Warnings about Worship (Genesis 4:1-7)
Birth and Occupation (verses 1-2)
Cain’s name means “gotten,” a name full of meaning as it gives evidence of God’s grace in granting them children. Abel, on the other hand, means “vanity” or “vapor.” His is a name with prophetic meaning, since Abel’s life would be cut short. Though much is left out of the story, the account quickly moves to Cain and Abel as men working in particular occupations. Abel was a shepherd, Cain a farmer—each of them having learned their respective skills from their father Adam, who was skilled in both (Gen 1:29-30). While both Cain and Abel are physically from the same lineage, spiritually they are descendants of different lines (Gen 3:15).
Cain and Abel’s Offering (verses 3-4a)
Each of them brought worship offerings in keeping with their respective occupations. In the description of Cain’s offering, we read only that he brought “some fruit,” giving no evidence of anything special in the offering. In Abel’s offering, on the other hand, we read that he brought the “firstlings” and the “fat,” the choicest part of the choicest animals. While in each case, the motions of worship may appear correct, the motives are not. Cain is merely doing the bare minimum in order to appear outwardly acceptable, whereas Abel is offering worship in truth according to God’s will.
Abel’s Acceptance and Cain’s Rejection (verses 4b-5a)
God had regard for Abel’s sacrifice, but no regard for Cain’s. What is the difference? The sacrifice that is acceptable to God is acceptable not merely because of its material content; it is acceptable in so far as it is an outward expression of a devoted and obedient heart. As Calvin puts it: “Abel’s sacrifice was preferred to his brothers for no other reason than that it was sanctified by faith. Surely, the fat of a brute animal did not smell so sweetly that it could by its odor pacify God!” Abel’s sacrifice was accepted because Abel himself was accepted—and he himself was accepted only by faith (Hebrews 11:4). Only when we are justified before God through faith can our worship be acceptable to Him.
Cain’s Anger (verse 5b)
Inwardly, Cain became very angry, as his rage burned against both God and his brother. Outwardly, his body language become despondent and displeased. Nothing angers the self-righteous like being told that their worship is not acceptable to God! Cain was furious that all his labors should stand for nothing.
Questioning and a Warning (verse 6)
God appeals graciously to Cain as to why his countenance has fallen. He also gives Cain the solution: “If you do well…will not your countenance be lifted up?” Obedience is the solution! Are you downcast? Obey the Lord!
God also gives Abel a warning: “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you…” Sin, especially hidden sin, is not a domesticated house pet; something you can just keep in the closet or under the bed, taking it out when you want to and putting it aside when you need to. Lust, vanity, addiction—these are like savage wolves and ferocious lions waiting to devour you. Sin is a beast that desires to destroy you and your life!
We are commanded to master sin, and in the gospel, we are also given all that we need to do so: “…our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin…Even so, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus…For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:6-7, 11, 14).
- The motions of worship may appear correct while the motives are not. What about you? Are your inward motives pleasing to the Lord? Are the outward motions honoring to Him? Are both your motives & motions in keeping with His Word?
- What is the connection between faith and and worship?
- Are you treating any sins as if they were domesticated? What sins, even secret and hidden sins, have you foolishly tolerated? What does repentance look like for each?
- What does it mean that your “old self was crucified with Him?” How does that truth affect the way you face temptation?