“Cain got it wrong just like us moderns.”
A friend of mine sent that message to me recently when I encouraged him to conduct a word study of the English word “till” in the Old Testament. He had read my essays on the topic and knew what I was referring to. Yet, his logic on the idea of tillage continued into the Genesis account to Able and Cain.
At first I didn’t grasp the depth of this statement and the ramifications of the biblical account of how God respected Able’s offering and not Cain’s. Candidly, I always believed there was more to the account than was revealed overtly in scripture, but I simply trusted that God is simultaneously loving and just and there was nothing unfair going on.
Yet, I will confess at times I didn’t understand why God didn’t consider Cain’s gifts. Now, combining the thought of my friend’s quote and an understanding of the purpose of Chapter 4 of Genesis, I may have my answer.
Genesis 4 is to help us see the result of sin. As Thomas Constable, Th.D., wrote in his famous Bible commentary, “Chapter 3 records the root of sin, and Chapter 4 the fruit of sin.” What was Cain’s sin? We sometimes say it was his attitude. Sometimes we claim it was that the gift itself was the wrong form. I used to rest on the fact that Cain’s gift wasn’t of his first fruits, as his brother’s was. These may all be accurate and maybe even collectively so. However, something to note about God’s specific reaction to their gifts is of relevant note here.
The Hebrew word to describe God’s reaction is telling. The word is “sha’-ah” which means to gaze. Abel’s gift God looked at or gazed upon or considered. In other words, He paid attention to it. Cain’s gift wasn’t even considered; wasn’t even looked at. I believe this is the result of a condition that existed before the gifts were offered.
I am now convinced that it wasn’t the fact that it was a plant-based gift at all. It was prior sin that caused God not to gaze at or consider Cain’s gift. That begs an important question. What was Cain’s sin?
The Bible clearly tells us Cain was a tiller of the soil. Now, carefully consider my friend’s quote, “Cain got it wrong just like us moderns.” What if Cain was producing his crops in a way that was dishonoring or damaging to the soil or other member of God’s creation? Did mankind make our first agricultural mistake at this point in history? Remember, this chapter of Genesis is to teach us about the “fruit of sin.”
This is purely a speculative position to take, I admit that. But, it works logically to the scene. If Cain was not stewarding creation as God had designed, the fruits of Cain’s effort would not qualify for a gift to God. Thus, God did not consider it or even look at it.
When God discussed the issue with Cain, the text indicates that Cain was not doing well in his role. God told him in verse 7, “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” I have to now see this as God instructing Cain on his work leading up to the offering. What Cain had been doing was not satisfactory for God’s standards.
Hindrances To Prayer
With one more point I will try to drive home my thesis. We learn in Proverbs that our prayers are hindered if we are in sin. “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9). Then again these two examples of the Psalms: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18); and, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to blot out their name from the earth” (Psalm 34:15-16).
These passages are very similar to the description of Genesis 4:4-5 “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.”
If, according to scripture, sin can hinder our prayers then Cain’s gift of his grains would fall to the same fate. My thoughts now go to Cain’s prayer-hindering sin, which I now believe to be violation against God’s creation. Here’s why.
A violation of God’s standards is actually violence. We cannot only think of violence in the narrow understanding of modern definition. Violence and violation are from the same root. Violation or violence to God’s instructions or standards is sin and a self assertion similar to Cain’s parents’ self assertion. A quick study of human culture even from Cain’s linage or any other time in history reveals that self assertion leads to violence (violation). Rarely is this a good thing unless it’s assertion against a sinful force.
The speculation then is what violation was Cain committing? We saw later that violence was his choice to deal with the crisis he had with his brother. But, before he murdered his brother, what was he doing? We know he was a tiller of the soil. The chances are very good, in my opinion, that the violation was occurring in the execution of his role. Was he committing a violation in how God taught him or showed him to care for and protect the soil (Gen 2:15)? If so, it follows that his violation and disobedience in self assertion would cause God to not gaze upon his offered gift.
Did Cain get it wrong just as many in agriculture continue to do so today?