Cain and Abel #5
By now (Genesis 4:4-5) we already know that the two brothers are making offering to God. Cain brings from his labour in the field, and Abel, the shepherd, from is herd. Does God discriminate Cain by rejecting his offering?
The story is simple, and so is the Hebrew: The two brothers made offering to God. God accepted Abel’s but not Cain’s. So with such straight forward interpretation, let’s ask two questions to which the text does not give direct answers.
- What does it mean that God regarded or did not regard an offering? Was it as simple as in Carl August Zscheckel engraving above, in which Cain’s smoke did not go up while Abel’s did?
- What was God’s reason for discriminating against Cain?
First, in various places in the Bible, we see that God turns towards or away from the alters. For example, in Isaiah 17:8
ולא ישעה אל המזבחות
And He shall not turn towards the altars
But do we have any clues what that might look like? I feel that the clearest indication we can read is in Kings 1 18. The prophets of the Baal are calling their gods to set fire to their alter. But no fire came. Then it is Elijah’s turn. He calls upon God and in 18:38 we read:
וַתִּפֹּל אֵשׁ-יְהוָה, וַתֹּאכַל אֶת-הָעֹלָה וְאֶת-הָעֵצִים, וְאֶת-הָאֲבָנִים, וְאֶת-הֶעָפָר; וְאֶת-הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר-בַּתְּעָלָה, לִחֵכָה
Then the fire of God fell, and consumed the burnt-offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.
It seems clear that heavenly fire lighting alters was God’s way to show His acceptance of the offerings, when He לֹא שָׁעָה (did not turn to) to Cain and his offering, the fire did not light the alter.
What was God’s reason to reject Cain’s offering?
Now, we should contemplate why God discriminated against Cain? Was it Cain that He did not approve of? Was something wrong with the offering, or had Cain made some mistake in the process of preparing it?
I have read through numerous interpretations. Many have found in the text hints showing that Cain did not follow the ‘protocol’ of the offering. Some have found signs that Cain did not bring the best of his yield, others claim that it was bringing from the fruit of the soil rather than from the superior fruit of the tree that angered God. But did we have any indication that God did it out of anger or disapproval? Was God so particular about the process rather than about the intention of the heart? Or was something wrong with Cain’s intention?
The text does not tell.
Has it had to be a blood offering?
Others claim that offering had to involve blood. If this is the case, it can explain the killing of Abel later to bring God the blood Cain believed He had wanted. But would God demand blood sacrifice from someone who labours the soil? Shouldn’t every person give what he or she can?
I wish to offer another interpretation.
Was Cain a son of God?
In a previous post I suggested that Cain might have been a son of God. (you can also see my response to David’s disagreement at the bottom of this post) But even if he was not, we will see as we move forward that God had a special relationship with Cain and a special plan for him. Can it be that God demanded more from Cain in the same way a strict father demands more from his elder son or the son he has most hope for. In such relationships the father will not forgive this son for things he would let anyone else get away with. The father does it because he has high expectations from him; because the father has big plans from this particular son.
There is no leeway for the one the father expects the most from. And as we will see, God had big plans for Cain. Cain, after all, was the one who started civilisation.