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Don Stewart :: Why Did God Reject Cain's Sacrifice?

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Don Stewart
The first example of sacrifice in the Bible is found in the account of Cain and Abel. When Cain and Abel, the first two sons of Adam and Eve, presented their sacrifices before the Lord Abel's sacrifice was accepted while Cain's was rejected.

And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell (Genesis 4:4,5).

Why did God accept the sacrifice of Abel and reject the sacrifice of Cain? There are four main views.

1.God's Sovereign Choice

The first view sees the acceptance of one offering and the rejection of the other as the sovereign choice of God. God merely chose to accept Abel's offering and reject Cain's with no explanation given.

2.Non-Blood Sacrifice

A second view believes that the offering was rejected because Cain did not present a blood sacrifice. Blood sacrifice is the only acceptable offering God would receive.

3.Poor Quality

The third view sees that Abel brought the best of what he had while Cain brought a poor quality offering.

4.Attitude Problem

The fourth view interprets the rejection as a problem with Cain's attitude rather than the specific offering that he brought.


The occupations chosen by Cain and Abel were the natural results of the curse of the Fall. Since both the ground and the animal kingdom had been affected by the Fall, the sheep needed to be tended and the ground needed to be worked for food. Contrary to what some have contended, there is nothing inherently better about tending sheep than working the ground. Scripture gives no indication that one occupation was superior to another. Therefore we should not look for the answer to the acceptance and rejection of the offerings in the various occupations the two practiced.

The Occasion

It seems that there was a special occasion for this offering. The text says the offering was brought in the process of time or at the end of days. This may refer to some type of festival that the Lord established which was similar to the later rituals in the law of Moses. Some believe it was the first time that God had commanded that offerings be brought, but there is no indication of this in the text. Possibly there was some sort of primitive sanctuary where the offering was to be brought. This act of bringing the offering for sin was foreshadowing the coming of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Who would eventually offer Himself for the sins of the world.

Fruit Not Flock

Cain brought the fruit of the ground to offer to the Lord while Abel's offering was the first of the flock and of the fat. This would have been the richest and best portion of the animal, demonstrating that Abel brought his best to the Lord.

Why Rejected?

Abel's offering was accepted while Cain's was rejected. Though Cain's offering was rejected there is no reason given as to why.

1.God's Sovereign Choice

Some commentators argue that the reason for Abel's acceptance and Cain's rejection is based solely upon the sovereign choice of God. There was nothing different about either of the offerings. God, rather chose to accept one and reject the other without providing us any reason as to why. Therefore it is fruitless to try to discover the reason for God's decisions for they are His and His alone.

2.Not Blood Sacrifice

There are many who believe that Cain's offering was not accepted because it was not a blood sacrifice like Abel's. Instead, Cain brought the fruit of the cursed ground, the work of his hands. Many see in this episode the contrast between the God-revealed doctrine of blood sacrifice versus humanity trying to please God with their own self-efforts. Cain's offering is reminiscent of Adam and Eve covering themselves with fig leaves after their sin in the Garden. It is humanity attempting to work their way into a relationship with God instead of leaning on God's grace.

Had Been Instituted

We know that animal sacrifices had been instituted before this time.

Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them (Genesis 3:21).

To make animal skins for Adam and Eve after they had sinned, sacrifices would have been made.

New Testament

In addition, the Book of Hebrews stresses the fact that Abel offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.

By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous. God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks (Hebrews 11:4).

This has led many interpreters to conclude that the reason the sacrifice was rejected was because of the nature of it.

3.Not His Best

Another possible reason for the rejection of Cain's offering is the fruit that he brought was not the best the land had produced. It is emphasized that Abel brought the firstfruits of his flock-the best that he had. Cain, on the other hand, merely brought ordinary fruit to the Lord-possibly of a poor quality. Therefore the difference between the two offerings is that Abel brought the best of what he had while Cain did not make an effort to bring his best to the Lord. Cain's offering showed indifference or carelessness. The heart attitude of Cain was sinful and this led to his bringing an inferior offering. Cain did not offer his best to the Lord because there was a problem with sin in his life. The Bible says, The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination (Proverbs 21:27).

