It’s a fairly well-known story: Cain and Abel are brothers who are sons of Adam and Eve. Cain was born first and is a farmer, and Abel is a shepherd. The time comes for each of them to offer a sacrifice unto the Lord. Cain offers fruit from the ground and Abel offers the firstborn of his flock. We are then told that “the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard” (Genesis 4:4-5). Why is this? Cain was the firstborn, the one that normally was more regarded than any other sons in a family. Why did the Lord have no regard for Cain and his offering, and instead had regard for Abel?

The typical answer has been to comment on what Cain and Abel each offered. It is said that because Abel’s offering involved a blood sacrifice, God accepted it. The practice of blood sacrifice of animals would of course be instituted with the coming of the Law, and the story of Cain’s and Abel’s sacrifices foreshadows that pattern. But, is this the right answer to our original question of why God chose Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s?

R.C. Sproul in his book How Then Shall We Worship?: Biblical Principles to Guide Us Today (David C Cook, 2013) argues that this common answer isn’t the right one. Looking primarily at Hebrews 11:4 he concludes that it was Abel’s heart attitude that made the difference, not what kind of sacrifice was offered. Consider that verse:

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.

Sproul bases his argument largely on the words “by faith” here in this verse, indicating that “Abel’s faith made all the difference” (30). He then goes on to speculate what it meant for Abel to offer a sacrifice by faith. Sproul cannot imagine Adam and Eve not explaining to their sons the hope God offered to them in the promise in Genesis 3:15 that the seed (descendent) of Eve would crush the head of the serpent. He goes on to say:

However, it was not enough for Cain and Abel to merely hear Adam and Eve speak of the promise. The issue was whether they would trust the promise. What would they trust in ultimately to reconcile them with the Father? What would they trust in to receive the blessing of God? (32)

What do you think? Is Sproul on to something in going against the standard interpretation of this account? Or is he way off-base? Please comment below.

I’m not sure exactly what to think of Sproul’s idea, especially in light of the blood sacrifice of Genesis 3:21 (where God clothes Adam & Eve with animal skin) that may have set a precedent for the sacrifice of animals to cover over sin. I do think, however, that those two questions which Sproul asks above are of great importance for us: Who or what do we trust in to reconcile us to the Father and receive blessing from Him?

  1. The good stuff we do?
  2. The fact that we say “I’m sorry” to God every once in a while?
  3. The fact that we’ve never done any of the “really bad stuff” like murder or rape?

None of these and a hundred other ideas count for anything, except the truth that through faith (trust) in the Savior–who did crush Satan and sin at the cross–can we be reconciled to God. I would imagine that many of my readers already know this. But, how are you (and I) living each day in light of this reality? Does it change our attitudes and actions in any significant way? Because it should, drastically so. Through our faith in Christ, our reconciliation to God is final and our relationship to Him is forever secured. It is a relationship in which Jesus even calls us His friends (John 15:14-15)! Let us find refuge in this realty and live a life overflowing with true worship to our great God and Savior and friend, Jesus Christ!