Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why Was Cain's Sacrifice Rejected?

One question that arises out of the Cain and Abel story that is not explicitly addressed in the text is why God rejected Cain's offering but accepted Abel's. I personally think the reason is inferred in the text; whereas Abel brought from his firstlings, Cain simply brought sacrifices--he did not offer God the best he had to offer.

Apparently, I am not alone in this view. Below are some various ancient interpretive takes.

Philo, The Sacrifices of Cain and Abel, 52:
“[Cain’s offering] was ‘of the fruit’ but not ‘of the first fruit.'"

Genesis Rabbah
22:5:
[Cain’s offering] was from the refuse. The matter may be compared to the case of a wicked sharecropper who ate from the first fruits of the figs and handed over to the king the late figs.


Ephraem, Commentary on Gen. 3:2:
“Abel chose and brought for sacrifice from the firstborn and the fattest, but Cain brought [merely] the fruits he found at the time . . . [God] chose not to accept his sacrifice from him in order to teach him how it was to be offered up… [Cain] did not bring these on the day of the first fruit offering, but brought the fruit of his land.”


Heb. 11:4:
“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain.”

1 John 3:11-13: 11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, 12 and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous.

7 comments:

Sister Mary Agnes said...

It makes me think about whether I am giving God my best, or my leftovers.

Paul Cat said...

Michael,

I think the text is a little deeper on this point. The reason might be inferred in the text: Able gave his first fruits while Cain just gave fruit.

However, when it come to agriculture, there are many many plants that really have no "first fruits". A field of grain might ripen at nearly the same time, how much is to be considered the "first fruit"? Also, the first fruit from many trees isn't always the best fruit of the trees. In one sense it might have been impossible for Cain to even offer a "first fruit" and therefore a farming culture might just know that and the detail left out because it was a reality known to the people at the time the book was penned.

But with the first born of a mammal comes many blessing one of which is MILK and the opening of the female womb. That is, it is possible to have a certain first born of the mammalian species.

Yet, question arises from the text itself, "Why would God reject/not accept Cain's sacrifice?" After all, an alternative argument can be made that Cain made his sacrifice "to the Lord" (TNKH) where as Able only imitates his brother.

However the moralization of the story here (which is often the most common interpretation of the text) seems to miss the point as one would expect an etiology to result from the encounter, but none happens.

Perhaps what is being emphasized is not the morality of the offering, but instead is a two sided meaning and pattern that is being set up here that will be found not only in Genesis but through the entire length of Scripture that culminates with Christ.

What made Abel's sacrifice so special? Since this story is not an etiology another answer might be suggested. Jon D. Levenson suggests that it was something else that Abel brought to the sacrifice. So what else did Abel bring? Himself. (I know VERY liturgical). Levenson writes, "The words rendered 'and Abel, for his part, brought' (wehebel hebi gam-bu) [sorry I don't know where the accent keys are] "could more accurately, if less fluently, be rendered, 'and Abel brought -- even he' or "and Abel brought -- he also.'" In other words, Cain's sacrifice was inferior because he did not offer himself with the sacrifice, and any sacrifice offered without one's self with it is not a worthy sacrifice.

The second side of the coin: The pattern of the later born being chosen over the first born son. A pattern that is found all over scripture. As is the case with Seth (kind of chosen by default), Abram/Abraham, Isaac (Abraham's second born), Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David. All of whom are later born yet chosen sons.

It also fits perfectly with typology. As the first is not the blessed. Not the first Adam, but the New Adam. Not the Old Eve, but the New Eve. Not the Jews, but the Christians.

The text is much more liturgical than many believe it to be.

Sorry this is a bit messy. Writing in a com box drives me nuts.

Moonshadow said...

One of my happiest, recent discoveries has been the online Jewish Study Bible. I've had the book for years but now I can share its notes with a link instead of typing. :-)

So, the editors of the JSB think it's to show that God's ways are not our ways, as in God's tendency to pick the younger son.

Bill said...

So you don't think it had anything at all to do with blood?

Paul-Joseph said...

Paul Cat said:
"However, when it come to agriculture, there are many many plants that really have no "first fruits". A field of grain might ripen at nearly the same time, how much is to be considered the "first fruit"? Also, the first fruit from many trees isn't always the best fruit of the trees. In one sense it might have been impossible for Cain to even offer a "first fruit" and therefore a farming culture might just know that and the detail left out because it was a reality known to the people at the time the book was penned."

There are many instances in which grain and other agricultural products were given as "first fruits." For example, Exo 23:165; Lev 2:14; 23:10; Num 18:12; Deu 18:4 just to mention a few.

However, I would like to see Bill's thought developed more. I think the argument really is between giving one's first and best out of complete trust in Divine Providence, and the concept that there must be shedding of blood for forgiveness of sin (Heb 9:22).

Anonymous said...

Another argument goes like this. In the Fall narrative immediately preceding, it is declared that the ground is accursed. It can only bring forth pain, in pain. Yet Cain offers unto the Most High the fruits of this accursed earth, and hence is rejected. Abel however turns from that and offers an animal offering, that is rooted in death, in the shedding and outpouring of blood, that is in sacrifice. Yet when the Perfect One comes forth from the bosom of the Most High to make all things new, he comes forth not merely to lift the curse from the face of the earth, but to render acceptable the sacrifice of Cain, that it may not merely be acceptable in spirit and truth, but be offered forth in clouds of sunrise incense among all the nations. By the blood of the Holy One, poured forth from His Sacred Heart, aflame with the Holy Spirit, as fire incarnidine poured upon the earth, the sacrifice of Abel makes possible the sacrifice of Cain, the ultimate sacrifice of forgiveness which by coming first yields prior place to that which does not. Cain is rejected because he is ignoring, or minimising, the Fall. Abel is accepted because, filled with the Holy Spirit, and set aside as a prophet, he sees, however, dimly, what is required to overcome that Fall. The grain of wheat, sprouting, growing, flourishing, ripening forth in golden splendour, lives for the day of its threshing, yet the lamb does not live for slaughter, but for its maturity, to see sons and grandsons raised up from its seed. If it is cut off before that prime, virginal and without seed after the flesh, then sacrifice has been made, oblation offered, and such is ever accepted as sweet savour before the nostrils of the Most High. In Our Lady this redemption is prefigured. She Who is the virginal earth that brings forth the New Adam is not violated by a husbandman Cain to bring forth in penetrative toil an offering impure, but by the blood shed by the New Abel, who is ever his brother's keeper, and healer, and restorer, is preveniently washed clean to bring forth once again in the Last Days the grain that is the first fruits of the new creation. Our Lady is, in efffect, Cain redeemed, and she stands at the altar offering the pure grain of her Son in sacrifice, that the elder son of the first Eve may be granted a place at the banqueting table of the son of the last, Cain's mark at last both honoured and removed.

Paul Cat said...

My apologies, It is diffficult to give a full length detailed explanation void of vague terms, as my audience was Michael and not necessarily the readers of the blog.

First fruit as distinguished from First issue of the womb.

First fruit translates into "the best that you have." The best that anyone can give is himself bound up with the sacrifice.

Like I said earlier, what made Cain's sacrifice less worthy is that he did not offer himself with it.

The Blood is of importance to the old cov., but there were also bloodless sacrifices.

But to the new cov., there is the bloodless sacrifice that forgives sins.