By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks.
Hebrews 11:4 [NASB]
Have you ever read the story of Cain and Abel and wondered where, exactly, Cain went wrong? I mean, here we have Cain bringing an offering to God of his own accord and God flat out denies him. So far as we know, Cain didn’t know anything about requirements – Leviticus and the Law were generations away. But God says “no” and we are left with “why?”
So what happened?
So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. And Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.
Genesis 4:3-5 [NASB]
Well, first off, Cain brought vegetables and Abel brought meat. Let the Paleo/Vegan debate commence! (Kidding. Please. Please. Don’t.) I am sure somebody somewhere has spoken at length about the necessity and value of blood sacrifice. But this was an act of offering, not of atonement, so I’m not sure that blood was the only critical factor here. Besides, there are definitely allowances for and examples of grain offerings elsewhere in scripture. So what marked Abel’s sacrifice as having been made by faith?
What stands out to me are what these verses imply about the timing and significance of the portions Cain and Abel brought. “It came about in the course of time” – that phrase “in the course of time” literally translates to “at the end of days” and generally means something like “at the end of the day/time/year.” (Can I just put a plug in here for what a great resource Blue Letter Bible is?) Considering Cain was a farmer, I’m thinking this might just be at the end of the harvest, especially since the Jewish New Year generally falls some time in early fall. All of that to say, I’m thinking Cain’s offering of the fruit of the ground was a portion of the completed harvest.
Abel, on his part, brought of the firstlings of his flock. Now I’m not a shepherd, (I know, you are amazed) but if Abel brought his offering at the same time as Cain, I’m thinking this was a risky move. Even if winters in the area were mild, the main growing season was probably over so pasture may not have been so available. Meaning that Cain was able to bring from the harvest, after he already know what the yield was but Abel gave before his hardest season. Abel didn’t know how many of his flock would survive the winter. Abel didn’t know if the sires of his firstlings would be able to produce subsequent lambs the next season. Abel didn’t know if sickness or disease were on the way. Abel didn’t know how many lambs he could expect in the spring.
Let me say this: I am scholar of neither Hebrew nor Animal Husbandry. So feel free to correct my musings thus far. My point in all of them is this: Maybe Cain looked at the fullness of the harvest and brought only as much as he though they could afford. Maybe Abel looked at his flock and, knowing the uncertainty and risk involved, chose to make his offering anyway. Maybe, then, the difference is this:
Cain looked at his circumstances and asked, “How much can I give God?”
Abel looked at the unknown and asked, “How much can I trust Him?”
What if Abel had focused on his circumstances? What if he had put his hope in his fleecy silver linings? What if he had waited to know the security of his future? Would his offering have had the same reception as Cain’s?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that how Abel chose to give was a reflection of his faith, which is why Paul encourages the Corinthians in their giving:
Now this I say, he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Let each one do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written
“He scattered abroad, he gave to the poor, His righteousness abides forever.”
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.
2 Corinthians 9:6-11 [NASB]
Giving sacrificially to God is an expression of our trust in Him; not only that He is our provider (v. 10) but that He provides for the specific purpose of our giving (v. 8). And only when we are secure in Him can we give so freely. When our treasures are in heaven, we worry less about those on earth.
Ok, back to center, before you think I am getting ready to ask you to fund my ministry (although I am raising support) or that I’m going to go into whether your tithe should be taken out before or after taxes. Because the greatest offering we have to give God is not our money, it is ourselves.
Let me ask you this: How much are you trusting God? Do you only trust Him within the parameters you have decided you are comfortable with? Have you given Him only as much of your life as you think you can afford? Would you risk your comfort, your image, your security for your faith?
Or do you wake up asking “How can I trust you today?”
Friends, I am not saying that we should be taking risks blindly. We should be responsible stewards of the lives and resources God has given us.
What I am saying is that, when it comes to trusting God, we shouldn’t be holding back.