain displayed a continually hostile attitude towards God. He continued in willful sin and refused to repent.
Consider another Old Testament story by way of comparison.
During the days of Hezekiah, the people began serving the Lord after a long period of time where God had been virtually forgotten. The Bible tells us:
2 Chronicles 30:15-20-15 Then they slaughtered the Passover lambs on the fourteenth day of the second month. The priests and the Levites were ashamed, and sanctified themselves, and brought the burnt offerings to the house of the LORD.
16 They stood in their place according to their custom, according to the Law of Moses the man of God; the priests sprinkled the blood received from the hand of the Levites.
17 For there were many in the assembly who had not sanctified themselves; therefore the Levites had charge of the slaughter of the Passover lambs for everyone who was not clean, to sanctify them to the LORD.
18 For a multitude of the people, many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the good LORD provide atonement for everyone
19 who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he is not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary.”
20 And the LORD listened to Hezekiah and healed the people.
Here the people had been ignorant of God’s Word, and yet were seeking to put God first. The Lord accepted them because their hearts were seeking Him.
“But may unclean people eat the Passover? Unclean people ate what was clean. This was a clear violation of the Law. Chronicles clearly states that they “ate the Passover contrary to what was written” (2 Chron. 30:18, NIV)….But Hezekiah prays for the people. The prayer appeals to the gracious promise of God in 2 Chronicles 6-7 (especially 7:14). God accepts anyone who seeks him “even though” they do not seek him “in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” The critical point is orientation—those “who set their hearts to seek God” (2 Chron. 30:19). This phrase combines two important words in Chronicles: “heart” and “seeking.” The two terms are linked in 1 Chronicles 16:10; 22:19; 28:9; 2 Chronicles 11:16; 12:14; 15:12,15; 19:3; 22:9; 30:19 and 31:21. “Seek” (translating two Hebrew synonyms) appears fifty-four times in Chronicles and “heart” (translating two Hebrew synonyms) appears sixty-four times. God seeks hearts that seek him. God takes the initiative and seeks out those hearts that yearn for him and trust him (cf. Heb. 11:6; Matt. 6:33; John 4:23-24)….God accepted unclean worshippers because they had a heart to seek him. The text explicitly records, as if to emphasize the legitimacy of Hezekiah’s request, that “the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people” (the promise of 2 Chron. 7:14). Significantly, Chronicles commends Hezekiah’s Passover renewal in 2 Chronicles 31:21: “every work that he undertook…to seek his God, he did with all his heart.” Even though he admitted ritually unclean people to the Passover, his Passover is described as wholehearted because he sought God in everything. Why would Hezekiah expect God to forgive this? Was it not clear in the Law that unclean people who eat sacrificial meals should be punished? Did not God forbid unclean people to eat the Passover? Perhaps even some of Hezekiah’s priests could have objected that if they permitted unclean people to eat the Passover that God would judge them and reject their Passover. But Hezekiah knew his God. He knew God’s compassion, grace and goodness toward those who seek him out of a genuine heart of faith.”. (John Mark Hicks & Greg Taylor, Down In The River To Pray: Revisioning Baptism As God’s Transforming Work, 2482-2505 (Kindle Edition); Abilene, Texas; LeafWood Publishers)
The contrast between these people and Cain is obvious.
These people were seeking God and His Word, and they grew out of their ignorant practices as they learned the Word.
Cain offered worship to God and simply expected Him to take it.
The words of Jesus about the scribes and the Pharisees come to mind here:
Matthew 23:23-23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
Luke 11:42-“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
Even if a person has the right form in worship, God will reject it if he does’t have the proper spirit.
Look at how God continued to show mercy to Cain, in spite of all the wickedness which he had committed. The “mark of Cain” was designed to protect him from being killed.
What was this mark?
“What this mark was, has given rise to a number of frivolously curious conjectures. Dr. Shuckford collects the most remarkable. Some say he was paralytic; this seems to have arisen from the version of the Septuagint, Στενων και τρεμων εση, Groaning and trembling shalt thou be. The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel says the sign was from the great and precious name, probably one of the letters of the word Yehovah. The author of an Arabic Catena in the Bodleian Library says, “A sword could not pierce him; fire could not burn him; water could not drown him; the air could not blast him; nor could thunder or lightning strike him.” The author of Bereshith Rabba, a comment on Genesis, says the mark was a circle of the sun rising upon him. Abravanel says the sign was Abel’s dog, which constantly accompanied him. Some of the doctors in the Talmud say that it was the letter ת tau marked on his forehead, which signified his contrition, as it is the first letter in the word תשובה teshubah, repentance. Rabbi Joseph, wiser than all the rest, says it was a long horn growing out of his forehead! Dr. Shuckford farther observes that the Hebrew word אית oth, which we translate a mark, signifies a sign or token. Thus, Gen 9:13, the bow was to be לאית leoth, for a sign or token that the world should not be destroyed; therefore the words, And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, should be translated, And the Lord appointed to Cain a token or sign, to convince him that no person should be permitted to slay him. To have marked him would have been the most likely way to have brought all the evils he dreaded upon him; therefore the Lord gave him some miraculous sign or token that he should not be slain, to the end that he should not despair, but, having time to repent, might return to a gracious God and find mercy. Notwithstanding the allusion which I suppose St. Paul to have made to the punishment of Cain, some think that he did repent and find mercy. I can only say this was possible.” (Adam Clarke)
“and the Lord set a mark upon Cain; about which there is a variety of sentiments (a): some say it was a horn in his forehead: others, a leprosy in his face; others, a wild ghastly look; others, a shaking and trembling in all his limbs; and others, that there was an earthquake wherever he stepped: and others will have it, that the dog which guarded Abel’s flock was given him to accompany him in his travels, by which sign it might be known that he was not to be attacked, or to direct him from taking any dangerous road: some say it was a letter imprinted on his forehead, either taken out of the great and glorious name of God, as the Targum of Jonathan, or out of his own name, as Jarchi; others the mark or sign of the covenant of circumcision (b): but as the word is often used for a sign or miracle, perhaps the better rendering and sense of the words may be, “and the Lord put”, or “gave a sign” (c); that is, he wrought a miracle before him to assure him, that “whoever found him should not kill him”: so that this was not a mark or sign to others, to direct or point out to them that they should not kill him, or to deter them from it; but was a sign or miracle confirming him in this, that no one should kill him; agreeably to which is the note of Aben Ezra,”it is right in my eyes that God made a sign (or wrought a miracle) for him, until he believed;”by which he was assured that his life would be secure, go where he would; even that no one should “strike” (d) him, as the word is, much less kill him.”. (John Gill)
Did Cain repent of his wickedness?
Sadly, no one knows for certain.
The real question is whether we will learn from the rejection of Cain. If we will do what is right, we will be accepted by God!
Just like God loved Cain, so He loves us. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to the world to pay the price for our sins by dying in our place on Mount Calvary. Jesus died for us, was buried, and arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). He calls upon people to hear His Word (Romans 10:17), believe in Jesus Christ (John 8:24), repent of sin (Luke 13:3), confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God (Matthew 10:32-33), be baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38), and be faithful to Him even to the point of death (Revelation 2:10).
When we sin and fall away as God’s children, He will forgive us if we repent and pray to Him (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9).
The churches of Christ stand ready to assist you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.