Offering Acceptable Sacrifices to Jehovah
AT ONE time in history, a remarkable phenomenon could be observed at the eastern entrance to the garden of Eden.a There, mighty cherubs stood guard, their ominous appearance making it clear that no one should dare to pass. Equally forbidding was the flaming blade of a rotating sword, which likely cast an eerie glow against the surrounding trees at night. (Genesis 3:24) Intriguing as this might have been, any spectators stayed at a respectful distance.
Cain and Abel may well have visited the site many times. Born to Adam and Eve outside the garden, they could only speculate what it was like to live in Paradise, as their parents once did, with its well-watered, lush greenery and abundant fruits and vegetables. Now the little that could be seen of Eden would no doubt appear uncultivated and overgrown.
Adam and Eve had surely explained to their children why the garden was uncared for and why they had been banished from it. (Genesis 2:17; 3:6, 23) How frustrated Cain and Abel must have felt! They could see the garden, but they could not enter it. They were so close to Paradise and yet so far from it. Imperfection had tainted them, and there was little Cain or Abel could do about it.
Their parents’ relationship certainly could not have helped matters. When sentencing Eve, God said: “Your craving will be for your husband, and he will dominate you.” (Genesis 3:16) True to that prophecy, Adam must have now exercised his domination over his wife, perhaps no longer treating her as a companion and helper. And Eve seemed to manifest an unhealthy dependence upon this man. One commentary even goes so far as to describe her “craving” as “a desire bordering upon disease.”
To what extent this marital situation affected the boys’ respect for their parents, the Bible does not say. It is evident, though, that Adam and Eve set a disturbing example for their children.
Choosing Different Paths
Eventually, Abel became a shepherd and Cain took up farming. (Genesis 4:2) As he tended his herds, Abel no doubt had much time to ponder the peculiar prophecy uttered before his parents were expelled from Eden: “I shall put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed. He will bruise you in the head and you will bruise him in the heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Abel must have wondered, ‘How will God’s promise regarding a seed that will crush the serpent be accomplished, and how will this seed be bruised in the heel?’
After some time, likely when they were well into adulthood, Cain and Abel each made an offering to Jehovah. Since Abel was a shepherd, it was not surprising that he presented “some firstlings of his flock, even their fatty pieces.” In contrast, Cain offered up “some fruits of the ground.” Jehovah accepted Abel’s sacrifice, but “he did not look with any favor upon Cain and upon his offering.” (Genesis 4:3-5) Why not?
Some point to the fact that Abel’s sacrifice was from the “firstlings of his flock,” whereas Cain’s was merely “some fruits of the ground.” But the problem was not in the quality of produce that Cain offered, for the account says that Jehovah looked with favor “upon Abel and his offering,” and with disfavor “upon Cain and upon his offering.” So Jehovah looked primarily at the heart condition of the worshiper. In doing so, what did he perceive? Hebrews 11:4 says that it was “by faith” Abel offered his sacrifice. So Cain apparently lacked the faith that made Abel’s sacrifice acceptable.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that Abel’s offering involved the shedding of blood. He may rightly have concluded that God’s promise concerning a seed who would be bruised in the heel would entail the sacrifice of a life. Abel’s offering would thus have been a plea for atonement, and it expressed faith that God would supply a propitiatory sacrifice for sins in due time.
In contrast, Cain had likely given little more than superficial thought to the offering he made. “His offering was a mere acknowledgment of God as a benefactor,” suggested a 19th-century Bible commentator. “It plainly evinced that he recognised no material breach between him and his Creator, nor any need of confession of sin or dependence on an atonement.”
Furthermore, as firstborn, Cain might even have presumptuously assumed that he was the promised seed who would destroy the Serpent, Satan. Eve too could have harbored such ambitious aspirations for her firstborn son. (Genesis 4:1) Of course, if this was what Cain and Eve expected, they were sadly mistaken.
The Bible does not state how Jehovah indicated his approval of Abel’s sacrifice. Some suggest that it was consumed by fire from heaven. Whatever the case, upon realizing that his offering was rejected, “Cain grew hot with great anger, and his countenance began to fall.” (Genesis 4:5) Cain was headed for disaster.
Jehovah’s Counsel and Cain’s Response
Jehovah reasoned with Cain. “Why are you hot with anger and why has your countenance fallen?” he asked. This gave Cain ample opportunity to scrutinize his feelings and motives. “If you turn to doing good,” Jehovah continued, “will there not be an exaltation? But if you do not turn to doing good, there is sin crouching at the entrance, and for you is its craving; and will you, for your part, get the mastery over it?”—Genesis 4:6, 7. (See box on page 23.)
Cain did not listen. Instead, he led Abel out to a field and murdered him. Later, when Jehovah asked where Abel could be found, Cain compounded his sin with a lie. “I do not know,” he retorted. “Am I my brother’s guardian?”—Genesis 4:8, 9.
