Genesis 4:5
But to Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(5) Cain was very wroth.—Heb., it burned to Cain exceedingly: that is, his heart was full of hot indignant feelings, because of the preference shown to his younger brother.

Genesis 4:5-7. Cain was very wroth — Full of rage against God and his brother. His countenance fell — His looks became sour, dejected, and angry. The Lord said unto Cain — to convince him of his sin, and bring him to repentance, Why art thou wroth? What cause has been given thee, either by me or thy brother? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? — Either, 1st, If thou hadst done well, as thy brother did, thou shouldest have been accepted as he was. God is no respecter of persons; so that, if we come short of acceptance with him, the fault is wholly our own. This will justify God in the destruction of sinners, and will aggravate their ruin. There is not a damned sinner in hell, but, if he had done well, as he might have done, had been a glorified saint in heaven. Every mouth will shortly be stopped with this. Or, 2d, If now thou do well — If thou repent of thy sin, reform thy heart and life, and bring thy sacrifice in a better manner; thou shalt yet be accepted. See how early the gospel was preached, and the benefit of it offered even to one of the chief of sinners! He sets before him also death and a curse; but, if not well — Seeing thou didst not do well: not offer in faith, and in a right manner; sin lieth at the door — That is, sin only hinders thy acceptance. All this considered, Cain had no reason to be angry with his brother, but at himself only. Unto thee shall be his desire — He shall continue to respect thee as an elder brother, and thou, as the firstborn, shalt rule over him as much as ever. God’s acceptance of Abel’s offering did not transfer the birthright to him, (which Cain was jealous of,) nor put upon him that dignity and power which are said to belong to it, Genesis 49:3.4:1-7 When Cain was born, Eve said, I have gotten a man from the Lord. Perhaps she thought that this was the promised seed. If so, she was wofully disappointed. Abel signifies vanity: when she thought she had the promised seed in Cain, whose name signifies possession, she was so taken up with him that another son was as vanity to her. Observe, each son had a calling. It is the will of God for every one to have something to do in this world. Parents ought to bring up their children to work. Give them a Bible and a calling, said good Mr. Dod, and God be with them. We may believe that God commanded Adam, after the fall, to shed the blood of innocent animals, and after their death to burn part or the whole of their bodies by fire. Thus that punishment which sinners deserve, even the death of the body, and the wrath of God, of which fire is a well-known emblem, and also the sufferings of Christ, were prefigured. Observe that the religious worship of God is no new invention. It was from the beginning; it is the good old way, Jer 6:16. The offerings of Cain and Abel were different. Cain showed a proud, unbelieving heart. Therefore he and his offering were rejected. Abel came as a sinner, and according to God's appointment, by his sacrifice expressing humility, sincerity, and believing obedience. Thus, seeking the benefit of the new covenant of mercy, through the promised Seed, his sacrifice had a token that God accepted it. Abel offered in faith, and Cain did not, Heb 11:4. In all ages there have been two sorts of worshippers, such as Cain and Abel; namely, proud, hardened despisers of the gospel method of salvation, who attempt to please God in ways of their own devising; and humble believers, who draw near to him in the way he has revealed. Cain indulged malignant anger against Abel. He harboured an evil spirit of discontent and rebellion against God. God notices all our sinful passions and discontents. There is not an angry, envious, or fretful look, that escapes his observing eye. The Lord reasoned with this rebellious man; if he came in the right way, he should be accepted. Some understand this as an intimation of mercy. If thou doest not well, sin, that is, the sin-offering, lies at the door, and thou mayest take the benefit of it. The same word signifies sin, and a sacrifice for sin. Though thou hast not done well, yet do not despair; the remedy is at hand. Christ, the great sin-offering, is said to stand at the door, Re 3:20. And those well deserve to perish in their sins, that will not go to the door to ask for the benefit of this sin-offering. God's acceptance of Abel's offering did not change the birthright, and make it his; why then should Cain be so angry? Sinful heats and disquiets vanish before a strict and fair inquiry into the cause.And Habel brought. - Habel's offering differs from that of his brother in outward form. It consists of the firstlings of his flock. These were slain; for their fat is offered. Blood was therefore shed, and life taken away. To us who are accustomed to partake of animal food, there may appear nothing strange here. We may suppose that each brother offered what came to hand out of the produce of his own industry. But let us ascend to that primeval time when the fruit tree and the herb bearing seed were alone assigned to man for food, and we must feel that there is something new here. Still let us wait for the result.

