Why would Cain’s offering not please God and Abel’s make him so happy? Which brings Cain to kill his brother Abel (I am not saying it is God’s fault that he killed him, he obviously chose to do so on his own).
This is one of the instances where the text simply does not speak to this question. Some scholars believe that Cain only gave some insignificant offering of produce, but Abel brought the best he had. As much as I’d like to know what it was about Cain’s offering that wasn’t pleasing to God, the author deems it unnecessary in light of his response. Let’s look at this one in light of what we know to be true about God.
- God is more concerned with our inside than our outside (1 Samuel 16:7; Luke 12:34; Matthew 12:34). Our outward appearance may look good, but our heart’s condition always trumps the outward appearance.
- God is more concerned with our heart than our lips (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8). When we come to worship God, he wants the attention of our heart, not simply the things we say or songs we sing.
- God’s highest priorities for us are to love him with everything we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Deuteronomy 6:9; Matthew 22:37-40). Everything hangs on these two commands.
Without knowing exactly what was wrong with Cain’s offering, his response reveals something very significant about his heart. In his response, he became angry with God and angry with his brother. His anger revealed something negative about his offering – his heart was not in it. I like that we don’t know much about the offering because it allows us to focus on the motive. We can give a right offering to God in a wrong way and we can also give wrong offerings to God in right ways. Jesus reminded us of this when he quoted the prophet Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” We can sing the right songs, read the right stories, give the right offerings, but if our hearts are not right, then it is not pleasing to God.
I believe this is as important today as it was for Cain and Abel. We have a lot of people “playing church” but their hearts are far from God. When our hearts match our actions/offerings, all is good.