Both before and after Abel’s murder, Cain refused to “turn to doing good.” He chose to let sin get the mastery over him, and for this, Cain was banished from the area in which the human family resided. A “sign,” perhaps simply a solemn decree, was established so that no one would avenge Abel’s death by killing Cain.—Genesis 4:15.
Cain later went on to build a city, naming it for his son. Not surprisingly, his descendants became known for their violence. Eventually, Cain’s line ended when the Deluge of Noah’s day swept away all unrighteous men.—Genesis 4:17-24; 7:21-24.
The Bible account of Cain and Abel was not preserved simply for leisure reading. Rather, it was “written for our instruction” and is “beneficial for teaching, for reproving.” (Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16) What can we learn from this account?
A Lesson for Us
Like Cain and Abel, Christians today are invited to offer up to God a sacrifice—not a literal burnt offering, but “a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which make public declaration to his name.” (Hebrews 13:15) This is presently being accomplished on a worldwide scale, as Jehovah’s Witnesses preach the good news of God’s Kingdom in more than 230 lands. (Matthew 24:14) Are you having a share in that work? Then you can be sure that “God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name.”—Hebrews 6:10.
As with the offerings of Cain and Abel, your sacrifice is not judged by its outward appearance—for example, merely by the number of hours that you spend in the ministry. Jehovah looks deeper. Jeremiah 17:10 says that he is “searching the heart” and even “examining the kidneys”—the deepest thoughts, feelings, and motivations of one’s personality. So the real issue is motive, not amount. Really, whether large or small, a sacrifice is valuable to God when it is offered from a heart that is motivated by love.—Compare Mark 12:41-44 with Mr 14:3-9.
At the same time, we should be aware that Jehovah will not accept lame sacrifices, any more than he accepted the halfhearted offering of Cain. (Malachi 1:8, 13) Jehovah demands that you give him your very best, that you serve him with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30) Are you doing that? Then you have good reason to view your sacrifice with satisfaction. Paul wrote: “Let each one prove what his own work is, and then he will have cause for exultation in regard to himself alone, and not in comparison with the other person.”—Galatians 6:4.
Cain and Abel had the same upbringing. But time and circumstances gave each one the opportunity to develop unique traits. Cain’s attitude became progressively racked by jealousy, contention, and fits of anger.
In contrast, Abel is remembered by God as a righteous man. (Matthew 23:35) His determination to please God at all costs made Abel refreshingly different from the ingrates in his family—Adam, Eve, and Cain. The Bible tells us that although Abel died, he “yet speaks.” His faithful service to God is part of the permanent historical record contained in the Bible. May we follow Abel’s example by continually offering acceptable sacrifices to God.—Hebrews 11:4.
a The garden of Eden is thought by some to have been located in a mountainous region in the eastern part of modern-day Turkey.
[Box/Picture on page 23]
A Model for Christian Counselors
“WHY are you hot with anger and why has your countenance fallen?” With this question, Jehovah kindly reasoned with Cain. He did not force Cain to change, for Cain was a free moral agent. (Compare Deuteronomy 30:19.) Nevertheless, Jehovah did not hesitate to outline the consequences of Cain’s wayward course. He warned Cain: “If you do not turn to doing good, there is sin crouching at the entrance, and for you is its craving.”—Genesis 4:6, 7.
It is noteworthy that even with this strong reproof, Jehovah did not treat Cain like a ‘lost cause.’ Rather, he told Cain of the blessings that awaited him if he changed his ways, and he expressed confidence that Cain could overcome this problem if he chose to do so. “If you turn to doing good,” Jehovah said, “will there not be an exaltation?” He also asked Cain regarding his murderous rage: “Will you, for your part, get the mastery over it?”
Today, elders in the Christian congregation should imitate Jehovah’s example. As noted at 2 Timothy 4:2, they must at times “reprove” and “reprimand,” straightforwardly outlining the consequences of an erring one’s wayward course. At the same time, elders should “exhort.” The Greek word pa·ra·ka·leʹo means “to encourage.” “The admonition is not sharp, polemical, or critical,” notes the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. “The fact that comfort can be another meaning points in the same direction.”
Significantly, a related Greek word, pa·raʹkle·tos, can refer to a helper or an advocate in a legal matter. Therefore, even when elders give pointed reproof, they should remember that they are helpers—not adversaries—of the individual needing counsel. Like Jehovah, the elders should be positive, showing confidence that the one being counseled can get the mastery over the problem.—Compare Galatians 6:1.
In the final analysis, of course, it is up to the individual to apply the admonition. (Galatians 6:5; Philippians 2:12) Counselors may find that some do not heed their warnings, just as Cain chose to ignore reproof from the Creator himself. Yet, when elders imitate Jehovah, the perfect Model for Christian counselors, they can be sure that they have done what they should.