And the Lord had respect unto Habel and his offering, - but not unto Cain. We have now the simple facts before us. Let us hear the inspired comment: "Πίστελ pistei, 'by faith' Abel offered unto God πλείονα Θυσίαν pleiona thusian, 'a more excellent sacrifice' than Cain" Hebrews 11:4. There was, then, clearly an internal moral distinction in the intention or disposition of the offerers. Habel had faith - that confiding in God which is not bare and cold, but is accompanied with confession of sin, and a sense of gratitude for his mercy, and followed by obedience to his will. Cain had not this faith. He may have had a faith in the existence, power, and bounty of God; but it wanted that penitent returning to God, that humble acceptance of his mercy, and submission to his will, which constitute true faith. It must be admitted the faith of the offerer is essential to the acceptableness of the offering, even though other things were equal.

However, in this case, there is a difference in the things offered. The one is a vegetable offering, the other an animal; the one a presentation of things without life, the other a sacrifice of life. Hence, the latter is called πλείων θυσία pleiōn thusia; there is "more in it" than in the former. The two offerings are therefore expressive of the different kinds of faith in the offerers. They are the excogitation and exhibition in outward symbol of the faith of each. The fruit of the soil offered to God is an acknowledgment that the means of this earthly life are due to him. This expresses the barren faith of Cain, but not the living faith of Habel. The latter has entered deeply into the thought that life itself is forfeited to God by transgression, and that only by an act of mercy can the Author of life restore it to the penitent, trusting, submissive, loving heart. He has pondered on the intimations of relenting mercy and love that have come from the Lord to the fallen race, and cast himself upon them without reserve. He slays the animal of which he is the lawful owner, as a victim, thereby acknowledging that his life is due for sin; he offers the life of the animal, not as though it were of equal value with his own, but in token that another life, equivalent to his own, is due to justice if he is to go free by the as yet inscrutable mercy of God.

Such a thought as this is fairly deducible from the facts on the surface of our record. It seems necessary in order to account for the first slaying of an animal under an economy where vegetable diet was alone permitted. We may go further. It is hard to suppose the slaying of an animal acceptable, if not previously allowed. The coats of skin seem to involve a practical allowance of the killing of animals for certain purposes. Thus, we arrive at the conclusion that there was more in the animal than in the vegetable offering, and that more essential to the full expression of a right faith in the mercy of God, without borrowing the light of future revelation. Hence, the nature of Habel's sacrifice was the index of the genuineness of his faith. And the Lord had respect unto him and his offering; thereby intimating that his heart was right, and his offering suitable to the expression of his feelings. This finding is also in keeping with the manner of Scripture, which takes the outward act as the simple and spontaneous exponent of the inward feeling. The mode of testifying his respect to Habel was by consuming his offering with fire, or some other way equally open to observation.

And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. - A feeling of resentment, and a sense of disgrace and condemnation take possession of Cain's breast. There is no spirit of inquiry, self-examination, prayer to God for light, or pardon. This shows that Cain was far from being in a right frame of mind.

4. the Lord had respect unto Abel, not unto Cain, &c.—The words, "had respect to," signify in Hebrew,—"to look at any thing with a keen earnest glance," which has been translated, "kindle into a fire," so that the divine approval of Abel's offering was shown in its being consumed by fire (see Ge 15:17; Jud 13:20). Cain was very wroth; partly with God, who, had cast so public a disgrace upon him, and given the preference to his younger brother; and partly with Abel, because he had received more honour from God, and therefore was likely to have more respect and privilege from his parents than himself.

