Cain’s offering was rejected; Abel’s offering was accepted and pleasing to God. But why? Was it because Abel brought a blood offering and Cain only brought a food offering. Kind of. Food offerings were acceptable to God according to the Mosaic Law (Lev.2:1). However, food offerings were not the basis for Atonement. The blood offering was God’s requirement for the atonement of sin.
The phrase, “in the process of time it came to pass” (Gen.4:3) indicates that this was not a daily offering. This was likely an appointed time to offer a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. Cain chose to offer a bloodless sacrifice. The issue wasn’t that God despised food offerings; the issue was that God prescribed a specific offering for the atonement of sin. And more importantly, God required it to be presented with a heart of faith.
The atonement is made through the blood sacrifice, but it is only applied to the person by faith. The forgiveness of sins has always been by grace through faith; by believing the promise of God. God promised them a redeemer and provided a temporary atonement through animal sacrifice. Abel’s offering was pleasing to God because it was offered from a heart of faith which acted in obedience to His revealed will. Cain’s offering was rejected, not just because of his offering, but because of the condition of his heart.
Think about it. Where would Cain go to get an animal for a blood sacrifice? Likely, he would have to go to Abel. He would have to humble himself and offer a sacrifice that wasn’t the product of his work. And, even if he had offered the appropriate sacrifice, his heart was unclean. It wasn’t the animal itself that made them right with God, but their trust in God; that if they offered what He required, that they would be forgiven.
“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Heb.11:4).
This is the dilemma of the cross: coming to God with nothing of our own; receiving a forgiveness that cost us nothing and asking Christ for that which is His. His righteousness. You would think that this would be a joyous thing for humanity. However, since we are fallen in sin, pride has taken over the human heart. We want the credit. We want to offer what we have. The problem is, we have nothing to offer. “Our righteousness is as filthy rags” (Isa.64:6).
This was Cain’s issue: Pride. He brought an offering that was the product of his labor, rather than another. He couldn’t humble himself to offer the work of another. And he was angry when God rejected his offering (v.5). Only more evidence of the evil in his heart.
Christ offered up Himself, once and for all for the forgiveness of sin. We’ve come to Jesus: “the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb.12:24). Abel’s blood cries from the ground, calling for justice; Jesus’ blood cries from the cross, calling for forgiveness.