THE OFFERINGS OF CAIN AND ABEL
By: Victor T. Stephens
“Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it." (Gen. 4:2-7)
On account of prejudgments and faulty interpretations, much debate has been made concerning the type of offerings of Abel and Cain; and why God accepted one while rejecting the other. It is the opinion of some church leaders that Abel brought a tithe to the Lord while others postulate that it was an offering of blood that God found acceptable. This author disagrees with these two perspectives. This essay aims to provide a counterclaim with a more accurate exegetical solution to this issue. Let's now engage in a more in-depth analysis of each brother's offering.
"Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground" (Verse 2).
Here we observe that Abel is a shepherd while Cain is a farmer. Both of these occupations are reputable. Nowhere does the Bible indicate that Abel's vocation is superior to Cain's. Now let's read the next two verses:
"And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering ...." (Verses 3-4)
Abel and Cain brought offerings corresponding to their occupations. Appropriately, Abel, a shepherd, provided some of his flock; and Cain, a farmer, brought some of his harvest. Take note of the distinctive details and clues: The text says that Abel "brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat.", whereas Cain "brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord". Notice that Cain's offering is described without any elaboration. The dissimilarity and implication between the two offerings is Cain's failure to bring some of the better of his first ripened harvest; thus he probably gave average produce or spoiled fruit. By contrast, Abel offered the best and choicest parts of what he had. Thus, the Lord accepted Abel's offering while Cain's was repudiated.
For those who employ this account to support their tithing doctrine, it should be evident that there is not a clue to the amount given by Abel and Cain; nor do we find anywhere in the scriptures where "fat portions" of flocks are equivalent to a tithe. In ancient biblical times, first-born and first fruits were some of the first offspring of animals or humans and some of the first premium ripened fruits, vegetables, and grains respectively. There was no specific percentage regarding the giving of first-born and first fruits. Let's now read the last verse.
"If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it." (Verse 7)
Coupled with verse four, some pastors use this verse to contend that God accepted Abel's sacrifice on account it was an offering of blood for the atonement for sin while concurrently alleging that God rejected Cain's offering because it consisted of vegetation. While I agree that this perspective appears more equitable than the inference of tithing advocates ... with the former interpretive viewpoint being a non-divisive issue for this author ... it is nevertheless hypothetical in nature.
While it is true that God accepted animal sacrifices, grain and harvest offerings were also acceptable (Leviticus, Chapter 2); though not for the atonement of sin. But, was Abel's sacrifice actually a denotation of a sin offering? A lexical study of Hebrew terminology will disclose that the word for "sin offering" is "hatta't" and "atonement" is "kpr". These Hebrews terms are not used in the account of Cain and Abel. However, the Hebrew word "minchah" or "minha" is used in the text which is applied in a broad sense to mean an offering of animals or grain. That said, the writer of Genesis rejects the plausibility that God repudiated Cain's offering on account it was bloodless.
The writer of Hebrews says that God found pleasure in Abel's offering because its quality was a reflection of his faith (Heb. 11:4, 6) ... a statement that is conducive to this author's perspective. There are no scriptures in the New Testament that denounces Cain for bringing a bloodless sacrifice. Some church leaders reference Hebrews 12:24 as further evidence that Abel brought a blood sacrifice. However, this verse states "the blood of Abel", not that of his sacrifice.
In contrast to Abel and his offering, the Lord rejected Cain's offering because its inferior quality indicated that he had a lack of faith and possessed an evil and greedy disposition (1 John 3:12; Jude 1:11). Abel loved the Lord with all his heart, giving his best; whereas Cain was just going through the motions ... lacking character and genuine faith. And without faith, no one can be declared righteous (Gen.15:6).
Cain was cognizant of the quality of offering to bring. God clearly expressed that he would be accepted if he gave the proper offering. Furthermore, the Lord warned him that sin was about to get the upper hand in his life. Cain had a choice of opposing sin, or he could willingly succumb to it and be destroyed. He hardened his heart, however, electing the latter rather than rectifying the situation; and thus became very angry with God. Cain clearly acted in disobedience, void of humility and displaying an attitude of arrogance towards the Lord. As a result, he permitted himself to be mastered by sin. What follows is jealousy and premeditated murder (Gen. 4:8).
From this study, the following key points should be highlighted:
1. The scriptural text specifically denotes Cain and Abel's profession.
2. Cain and Abel's tribute corresponds to their respective vocations.
3. The scriptural text specifically signifies Abel's offering as a first fruits tribute, whereas there is no such comment in reference to Cain's offering.
4. The scriptural text does not express Cain and Abel's offerings as one tenth of their harvest and herd respectively.
5. The Hebrew terms "hatta't", meaning "sin offering", and "kpr", meaning "atonement", are not used in the text.
6. The quality of Abel's offering, the best of his livestock (first fruits), was a reflection of his faith (Heb. 11:4).
7. Cain's refusal to bring the best of his harvest (the first fruits) demonstrated his lack of faith, his greed, and his evil disposition (1 John 3:12; Jude 1:11), inducing him to be mastered by sin.
In light of the scriptural text in its proper exegetical context coupled with the aforementioned key points, we can conclude that Abel's offering was in fact a first fruits tribute rather than a sin offering. While this author can respect the latter hypothetical perspective, a cloud of suspicion is generated over tithing proponents who teach and read into the text what is not there. For a more in-depth analysis of tithing, feel free to read the article, "A Closer Look at Tithing".
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