I’m currently working on a talk reflecting on Genesis 4. Specifically I’ve been wrestling with how to make sense of the “reguard” that God shows to Abel and his offering, but not to Cain and his offering. To many people, God appears to be playing favourites It seems completely arbitrary as to why God accepts one sacrifice and not the other.
Upon reflection, I’m convinced that there is no hint in the text that God’s response has anything to do with the actual content of the offerings themselves (veggies vs veal). The text says nothing about how GOD FEELS about the content of the offerings, and instead focusses on how CAIN FEELS concerning God's lack of recognition. Note: God is not angry, nor does he actually condemn the content of Cain’s offering as he does in the case of other unacceptable offerings in the Old Testament.
1. I think that Genesis wants us to ponder WHY Cain is so furious. It seems Cain had reasoned (consciously or otherwise) that his offering would somehow place God in his debt. Cain's anger springs from the disjunction between the reguard he believed God owes him, and the reguard God ultimately ends up showing.
Borrowing James' botanical imagery about the genesis of sin: Cain's sense of being owed God's reguard was "the seed" from which both i) his despondency, and ii) Abel’s murder, would grow. Was this the sin that had already been crouching at Cain's door, even as he offered his gift?
This passage perhaps gives us pause to consider whether our own anger (or down-heartedness) comes from the same place: the lack of what we consider appropriate recognition from God, for all we've offered him.
2. I have little doubt that some of my most impressive public actions, even those things for which others have praised me, will leave God utterly unmoved. Yet I also have a hunch that some of what I consider my least impressive or significant moments will be the things that God most honours (if he sees fit to honour anything of mine at all). Could it be that God will pay no reguard to what I’ve honoured most highly, and honour that which I’ve despised.
Such is the majesty of the God who exalts the humble and brings the proud down low!
As the psalmist reflects in Psalm 51:16-17
You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it; You are not pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. God, you do not despise a broken and humbled heart.