3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, 5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. (Gen. 4:3-5)
Cain and Abel both brought an offering to God. Cain, who was a farmer, brought an offering from the fruit of the ground. Abel, who was a shepherd, brought a firstborn animal from his flock, most likely a lamb, to God. (You can read about this yourself in Genesis chapter 4.)
The Bible says that God ”respected” Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering “he did not respect”. This led to a number of negative consequences. Cain became angry, his countenance fell, and ended up killing his brother. Because of this, Cain came under a curse and had to spend the rest of his life a homeless vagabond on earth.
Why did God receive Abel’s offering, and why did He not receive Cain’s?
Cain’s offering from the fruit of the ground represents his own hard work and efforts – his own deeds and performance. Abel on the other hand, sacrificed a firstborn animal from his flock, which was a prophetic picture of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed for our sins, so that we could come to God and have a close relationship with Him.
Cain’s offering represents our own efforts and is a picture of the law. Abel’s offering represents what Jesus has done for us and is a picture of grace.
What can we learn from this? That we can only have a relationship with God based on His grace and unconditional love for us. Only through the blood of the Lamb can we come before God – not through our own goodness or our own works or performance.
Cain tried to relate to God based on His own goodness and efforts. He chose the old and dead pathway of the law instead of the new and living “highway of grace”. When that did not work out well for him, he became angry with God and killed his own brother.
Legalism kills people’s relationship with God. I believe this is the reason why so many (especially young) people have left our churches. They have discovered that they cannot measure up to the demands or standards they are expected to live by. Because of this they become tired and pull away from the church, and oftentimes also from the personal relationship with God.
In the 90s, we used to sing a worship song about that we can only come before God based on His grace:
Only by grace can we enter, Only by grace can we stand
Not by our human endeavor, But by the blood of the lamb
Into Your presence You call us, You call us to come
Into Your presence You draw us, And now by Your grace we come
The story about Cain’s and Abel’s offering teaches us that we can only relate to God based on His grace – because of the precious blood of Jesus that was poured out for us on the cross of Calvary.