Thoughts About Cain and Abel

The difference perspective makes

Henri Vidal’s Statue of Cain – gardens Tuileries, Paris, France

“In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.'” (Genesis 4:3-7 ESV)

I have written about this passage before. (See When Sin Crouches at the Door) In fact, it seems that every time I read the story of Cain and Abel it gives me pause. I always wonder: “How would I react?” “Would I be more like Cain or more like Abel?”

The truth is that I would like to fancy myself like Abel, offering a better sacrifice, one in which God would be pleased, but I have doubts about that. Would God really accept my sacrifice? More pointedly, would I really be willing to offer the kind of sacrifice God would regard? If I am being honest, I have to wonder.

I am bit surer that I wouldn’t get angry like Cain did, and I certainly wouldn’t take it out on Abel, right?

Do I protest too much?

I picture myself in my comfortable 21st Century world feeling fairly smugly that I wouldn’t be like that, but I’m not so sure I should be confident about that. The circumstances were much different then.

Cain didn’t have a world full of people to which to compare himself. He couldn’t have said, “At least I am not as bad as so and so.” He wouldn’t have had centuries of wisdom at his fingertips in the way of sermons, books, fables with morals and the Bible. Cain didn’t have the Bible or any moral compass but his own conscience and experience, such as it was.

When I first read this passage (again), I read it to say that God didn’t regard Cain’s offering, and so I thought it wasn’t that God didn’t regard Cain. But then I read it again and realized I was wrong: “And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.”

It was personal for Cain. God didn’t regard him. What did he do wrong? What is the lesson in the story for us?

As I pointed out in the previous blog post on the subject, the clues are in the text. Abel offered more than Cain did – the best of his flock. The implication is that Cain didn’t offer the best, the “first fruits” of his produce.

It wasn’t necessarily that Cain did something wrong, as he didn’t do it right. He didn’t offer as much a Abel did. Abel offered a better sacrifice, and God took notice of him because of it.

Abel went above and beyond in his offering to God. Maybe Abel’s offering was more heartfelt. Maybe Abel was more thankful to God. We don’t know.

Cain might have felt that Abel was just “sucking up” to God. Abel was making him look bad, as if it was a competition for God’s attention. We think like that, don’t we? Maybe Cain thought, “I’m not going to suck up to God like that!” Right? Don’t we think like that sometimes?

Of course, that is pride talking.

Would Able have been inclined to think the same way if the shoe was on the other foot? We don’t know. We can’t really say.

Did Abel just get lucky? Did he happen just to offer a better sacrifice. Did he really know what he did “right”? Again, we don’t know, but I think it’s safe to say that Cain didn’t know what he did wrong. He might have made some assumptions, but I doubt his assumptions were very good.

Maybe Cain did know why God regarded Abel and his sacrifice, but he wasn’t willing to offer that much. I kind of doubt it, though. If Cain had known what the difference was between his sacrifice and Abel’s sacrifice, I don’t think he would have taken his anger out on Abel. Maybe he thought God was being arbitrary. Maybe he thought Abel had an unfair advantage. Maybe he thought God just liked Abel better.

Of course, that wasn’t the case at all. God tried to console and counsel Cain. He offered advice and hope, and he warned Cain of the danger of letting the sin crouching at the door get the best of him.

If there is one thing I take away from this story, it is this: regardless of what we are going through, and that we have done or haven’t done, the best answer is always to go back to God. Our own perspective on our circumstances is limited and flawed. God knows what is best for us, and He has the best intentions towards us. We need to trust Him.

If Cain had listened to God, he could have provided a sacrifice the next time that God would regard, and life would be good.

If Cain had trusted God and listened to His advice, I don’t think Cain would have been angry enough to murder his brother. If Cain had taken his anger to God, he wouldn’t have taken his anger out on Abel.

We often don’t get what we think we deserve. Maybe (sometimes) we don’t get what we actually do deserve, but that cuts both ways. We might not get the positive consequences we “deserve”, but we also might not get the negative consequences we deserve. When we “get away with” something, do we rue the fact that we didn’t suffer the consequences? I think not!

