Cain’s offering (“sacrifice”) to God was not acceptable to the Lord, and the
sacrifice offered by his brother, Abel, was; Cain did his own thing and brought Produce, while his brother aligned himself with the Lord’s priorities and brought Meat…
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.
(The story ends, of course, with Cain rising up in a fit of jealous rage and
murdering his brother, and then copping an attitude with God when asked about it… then receiving God’s curse…)
I have often pondered the fact that Cain surely knew what kind of offering would please God, and yet he decided he would do the whole “sacrifice thing” his own way; what must have gone through his mind as he labored to prepare the field, and then grow the produce, and then harvest it, and then probably bundle it into attractive presentations, and then haul it all to the Sacrifice site and get it all set up, all the while thinking to himself, “Man, this is gonna be great; I’m really laboring for God, doing the ‘work of the Lord’, and surely He’ll be pleased with me and all that I’ve accomplished!”
…only then to hear the Lord tell him that He was not pleased with what Cain brought…
What shouts to me from this particular story was that Cain was FOOLING himself, completely and profoundly self-deluded the entire time, supposing to himself that he was doing God’s will, and that he was “right with God”, when all along he cared nothing for the actual will of God…
Nearly the exact same story is eerily echoed in Isaiah, hundreds of years after Cain, when apparently the entire nation of Israel was also profoundly self-deluded about what God wanted and what sort of things pleased Him:
Isaiah 1:11, 13-17, 22,23
11 "The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?" says the LORD.
"I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
22 Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water.
23 Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them.
So even their prayers were repulsive to God! Why? The CAIN Syndrome … the fact that month after month, for years and years, they were praying, sacrificing, having meetings, throwing festivals, etc., -- doing the whole "religion" thing -- and yet God responded with “Enough! Your hands are full of blood…”
…and He re-educates them on what HIS priorities are, what HE calls “doing right”: Working toward Justice for, and providing Encouragement to, and Defending / Pleading the case of the oppressed, and the fatherless, and widows…
…and when the lawyers tried to trip up Jesus, hundreds of years later, with “what is the greatest of the commandments?”, Jesus replied with an all-encompassing repeat of this same theme: LOVE (not “offerings” or “sacrifices” or “prayers” or “assemblies” or “festivals”, and not even "church planting" or "evangelism" or "personal holiness", in and of themselves)...
…and the story keeps going: John writes, in one of his epistles, “if you say you’re in the light, and yet you harbor anything close to hatred (including a sense of "superiority") in your heart toward someone else, you’re fooling yourself”, and again, “how can anyone say they ‘love God’ without loving the people all around them?? You can’t say you love someone you DON’T see if you’re not all about loving the people you DO see…”
I am increasingly burdened about, and continually on the lookout for, the danger in my own heart and mind – and life – that I too might be suffering from The CAIN Syndrome; my hope and prayer is that those who know me will love me enough to help draw my attention to any self-delusion I might be suffering, so that I can re-align myself with what actually pleases God…
I want more than anything to become the saint that God created me to become, for His glory.