And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.(Genesis 4:3-7)
The brothers, Cain and Abel each worshipped God. This God who once walked in the cool of the day in the garden with their parents, now had to be approached in a very specific way, due to the estrangement brought about by sin. Therefore Cain and Abel had been taught to approach God by their parents,Adam and Eve; and how and when to offer the God appointed sacrifices.
They knew that the worshipper could not come to God’s altar empty-handed, for having been infected by sin from birth, no man is fit to approach the Holy God as he is in himself. God had appointed from the very beginning, a system of sacrificial worship.
From the time Adam and Eve looked with horror on the carcass of the first slain animal, by whose fleece God had provided their garments, it became obvious that the sinners worthy of death could only be covered, or draw near to their God, by way of substitutionary death. Blood must be spilled, for “the soul that sins shall die”.
The theology of sacrifice is substitution. The wages of sin is death, someone has to die for sin. Either the man himself, or the God appointed substitute, but someone must die in order for fellowship with God to be possible. God’s righteousness demands it.
When Abel drew near to the altar of God *, he brought in his hands the slain and bleeding carcass of the best and first of his flock. Tremblingly he approached with the broken body of the substitute, and by that offering made a statement such as this, “I am but a sinner and deserve to die, O Holy Lord. I beseech you to receive this innocent substitute which you have appointed, to die in my place and cover my sins that I might live in thy sight…”.
He laid the offering on the altar, and somehow was allowed to see whether the offering was accepted or rejected.**In spite of Abel’s sins, fellowship with God was established, his sins were covered, and he would live.
When Cain drew near, he brought a different offering entirely, thus he made a different theological statement. By bringing the produce of the ground, ie fruits and vegetables, Cain was saying to God something to this effect, “I confess O Lord, that You are indeed my Creator, and have blessed the ground which has brought forth such fruit, I beseech you, receive this the work of my hands, from the ground which you have made”.
Cain was no atheist. He believed in God, and wanted to worship and acknowledge Him as Creator, and the giver of all good things, and rightly so. He was willing to take the place of a creature, even as a dependent on God.
However Cain refused to see himself as a sinner worthy of death, one who could only be saved by the God appointed substitute. He presumed to approach the thrice Holy God without the shedding of blood!
And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.(Hebrews 9:22)
Therefore Cain’s offering didn’t satisfy God, there was no sign of Divine acceptance of Cain’s worship. The Lord rejected Cain’s offering in a very visible way.
Cain became angry, sullen, and even depressed. He had been shot down and he knew it. Abel had been accepted of God, but not Cain.This grieved and enraged him but he said nothing.
Even when the LORD himself confronted Cain with questions designed to bring him to a correction of his worship, and to provoke him to consider his own ways, Cain offered no response.
Why are you wroth,Cain? Why should you be depressed? (You know what God requires and why he requires it…why should you be angered?)…. But Cain replies….nothing. He will not look within himself to ask himself why he should be angry, or depressed, or why does the Divine teaching of the needed substitute bother him so.He has nothing to say in response to the loving provocation of the LORD.
This time the LORD is direct in his query, If you do well will you not be accepted? In other words, Cain you know what you must do to come near to God, you know my terms of worship, you have to admit you are a sinner deserving of death, in order to know my mercy and acceptance…. But Cain’s reply is….nothing.
So the LORD in mercy and forbearance warns him, He even pleads with Cain, Sin is a lion, Cain, that wants to devour you…But it could be overcome, Cain, you don’t have to be destroyed, if you would but humble yourself…..
But what does Cain have to say in response to the loving voice that sought to encourage him? Nothing.
Cain would not be the last sinner who ignored the gentle pleading of His maker, shutting out the voice, killing the conscience until the solemn words of God spoken by Isaiah came to pass…
I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not.(Isaiah 66:4)
* ( Was it at the place of the Cherubim with the flaming sword? Perhaps it was , for in the time of the tabernacle of Moses, God appointed figures of Cherubim to be woven into the curtain of the Holy Place where priests drew near to God in the temple.).
** I personally believe that fire fell on it and consumed it, but admittedly that is speculation, we don’t know, because scripture only tells us that God did accept it in a visible way.