3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord.
4 Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering,
5 but He did not respect Cain and his offering. And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.
6 So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?
7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
Abel’s offering implies a previous instruction, for it was “by faith” (Hebrews 11:4), and faith is taking God at His word; so that Cain’s unbloody offering was a refusal of the divine way. — Scofield, page 9.
They [Cain and Abel] were both grown men … It is, therefore, quite probable that the offerings described in these verses were not the first ones offered by these two brothers. Rather, it must have become a regular practice, at certain definite periods of time, possibly on the Sabbath. The words in the Hebrew—literally, “at the end of the days”—seem to suggest this. Since this was the first occasion on which Cain received a rebuke, it would be inferred that his previous offerings had been acceptable to God.
The Bible does not actually say specifically whether such sacrifices had been commanded by God, or whether the practice arose merely as a spontaneous expression of thanksgiving and worship. If it was the latter, however, it is difficult to understand why God would not have been as pleased with an offering of Cain’s fruit as with an offering of Abel’s slain lamb. It seems more likely that God did give instructions, and that Cain had disobeyed. The entire occurrence can only be really understood in the context of an original revelation by God regarding the necessity of substitutionary sacrifice as a prerequisite to approaching God. …
Cain himself had probably purchased from Abel a sheep for his own sacrifice each time they came to the appointed place. There came a time, however, when Cain began to resent this situation and finally decided to rebel against it. … At any rate, his heart was not right before the Lord, and his offering was not in faith as was his brother’s. Therefore, God rejected his gift. — Morris, pages 136-137.
Cain’s “glance” (a better rendering than “countenance”) had been haughty, but now it “fell” and he became bitterly angry. Though perhaps up to this point in his life, he may have seemed outwardly pious and obedient toward God, this incident finally revealed the inward pride and resentment that must have been festering in his heart for some time. The resentment was directed not only at God, but also at his brother Abel. Abel was an outward symbol of the fact that Cain’s works were not adequate to get him into God’s presence (since he must obtain Abel’s sheep for this purpose). — Morris, page 137-138.
In spite of Cain’s bitter anger, God graciously promised that he would yet be accepted if he would only “do well,” which undoubtedly meant to “obey His word.” If he continued in rebellion, however, “sin” (and this is the first use of the word in Scripture) was “crouching at his door.” — Morris, page 138.
Cain offered to Jehovah the fruit of a cursed earth, and that, moreover, without any blood to remove the curse. He presented “an unbloody sacrifice,” simply because he had no faith. … No doubt reason might say, What more acceptable offering could a man present than that which he had produced by the labor of his hands and the sweat of his brow? Reason, and even man’s religious mind, may think thus, but God things quite differently; and faith is always sure to agree with God’s thoughts. God teaches, and faith believes, that there must be a sacrificed life, else there can be no approach to God. — Mackintosh, pages 62-63.
“God is not worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything”; and yet Cain thought He could be thus approached—and every mere religionist thinks the same. — Mackintosh, page 64.
No doubt faith will produce feelings and sentiments—spiritual feelings and truthful sentiments—but the fruits of faith must never be confounded with faith itself. I am not justified by feelings, nor yet by faith and feelings, but simply by faith. And why? Because faith believes God when He speaks—it takes Him at His word; it apprehends Him as He has revealed Himself in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is life, righteousness and peace. To apprehend God as He is, is the sum of all present and eternal blessedness. When the soul finds out God, it has found out all it can possibly need, here or hereafter; but He can only be known by His own revelation, and by the faith which He Himself imparts, and which, moreover, always seeks divine revelation as its proper object.
Thus, then, we can, in some measure, enter into the meaning and power of the statement, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” Cain had no faith, and therefore he offered an unbloody sacrifice: Abel had faith, and therefore he offered both “blood” and “fat,” which, in type, set for the presentation of the life, and also the inherent excellency of the Person of Christ. — Mackintosh, pages 69-70.
Of Abel we read that “God testified of his gifts.” He did not bear witness to Abel, but to Abel’s sacrifice; and this fixes, distinctly, the proper ground of a believer’s peace and acceptance before God.
There is a constant tendency in the heart to ground our peace and acceptance upon something in or about ourselves, even though we admit that that something is wrought by the Holy Ghost. Hence arises the constant looking in, when the Holy Ghost would ever have us looking out. The question for every believer is not, What am I? but, What is Christ? — Mackintosh, pages 71-72.
Had Abel been accepted on the ground of aught in himself, then, indeed, Cain’s wrath, and his fallen countenance, would have had some just foundation; but inasmuch as he was accepted exclusively on the ground of his offering, and inasmuch as it was not to him, but to his gift, that Jehovah bore testimony, his wrath was entirely without any proper basis. This is brought out in Jehovah’s word to Cain—”If thou doest well, (or, as the LXX reads it, “if thou offer correctly”) shalt thou not be accepted?” The well-doing had reference to the offering. Abel did well by hiding himself behind an acceptable sacrifice: Cain did badly by bringing an offering without blood; and all his after-conduct was but the legitimate result of his false worship. — Mackintosh, pages 73-74.
[Cain] is a type of the many in these times who will descant upon the benevolence and love the the Creator, and are ever ready to laud Him for those attributes, and claim the benefit of them, without any reference to their own unworthiness and sinful condition, without a thought of that perfect holiness and justice which are as much elements of the mind of God as love itself. — Pember, page 181.
What does John mean when he says that Cain was of the wicked one? [For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous (1 John 3:11-12)] The Spirit means to bring out the idea that Cain was not only an ugly fratricide, but a tool of Satan to make an immediate and deadly attack upon the promised seed of the woman, but as usual, Satan overshot the mark for God made the death of Abel and wonderful picture of Calvary and gave Seth as a picture of the risen Savior (Genesis 4:25), who became a father of a holy seed after the cruel death of the innocent one. — Bultema, page 22.
Only recently have I heard the take on this passage that the problem with Cain’s offering wasn’t that it didn’t involve blood, but that Cain had the wrong attitude. In other words, Cain’s fruit would have been acceptable to God if his heart had been in the right place. I can’t see it. There’s no denying that Cain didn’t have the right attitude, and that he should have. But if the problem was Cain’s attitude alone, then his standing before God would be based on his own performance—his works. But a sacrifice of blood isn’t acceptable based on the performance of the person doing the sacrifice, but rather on the work of Christ on the cross.