Am I my brother’s keeper – Part 4

a close up image of a copperhead


Cain and Abel both had tasks assigned to them one was to cultivate the field and one was to raise flocks of animals. It appears that Cain being the oldest son inherited the curse that was cast on Adam at the time of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Abel on the other hand was not pressed into working the ground as his brother was. There are several implications to these short verses on worship. It is implied that God had taught Adam and Eve as well as their family how to approach and worship God, this conclusion can be drawn from Gen 4:3-4a  “So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. (NASB). With the instructions of worship not recorded in the scriptures, this is a logical assumption because of the statement “came about in the course of time”.

Both Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to the Lord. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted and Cain’s was not. Here is a point of divergence between critical text commentators, the reason why Cain’s offering was not acceptable to God. Walvoord states “But the narrative lines him up with the curse; he worked the soil (lit., ground, Gen. 4:2; cf. 3:17). Abel, however, seems to be lined up with man’s original purpose, to have dominion over life (Gen. 1:28); he kept flocks. These coincidental descriptions are enhanced with their actions in worship. Abel went out of his way to please God (which meant he had faith in God, Heb. 11:6), whereas Cain was simply discharging a duty. Abel’s actions were righteous, whereas Cain’s were evil (1 John 3:12). These two types of people are still present” (Walvoord). However, this is not the only opinion on the matter. There are two other potential opinions on the matter. Donald Gowen, however, sums up all three points “Most interpreters insist on finding a moral lesson. The author of Hebrews claims it was because Abel offered his sacrifice by faith (Heb. 11:4). Others point to the words “firstlings” and “fat portions,” deducing that Abel brought his best, while Cain’s offering was something nondescript. An effort to read later sacrificial theory back into the story has also been made, claiming Cain’s offering was unacceptable because it did not involve the shedding of blood; but this is very dubious, since offerings of fruit and grain were a regular part of later sacrifices (e.g., Exod. 23:19; Deut. 26:2)” (Gowen).

The key to determining the proper interpretation of this portion of the narrative hinges on one word that word is minhah (H4503) which is defined as “meat (cereal) offering; offering; present; tribute; sacrifice or oblation. The King James Version translates this word as the meat offering 40 times in Leviticus and Numbers. The word meat in this KJV use generally means “food” the RSV rendering of “cereal offering” is generally much more accurate” (Vine, H 166). If our understanding aligns with this definition from Vine, it appears that Walvoord’s definition and understanding of why Cain’s offering was rejected are accurate.

However, there is a third understanding of why the offering was rejected this is posed by Brueggemann “Both brothers do what is appropriate. Both bring their best. Both had reason to anticipate acceptance. There is nothing to indicate that God must discriminate or prefer one to the other. There is no hint of rivalry or hostility. This is simply a family at worship. The trouble comes not from Cain, but from Yahweh, the strange God of Israel. Inexplicably, Yahweh chooses—accepts and rejects. Conventional interpretation is too hard on Cain and too easy on Yahweh. It is Yahweh who transforms a normal report into a life/death story for us and about us. Essential to the plot is the capricious freedom of Yahweh. Like the narrator, we must resist every effort to explain it. There is nothing here of Yahweh preferring cowboys to farmers. There is nothing here to disqualify Cain. Calvin and others after him malign Cain and give the reason for his rejection, thus introducing a moral dimension into the incident. But when Calvin does so, he knows more than the text. The rejection of Cain is not reasoned but is a necessary premise for the story. Life is unfair. God is free. There is ample ground here for the deathly urgings that move among us” (Brueggemann). Brueggemann seems to forget to take into account two scriptures that seem to add credibility to Calvin’s position as well as Walvoord’s and his contemporaries they are “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6 NASB) and “not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brothers were righteous” (1Jn 3:12 NASB).

Cain was encouraged by God to do better even after he had rejected his offering. He had two roads to choose from, the one that God has prescribed for him, to make a pleasing offer, or to eliminate the competition within his family and appeasing his anger. Cain chose the latter, slaying his brother.  In appealing to his own satisfaction he set himself up for divine judgment and punishment.

It appears that Cain only walked, though, did what was required of him in his offering. In other words, he paid lip service so to speak to God. God knew the intent of his heart and rejected his offering. Abel, on the other hand, knew what would be pleasing to God, Abel to the extra steps to prepare his offering and give it to God. The issue here between the worship styles is not what was offered as some have contended but the condition of the heart when it was offered. Cain offered out of obligation Abel offered out of love.


To read the other parts in this series click any of the links below:

Am I my Brother’s keeper part 1
Am I my Brother’s keeper part 2
Am I my Brother’s keeper part 3
Am I my Brother’s keeper part 4
Am I my Brother’s keeper part 5
Am I my Brother’s keeper part 6


Author: Chris Flees

I am an artist, art promoter, and art marketing professional who specializes and blogs primarily about art topics and the "behind the scenes" of my subject and images. Occasionally I blog about Christian topics.