Genesis 4: Two Worshippers

“And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.” (Genesis 4:3-5)

Genesis 4 tells of two brothers, the children of Adam and Eve, who offered sacrifices to God. We are likely to infer from the text that God commanded these sacrifices since both acted at the same time. Whether God gave instruction as to how and what to sacrifice, we are uncertain. What we do know is this: while their action was the same, it seems obvious that what motivated that action was very different. It is also very apparent that how God viewed their action was very different as well.

The oldest of the two, Cain, gave of his harvest to God. The younger, Abel, gave “of the firstborn of his flock.” God looked favorably on Abel’s sacrifice; unfavorably on Cain’s. The pressing question is why?

Some have argued we may infer that God gave instructions to the brothers, and that Abel followed those instruction, while Cain did not. This may be truth. What the text does tell us, however, is likely the key to understanding what happened, and the key to understanding a major lesson about worship. Abel gave the firstborn. The offering of the firstborn was viewed as the best because it implied a complete trust that God would continue to provide for the worshipper; that God’s primacy in the worshipper’s heart demanded that He come first before everything else. Of Cain’s sacrifice, there is no parallel statement (the Law of Moses would later provide instruction on giving of the “first fruits” of one’s harvest—Deuteronomy 26: Prov. 3:9); while Abel gave the “firstborn,” Cain simply brought “the fruit of the ground.” In simple terms, Abel gave something meaningful in worship, while Cain simply gave.

What type of worshipper are you? One who gives the best in trust and honor to God, or one who goes through the motions hoping to get credit for time served, without a deep love to please God? The first type of worship is difficult, demanding a selfless heart; the second is easy to carry out, may salve the conscience for a while, but is in the end empty and unsatisfying. King David—a true worshipper—stated in 2 Samuel 24:24, “…Nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which cost me nothing.” Jesus would later say, “But, the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, “for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24). What does your worship to God really cost? Are you giving your best, or simply giving?

Let’s apply that to our lives.