I have spent a lot of time wondering about the story of Cain and Abel. The question that keeps gnawing away at me is why God would have acted in such a cruel and unfair manner by rejecting Cain’s sacrifice, while accepting Abel’s. There is no reason given. None at all. Was God simply favoring Abel? Was Cain’s sacrifice somehow flawed?
I don’t think that either was the case. The problem with the biblical text is that it does not explain the reason sacrifice was being offered in the first place. Sacrifices were not random things that people did for no reason at all. Some offerings were tithes, some were thank-offerings, made after divine help was received, and others were pleas for divine assistance. The mistake I made was in assuming that Cain and Abel were offering up tithe-type offerings, and that Cain had offered something of poor quality.
That is where I believe I was completely wrong. Tithe-type offerings were not even required at that point in scripture. In fact, Cain and Abel’s offerings were the very first mentioned in the bible. So the question people should be asking first, is ‘what was the reason for their offerings?’. Once we know why the offerings were made, we can better theorize as to what happened, and why God rejected one while accepting the other.
My theory is this: both brothers made their offerings as part of a request for God’s assistance in a matter. Perhaps both brothers were vying for the same thing, perhaps they were requesting different things. What happened was that God agreed to provide Abel with whatever he requested, while refusing to provide Cain with his request. Cain then became angry, first because God had refused him, and then because Abel had gotten what he asked for, when he, Cain had been refused. The seeming unfairness of it ate away at Cain’s heart until it turned into jealousy and rage. The next thing he knew, he lost it and killed Abel, probably during an argument of some sort.
I somehow don’t think Cain lay in wait for Abel, then murdered him in cold blood. God showed him mercy, which I don’t think would have been the case if Cain had turned completely evil.
The burning question that remains is why did God refuse Cain’s request? It is possible that Cain asked for something that was not beneficial to himself. It might have been something that would harm him in the long run, but Cain could not see that. If he and Abel were asking for the same thing, and only one could have it, it may have been that Abel was the one more suited to it. Again, in the long run, Cain would not have benefited from it.
So God turned down Cain’s request. That is what a rejected offering signifies: God has heard the request, and decided not to grant it. Nothing more, nothing less.
So, those are my thoughts on a rather vague, but important passage. It also clarifies a lot of other mumbo-jumbo that we come across later on in the New Testament about why God does not always respond to our prayers. It even touches on Jesus’ words about a father not giving his son a serpent when the child asks for bread. If the request is beneficial to the individual, God hears and grants it. But if it isn’t, He will reject it. It is not about favoritism, or capriciousness on God’s part, it is about the well-being of the individual. Like the child in Jesus’ parable, the seeker may not know that the food he is begging for is tainted with poison; but the Father knows, and refuses to give him what is not good for him.
The moral of the story is not to fall into the trap that Cain did, even though God warned him what would happen if he did not put his resentment aside.