Questions From Readers
Did Abel know that an animal sacrifice was needed to gain God’s favor?
The Bible account of Cain and Abel making their offerings is very brief. At Genesis 4:3-5, we read: “It came about at the expiration of some time that Cain proceeded to bring some fruits of the ground as an offering to Jehovah. But as for Abel, he too brought some firstlings of his flock, even their fatty pieces. Now while Jehovah was looking with favor upon Abel and his offering, he did not look with any favor upon Cain and upon his offering.”
There is no mention in the Bible that prior to this event Jehovah had given any specific information about sacrifices or about what kind of sacrifices would be acceptable to him. Thus, Cain and Abel evidently made their offerings solely of their own volition. They were barred from access to their parents’ original Paradise home; they began to feel the effects of sin; and they were alienated from God. In their sinful and pitiful state, they must have felt strongly the need to turn to God for help. Offering God a gift was likely a voluntary gesture on their part toward gaining God’s favor.
As matters turned out, Abel’s offering was accepted by God, but Cain’s was not. Why? Was it because Abel offered the right things and Cain did not? We cannot be sure that the type of offering had no bearing on matters, since neither of them had been told what was acceptable and what was not. However, it is likely that either type was acceptable. In the Law that Jehovah eventually gave the nation of Israel, acceptable sacrifices included not only animals or animal parts but also roasted grain, sheaves of barley, fine flour, baked goods, and wine. (Leviticus 6:19-23; 7:11-13; 23:10-13) Evidently, it was not the substance alone of the sacrifices of Cain and Abel that caused God to accept one and reject the other.—Compare Isaiah 1:11; Amos 5:22.
Centuries later, the apostle Paul stated: “By faith Abel offered God a sacrifice of greater worth than Cain, through which faith he had witness borne to him that he was righteous, God bearing witness respecting his gifts.” (Hebrews 11:4) Thus, it was because of faith that Abel was recognized as righteous by God. But faith in what? Faith in Jehovah’s promise that he would provide the Seed, who would ‘bruise the head of the serpent’ and restore the peace and perfection that mankind once enjoyed. From the statement that the Seed would be ‘bruised in the heel,’ Abel might have reasoned that a sacrifice involving the shedding of blood was needed. (Genesis 3:15) Nonetheless, the fact remains that it was Abel’s expression of faith that made his “a sacrifice of greater worth than Cain.”
By the same token, Cain was rejected, not because he offered the wrong kind of sacrifice, but because he lacked faith, as indicated by his actions. Jehovah had clearly pointed out to Cain: “If you turn to doing good, will there not be an exaltation?” (Genesis 4:7) God did not reject Cain on account of any displeasure over his offering. Rather, it was “because his own works were wicked”—marked by jealousy, hatred, and finally murder—that Cain was rejected by God.—1 John 3:12.