4.Wrong Motive Not Wrong Offering

Other Bible students argue that God was not so much concerned with the type of sacrifice or the quality of the offering. They contend that His main concern was with the attitude of Cain. Cain's offering was rejected because of his impure heart, not because it was the fruit of the land rather than a blood sacrifice. He may have brought the very best that he had, but he did so with entirely the wrong attitude. This would be comparable to somebody giving a large sum of money to the church with a grudging attitude.

Proper Offerings

The last view is strengthened in what the Bible says about the offering. The Hebrew word translated offering is not the usual word for blood sacrifice. The most common meaning for this Hebrew term in Genesis 4 is gift. Therefore, both offerings were proper for the two brothers who were at worship. In later texts, to bring an offering to the Lord suggests building an altar and placing that offering on or before that altar. Yet altar is nowhere used in Genesis 4, and we must remain uncertain as to how the brothers brought to the Lord their respective sacrifices.

Each brought an offering (minha) appropriate to his occupation. One would expect a farmer to bring an offering from the vintage of the ground and a shepherd to bring the sucklings of his flock. Outside of ritual codes (minha) could refer to any offering of grain, but animals might also be included here

Offerings Not Sacrifices

Both Cain and Abel brought proper offerings and there is nothing in the text to suggest the type of offering is the reason for God's rejection or acceptance. On the contrary, the text is clear they brought offerings to the Lord and not sacrifices. The text is silent regarding anything wrong with the quality or type of Cain's offering. God showed acceptance to Abel, rather than Cain, because Abel made his offering to the Lord in faith.

Cain's Response

Apparently the rejection of Cain's offering was a public event. This made Cain angry and he did not repent. Rather he responded in anger against the Lord. The Lord said to Cain:

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at your door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it (Genesis 4:7).

This is one of the most difficult verses in Scripture. Its exact translation and meaning has been the subject of much debate. As it is translated here, the problem with Cain's offering lies with his attitude. Sin is depicted as a crouching animal waiting to pounce upon its prey. If the person does not resist the sin, then greater ruin can occur in his life. God tells Cain that he has the ability to fix the situation by mastering the sin that is controlling him. Unfortunately, Cain did not learn his lesson-it led him to committing a greater sin. Upset at both God and his brother, Cain then went out and killed Abel (Genesis 4:8). This clearly showed that he did not learn the lesson that God tried to teach him.

Cain And Abel Contrasted

The character of Cain and Abel are contrasted in the rest of Scripture. Cain is spoken of in Scripture as wicked while Abel is called righteous. Jesus called him righteous Abel (Matthew 23:35). The Apostle John wrote:

not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother's righteous (1 John 3:12).

Jude said:

Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah (Jude 11).

Cain's Judgment

The Lord judged Cain for killing his brother.

So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you till the ground it shall no longer yield its strength to you. A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth (Genesis 4:11,12).

Cain's judgment was banishment from God's presence and a further cursing of the ground. The earth, having been already cursed by Adam's sin, was further cursed with respect to Cain.

Never Settled

In addition, Cain will never be settled. He will be a fugitive and vagabond wherever he goes. This speaks of the nature of the sinner apart from the Lord. There is never any permanent rest or peace unless a person is in God's presence.


For some special occasion, God ordered Cain and Abel to present Him with offerings. Cain's offering was rejected while Abel's was accepted. There are four basic interpretations as to why this is the case.

1.Some assume the acceptance and rejection of the offerings was due to the sovereign choice of God rather than the actions of Cain and Abel.

2.Many assume Cain's offering was rejected because it was not a blood sacrifice but rather the work of his hands.

3. Some see the problem as the quality of Cain's offering. While Abel brought his best to the Lord, Cain merely chose some fruit at random to give to God.

4.Others see the problem in Cain's attitude, rather than the specific offering that he brought.

Cain responded by murdering Abel. God judged the murderer Cain by further cursing the ground and sending him away from the godly society. Cain would spend the remainder of his life as a fugitive.

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