For some reason during a mini-bout of insomnia deep in the night, I found myself thinking about Cain and Abel. Sibling rivalry thing sure got out of hand there!
I’ve heard some speculation over the years about why it was that God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice but not with Cain’s. The most common one being “Abel offered a meat sacrifice and Cain brought veggies.” I could certainly see that going south as the main entrée at a summer picnic back where I grew up, but I don’t think that’s it.
Like a few other things, it seems there’s no explicit explanation in the scriptures, although the writer of Hebrews (11:4) states that “by faith, Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice.”
Does offering meat require more faith than offering plants? Is that it? No, I don’t think so…
“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” (Genesis 4:2-5)
I think the key difference is not in the substance of meat vs. plant but rather in the nature itself of what is sacrificed. Both brought an offering from their own labors. Remember the faith angle? There’s a clue there. Might be subtle but it’s there. Cain brought “some of the fruits” but Abel brought the choicest portions of the firstborn.
Abel sacrificed the very best of the very first that he had. Not “some” of what was left after he was sure that he had plenty for himself.
God was not insulted because Cain offered the fruits of the field. He was not angry because Cain did not shed blood in order to sacrifice to him. God was pleased because Abel came before him and said, in essence, “Lord, even if you give me nothing else, even if the rest of my flock bring forth nothing but weak or even stillborn lambs, you have already blessed me and I trust in your care. You deserve the best of the first because all that I have and all that I will have come from you. I know that you will provide what is sufficient for me.”
Giving God the best of the first and trusting him to always provide for us, that’s pretty cool stuff. Something worth thinking about in the middle of a restless night, for sure.