BY FAITH ABEL OFFERED TO GOD A BETTER SACRIFICE THAN CAIN
THIS VERSE TAKES US BACK TO GENESIS, WHERE WE READ OF ABEL’S SACRIFICE. “SO IT CAME ABOUT IN THE COURSE OF TIME THAT CAIN BROUGHT AN OFFERING TO THE LLORD OF THE FRUIT OF THE GROUND. And Abel, to his part, also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and his offering He had no regard” (Gen. 4:3-5).
A PLACE TO WORSHIP
CAIN AND ABEL HAD A PLACE TO WORSHIP. BECAUSE THEY BROUGHT OFFERINGS, SOME SORT OF ALTAR MUST HAVE BEEN USED ON WHICH TO MAKE THE SACRIFICES. There is no mention of their erecting an altar at this time, and it may be that an altar already existed near the east side of the Garden of Eden, where God had placed the cherubim with the flaming sword to prevent man from reentering.
IT SEEMS PERFECTLY CONSISTENT WITH GOD’S GRACE THAT, FROM THE BEGINNING, HE WOULD HAVE PROVIDED FOR SOME MEANS OF WORSHIP. Perhaps the altar here was a forerunner of the mercy seat, a place where man could come for forgiveness and atonement. Very early in man’s history God promised a future Deliverer, and very early He provided a temporary means of worship and sacrifice.
A TIME FOR WORSHIP
THERE SEEMS ALSO TO HAVE BEEN A TIME FOR WORSHIP. “IN THE COURSE OF TIME,” MEANS LITERALLY, “AT THE END OF DAYS,” THAT IS, AT THE END OF A CERTAIN PERIOD OF TIME. It may be, therefore, that God had designated a special time for sacrificing. God is a God of order, and we know that in later centuries He did prescribe definite times and ways of worshiping. The fact that Cain and Abel came to sacrifice at the same time also suggests that God had specified a particular time.
A WAY OF WORSHIP
I ALSO BELIEVE THAT GOD HAD DESIGNATED A WAY OF WORSHIP. CAIN AND ABEL WOULD KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THE NEED FOR WORSHIP OR SACRIFICE, MUCH LESS THE WAY, HAD THEY NOT BEEN TOLD BY GOD – PERHAPS THROUGH THEIR PARENTS. It is especially significant that the first records act of worship was sacrifice, a sin offering, a supreme act of worship in all God’s covenants with His people. Abraham sacrificed to God, and through Moses came the complicated and demanding rituals of sacrifice of the Old covenant. The heart of the New Covenant is Jesus’ perfect, once-for-all sacrifice on the cross. It is inconceivable that Cain and Abel accidentally stumbled onto sacrifice as a way of worshiping God. The fact that God accepted only the one sacrificial offering also seems to indicate that He had established a pattern of worship.
ABEL OFFERED HIS SACRIFICE BY FAITH. SINCE “FAITH COMES FROM HEARING (ROM. 10-17), ABEL MUST HAVE HAD SOME REVELATION FROM GOD ON WHICH HIS FAITH WAS BASED. He must have known the place and time and way in which God wanted the sacrifice for sin to be offered.
THERE WAS NOTHING INTRINSICALLY WRONG WITH A GRAIN OR FRUIT OR VEGETABLE OFFERING. The Mosaic covenant included such offerings. But the blood offerings were always first, because only the blood offerings dealt with sin.
HERE IS WHERE THE LIFE OF FAITH BEGINS, WITH A SACRIFICE FOR SIN. It beings with believing God that we are sinners, that we are worthy of death, that we need his forgiveness, and that we accept his revealed plan for our deliverance. That is the beginning of the life of faith. It was in such faith that Abel presented his sacrifice to God. And it was because of such faith that his sacrifice was acceptable to God.
WHEN ABEL DID WHAT GOD SAID, HE REVEALED HIS OBEDIENCE AND ACKNOWLEDGED HIS SINFULNESS. CAIN, ON THE OTHER HAND, WAS DISOBEDIENT AND DID NOT ACKNOWLEDGE HIS SIN. Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain because God had prescribed a blood sacrifice. Somehow, Abel, and Cain as well, knew what God wanted. The difference between the two was that Abel gave what God wanted, whereas Cain gave what he himself wanted. Abel was obedient and Cain was disobedient. Abel acknowledged his sin. Cain did not.
ABEL APPROACHED GOD AND SAID, IN EFFECT, “LORD THIS IS WHAT YOU SAID YOU WANTED. YOU PROMISED THAT IF I BROUGHT IT, YOU WOULD FORGIVE MY SIN. I BELIEVE YOU, GOD. I ACKNOWLEDGE MY SIN AND ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR PRESCRIBED REMEDY. HERE IT IS.” Cain had the same knowledge of God’s requirements, but decided to worship in his own way. In the tradition of his parents, he did his own thing. In effect, he was denying his sin.
CAIN BELIEVED IN GOD, ELSE HE WOULD NOT HAVE BROUGHT HIM A SACRIFICE. HE ACKNOWLEDGED A SUPREME BEING AND EVEN THAT HE OWED HIM SOME SORT OF WORSHIP. He recognized God but he did not obey God. He believed in God, but he did not believe god. He though he could approach God in whatever way he wanted, and expected Him to be impressed and satisfied. In so doing, Cain became the father of all false religion.