His countenance fell; whereas before it was lifted up and cheerful, now it fell down through sense of guilt, disappointment of his hope, shame and grief, and envy at his brother. But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect,.... Not because of the matter of it, as some have thought; but because it was not offered in faith and sincerity, but in a formal and hypocritical manner, without any regard to the Messiah and his sacrifice, and without any view to the glory of God: no notice was taken, no approbation was given of it by the above token, or any other; so that it was manifest to Cain himself, that God did not approve of it, or was well pleased with it, as with his brother's:

and Cain was very wroth; with God, to whom he offered it, because he did not accept of it, and with his brother, because he and his sacrifice were preferred to him and his:

and his countenance fell; the briskness and cheerfulness of his countenance went off, and he looked dejected; and instead of lifting up his face towards heaven; he looked with a down look to the earth; he looked churlish, morose, and sullen, ill natured, full of malice and revenge, and as if he was studying which way to vent it; he knit his brows and gnashed his teeth, put on a surly countenance; and there might be seen in his face all the signs, not only of grief and disappointment, but of rage and fury; though (i) some interpret it of shame and confusion.

(i) R. Jonah apud R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 9. p. 2.

But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
5. but unto Cain] In what way the Divine displeasure was conveyed is not recorded. The suggestion that fire from heaven consumed the offering of Abel, but left that of Cain untouched, is a pure conjecture based upon the group of passages in the O.T., in which the fire from God attested the approval of the sacrifice, Leviticus 9:24; Jdg 6:21; Jdg 13:19-20; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26; 2 Chronicles 7:1; 1Ma 2:10-11.

It is a serious omission, also, that we are left to conjecture the reason for the favour shewn to Abel and withheld from Cain. We can hardly doubt, that in the original form of the story the reason was stated; and, if so, that the reason represented in the folk-lore of Israel would not have been in harmony with the religious teaching of the book.

Taking, therefore, the omission of the reason in conjunction with the language of Genesis 4:6-7, and with the general religious purport of the context, we should probably be right in interring that the passage, as it stands, intends to ascribe the difference in the acceptability of the two offerings to the difference in the spirit with which they had been made. Jehovah looked at the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). Thus the first mention of worship in Holy Scripture seems to emphasize the fundamental truth that the worth of worship lies in the spirit of the worshipper, cf. John 4:24, “God is spirit; and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” This is the thought of Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.… God bearing witness in respect of his gifts.”

The following conjectures have at different times been put forward to explain the preference of Jehovah:

(a) It has been suggested that Abel’s offering was preferred, because it consisted of flesh, and that Cain’s was rejected, because it consisted of vegetable produce. Each man offered of the fruits of his work and calling. Did the original story contain a condemnation of the agricultural as compared with the pastoral calling? But Adam was commanded to till the ground (Genesis 2:15, Genesis 3:19).

(b) The old Jewish explanation was that Cain had failed to perform the proper ritual of his offering, and therefore incurred the Divine displeasure: see note on the LXX of Genesis 4:7. But, again, if so, it has to be assumed that Divine directions upon the ritual of service had previously been communicated to man.

(c) The common Christian explanation that Cain’s sacrifice, being “without shedding of blood” (Hebrews 9:22. cf. Leviticus 17:11), could not find acceptance, equally assumes that the right kind of sacrifice had previously been Divinely instituted, and that Cain’s rejection was, therefore, due to the wilful violation of a positive command as well as to the infringement of sacrificial rule.

In the silence of the narrative respecting the origin of the institution of sacrifice, these conjectures are merely guess-work, and must be considered more or less fanciful.

his countenance fell] A picture true to nature and more familiar than easy to express in any other words.

