In the book of Genesis we read the story of Cain and Abel (two of Adam and Eve’s sons). The first thing that we read about them is in regard to their offerings to the LORD.
Genesis 4:3 “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect.”
So there is clearly something about Abel’s offering that pleased God, and something about Cain’s offering that did not please God. In order to figure this out, we must turn to God’s Word. There are four very important things we must understand in order to interpret this passage correctly.
1: We must understand that all descendants of Adam are sinners (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12). And since Cain and Abel (just like you and me) were descendants of Adam, they fell into that group.
2: We must understand that God is Righteous (Psalm 7:9, Psalm 145:17). He is also Loving and Forgiving (1 John 1:9), but He never lays one attribute aside as He picks up another. He is always righteous. He is never unrighteous.
3: We must understand that the punishment for our sin is death (Romans 6:23). This “death” is defined as separation from God. Yes, eventually physical death is also a result, but the eternal separation from God is the worst part of it. This is why the LORD said to Abel in Genesis 4:7 “…and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.”
4: We must understand that “without shedding of blood is no remission [forgiveness of sin]” (Hebrews 9:22).
Once we understand the four points above, we see why God has put such an emphasis on blood and sacrifice throughout the entire Bible. In order to have fellowship with our Holy God … in order to approach Him … in order to enjoy His favor … in order to be justified … in order to LIVE there must be blood sacrificed.
Although the blood of animals did not take away the sin of men, they pointed to the One who could (and did), the Lord Jesus Christ! And they stood as a reminder for the absolute necessity of a Perfect Substitute (Hebrews 10:1-4).
God has required blood from the beginning. In the story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21) we read how God shed the first blood for Adam and Eve, when he made coats of skins and clothed them. Those coats of skins were the first picture of how the Lord Jesus, as the Lamb of God, should die for sin, that we might be clothed with the righteousness of God in Him (Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 132:9, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Throughout the history of man, we read of God’s people shedding blood to temporarily atone for their sin. But without the eternal atonement that the Lord Jesus accomplished on the cross, those animal sacrifices would have been meaningless. His blood ETERNALLY atoned for the sins of all who put their faith in Him!
Hebrews 9:12 – Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
So why was the LORD pleased with Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s?
Because blood was shed with Abel’s. But no blood was shed with Cain’s. And on top of that, Cain’s offering came from the cursed ground (Genesis 3:17)!
This passage is a clear message that our own works, done as an attempt to justify ourselves, are worthless to our Holy God. Cain worked HARD to prepare his offering. He prepared the seeds. He tilled the ground. He sowed the seeds. He nurtured the plants. He pulled weeds. Finally, he harvested the fruit. Then he gathered it all and brought it to the LORD. SURELY, God would be pleased with his good work. He worked HARD!
But it didn’t please God at all. Cain was relying on his own good works to please God, without the shedding of blood.
Abel realized that there was nothing he could do in order to please God. He understood that there must be blood.
There is, however, one very important thing to understand. The blood of the Perfect Lamb, the Lord Jesus, only justifies (counts righteous) those who have put their faith in Him.
Faith involves taking God at His Word (which always involves repentance of sin) and trusting alone in the finished work (the blood shed by the Perfect Lamb) that HE (not you by your works) accomplished at Calvary, on the cross (Romans 4:5, Romans 11:6, Romans 3:24-25).
Just as the blood of the paschal lamb had to be applied to the lintel and the side posts of the doors (Exodus 12:21-23), the blood of the Lord Jesus must be applied to your heart. And that can only happen by taking God at His Word and trusting alone in Jesus Christ as your Savior. (Click this link to read more about what saving faith is.)