What Was Wrong With Cain’s Offering?

he first, and perhaps most crucial, thing that we should understand is that the two brothers were not acting on their own initiative when they brought their offerings to the Lord. They weren’t just bringing a “gift” to God simply because they loved Him.

"And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell." (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 his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell.” (Genesis 4:4-5)

More often than not, the explanation for this particular enigmatic passage of Scripture always seems to focus on a distinction between the quality of the two offerings that the brothers gave. Most of the preaching that I have heard on this subject boils down to the idea that Abel gave of the “firstlings” and “fat” of his flock (v. 4), while Cain simply gave “an offering” unto the Lord. The interpretation is that Abel gave his best and Cain gave what was left over. The lesson inferred, of course, is that we must be careful to give our offerings (that is, money) of our “firstlings and fat” (that is, lots of money) to God (that is, to the specific ministry of the preacher giving the message).

While such an interpretation might be conducive to filling collection plates, I honestly do not see that the text lends itself to such an analysis. Certainly there are no adjectives given when Cain’s offering is mentioned; the words “juiciest”, “choicest”, and “ripest” do not appear in the narrative. But the words, “And Abel, on his part also brought…” are included. The context would seem to indicate a parity between the quality of the two. I personally do not believe that it was the writer’s intention to suggest that Cain was guilty of “cherry-picking” the best fruits for himself. The deficiency with Cain’s offering wasn’t that he was giving God shriveled grapes and freckled bananas, the problem went much deeper.

They Knew What God Expected

The first, and perhaps most crucial, thing that we should understand is that the two brothers were not acting on their own initiative when they brought their offerings to the Lord. They weren’t just bringing a “gift” to God simply because they loved Him. God was not acting like a partial parent who plays favorites with their kids. “In the process of time” they brought their offerings. Process of what time? The time appointed by God to bring their offerings. God had given them specific instructions on how this was to be carried out. The writer to the Hebrews says that Abel acted out of faith when he brought a more excellent sacrifice (Heb. 11:4) to God. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17), you cannot act in faith based on something that you have never been told! Even though we do not have it in the text, God must have given the brothers instructions and consequently held them accountable for obeying what He had told them.

The Problem Was With Cain Himself

We can find the first clue to why Cain and his offering were rejected if we look carefully at the very first verse that mentions him:

“Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, I have gotten a man child with the help of the LORD.” (Gen. 4:1)

God had said that from the woman would come a “seed” that would crush the devil underfoot (Gen. 3:15). Therefore, when Cain was born, she exclaimed, “I have that seed, here he is!” The name Cain itself means, “Possession.” Her thought was that she had been given the promised seed in her firstborn son. Can you imagine the doting that must have gone on in that house? I am not saying that Eve was to blame for Cain’s behavior, but I am certain that she didn’t help matters. She was so fond of Cain and so adoring of him that she named her second son Abel, meaning a “vapor” or “breath.” She really considered him to be a nobody. Cain grew up to be a man filled with pride, he saw no need for salvation himself, he thought that he was the savior!

It is interesting to note that Abel was a shepherd in a time before people had begun to eat meat (Gen. 9:3). His only purposes for keeping the sheep was for sacrifice and the wool that they provided. It is very likely that God had instructed both men to bring a sheep from Abel’s flock (it is certainly reasonable to assume that Abel ate of the fruit that Cain gathered, as well) for a burnt offering. Yet Cain brought the works of his own hands to God. He was relying on who he thought he was and his own works to make him acceptable to the Lord. God has never accepted anyone on this basis, and He still doesn’t today.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,



[This post was originally published September 5, 2009]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

8 thoughts on “What Was Wrong With Cain’s Offering?”

  1. Oy. I just typed up a response and my computer froze so I lost my post. Here it is again 🙂

    You captured exactly what happened. The text does not tell us that God specifically told Cain & Abel what is an acceptable offering. We know that people did not intuitively know for we see in the Garden that God had to tell Adam. And that was before sin.

    Cain disobeyed.

    Excellent post.

    p.s. I learned something that I had no knowledge. I guess I could have looked it up but it did not occur to me. You gave the definition of the names Cain & Abel. The definitions are very telling. Thanks for pointing that out.


  2. Adam and Eve sinned against God , so in Genesis 2:14 THE LORD said to the serpent. “Because you have …” . In verse 16 He said to the woman, ” I will ..”, in verse 17 He said to Adam, “Because you have heeded… “.

    Later in Gen 3:17 NKJV, THE LORD said to Adam, ” Cursed is the ground for your sake …”. And in v.18, “Both thorns and thistle it shall bring forth for you… ”
    In conclusion, THE LORD cursed the ground so THE GROUND remained CURSED.Anything that came from it , for that matter, is Accursed.

    We were told in Gen 4:2 that Cain is a tiller of the ground whilst Able was a keeper of the sheep.

    In Gen 4 v.3, NKJV, “… Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD” [ pls note: the ground] whilst in Gen 4v4, ”Abel also brought of the first-born of his flock …”

    “And the LORD accepted Abel and his offering”

    So why should the LORD accept an offering from the ground which HE had already cursed?
    Cain didn’t do the right thing ..may be Adam didn’t mention it to him …lol.. that the LORD had cursed the ground.


    1. Interesting observation and, honestly, something I had not really noticed. The fact that Cain was bringing to God something from a source (the ground) that the Lord had already cursed certainly could have made his offering even less acceptable.

      We do see other produce of “the ground” prescribed under Levitical Law to be used for offerings (later, under the Mosaic System) such as fine flour, grain, wine, and unleavened cakes of bread; but these were never used for the purposes of sin atonement. Thanksgiving to God or pledges of devotion to Him were in mind with these unrequired “free will” offerings. Leviticus 17:11 tells us that blood is required for the atonement of the souls of men — nothing else.

      Abel brought a lamb; Cain brought nothing that could be accepted as an offering of atonement. I believe that he did not see the necessity of his own redemption.

      Thanks for sharing these wonderful insights; may the Lord bless you richly 🙂


  3. As I was pondering over why Abels offering was accepted and Cains not I came to the same conclusion that the Ground was cursed and he gave an offering from the ground. Not acceptable!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s