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Genesis 4: What makes an acceptable offering?

Almost everyone knows at least the basics of the story of Cain and Abel.

Two brothers each made an offering to God.
God accepted one brother's offering, but rejected the other's.
The brother whose offering was not accepted became jealous of the  praise his brother received and killed him in a jealous rage.

What do you think is the point of this story?
Murder is wrong? No that's too obvious
Don't be bitter, but learn your lesson? Better, but no.
I believe the point of the story is to teach us the difference between an acceptable offering and an unacceptable one. In a previous post I contrasted the God of Israel with the false god's of the ancient world. In the false religions of the ancient world, human beings were created to be slaves to the the god's. The gods had needs, and the worship of humanity was supposed to literally be food to them. The God who reveals himself to Israel however, is the source of everything. The true God is all powerful. He doesn't need servants. And so we find that because of the fullness of His nature, He is inherently charitable and loving. The God who needs nothing, overflows with goodness for his creatures. What can you possibly give to such a God? The only thing we can possibly give back is our gratitude.

This is the main difference between Cain's offering and Abel's. Abel's offering showed that he knew God's true nature. Cain's offering displayed signs that the knowledge of God's true nature had been lost.

Look at the text, it says:

In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.  But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. - Genesis 4:3-4

You see, Cain gave a portion of his harvest. That means, from his perspective, his labor had generated a certain amount of produce, and by his offering, he was attempting to give God a portion of what he had produced.

Abel's offering however, was from the fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. Because he gave from the best and first of what he had, his offering was like an acknowledgement that everything he had, truly belonged to God. It was his only by God's grace. His offering was not simply a cut of the profits, but an expression of his gratitude.

The significance of this distinction carries through to our theology today. Abel's gift looks forward to the cross. It acknowledges that God has given us everything necessary for our salvation in Jesus, while Cain's gift does not recognize God's gift, but, attempts to earn God's favor through his work.


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