The passage illustrates the progress of sin in Cain’s heart. Firstly, disappointment and wounded pride, aggravated by envy of his brother, lead to anger; secondly, anger unrestrained, and brooding sullenly over an imaginary wrong, rouses the spirit of revenge; thirdly, revenge seeks an outlet in passion, and vents itself in violence and murder.Verse 5. - But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. Because of the absence of those qualities which distinguished Abel and his offering; not because the heart of Cain was "no more pure," but "imbued with a criminal propensity" (Kalisch), which it was not until his offering was rejected. The visible sign, whatever it was, being awanting in the case of Cain's oblation, its absence left the offerer in no dubiety as to the Divine displeasure with both himself and his offering. In the rejection of Cain's offering Bohlen sees the animus of a Levitical narrator, who looks down slightingly on offerings of the fruits and flowers of earth; but, as Havernick well remarks, the theocracy was essentially based on agriculture, while the Mosaic institute distinctly recognized the legality and value of bloodless offerings. And Cain was very wroth (literally, it burned with Cain exceedingly), and his countenance fell. In fierce resentment against his brother, possibly in disappointed rage against himself, almost certainly in anger against God (cf. Nehemiah 6:16; Job 29:24; Jeremiah 3:12, and contrast Job 11:15). There was apparently no sorrow for sin, "no spirit of inquiry, self-examination, prayer to God for light or pardon, clearly showing that Cain was far from a right state of mind" (Murphy). Yet the Lord does not forthwith abandon the contumacious and insensate transgressor, but patiently expostulates with and instructs him as to how he too might obtain the same blessing of acceptance which his younger brother enjoyed. But her joy was soon overcome by the discovery of the vanity of this earthly life. This is expressed in the name Abel, which was given to the second son (הבל, in pause הבל, i.e., nothingness, vanity), whether it indicated generally a feeling of sorrow on account of his weakness, or was a prophetic presentiment of his untimely death. The occupation of the sons is noticed on account of what follows. "Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground." Adam had, no doubt, already commenced both occupations, and the sons selected each a different department. God Himself had pointed out both to Adam-the tilling of the ground by the employment assigned him in Eden, which had to be changed into agriculture after his expulsion; and the keeping of cattle in the clothing that He gave him (Genesis 3:21). Moreover, agriculture can never be entirely separated from the rearing of cattle; for a man not only requires food, but clothing, which is procured directly from the hides and wool of tame animals. In addition to this, sheep do not thrive without human protection and care, and therefore were probably associated with man from the very first. The different occupations of the brothers, therefore, are not to be regarded as a proof of the difference in their dispositions. This comes out first in the sacrifice, which they offered after a time to God, each one from the produce of his vocation. - "In process of time" (lit., at the end of days, i.e., after a considerable lapse of time: for this use of ימים cf. Genesis 40:4; Numbers 9:2) Cain brought of the fruit of the ground a gift (מנחה) to the Lord; and Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and indeed (vav in an explanatory sense, vid., Ges. 155, 1) of their fat," i.e., the fattest of the firstlings, and not merely the first good one that came to hand. חלבים are not the fat portions of the animals, as in the Levitical law of sacrifice. This is evident from the fact, that the sacrifice was not connected with a sacrificial meal, and animal food was not eaten at this time. That the usage of the Mosaic law cannot determine the meaning of this passage, is evident from the word minchah, which is applied in Leviticus to bloodless sacrifices only, whereas it is used here in connection with Abel's sacrifice. "And Jehovah looked upon Abel and his gift; and upon Cain and his gift He did not look." The look of Jehovah was in any case a visible sign of satisfaction. It is a common and ancient opinion that fire consumed Abel's sacrifice, and thus showed that it was graciously accepted. Theodotion explains the words by καὶ ἐνεπύρισεν ὁ Θεός. But whilst this explanation has the analogy of Leviticus 9:24 and Judges 6:21 in its favour, it does not suit the words, "upon Abel and his gift." The reason for the different reception of the two offerings was the state of mind towards God with which they were brought, and which manifested itself in the selection of the gifts. Not, indeed, in the fact that Abel brought a bleeding sacrifice and Cain a bloodless one; for this difference arose from the difference in their callings, and each necessarily took his gift from the produce of his own occupation. It was rather in the fact that Abel offered the fattest firstlings of his flock, the best that he could bring; whilst Cain only brought a portion of the fruit of the ground, but not the first-fruits. By this choice Abel brought πλείονα θυσίαν παρὰ Κάΐν, and manifested that disposition which is designated faith (πίστις) in Hebrews 11:4. The nature of this disposition, however, can only be determined from the meaning of the offering itself.

