But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor… Gen. 4:4-5
Two brothers. Two offerings. One is accepted. One not.
I want to know more. I want to understand how God works and what prompts Him to act. I want a relationship with God where His favor rests on me and flows through me. Maybe there are answers in Abel’s story.
And “the LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering.”
How did Abel know he had received God’s favor? How did he recognize it? Did God surround Abel with a whirlwind or raucous thunder, like He did when He answered Job? Did God send fire to consume the offering, like He did for Elijah on Mt. Carmel in front of Baal’s prophets? Did God speak with an audible voice, like at Jesus’ baptism? This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.
God must have shown his favor in a noticeable way – in a way that Cain knew he didn’t get it. Receiving God’s favor mattered and they both knew it.
So then, what about Abel’s offering pleased the LORD?
Abel had to kill an animal – the firstborn – to offer the “fat portions”. He sacrificed. He took some of the yield, some of what would be his future flock… the growth part. It cost Abel something to bring his offering to the LORD. Cain’s grain offering cost him, too, though maybe not as dearly.
But, is there something deeper? After the offerings, the story focuses on the rejected one, Cain. Abel never says a word. He follows Cain to the field and is apparently killed without much of a fight. Did Abel wonder where God’s favor had gone when his brother’s murderous hand stuck him down?
Huh. So God’s favor didn’t keep Abel from harm. In fact, it made him a target for his vengeful and spiteful brother.
Still… why was Abel’s offering accepted and Cain’s so patently rejected? Is there something about the death involved in Abel’s offering? Did it echo the death of the animal God used to make sin-covering skins for Adam and Eve? And is there something in Abel’s offering that points to the Once And For All Sacrifice Jesus would offer nearly 4000 years later on a wooden Roman cross?
The passage is vague and unclear… as if knowing WHY God favored Abel’s offering isn’t as important as knowing THAT He favored it. Peering through the haze of this passage, I can see that God’s favor isn’t earned. It’s bestowed. It’s granted.
And, I can see that gaining God’s favor also brought on persecution and death. Abel was murdered for it. God’s favor didn’t keep “bad things” from happening – just the opposite.
So do I still want God’s favor? Do I still want that deep, abiding sense, that I have pleased the LORD?
And when “bad things” happen, should I assume I’m out of God’s favor?
Maybe it’s a perspective thing. Maybe losing my life because I belong to Jesus isn’t the worst thing that can happen. Abel died knowing that he had received God’s favor. Cain lived the rest of his days a “restless wanderer”, “out from the LORD’s presence” (Gen. 4:14, 16).
I know which option sounds better to me.