FALSE RELIGION IS TRYING TO COME TO GOD BY ANY OTHER WAY THAN THE WAY GOD HAS PRESCRIBED. IT SAYS, “I CAN GET TO GOD BY THINKING MYSELF INTO NIRVANA,” OR “I CAN PLEASE GOD BY MEDITATION,” OR “I CAN SATISFY GOD BY MY WORKS OR BY FOLLOWING THE TEACHINGS OF MARY BAKER EDDY, JOSEPH SMITH, OR CHARLES TACE RUSSELL.” God’s Word says, “There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Act 4:12). False religion says that there is another name, another way. False religion is any way to God that God Himself has not ordained. Proverbs 14:12 marks this truth: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
THE IDEA THAT ONE WAY IS JUST AS GOOD AS ANOTHER DOES NOT SEEM TO BE ACCEPTED IN ANY AREA OF LIFE EXCEPT RELIGION AND MORALITY. WHEN A PERSON GOES TO A DOCTOR WITH A PROBLEM, HE FIRST OF ALL WANTS TO KNOW THE TRUTH. NO ONE LIKES TO HEAR A DIAGNOSIS OF A TERRIBLE DISEASE. But the sensible person would rather know the truth than live in ignorance of something that could ruin his health or even take his life. Once knowing the diagnosis, he then wants the right cure, not just any cure. He wants the best treatment he can find and will usually go to any lengths to get it. He would be insulted and infuriated with a doctor who told him simply to go home and do whatever he thought best – that one person’s opinion was just as good as another’s. The reason we think this way about medicine is that we believe there are medical truths. Medical science does not have all the answers, but a great deal is known and accepted as actual, reliable, and dependable. The reason this same kind of reasoning is not applied to spiritual and moral issues is that the absolute truths and standards God has given are rejected. In fact, the very notion of spiritual and moral absolutes is rejected. Cain rejected god’s standards and became the first apostate.
CAIN’S FAILED TO ACKNOWLEDGE HIS SIN AND REFUSED TO OBEY GOD BY BRINGING THE SACRIFICE GOD REQUIRED. HE DID NOT MIND WORSHIPING GOD, AS LONG AS IT WAS ON HIS OWN TERMS, IN HIS OWN WAY. AND GOD REJECTED HIS SACRIFICE AND REJECTED HIM.
CAIN’S DISOBEDIENCE OF GOD AND SETTING UP HIS OWN STANDARDS OF LIVING WERE THE BEGINNING OF SATAN’S WORLD SYSTEM. Cain “went out from the presence of the LORD” (Gen. 4:16 and into a life of continuous self-will, which is the heart of worldliness and unbelief. By his own decision, his own volition, he turned away from God and God’s way to himself and his own way. We should not be sorry for him because God refused to honor his sacrifice. He knew what God required, and he was able to do it. But he chose instead to do what he himself wanted.
THERE ARE ALL KINDS OF PEOPLE AROUND UNDER THE GUISE OF RELIGION, EVEN CHRISTIAN RELIGION, WHO ARE DENYING GOD. “WOE TO THEM” JUDE SAYD, “FOR THEY HAVE GONE THE WASY OF CAIN” (V. 11). Cain is an example of the religious natural man, who believes in God and even in religion but after his own will and who rejects redemption by blood. Paul says of such people that, “they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For ‘not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:2-3).
IN ADDITION TO BEING WICKED AND UNBELIEVING, CAIN WAS A HYPOCRITE. HE DID NOT WANT TO WORSHIP GOD BUT ONLY GIVE THE APPEARANCE OF WORSHIP. His purpose was to please himself, not God. His sacrifice was simply a religious activity designed to suit his own purposes and fulfill his own will. Cain was like the Pharisee in the Temple who Jesus said was praying “to himself” (Luke18:11). He was patronizing god and worshiping himself. Also like the Pharisee, Cain went home unjustified; whereas Abel, like the penitent tax gatherer, went home satisfied.
GOD IS NOT ARBITRARY OR WHIMSICAL OR CAPRICIOUS. HE WAS NOT PLAYING A GAME WITH CAIN AND ABEL. HE DID NOT HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE FOR WHAT THEY COULD NOT HAVE KNOWN OR COULD NOT HAVE DONE. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because he knew what God wanted and obeyed. Cain’s was rejected because he knew what God wanted, yet disobeyed. To obey is righteous; to disobey is evil. Abel was of God; Cain was of Satan (1 John 3:12).
ABEL OFFERED A BETTER SACRIFICE BECAUSE IT REPRESENTED THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH. HE WILLINGLY BROUGHT GOD WHAT HE ASKED, AND HE BROUGHT THE VERY BEST THAT HE HAD. In Abel’s sacrifice, the way of the cross was first prefigured. The first sacrifice was Abel’s lamb – one lamb for one person. Later came the Passover – with one lamb for one family. then came the Day of Atonement—with one lamb for one nation. Finally came Good Friday – one Lamb for the whole world. – JOHN MACARTHUR
PROFESSOR THOMAS A. ROHM