Every day, for the past three or four years, I have sent out a daily Scripture reading to those who sign up. The goal is to go Chronologically through the entire Bible in one year, and each year, I use a different translation.
This year we are reading the New English Translation (NET), and on January second, we read chapters four through seven of Genesis.
But I received an email from someone who didn’t understand what happened when both Cain and Abel offered their sacrifices, YHWH only accepted Abel’s sacrifice, and was flat-out angry with Cain’s offering. What’s up?
Okay, so let’s read it:
Now the man had marital relations with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. Then she said, “I have created a man just as the Lord did!” Then she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground.
At the designated time Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock—even the fattest of them. And the Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased.”
To add to that, Hebrews 11:4 tells us, “It was by faith that Abel offered God a because of his faith. Abel died, but through his faith he is still speaking!”
Wow! I understand the confusion. So what was it about Cain’s offering that was so wrong?
Well first, we need to make a few observations of the text, to understand what is happening. We have to remember that Hebrew names are very significant; the ancients tended to name their children after some event or attribute or hope that was significant to the family. So let’s find out what their names meant because it will give us an insight into both the mindset of the people involved, and the events that were shaping their lives.
Kayin, which is Hebrew for Cain, meant acquired from God. Now, if you read the previous chapters, you should remember that trough the act of treason Adam and Eve committed all of creation was surrendered to YHWH’s enemy. However, YHWH warned the snake that a man would come and stomp on his head. Well evidently, since Kayin was probably Adam and Eve‘s first child. And, because it was a male child, and because of the name Eve gave to him, it appears that Eve logically presumed that Kayin was the man who would deal with Satan. We also see that Kayin was a farmer.
Next, we are told that Hevel (Hebrew for Abel) became a shepherd. Now, some scholars say we can‘t find any meaning from it. However, some Hebrew scholars say that Abel comes from the Hebrew word hebel, which means breath or vapor — which gives it a sense of being transitory — here, but only for a moment.
Also, the brothers don’t seem too surprised that they were called to present a sacrifice, an offering, to YHWH. This could mean that bringing a sacrifice was something they did quite regularly, but in any case, this wasn’t the first time they presented a sacrifice for the Lord.
Also remember that their parents were kicked out of the garden of Eden, so the altar where the sacrifice took place was probably at the entry to the Garden, because YHWH would not come to them. He would never set foot on anything but Holy Ground — that, at this time on earth, was only the Garden of Eden. The reason I bring this up is because we have to remember the condition of man’s relationship to their God. He was Holy, and they were not.
Now, to get to the point of the email I received, why did YHWH accept Abel’s offering of a slain first-born sheep, but rejected the plants that Cain brought to Him. Well, the type of sacrifice they offered was possibly either a burnt offering or a purification offering, in Hebrew an ‘Olah or a Hata’at. And the only suitable sacrifice for either of those two types of sacrifices, was a blood sacrifice. Or more precisely, Innocent blood. Firstborn innocent blood, which is exactly what we are told Abel brought as his offering.
Now, the “Law” had not been given yet, so obviously all of the rituals and requirements we find in Leviticus for sacrifices weren’t involved here. For them, it was much simpler and straightforward, and there is nothing in the text about a mediator, such as a priest of some sort. What I am trying to say is that these two brothers would have known full well what YHWH expected of them. They grew up with it. Long before these two were born their parents received the commands and instructions through the animal skins that YHWH required Adam and Eve to wear for clothing — for a covering. So they were reminded of it 24-hours a day!
Another interesting facet regarding sacrifices, concerns the nature of the produce from the field that Cain brought: the text tells us that it was ordinary. “Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock — even the fattest of them.” Aah-Ha! There you go! Abel‘s sacrifice was the firstborn and fattest. But there is nothing said about Cain’s produce being the first-fruits or even the best of the field, or anything that would set it apart from anything else he produced. He simply gave the Lord some common corncobs and beans!
Some Sages say that he should never have brought any plant life at all that it should have been an animal. Others say that the problem was the haughty, non-repentant attitude he brought with his offering. Still others say that it had to do with what I just showed you, that it was just ordinary produce and not the best — which is what must be offered to God.
You have to remember that during this period, man was only allowed to eat plants — not animals. So, the only purpose for Sheep was for sacrifice and clothing. The animals Abel was producing could have served no other purpose than as a service to God — except for the wool or skins for clothing and perhaps tents. So, we can combine these two purposes for the Sheep under one title: covering! Do you see this? The Sheep, the Lamb, was to provide covering (clothing) for man‘s physical nakedness, and it was to provide covering (its own innocent blood) for man‘s spiritual nakedness: his sin.
We need to understand this: the very first humans, and their very first children, at the very beginning of the World, learned from YHWH Himself that sin has a high price. And, that price is death. And, in His great Mercy, He allowed, for a time, the blood of innocent animals to cover — to atone — for man‘s sins. Now notice that I said cover; because the sin was still there — it was just covered up — like Adam and Eve‘s nakedness, was covered up. You know, of course that our clothing is simply covering our nakedness. Under that covering the nakedness, like our sin, is still there! And for centuries and centuries, YHWH provided a way to cover over the sin of those who trusted Him, in the form of the blood of animals. But, in the course of time, Christ changed all that. Because, unlike the blood of animals, His blood didn’t cover our sin, it removed it!
If you turn over to the ninth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrew Church, the writer explained the difference between God‘s use of the Tabernacle and what He accomplished with the Blood of Christ. You see, YHWH‘s former plans provided directions for worship and a specially designed place of worship. He instructed His people to set up a large outer tent. The lampstand, the table, and “the bread of presence” were placed in that tent. This place was called the “Holy Place.” Then, in the “Holy Place,” they stretched a curtain and behind it was a smaller tent, inside. This smaller tent was called the “Holy of Holies.” Inside the “Holy of Holies” you find the gold incense altar and the gold-covered Ark of the Covenant. Inside the Ark of the Covenant, you find the gold urn of manna, Aaron‘s rod that budded, the covenant tablets, and the angel-wing-shadowed mercy seat. Go read Leviticus, and you will be fascinated!
After this place of worship was established, the priests went about their duties in the large tent. But here is the most important part. Only the high priest could enter the smaller, inside tent, and then only once a year where he made a blood sacrifice. The sacrifice he offered was for his sins and the people‘s accumulated sins. This whole process was the Holy Spirit‘s way of showing with a visible parable that as long as the large tent stands, people could not just walk in on YHWH. He was too Holy and whatever was unholy, could not stand in His presence.
But there is a BIG problem: with this system: all of the gifts and sacrifices could never get to the heart of the problem, they could never clear the conscience of the people. It is nothing more than a temporary arrangement until a complete overhaul could be made.
However, when the Messiah arrived, something BIG changed! He became the high priest of a new covenant; he bypassed the old tent and its trappings and went straight into heaven‘s “tent” — the true Holy Place — once and for all!
You can start shouting now!
Jesus bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all! If animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain parts of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out.!!
Oh, quit sitting there, and start shouting and dancing!
Through the Spirit, Christ offered Himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable so that we can live all out for our Father and King!!!!
(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you to the list. However, you can also find these messages at: Thought For The Day)