Monday, December 3, 2012

In Search Of Truth, Genesis 4:1-7

For years this passage puzzled me. What was wrong with Cain's offering? Why were Cain and Abel even bringing offerings, since the "official" sacrificial system isn't mentioned until the time of Moses?

Not all of my questions about this passage have been answered, but I've gained much better understanding since the first time I scratched my head over it.

First off, the difference between Cain's and Abel's offerings has nothing to do with the materials themselves. Both animals and produce would later be a part of the sacrificial system. And although blood sacrifices would eventually be required to deal with sin, this offering is not about sin, but gratitude and love.

And given the separation that now existed between humans and God because of sin, it makes sense that some kind of regular but limited "meeting time" would take place during which God and humans could still connect, but in an appropriately "distanced" manner given humanity's general rejection of God.

The Hebrew word used here for "offering" contains the idea of a "donation", or a voluntary gift. We don't know whether this was the first time Cain and Abel brought gifts to God, or if this was a pattern they had developed. But each brought something they had produced to give to God.

Why would anyone do this? God doesn't need to eat. And if he did, he could make food for himself. (Psalm 50:9-13) I think the answer is love.

When we love someone, we give to them. We give them time, money, or effort. And the gift costs us something. (We have less time, money or energy for other things.) We are wired to love and be loved. And although God doesn't need our love or anything else from us, we are meant to love him and he enjoys it when we love him. This is why God had "no regard" for Cain's offering. Cain's offering lacked genuine love for God.

How do we know this? What was the difference? Look closely at the description of their offerings. Cain's gift consisted of "the fruit if the ground". Pretty vague and generic sounding. Abel's gift is a little more specific. He brought "the firtsborn of his flock". Abel brought the very first "profit" he achieved in his work and gave it to God.

That's a scary thing to do sometimes! We prioritize our time and money to take care of ourselves and our families. We don't know what tomorrow holds, so we take what we can for ourselves right now. But Abel gave his first profits to God, apparently trusting that more profits would come and his needs would be met. He believed he could afford to give the first or the best to God and still be just fine.

Although we don't know that Cain necessarily brought the rotting leftovers of his crop, he certainly has more of a sulking attitude of entitlement here than one of trust and gratitude.

The writer of Hebrews confirms the "trust" factor in this story by singling out Abel's gift as one motivated and carried out "by faith". (Hebrews 11:4)

As we eventually move into looking at the formalized sacrificial system, this "faith" idea is foundational and important to remember. Sacrifices are about trusting and loving God. And when that trust and love is not present, when we give to God by just going through the motions or from a sense of reluctant obligation, we're missing what "sacrificing" to God is about.

Our "sacrifice" can become empty routine motivated by pride or guilt. But God designed us for a relationship with him based on love, gratitude and trust.

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