Life isn’t fair. Not in this world. Still, God works all things together for the good – not just our good, but the good of all people and all creation (eventually anyway). That is His promise to us. We just need to hang in there. We need to stick by God’s side.

Where else would we turn anyway?

In the end, God actually loves us. We could live in a world in which the creator didn’t love His creation. What an amazing thing that we live in a world in which God loves us! We know this from the fact that God emptied Himself to become one of us. And He didn’t just become one of us, He allowed Himself to be sacrificed in human flesh foe us. He endured our pain, and He bore our sin. We can trust a God like that.

This world also isn’t all there is, though we often lose site of that. Jesus has prepared rooms for all of us who call him Lord and Savior. We can’t even imagine what God has in store for us. It will make all the “good” things in this life pale in comparison. We have no reason to be a Cain and every reason to be an able.

Perhaps, the difference is nothing more than perspective. Maybe Abel had the right perspective about himself and God, while Cain’s perspective was too limited. Maybe Abel was willing to give his best to God because he trusted Him, he believed God and believed God loved him. Abel was thankful for what he had, knowing that all of it came from God in the end.

Enter Into His Gates with Thanksgiving

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / lzf
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / lzf

Enter[1] His gates[2] with thanksgiving[3] and His courts with praise[4]. Give [5]thanks[6] to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting[7], and His faithfulness to all generations[8]. (Psalm 100:4-5)

Psalm 100 is short, just five verses. It is subtitled “A Psalm for Thanksgiving”. So, it is a perfect verse for celebrating Thanksgiving. There is a lot packed in to this short verse from a short Psalm.

When I read this, I picture a procession of musicians and worshippers entering in to the Temple, but a closer look at the Hebrew words used reveals a slightly different picture. The word for “gates” more specifically references the gates to a city that open to the public square where the elders traditionally gather and public hearings are held and business and legal transactions take place.

Cities in Israel were gated and walled. They were safe havens. They were the center of the community that was surrounded by villages and agricultural land. Cities were where the important transactions take place.

The verse is obviously figurative, inviting us to enter into God’s gates with thanksgiving and into God’s courts with praise. We are invited to enter into the “place” where God’s sits, as the elders of the City sat.

We are invited to into the “place” of God’s influence with thanksgiving and praise. The word for “thanksgiving” means , literally, a “thank-offering”. Offerings in the Old Testament suggest the presentation of a gift, a sacrifice, to God. Here the gift and sacrifice is the offer of thanksgiving to God.

The word for “praise” means, literally, “to cast, throw on target” (as in “hit the bullseye”). Figuratively, the two words suggest the acknowledgment of God for who He is, the Giver of Life, the provider of our souls. It includes the sense that, regardless of our circumstances, we know and acknowledge that God is sovereign and in control of the elements of our lives, and we gratefully recognize it.

Further, this thanksgiving and praise is an intentional act. Thanksgiving can be a spontaneous feeling, but the Psalmist here is encouraging an intentional, willful act of thanksgiving and praise to God, even if we do not “feel like it”. In this sense, it really is a sacrifice and an offering we are encouraged to give.

Ultimately, thanksgiving is not a physical act, but a willful act of the heart and of the inner being. This is how we are to enter into God’s sphere of influence. We do this purposefully with the heart, and, by doing so, are able to enter into relationship with God.

The emphasis and focus of the text is on the everlasting loving kindness and faithfulness of God. This is why we can be thankful! God is sovereign. His promises and love for us are everlasting. Our present circumstances and afflictions are “light and momentary” compared to the everlasting goodness God has in store for us.

Thankfulness, gratitude, is an appropriate response from us toward God because of who He is and because of who we are in relation to God. We enter into relationship with God by approaching Him the right way. Gratitude is the way to enter into relationship with God, entering through the “gates” into the “court” of His influence.

This connection with God that we access with gratitude is transformational. We are changed when enter into relationship with God.

