Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 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 4:1-7
There is an interesting play of words with the names of the first children born to Adam and Eve, following their expulsion from Eden. In both cases, their names also appear to foreshadow their fates.
Cain is the Hebrew word קַיִן “qayin”, which plays off of the word קָנָה “qanah”. Qanah is translated as to acquire or possess, which we see used in Genesis 4:1 as Eve names him: “I have acquired a man with the help of the LORD.” As such, qayin can literally be translated as “possession” or “acquisition”, and as a proper name, it is transliterated as Cain in English.
There is something interesting about the fact that Moses records nothing of what Eve says regarding the birth of Abel. There are times that Scripture does indeed speak from silence, by what is not said, just as loudly as what it does say explicitly and this is one of those times. Eve’s act of worship in the naming of her first son seems to be focused on what she received “with the help of the LORD”, rather than the fact that the child was a gift from the LORD. All too often our worship tends to be focused on what we receive from God, rather than who He is and what He has done and the simple fact that as our Creator, He is worthy of our worship.
Abel, on the other hand is the word הֶבֶל “heh-bel”, which literally means “breath”. This word is different from “ruah”, which was used to describe the breath of life that God blew into Adam at his creation. Where “ruah” is representative of the spirit that gives life, “heh-bel” emphasizes a short, quickly disappearing puff of breath – an exhalation, if you will. As such, it seems to poetically foreshadow the short brevity of Abel’s life. The word “heh-bel” is only used as a proper name in Genesis 4, but it is used in its more common form in 4 other Old Testament books, most notably Eccelsiastes, where it is translated as “vanity”, which carries the connotation of a short-lived, disappearing vapor.
“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”Ecclesiastes 2:11
We see in Genesis 4:2, they had jobs, or more appropriately – responsibilities. Cain was a worker of the ground while Abel was a keeper of sheep. Both were tenders of God’s creation, but there is an interesting play at work here. Cain is working the ground which has been corrupted as a result of the curse. Abel tends to animals, which God had previously used to shed innocent blood for the sake of covering the shame of Adam and Eve.
We then see Cain and Abel both bring an offering of their work to the LORD as a sacrifice, in keeping with what God had demonstrated as the price for sin. There is nothing in the text to suggests that Cain shortchanged God or anything of that nature, leading to God disregarding his offering of “the fruit of the ground” in favor of Abel’s offering of the “firstborn of his flock”. In fact, both are precursors to the sacrifices prescribed in Deuteronomy (see Deut. 26:2 and Deut. 15:19–23). However, the offering of Abel appears to be representative of fellowship with the LORD over a meal, whereas the fruit of the ground was not eaten but burned up.
Nowhere in Scripture do we see anything that indicates that our sacrifices are a guarantee of God’s favor, but rather the condition of our hearts. This is the first image that Moses is trying to convey as it relates to the system of sacrifices laid out in the law. It doesn’t matter how much grain you give or how much blood is shed in the name of seeking the favor of God, if your heart is one that is unrepentant and uncontrite, your offering is worthless and God will not honor it. If your desire is not to remain in fellowship with Yahweh, then your offering will not be looked upon with favor. And we see this play out over and over again throughout the history of Israel as they repeatedly pursue harlotry in favor of their own self-worship or idolatry.
Parents, the manner of our worship (or lack thereof) will be replicated in the lives of our children. If your worship is self-serving, so will theirs. If your worship is God-honoring, then they will see Him for who He is and worship Him because He is worthy of our worship. If they see us commune regularly with the Father, they will in turn be more likely to commune regularly with the Father on their own.
And we see this play out in God’s rejection of Cain and acceptance of Abel. The evil that lies in the heart of Cain drives him to jealously murder his brother. This also more clearly explains God’s words to Cain when He says “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.” (v.7)
We are called to live with repentant hearts. Our worship is not an act of seeking the favor of God; it’s an act of acknowledging that He is worthy of our worship. When our worship becomes about us, who then are we really worshipping? Hosea 6:6 says “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The heart of God is to know the heart of His people. His desire is to commune and have fellowship with us.
What does your worship say about your heart before God? Do you make your offerings in an effort to curry favor with Him? Or are you seeking to have fellowship with the Holy One who made the sacrifice necessary to restore our relationship with Him? When you enter the sanctuary, are you there to give or to receive? The act of worship has never been about us, but has always been about Him and the fact that He is worthy of honor and praise.