Cain and his offering. Does God Discriminate?

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?

Did God discriminate Cain? Table which shows the English translation of Genesis 4:4 and 5 next to the original Hebrew Bible text: 4 and 5: "And God had regard to Abel and to his offering and did not have regard to Cain nor to his offering. And Cain got very angry, and his face fell."
The offerings of Cain and Abel. Abel's offering gets accepted by God, the smoke goes up. The smoke of Cain's offering does not go up. He looks disappointed.


The story is simple, and so is the Hebrew: The two brothers made offering to God. God accepted Abel鈥檚 but not Cain鈥檚. So with such straight forward interpretation, let鈥檚 ask two questions to which the text does not give direct answers.

  1. 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鈥檚 smoke did not go up while Abel鈥檚 did?
  2. What was God鈥檚 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

诇讗 讬砖注讛 讗诇 讛诪讝讘讞讜转
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鈥檚 turn. He calls upon God and in 18:38 we read:

讜址转执旨驻止旨诇 讗值砖讈-讬职讛讜指讛, 讜址转止旨讗讻址诇 讗侄转-讛指注止诇指讛 讜职讗侄转-讛指注值爪执讬诐, 讜职讗侄转-讛指讗植讘指谞执讬诐, 讜职讗侄转-讛侄注指驻指专; 讜职讗侄转-讛址诪址旨讬执诐 讗植砖侄讈专-讘址旨转职旨注指诇指讛, 诇执讞值讻指讛
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鈥檚 way to show His acceptance of the offerings, when He  诇止讗 砖指讈注指讛 (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 鈥榩rotocol鈥 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鈥檚 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鈥檛 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鈥檚 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.

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2 years ago

As God started His awesome work of creation on the first day, so does He began the story of civilization, long and arduous yet hopeful with Cain and his seeds whom He loved so much wanting to see them in His blossom where Adam was. God planned it all from… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Arturo
2 years ago

Thanks Arturo for your comment. God works in mysterious ways. While his plan was made from start, he needed the agents to execute it. Cain was one of his agents. So is it possible that not accepting the offering, making the soil reject Cain and moving Cain to create a… Read more »

2 years ago

A few thoughts on your insightful post. I read in an article about offerings “Rather, the sacrificial system in the Old Testament was a means of grace by which one who unintentionally sinned might make reparations for that sin without paying with his or her life, …” Can it mean… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  Lea
2 years ago

This is an interesting thought Lea. We know that animals were sacrificed to offer their blood instead of human blood. So indeed when a human sinned they could offer such sacrifice to 鈥榗ompensate鈥. This was not a small thing, as most people were poor and offering an animal could be… Read more »

Ran Fuchs
2 years ago

This is an interesting thought Lea. We know that animals were sacrificed to offer their blood instead of human blood. So indeed when a human sinned they could offer such sacrifice to ‘compensate’. This was not a small thing, as most people were poor and offering an animal could be… Read more »

2 years ago

What does “His face fell” mean?

Ran Fuchs
Reply to  David
2 years ago

Thanks David. The Hevrew expression 讬旨执驻旨职诇讜旨 驻旨指谞指讬讜, or his face fall, is a visual description for negative feeling. In modern Hebrew it mostly used to describe big sadness, but it can describe depression or other negative feelings. So we can nearly imagine Cain’s expression with his head down, carrying the… Read more »

1 year ago

[…] rejecting Cain鈥檚 offering, God speaks to him and gives him a paradox to contemplate, a paradox that should guide him, and […]