Nothing brings this reality home to me more than the story of Martin Pistorius. Martin succumbed to a mystery illness when he was twelve and became trapped inside his own body. He lapsed into unconsciousness for two years. When he “woke” from that unconsciousness, he was unable to talk, unable to move, unable to communicate.

His family and the people who tended to him believed he was virtually brain dead. They kept him alive and sustained him, but they thought he would never recover. He attempted to beg, plead and scream at them, but he could not make a movement or a sound.

Though people were around him and tended to him, he was utterly alone with nothing but his own thoughts… and God. In his own words, he said, “Soon after I started to become aware, God came into my life…. As I became fully aware, the only certainty I could cling to when so much didn’t make sense was that God was with me…. The people around me didn’t know I existed, but God did. And I knew he existed.

In that lonely, isolated place, God developed a relationship with Martin as Martin engaged God in prayer and conversation:

Sometimes my prayers were answered. Sometimes they weren’t. But when I felt disappointed and powerless, my conversations with God taught me that gratitude could sustain me. When the smallest prayer was answered, I gave thanks to the Lord. Caught in perhaps the most extreme isolation a person can experience, I grew ever closer to God.

Gratitude is tremendously underrated. Martin learned gratitude in relationship with God, and it sustained him in the most horrendous circumstances one could imagine. Martin eventually regained his ability to move and communicate after many years in the prison of his own body, but gratitude sustained him through the hardest times.

How much more should we be grateful to God? The world chases happiness while overlooking the power of gratitude. Gratitude ushers us into God presence where God’s influence empowers our lives. On this Thanksgiving Day, let us enter into God’s gates with thanksgiving and into His court with praise because He is sovereign and true, and our lives are secure in the knowledge of God.

The gate to God is in our own hearts. Is the gate open? We can enter into the court of God’s influence with a posture of gratitude and praise for God in our hearts.

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[1] 935/bo’ – literally, come in, go in by stepping into a new opportunity or perceived benefit; (figuratively) enter into a new status or experience.

[2] 8179/shaʽar – a gate of a city, the center of social influence where open-court was held for the community. (Amos 5:10-15)  Justice was administered “at the gate.”  Here cases were heard by the elders.  They sat in the public square just inside the town gate.  See Gen 23:10, 18; Prov 24:7, 31:23. Gateways of Israelite cities were the ideal locations to hold public hearings, make legal transactions, and conduct business (Ruth 4:1; 1 Kings 22:10; 2 Kings 7:1).

[3] 8426/tôdâ (one of three types of peace offerings) – the praise-thank offering, acknowledging the Lord’s dealings are good, even in the most difficult tribulations.  This root means both praise and thanks, i.e. includes both ideas. Believers today still make spiritual “todah’s” by their sincere praise or thanks to God in every scene of life (cf. Heb. 13:15; 1 Thes. 5:17).

[4] 8416/tehillah meaning praise, song of praise

[5] Hiphel word tense/form indicates a kind second subject, a second layer of meaning, something beyond the bare action that is driving the action, a second layer of intentionality. .

[6] 3034/yāâ – properly, to cast, throw on-target (hit the “bull’s-eye”) – acknowledge as “spot on”; grateful recognition which includes thanksgiving, confession, or praise – being right on-target (cf. Neh. 12:46; P.s 6:6, 92:2, 119:62; Is. 12:4). No one word in the OT means “give thanks” (thanksgiving) per se (E. Jenni). Rather, this concept is blended with appropriate praise (thankful recognition, confession, cf. Ps 43:5). Believers offer this praise with thanksgiving when acknowledging all the Lord’s dealings are “right on,” without flaw (exactly “spot on”).

[7] This word is emphasized in the original text indicting the importance of focus on the word.

[8] This word is also emphasized in the original text.

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Sacrifice of Praise

We praise Him not because we feel like praising Him. We praise Him simply because we should.


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Through[i] Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice[ii] of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15)

Through Him! Through Jesus, we offer up a sacrifice of praise to God. Jesus is the instrument of our praise; He is the reason that we can praise God at all! Continue reading “Sacrifice of Praise”