Another one of those Bible puzzlers: Why did God spurn Cain’s offering?


Why did God spurn Cain’s offering?


Some weeks ago our blog treated the classic Bible question of where Cain, Adam and Eve’s first son, found his wife. In response, The Guy received this about another Cain puzzler from the Book of Genesis, chapter 4.

Here’s the story from  “Genesis: Translation and Commentary” (Norton, 1996), a euphonious (look it up) rendition by Robert Alter. Cain was “a tiller of the soil” who “brought from the fruit of the soil an offering to the LORD. And Abel too had brought from the choice firstlings of his flock, and the LORD regarded Abel and his offering but He did not regard Cain and his offering.”

Then Cain “was very incensed, and his face fell.” God  said: “Why are you incensed, / and why is your face fallen? / For whether you offer well, / or whether you do not, / at the tent flap sin crouches / and for you is its longing / but you will rule over it.” God’s admonition did not overcome Cain’s resentment and he murdered his brother.

The Bible doesn’t state explicitly why God did not “regard” Cain and Cain’s offering.

But a strong tradition uniting Jewish sages and  Christians says there’s an obvious though terse explanation in two words. Abel’s gift was accepted as “choice,” translated elsewhere as “choicest,” “fattest,” “fat portions,” “best portions,” “best part,” or “choice cuts.” Thus Abel returned to God some of the finest of what he had been given. Second, praiseworthy devotion is also seen because he set aside the “firstlings” of God’s gifts. Advocates of the tradition suppose that by contrast Cain’s gift was half-hearted.

In the “Jerome Biblical Commentary,” the late Catholic Father Eugene Maly concluded that the Bible here is teaching that our sacrifices “must be offered in the proper spirit.” Maly thought that with Cain “man’s revolt against God leads to his revolt against his fellow man” in the tragic first murder that confirmed humanity’s “fallen state” portrayed earlier in Genesis.

Just as Genesis shows Cain’s flawed character in resentment toward Abel and God, the Christian New Testament praises Abel because he acted “by faith” (Hebrews 11:4) and 1 John 3:12 contrasts the two brothers’ actions as “righteous” vs. “evil.”

However, some modern analysts dispute all that.

Continue reading "Why did God spurn Cain's offering?" by Richard Ostling.

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