“Did God reject Cain’s sacrifice simply because he did not ‘give his best’ or was it because it was not a blood sacrifice like Abel’s? Did God require an animal sacrifice (blood sacrifice) on this occasion?”
The record of Cain’s rejected sacrifice reads:
“And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto Jehovah. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And Jehovah had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell” (Gen. 4:3-5).
Here are the facts as recorded by Moses. Both Cain and Abel came to worship before the Lord, both brought a sacrifice. But there was a difference. Cain brought a sacrifice of the fruit of the ground. His offering was a bloodless sacrifice. However, Abel brought forth a bloody sacrifice, and the fat thereof.
The result of their worship before the Lord was that Jehovah had respect unto Abel and his offering, but he did not have respect towards Cain nor towards his offering.
And why was that?
Moses’s record makes it easy to understand what the problem was. The written account specifically denotes the differences between their offerings.
One was of produce, the other was a blood-bearing sacrifice.
New Testament commentary on Cain’s rejected sacrifice
The Hebrew writer makes it even more clear:
“By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness in respect of his gifts: and through it he being dead yet speaketh” (11:4).
How did Abel present his sacrifice unto the Lord? It was by faith. Moses did not write that Cain offered his sacrifice by faith, and no New Testament writer comments on the faith of Cain demonstrated by this offering.
If Cain did not offer his gifts unto God by faith, then how did he worship? The opposite of faith is by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), that is, through human intuition.
Cain worshipped according to “sight” — according to what his own senses and wisdom dictated would be an honorable gift unto the Lord.
No doubt, his produce was lovely to look upon. No doubt, he labored over those crops until the harvest. No doubt he anticipated that all the hard work, time, and care he had spent on those offerings would be acceptable.
His expectation of acceptance is clearly demonstrated by his reaction to the Lord’s rejection of his sacrifice.
But Cain’s offering was not rejected because he did not worship in earnest.
Instead, his offering was rejected because it was offered according to his own presumption and not by faith.
Faith is not simply a feeling of confident expectation. Cain had that.
Rather, faith is the result of hearing God’s word, submitting the mind and body to its dominion, and acting in accordance to what the Lord has instructed.
There is a truism attributed to a Chinese philosopher that says, “To know and not do is to not know.”
The same principle can be applied to faith, “To believe God, and not obey him, is to not believe him.” Or as James wrote, “faith apart from works is dead” (2:26).
To whatever extent it could be said that Cain worshipped before the Lord, his activity was negated by the fact that it was not according to faith.
By way of contrast, Abel’s offering was by faith.
Why is faith attributed to Abel? Paul defines the source of faith that is well-pleasing to God in Romans 10:17.
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
- Abel offered his sacrifice by faith (Heb. 11:4).
- But faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom 10:17)
- Therefore, Abel offered his sacrifice by hearing and obeying the word of God.
Cain did not offer his sacrifice by faith. Therefore, he did not worship according to the word of God. And God rejected his offering.
Cain was presumptuous. Whether or not he consciously thought that God was not serious in what he commanded is irrelevant; his actions demonstrated that he supposed that he had the right to substitute his own judgment for the Lord’s.
The way of Cain is the way of presumption. Those who, in like manner, presume to design their own system of worship are children of Cain.
Those who, just like Cain, neglect the clear teaching of the Lord in matters of salvation and invent for themselves their own system of access to the sacrifice of Christ are practicing the religion of Cain.
And God will not respect such presumptuousness.
Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me:
Then shall I be upright,
And I shall be clear from great transgression (Ps. 19:13)