Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain, a worker of the ground. In the course of time, Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering, he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:2-7)
Many will reach the story of Cain and Abel early in their annual Bible reading and wonder, What was wrong with Cain’s offering? Some may assume he shouldn’t have given “fruit of the ground” because God demands an animal sacrifice (Ge 4:3). The Old Testament, however, is replete with examples that show God honoring this kind of sacrifice. Plus, it’s what Cain had to give. He was, after all, a worker of the ground (Ge 4:2).
First, notice that Abel’s sacrifice was of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions (Ge 4:4). While Cain did bring an offering, Abel brought his best.
Second, the book of Hebrews further clarifies that Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain because he made his offering by faith (Heb 11:4).
The difference between Cain and Abel’s offerings was the difference between their hearts. Abel loved and trusted God enough to sacrifice his best at any personal cost to himself. Cain, on the other hand, determined less than his best was good enough. His heart was hard and indifferent, as evidenced by his anger and subsequent murder of his brother.
Yet, the detail that strikes me most in this story is God’s subtle display of mercy. I’m never surprised by the depths of man’s depravity. Instead, I am perpetually stunned by God’s patience with us.
Regarding Cain, God doesn’t immediately strike him down when he gives his faithless, self-centered offering. Before passing any measure of judgment, he warns him, saying, “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Ge 4:7). He offers Cain a second chance.
Though God hates sin and is justified in punishing sinners, his long suffering is boundless. After all these years of our wicked rebellion against him—more than two thousand years since he sent his Son to suffer his wrath for us—he has not thrown our world into the pit of hell for one precious reason. “The Lord is patient toward us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2Pe 3:9).
Even so, let us remember that the appointed time has grown very short (1Co 7:29). The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night, so be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish—washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1Pe 3:10, 14; 1Co 6:11).