Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Right Worship

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. And Abel also brought an offering—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. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”
Genesis 4:1-12

The announcement of Cain's birth reminds us of both the curse of sin and the hope of the promise pronounced by God in the last chapter. It is clear that Eve did experience great pain in the childbirth but the question that should be on our minds is this "Is either Cain or Abel the promised one?" As we read the rest of the chapter these hopes are dashed as we realize just how far man has fallen.

It all started with a sacrifice. Now this passage has always been a little perplexing to me. Why did God reject Cain's offering? For a long time I thought that Cain's sacrifice was rejected because it consisted of fruits and vegetables instead of a blood offering. I thought that God simply would not accept an offering from the ground. This is possible, but elsewhere in Scripture we find that fruits and vegetables are sometimes offered as a sacrifice to the Lord (Deut. 26:2), so why? Some have suggested that his offering was rejected because he did not offer the firstfruits. The passage explicitly states that Abel offered some of the firstborn of his flocks but it merely says that Cain offered some of fruits of the soil. Perhaps that is why his offering was rejected. But I have found the notes in the ESV Study Bible to be more than a little helpful here. They point out that Hebrews 11:4 talks of Abel's faith. "By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did." Perhaps we should read that literally. Maybe the problem was not with Cain's offering but with his heart. If it was Abel's faith that made his offering more acceptable to God then perhaps it was Cain's lack of faith that made his detestable. 

Yet the Lord reaches out to Cain. He tells him that sin desires to defeat him but that there is still hope. "You are not too far gone, Cain, simply respond rightly and you will be accepted," God says. But Cain reveals that his heart has been arrogant and prideful all along. He refuses to humble himself under the Lord. He lashes out in retaliation and murders his brother in a premeditated fashion. Interestingly Genesis 9:6 explains why the death penalty must be applied for anyone who sheds human blood. It is because all humans are made in the image of God, and therefore to strike at another human in murderous rage is to strike at the very image of God with the same. That is what I believe Cain is doing here. He hated his brother for his righteousness and he hated God for rejecting his offering, and in one fell swoop he strikes out at them both.

The modern mind can have a sort of sympathy for Cain. "How rude of God to reject Cain's offering," we think; but it is good to be reminded that God is God. He is under no obligation to accept any worship from us. And He has the right to commend right worship to us. Have you ever considered that God might not look so favorably on your worship? What kind of offering are you bringing to Him? Is the gift that you offer God a good one? Are you giving him the firstfruits or the leftovers? Do you drag yourself into church every Sunday because you stay up too late the rest of the weekend? Are you giving your relationship with God the same effort you give to your other relationships? What about the heart of your worship? Do you come before Him with faith and humility or arrogance and expectations? Examine your offering. Examine your heart. Humble yourself under the Lord's instruction and purpose in your heart to give Him your best gift.

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