What's for dinner tonight? We're having leftover spaghetti and meatballs at the Corwin house, which should have everyone running to the table! If I'm being honest, they weren't that great the first time around, but they still get an encore. So what do leftover spaghetti and meatballs have to do with Cain and Abel?
As I prepared to write this week, I re-read the story in Genesis 4 and asked God to reveal new insights from a familiar narrative. There are many possible themes on which to latch: sibling rivalry, murder, atonement for sin, God's wrath. But God grabbed my attention with His response to the offerings presented by Cain and Abel. What did each brother offer? Why was one accepted and the other rejected? And how can I apply that to strengthening my relationship with my family?
Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.
“Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” (Genesis 2:4-7)
The riff between the brothers started when God rejected Cain's offering while accepting Abel's. Though we are not told specifically why God rejected it, there are implied possibilities.
Because He Can?
God is sovereign and doesn't need a reason, but we also know Him to be a God of love and order, so I can't help but wonder. My first though was that it may have been because Cain offered a portion of his crops while Abel offered a blood sacrifice. We know that blood is the cost of sin, but these were offerings, or gifts, not sacrifices.
Might it have been the attitude with which each gift was made? Maybe the reason for the rejection is left out of the text because it was a reason known only to God and Cain. Maybe Cain brought the gift reluctantly or grudgingly -- without joy. Maybe that is the reason Cain's gift angered God.
It might have been the quality of the gifts that distinguished them. No comment is made about the quality of Cain's gift, only referring to it as, "some of his crops." That description seems to condemn with faint praise, especially when compared to the description of Abel's gift, "the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock."
We're given a little more to go on in Hebrews 11:4, "By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous."
I think it was a combination of Cain's bad attitude or joyless heart which compelled him to give a lesser-quality gift to God. And God was angered by both.
I think Cain offered God his leftovers.
We know we are to offer our best to God -- He deserves no less. I also know that a tremendous amount of conflict is caused when I give my leftovers to my family -- when I give less than my best to my husband and my daughter.
I'm ashamed to admit that I speak to my family in a tone and with words that I wouldn't use with a stranger. All day long -- at the coffee shop, the bank, in the office, in line at the supermarket -- I put a smile on my face, greeting strangers warmly and politely. Sometimes, by the time I get home, all I have to give is leftovers.
I snap at my daughter because the towels haven't been taken out of the drier and folded. I respond curtly when my husband welcomes me home and asks about my day. I've always struggled with a short temper, but I do a better job of controlling it around people I don't even know and casual acquaintances than I do with my own family. I come home tired, hungry, and easily agitated. My tank is on empty and I can't manage to muster anything of value to give to the people I love most.
The quality of my gift to them says a lot about the heart with which it is given, doesn't it? My husband and our marriage is second only to my relationship with Christ in importance. My husband deserves my best, given joyfully. And my daughter has been entrusted to me by God, who has charged us as her parents with the task of raising her to know Him and to become a strong woman of character herself.
When I present them offerings that are not of the quality they deserve with a joyless heart, I risk rejection, which could come in a number of ways.
If I withhold my best from my husband, our marriage could suffer, or worse, fail. I could cause my husband to resent me and possibly even damage his relationship with God. Proverbs 21:19 reads, “It is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and an angry woman.”
If I consistently give my leftovers to my daughter, she may rebel from the way we've tried to raise her. She may feel that her mother, who should be her strongest ally, is more of an antagonist. Proverbs 31:28 reads of children and their mother, “Her children arise up and call her blessed."
If I give less than my best with a lack of joy, I can expect to be rejected. Cain, "became very angry," and God asked him why.
God warned Cain (and us) in vs. 7, "You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master."
As I walk in our front door this evening, I know sin will be crouching at door -- maybe more so there than anywhere else. My guard is down in my own home and the enemy hopes to take advantage of my fatigue, my hunger, my humanness to tempt me to offer an inferior gift to my family. But I must be on guard, or, "watch out!" as the Scripture warns.
I write this from the point of view of a woman, wife, and mother, because that's who I am. But we can all learn from it and how it applies to our relationships with members of our families and with others in the family of God -- our brothers and sisters in Christ!
I must give my best to God and to my family.
No more leftovers.