1-3. (a) What questions will we consider? (b) What four key elements of pure worship will we discuss? (See opening picture.)
ABEL carefully inspects his flock. He has lovingly raised these animals from birth. Now, he selects some, slaughters them, and presents them as a gift to God. Will this act of worship, offered by an imperfect human, be acceptable to Jehovah?
2 The apostle Paul was inspired to write regarding Abel: “God approved his gifts.” Jehovah, however, rejected Cain’s offering. (Read Hebrews 11:4.) This raises questions that we need to consider. Why did God accept worship from Abel but not from Cain? What can we learn from the examples of Cain and Abel and from others mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11? The answers will deepen our understanding of what is involved in pure worship.
Why Was Cain’s Worship Rejected?
4, 5. What led Cain to conclude that the recipient of his gift would be Jehovah?
4 Read Genesis 4:2-5. Cain knew that the recipient of his gift would be Jehovah. Cain had plenty of time and opportunity to learn about Jehovah. He and his brother Abel may have been close to 100 years old at the time that they offered their gifts.* Both boys had grown up knowing of the garden in Eden, maybe even seeing that fertile park from a distance. Certainly they would have seen the cherubs blocking entrance to it. (Gen. 3:24) The boys’ parents no doubt told them that Jehovah created all life and that his original purpose for mankind was different from what they were now experiencing—a slow decline into death. (Gen. 1:24-28) Knowing these things may have led Cain to conclude that he should offer his gift to God.
5 What else may have prompted Cain to offer his sacrifice? Jehovah had foretold that an “offspring” would arise, someone who would crush the head of “the serpent” that had seduced Eve into making her terrible choice. (Gen. 3:4-6, 14, 15) Cain, as firstborn, may have thought that he was that promised “offspring.” (Gen. 4:1) In addition, Jehovah had not cut off all communication with sinful humans; even after Adam sinned, God spoke to him, evidently by means of an angel. (Gen. 3:8-10) And Jehovah talked with Cain after he offered his sacrifice. (Gen. 4:6) Without doubt, Cain knew that Jehovah is worthy of worship.
6, 7. Was there something wrong with the quality or manner of Cain’s sacrifice? Explain.
6 Why, then, did Jehovah not look with any favor on Cain’s offering? Was there something wrong with the quality of the gift? The Bible does not say. It simply says that Cain brought “fruits of the land.” Jehovah later indicated in the Law that he gave to Moses that this type of sacrifice was acceptable. (Num. 15:8, 9) Also, consider the circumstances. At this point in history, humans ate only vegetation. (Gen. 1:29) And because the ground outside of Eden was cursed by God, Cain had toiled to produce his offering. (Gen. 3:17-19) He offered hard-won, life-sustaining food! Even so, Jehovah did not approve of Cain’s offering.
7 Was there, then, something wrong with the manner in which the gift was made? Did Cain fail to offer it in an acceptable way? That seems unlikely. Why so? Because when Jehovah rejected Cain’s offering, He did not condemn the manner in which the offering was made. In fact, there is no mention of how either Cain or Abel made their offering. What, then, was the problem?
8, 9. (a) Why did Jehovah not look with any favor on Cain or his offering? (b) What do you find noteworthy about the information that the Bible records about Cain and Abel?
8 Paul’s inspired words to the Hebrews show that Cain’s motive for making the offering was not pure. Cain lacked faith. (Heb. 11:4; 1 John 3:11, 12) That is why Jehovah did not look with any favor on Cain—the man himself—not just his offering. (Gen. 4:5-8) Jehovah is a loving Father, so he kindly tried to correct his son. But Cain, in effect, slapped away Jehovah’s helping hand. Cain’s figurative heart festered with works of the imperfect flesh—“hostility, strife, jealousy.” (Gal. 5:19, 20) Cain’s bad heart made any other positive aspects of his worship worthless. His example teaches us that pure worship requires more than just an outward display of devotion to Jehovah.
9 The Bible record tells us much about Cain—we hear Jehovah speak to him, we read Cain’s answers, and we even learn the names of his children and about some of the things they did. (Gen. 4:17-24) As for Abel, we have no record of his having children and nothing he said is preserved in the Bible. Even so, Abel’s actions still speak to us today. In what way?
Abel Sets the Pattern for Pure Worship
10. How did Abel set the pattern for pure worship?
10 Abel made his offering to Jehovah, knowing that He is the only worthy recipient. The quality of the gift was the best—Abel selected “some firstlings of his flock.” Although the record does not state whether he sacrificed them on an altar or not, the manner in which he offered his gift was obviously acceptable. But what stands out about Abel’s gift—the example that still instructs us after some six millenniums—is his motive for giving it. Abel was stirred by faith in God and by a love of Jehovah’s righteous standards. How do we know?
11. Why did Jesus describe Abel as righteous?
11 First, consider what Jesus said about Abel, a man he knew well. Jesus was alive in heaven when Abel walked the earth. Jesus was keenly interested in this son of Adam. (Prov. 8:22, 30, 31; John 8:58; Col. 1:15, 16) So Jesus was providing eyewitness testimony when he described Abel as a righteous man. (Matt. 23:35) A righteous person is someone who acknowledges that Jehovah should set the standard of right and wrong. But he does more—he proves by his speech and actions that he agrees with those standards. (Compare Luke 1:5, 6.) It takes time to gain a reputation as someone who is righteous. So even before offering his gift to God, Abel must have built up a record of living according to Jehovah’s standards. That would have been a difficult path to walk. His older brother was unlikely to have been a positive influence—Cain’s heart had become wicked. (1 John 3:12) Abel’s mother had disobeyed a direct command from God, and his father had rebelled against Jehovah, wanting to decide for himself what is good and what is bad. (Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:6) What courage Abel showed to choose a course so different from the one his family pursued!
12. What was a key difference between Cain and Abel?
12 Next, note how the apostle Paul linked the qualities of faith and righteousness. “By faith,” wrote Paul, “Abel offered God a sacrifice of greater worth than that of Cain, and through that faith he received the witness that he was righteous.” (Heb. 11:4) Paul’s words indicate that unlike Cain, Abel was motivated by lifelong, heartfelt faith in Jehovah and in His way of doing things.
13. What does Abel’s example teach us?
13 Abel’s example teaches us that pure worship can come only from a heart that has pure motives—a heart full of faith in Jehovah and in complete agreement with his righteous standards. In addition, we learn that pure worship requires more than a single act of devotion. It involves our whole life, our entire course of conduct.