Cain and Abel, Land and Animal

July 3, 2008

So I have been reading through Genesis recently; decided to start at the beginning and stop trying to read it like it is a history book concerned with telling me only the facts of how the world was created. Now I have always heard, like I’m sure many of us have, that when Cain and Abel brought forth their sacrifices that God was not pleased with Cain’s offering because it was not the first fruits and Abel’s was. While I do not contend with this point, there was something very interesting that I found in the story of Cain and Abel. First, let us see what is said about the story:

4:1 Now the man had marital relations with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. Then she said, “I have created a man just as the Lord did!” 4:2 Then she gave birth to his brother Abel. Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground. 4:3 At the designated time Cain brought some of the fruit of the ground for an offering to the Lord. 4:4 But Abel brought some of the firstborn of his flock – even the fattest of them. And the Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, 4:5 but with Cain and his offering he was not pleased. So Cain became very angry, and his expression was downcast.

Now here we have the idea that Abel brought the firstborn, even the fattest of his flock and so it was more pleasing to God than the fruit of the ground that Cain had brought. But a very interesting thing to draw attention to is this line in verse 2:

Abel took care of the flocks, while Cain cultivated the ground.

And why? Let us look back a bit and find out why.

In chapter 1, during the beginning of creation, it is written:

1:26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.”

So here God creates man in his own image and then set man to rule over the birds of the air and the cattle and rule over all creatures. It is man’s call to rule the creatures. And so man names the animals, God creates a woman out of a rib, and then man falls. The curse comes upon the world and to the man, God says,

3:17 But to Adam he said, “Because you obeyed your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 3:18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat the grain of the field. 3:19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat food until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Now that sucks pretty bad. We get pretty screwed. But what I find so interesting, and something I believe we miss because we tend to read the story and forget about the things said before, is that Cain worked the ground, the ground which has been cursed in the fall, while Abel works with the livestock, the very thing man was commanded to watch over before the fall. So here is a man bringing the product of a cursed ground as his offering, which he will work at and die in, and another man bringing the firstborn of his livestock, fulfilling the call given by God. This is such an interesting exchange of offerings. And so why does God seem less pleased with the offering of Cain? I believe it when we say because he brought the lesser offering, but maybe not just because it wasn’t his first fruits but because he also sought to bring to God that which had been cursed. Cain worked the land as man had been cursed to do so, while Abel kept flocks, as man had been created to do so.

It seems like this idea is so close in proximity, the call to rule over the livestock, the curse of the ground, and then the two brothers, one who brings from the livestock and one who brings from the land, and yet it seems like something we overlook so often, and yet within the first four chapters, chapters not even that long, this idea is set before us. It is just another added level to the story laid before us, a better understanding of why God rejects Cain’s offering.