Based on Genesis 4:2-8
Cain reached down and picked up a clod of earth and crumbled it between his fingers. He loved the feel of it. He even loved the smell—fresh and full of life. As he looked out over his field new life was everywhere. Tiny green shoots were peeking their way through the rich dirt. He appraised their progress with satisfaction. And the crops in his eastern fields were already mature and yielding a wonderful bounty. He had harvested row after row of lush vegetables and sweet fruit. Of course it had taken hard work, but he enjoyed it, and now his effort was paying off.
As he took a brief break from his labor he noticed his brother, Abel, walk by. His brother was trying his hand as a shepherd. He was a novice with a fledgling flock. Abel must have finally had some luck with his small herd because he was carrying a newborn lamb.
“Where are you going with that scrawny little thing?” Cain yelled out. Abel looked at the squirming lamb and smiled.
“He is a beauty, isn’t he? He is my first lamb.” Abel was beaming. The lamb did look robust, but Cain wasn’t willing to give his brother a complement quite yet. “Perhaps he will fill out with time.”
“Perhaps.” Said Abel. “But it is not for me to find out. This one is a gift.”
“For who?” Asked Cain.
“For the Lord.” Abel patted the little lamb on the head.
“But why?” Cain looked curiously at the animal. Abel smiled again. “As a thank you. God entrusted me with this flock, he blessed me with the birth of my first lambs, and I am bringing him the firstborn and best.”
Cain watched Abel hoist the lamb over his shoulder and walk away. Still curious, Cain followed Abel from a distance.
Abel made ready his gift, carefully prepared the choicest portions, and brought them as an offering to the Lord. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering.
As Cain observed Abel’s gift, and the Lord’s pleasure in receiving it, Cain realized he had not given the Lord anything from his gardens.
He quickly returned to his fields and hastily started pulling up vegetables. As he gathered them, he skillfully sorted through the crops. He put the largest and most succulent fruit to the side. After all, the Lord didn’t need to eat, so he wouldn’t appreciate their perfectly ripened flavors. Instead he chose a few medium sized specimens from each variety, and then added some of the malformed and smaller ones and arranged them with their best sides up. It was a nice haul. He hoped God would appreciate the hours of work it took to produce this gift.
Cain brought his gift to the Lord and waited for him to express his pleasure. Instead, the Lord did not look with favor on Cain’s offering. Cain was surprised, and then angry. Why was the Lord happy with Abel’s offering and not his? Didn’t he work just as hard as Abel? He worked even harder! He sweat out in the fields, day after day, digging, sowing, and planting. The Lord did not help him, he did it all himself! And he was willing to share the fruit of his labor with the Lord. He gave him a beautiful offering, larger and more abundant than Abel’s pathetic lamb.
Cain looked down at the ground, seething with anger. Then the Lord spoke to him.
“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
Upset, Cain left the Lord’s presence. As he strode off to his fields he again saw his brother, Abel. Abel smiled as he approached.
“Did the Lord like your gift?” He asked.
“Let’s go out to the field and I’ll tell you there.” Cain answered. Abel dutifully followed, smiling again.
Or was it a smirk? Did Abel know that Cain’s gift was rejected? Was he mocking him?
Cain’s fury grew. He grabbed his brother, threw him down, and smashed his head against the hard ground. Abel seemed to look back at him with momentary confusion; then the light in his eyes dimmed, and was extinguished.
“By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” (Hebrews 11:4)
"You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17)
All photos courtesy of www.pixabay.com
Written for MSBC's Sunday service, January 29, 2017, Hebrews: Heroes of Faith sermon series.