As I spent time with the Lord this morning, the account of Cain and Abel’s sacrificed-giving stood out to me. The murder of Abel is the second account of sin in the Bible, Cain and Abel being the offspring of Adam and Eve, making them second generation sinners. The sin of Adam and Eve came from the belief that they needed more, to be more, to have more knowledge, to be more like God. The sin of Cain came about in a similar way. He believed he deserved more recognition, more appreciation, that his sacrifice was just as good, if not better than his brother’s. Upon God’s rejection of Cain’s sacrifice, Cain is angered. God speaks to Cain in his anger, and Cain’s reaction is towards his brother.
The first part of this scripture in Genesis 4 tells us that Abel is a shepherd and Cain a farmer. As the boys bring their offerings to the Lord, the descriptions are interesting. Abel’s offering is of blood, due to the fact that he is a shepherd. Cain’s is of produce, for he is a farmer. Abel’s offering is described as first fruits or the best of the flock. Cain’s offering has no description, only as an offering from the ground. This struck me because the lack of description is actually very telling. Abel gives the best, and Cain brings some of his harvest but it’s not described as his best. The problem here is not necessarily the condition of the offering, but the heart behind the giving. Perhaps Samuel’s response to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22 gives us some insight into why Cain’s offering was of no value to God. “But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. “ In a time when sacrifices were still required, Samuel understood that the heart behind an offering to the Lord was more important than the sacrifice itself.
Our sinful nature, our flesh, tells us that we are deserving of credit, we’ve earned an important place, and we are worthy of glory.
The Lord looked with favor upon Abel’s heartfelt sacrifice, but Cain’s offering was not seen as worthy in the eyes of the Receiver. Cain’s response is telling of his heart. He responds in anger towards his brother. He is jealous, he is put off by the fact that he is not recognized for his gifts, and his countenance displayed his discontent. In this moment Cain is given a choice, laid out by the Lord. The Lord, understanding Cain’s sin, encouraged him to choose what was right even in the face of temptation to sin in his anger. God sees this as an opportunity for growth and restoration for Cain and pushes him to it, instead, Cain continues in his anger with an unrepentant heart.
So the rest of the story goes, Cain kills his brother in his anger and is then sent away to be a “restless wanderer of the earth,” his rebellious heart keeping him from true peace or a place of rest.
What a mess. Our sinful nature, our flesh, tells us that we are deserving of credit, we’ve earned an important place, and we are worthy of glory. The place I feel this most is in my home. I spend my days working to get a million things done in a timely manner, only to see them undone by the end of the day. Accomplishing my long list of chores rarely gets me any recognition praise or glory. In fact these to-dos are expectations. They are in my job description, what I signed up for, what my role is in our family. But I admit, I often feel unappreciated, unnoticed and taken for granted. And I deserve to be thanked. Or do I? The need for thanks or recognition depends on the attitude of my heart. When I’m serving my family out of love for them, I require no thanks. When I am looking to be served rather than serving, well, it’s not pretty.
On a bad day, I am Cain, bringing my stinky fruit to the Lord and expect Him to count me worthy of His love, something I was never worthy of in the first place.
On a bad day, I am Cain, bringing my stinky fruit to the Lord and expect Him to count me worthy of His love, something I was never worthy of in the first place. I present sacrifices to the Lord hoping that I will fulfill some kind of longing in my heart and in turn He’ll be pleased with me and I’ll be pleased with myself. On these days I can feel angry, not towards the Lord but toward others and more often myself. And when I respond in this anger, sin is present in my heart, there is blood on my hands and until I repent and to the Lord, until I put my place in a servants position, I am a nomad, roaming around in the darkness, unable to have peace in my heart.
“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it. You do not delight in burnt offerings. My sacrifice is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart you, God, do not despise.” Psalm 51:16 & 17
When my heart is right before the Lord, when I am aware of my sin and living in repentance, anything I do, any good I accomplish, anything I give is out of gratitude, not entitlement. When my heart is contrite, when I see myself rightly, this puts me in position to most glorify God and affirm others. I wonder what incredible ministry Cain and Abel may have had together if Cain had chosen repentance rather than rebellion. What a sweet relationship Cain could have had with his Maker and brother had he chosen to resist sin. Let’s be a people known for resisting sin and resting in the finished work of Christ. May we be a people known for our clean hands and pure hearts, (Psalm 24:4) honoring God as King and taking delight in spurring one another on to love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)
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Image Credit: Ken Owen, Creative Commons