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Monday, October 10, 2011

Why God rejected Cain's offering

GENESIS 4Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” 2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. 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. 6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? 7 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 for you, but you must rule over it.”

8 Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

During a recent Bible study, someone juxtaposed the story of Cain and Abel with that of Esau and Jacob. The discussion revolved around notions of predestination and free will with the text of Romans 9:10-13 to make a case for predestination, "And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad - in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call - she was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

First of all, I don't think that they are stories that can be juxtaposed with each other. These stories, are often times used to argue about whether or not God is fair, but that is not the point of either of the stories. For Jacob and Esau, the point is grace; for Cain and Abel, the point is something completely different. For the sake of this blog, we will just look into the story of Cain and Abel.

Cain, whose name means possession, was Adam and Eve's elder son and a worker of the land. Abel, was the younger and he was a shepherd. As they worked, they brought an offering to God. Cain brought fruit from the ground and Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock and the fat portions. From there, He rejected Cain's offering and delighted in Abel's. Now, many people who have been raised in the church have been taught that God likes meat and not vegetables. That somehow, the quality of the offering was in the substance of the thing given. This, if believed, makes God very petty, very fickle, and very unloving. The God preached growing up through this passage often times seemed impossible to please.

The reason why Cain's offering was rejected is more evident in Cain's response than the actually offering itself. Once Cain realized that God had "no regard" for his offering, he became angry. Almost always, people become angry when an expectation or rule that they have set up has been violated. Sometimes, these expectations are justified, but how do we justify them when God is the one who rejected the offering. Cain had offered something he thought merited the favor of God. He had two major misconceptions working through his arrogance: 1. that the fruit he cultivated was a direct result of his own abilities and 2. because he had cultivated everything, everything belonged to him, therefore, anything he gave should provoke gratitude, favor, and reciprocation from the receiver. Cain, in other words, had the audacity to be angry with God because God didn't accept his offering. It would be the same as if Warren Buffett gave you a stock tip that would make you millions, the money to invest in the stock, and insured you against any loss and you wrote a book about how much of a stock market genius you were, gave no credit to Warren Buffett, and then wrote that you taught Buffett everything he knew. Then you went back to Buffett and bought him a happy meal from McDonald's. There is something absurd about this!

We often times experience anger when things don't go our way. We think we deserve one thing, and yet, we don't get what we want. Cain was certain that if he gave to God anything, that God should've been grateful. His arrogance blinded Him from seeing that God was actually the giver. Because he failed to recognize God as the giver, he elevated his own production to glorify himself, constantly saying, "Look at me! Look at all that my hands have produced! All my efforts amount to an immense production and in my production, I have found great worth!"

Cain had allowed the land that he tilled and the fruit that it bore to define his worth in life. It became his identity and it told him whether he was a worthwhile person. As the land kept on producing, his pride kept on growing. The stories he had heard of God through his parents we're no longer needed to keep him grounded because he had everything that he wanted and he was a productive member of his family. He no longer needed God because his hands produced everything he needed in the soil. His work fulfilled in him what only God should have fulfilled and when his offering was rejected, his arrogant viewpoint was on full display.

Then, God counseled Cain emphatically. He asked him why he felt the way he felt and then encouraged him to consider a few things. He asked leading questions that both displayed genuine care as well as guided him to the source of his issues when he asked him, "why are you angry and why has your face fallen?" Then God warned Cain of the dangers of continuing down the path he was walking on, that it wasn't too late.

Cain didn't listen. Instead he colluded into a spiral that led him from anger to rage and bitterness. He was so set that he deserved better treatment that he wouldn't listen to God who had created him! Then, because he couldn't take it out on anyone else, he took it out on the only person who instead of being an example for him, was the person who amplified his shame through jealousy. He was so infuriated that he killed his own brother.

Then God came back to Cain and asked, "Where is your brother?" The fascinating aspect of this scene is that it resembles the scenario between Adam and Eve after they ate from the tree that God told them not to eat from. This, as it was for them, an opportunity for him to repent to God, expressing the reality that he has fallen short of perfection and therefore needs God to rescue him. This was Cain's chance to come clean, to say to God, "Father, I need you because I am at my wits end without you and will continue to ruin that which you intended for good. I am barely capable of managing my own emotions and my reactions are often times great indications of the evil inside of me. I've tried to hide it and suppress it and ignore it, but no longer can I ignore it. I have failed and am ready to accept the grace you have given me. May you be lord over my life."

Instead, Cain replied, "I do not know (a lie); am I my brother's keeper?" Cain blatantly lies to a God who he has heard created the entire world that he sees, including his parents. Adam and Eve must have shared the story of the fall many times with their children Cain and Abel and it was not a distant memory for them. Cain must have known the picture of what paradise had looked like. Maybe, that was what Cain was bitter about. Because of his parents, the world was no longer perfect, and no longer bore the full extent of exotic fruits and vegetation that had once covered the land. He desired to re-create what his parents had lost for him and he might have even blamed his parents for destroying the very thing he wanted most. Therefore, it had been the reason why he became angry with God when his offering was rejected - that he was finally proud of the progress he was making and was showing God that he didn't need God to produce a bountiful harvest. Cain didn't see that he needed to repent because he didn't think that there was anything wrong with him. Certainly, he knew he had made a mistake in killing his own brother, but it did not cultivate in him a sense of guilt, a sense that he was in the wrong.

Cain, thinking that he was the master of the soil thought that if he buried his brother, that he could hide his sin from God and the world. Even after he murdered his own brother, he turned to the soil as his solace and protection. To him, without the soil to toil, he was lost. So, God after giving him several personal and direct opportunities to renounce himself off of his throne exposes with great wisdom the idolatry that was taking place in Cain's heart, thus driving all of his behavior. God tells Cain that the ground will no longer yield fruit. In other words, the very thing Cain turned to for all aspects of life, was now dead to him. In one statement, God revealed His great power over all the earth and exposed the darkest places Cain had hidden in. No longer could he find his worth in the land and Cain was now distraught. As God stripped the land he would toil from bearing fruit, he also made mention that he would be a fugitive made to wander the earth. From the presence of God, Cain was being dismissed and even then, Cain cries out to God that he is distraught because the ground will no longer bear him fruit. Then instead of begging God for forgiveness and requesting Him to return favor to Him, he just says, "well, if you let me out of your sight, someone will kill me."

To the end, there is no repentance. To the end, Cain refuses to remove himself from his throne and cast his crown before the true God. To the end, Cain doesn't acknowledge that God is actually the master of the soil. Instead, God gives him over to his own desires where undoubtedly, he will go through the rest of his life, looking for plots of land to cultivate, only to continue to find that every seed he plants bears no fruit. He missed the point completely. He tried to recreate paradise on His own when paradise was being offered from God Himself. He had set his eyes on things that he could never obtain himself.

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