Published: 26 April 2021

The Real Reason God Rejected Cain’s Offering

Why is it that God rejected Cain’s offering, but found Abel’s offering acceptable?

“3 In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 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, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Gen. 4:3–5 ESV)

The answer I was taught as a child in Sunday School was that Cain’s offering was inadequate because it wasn’t an animal. The idea underlying this is that for an offering to be acceptable to God it had to be a blood sacrifice.

Others have proposed that the offering was rejected because it was the fruit of the ground. Since the ground had been cursed (Gen 3:17) anything that grew from the ground was somehow tainted and unacceptable as an offering. Is it true that God only accepted animals as offerings? 

What offerings did God consider suitable?

The book of Leviticus provides great detail about items suitable for sacrifice or offering. The entirety of Lev 2 is about the grain or food offering. For example:

“‘When a person presents a grain offering to the LORD, his offering must consist of choice wheat flour, and he must pour olive oil on it and put frankincense on it.” (Lev. 2:1 NET) 

Evidently God has nothing against offerings from the ground since Lev 2 is about how to prepare offerings from the ground! Since this is so, we can eliminate from consideration the idea that Cain’s sacrifice was rejected on this basis. 

The type of offering described in Lev 2 was known as minkhah in Hebrew. The Hebrew word minkhah is defined as a gift, present, thanksgiving, veneration, homage.[1]Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, and M. E. J. Richardson, eds. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Accordance electronic ed., version 3.6. Leiden: Brill, 2000. The minkhah offering in Lev 2 is dealing with grain, but this kind of offering wasn’t limited to grain. 

In Gen 4:3-5, both Cain and Abel’s offering was a minkhah. Cain’s minkhah was from the ground and Abel’s from the flock.

“4 And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering [minkhah], 5 but for Cain and his offering [minkhah] he had no regard.” (Gen. 4:4–5 ESV)

Cain’s real problem

The Bible calls both men’s offering a minkhah and the NET Bible translator’s notes has this to say:

The Hebrew term מִנְחָה (minkhah, “offering”) is a general word for tribute, a gift, or an offering. It is the main word used in Lev 2 for the dedication offering. This type of offering could be comprised of vegetables. The content of the offering (vegetables, as opposed to animals) was not the critical issue, but rather the attitude of the offerer.[2]Harris, W. Hall, eds. The NET Bible Notes. 1st, Accordance electronic ed. Richardson: Biblical Studies Press, 2005. (emphasis added)

This observation is the key to understanding the reason for God’s rejection of Cain’s minkhah. 

As was noted earlier, the minkhah is defined as a gift, present, thanksgiving, veneration, homage. This kind of offering was meant to be an expression of gratitude to God. Gifts and presents are for those we feel love and devotion for and want to express our emotions or gratitude by giving to them. While a person can go through the outward motions of giving a gift to someone, if the present isn’t from the heart then it is an empty gesture.  

Since Cain’s gift (minkhah) was rejected, this implies that he did not really have appreciation or thanksgiving in his heart that such a gift is supposed to express. Cain’s attitude and motivation were all wrong and this is why God had no regard for his offering.

Cain’s offering wasn’t rejected because of where it came from. It was not rejected because it wasn’t an animal. Leviticus is proof that God accepted offerings that were not blood sacrifices. The problem with Cain’s offering wasn’t what he offered, it was the attitude with which it was offered.

Do we worship like Cain?

God doesn’t want us to merely go through the motions. He wants our outward acts to be an expression of reverence and love that come from the inside. It is possible to go through all the motions of worship without ever truly worshipping. 

Worship comes from the inside and has outward manifestations such as singing, praying, giving, and so on. We can look like we are worshipping and fool everyone around us, and maybe even fool ourselves. God isn’t fooled because He knows if our outward actions are the result of true reverence for Him. 

Don’t be like Cain

We aren’t perfect of course. Our minds are easily distracted. Our church assemblies can become commonplace. Sometimes our Bible studies are dull. We may not always find fellow disciples a source of edification. Like Peter when he walked on the water, it is easy to focus on the storm instead of Jesus. These, and more, are our challenges to overcome.

God doesn’t need our worship; we aren’t doing Him some sort of favor! The one who really benefits from worship is the worshipper. God wants us to have real awe, gratitude, love, and reverence for Him and to express it. If we truly feel these things for God and act on them, only then will we be the people He wants us to be. If we can do this, everything else will fall into place.

References

References
1 Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, and M. E. J. Richardson, eds. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. Accordance electronic ed., version 3.6. Leiden: Brill, 2000.
2 Harris, W. Hall, eds. The NET Bible Notes. 1st, Accordance electronic ed. Richardson: Biblical Studies Press, 2005.