The sacrifices offered by Adam's sons, and that not in consequence of a divine command, but from the free impulse of their nature as determined by God, were the first sacrifices of the human race. The origin of sacrifice, therefore, is neither to be traced to a positive command, nor to be regarded as a human invention. To form an accurate conception of the idea which lies at the foundation of all sacrificial worship, we must bear in mind that the first sacrifices were offered after the fall, and therefore presupposed the spiritual separation of man from God, and were designed to satisfy the need of the heart for fellowship with God. This need existed in the case of Cain, as well as in that of Abel; otherwise he would have offered no sacrifice at all, since there was no command to render it compulsory. Yet it was not the wish for forgiveness of sin which led Adam's sons to offer sacrifice; for there is no mention of expiation, and the notion that Abel, by slaughtering the animal, confessed that he deserved death on account of sin, is transferred to this passage from the expiatory sacrifices of the Mosaic law. The offerings were expressive of gratitude to God, to whom they owed all that they had; and were associated also with the desire to secure the divine favour and blessing, so that they are to be regarded not merely as thank-offerings, but as supplicatory sacrifices, and as propitiatory also, in the wider sense of the word. In this the two offerings are alike. The reason why they were not equally acceptable to God is not to be sought, as Hoffmann thinks, in the fact that Cain merely offered thanks "for the preservation of this present life," whereas Abel offered thanks "for the forgiveness of sins," or "for the sin-forgiving clothing received by man from the hand of God." To take the nourishment of the body literally and the clothing symbolically in this manner, is an arbitrary procedure, by which the Scriptures might be made to mean anything we chose. The reason is to be found rather in the fact, that Abel's thanks came from the depth of his heart, whilst Cain merely offered his to keep on good terms with God-a difference that was manifested in the choice of the gifts, which each one brought from the produce of his occupation. This choice shows clearly "that it was the pious feeling, through which the worshiper put his heart as it were into the gift, which made the offering acceptable to God" (Oehler); that the essence of the sacrifice was not the presentation of a gift to God, but that the offering was intended to shadow forth the dedication of the heart to God. At the same time, the desire of the worshipper, by the dedication of the best of his possessions to secure afresh the favour of God, contained the germ of that substitutionary meaning of sacrifice, which was afterwards expanded in connection with the deepening and heightening of the feeling of sin into a desire for forgiveness, and led to the development of the idea of expiatory sacrifice. - On account of the preference shown to Abel, "it burned Cain sore (the subject, 'wrath,' is wanting, as it frequently is in the case of חרה, cf. Genesis 18:30, Genesis 18:32; Genesis 31:36, etc.), and his countenance fell" (an indication of his discontent and anger: cf. Jeremiah 3:12; Job 29:24). God warned him of giving way to this, and directed his attention to the cause and consequences of his wrath.

"Why art thou wroth, and why is thy countenance fallen?" The answer to this is given in the further question, "Is there not, if thou art good, a lifting up" (sc., of the countenance)? It is evident from the context, and the antithesis of falling and lifting up (נפל and נשׂא), that פּנים must be supplied after שׂאת. By this God gave him to understand that his look was indicative of evil thoughts and intentions; for the lifting up of the countenance, i.e., a free, open look, is the mark of a good conscience (Job 11:15). "But if thou art not good, sin lieth before the door, and its desire is to thee (directed towards thee); but thou shouldst rule over it." The fem. חטּאת is construed as a masculine, because, with evident allusion to the serpent, sin is personified as a wild beast, lurking at the door of the human heart, and eagerly desiring to devour his soul (1 Peter 5:8). היטיב, to make good, signifies here not good action, the performance of good in work and deed, but making the disposition good, i.e., directing the heart to what is good. Cain is to rule over the sin which is greedily desiring him, by giving up his wrath, not indeed that sin may cease to lurk for him, but that the lurking evil foe may obtain no entrance into his heart. There is no need to regard the sentence as interrogative, "Wilt thou, indeed, be able to rule over it?" (Ewald), nor to deny the allusion in בּו to the lurking sin, as Delitzsch does. The words do not command the suppression of an inward temptation, but resistance to the power of evil as pressing from without, by hearkening to the word which God addressed to Cain in person, and addresses to us through the Scriptures. There is nothing said here about God appearing visibly; but this does not warrant us in interpreting either this or the following conversation as a simple process that took place in the heart and conscience of Cain. It is evident from Genesis 4:14 and Genesis 4:16 that God did not withdraw His personal presence and visible intercourse from men, as soon as He had expelled them from the garden of Eden. "God talks to Cain as to a wilful child, and draws out of him what is sleeping in his heart, and lurking like a wild beast before his door. And what He did to Cain He does to every one who will but observe his own heart, and listen to the voice of God" (Herder). But Cain paid no need to the divine warning.

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