“And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD. And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. 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. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.” (Genesis 4:1-5 KJV)
How many times have we read these verses and then immediately begin to analyze the necessity of the shed blood of the lambs which Able brought? We are correct to do so. However, before we even get that far, many people question what seems like an arbitrary preference that God has for Able’s offering over that of Cain’s. Let me ask a simple question. Why was Able a keeper of sheep? Think about this for a second. This is a singularly different circumstance than say Esau’s preference for game over the talents that Jacob was given. This is a particularly unique period of time that Cain and Able lived in. Jump ahead a little (five chapters) from the time of Cain and Able to the time of Noah. After Noah came out of the arch, he was given permission from God for something unique that God had not previously given permission for. “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” (Genesis 9:3 KJV) Now compare that with what God had told Adam and Eve. “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” (Genesis 1:29 KJV) God has just extended what is acceptable to mankind for food! Mankind is now not just a vegetarian, but can legally join the carnivores. But wait! Cain and Able are well before Noah’s time. What is Able doing keeping sheep? Would Cain not seem the more righteous showing up with an offering to the Lord of something they were permitted to eat?
This is now where a very important distinction is made. What else can be obtained from sheep? Wool! Able did not just know the importance of the cleansing power of the lamb verses the sacrifice of the fruit of your labors. Able knew instinctively the need for clothing. Only being one generation away from sin entering into the race of mankind, Able better understood the shame of nakedness and the necessity to provide clothing for everyone. Able was serving God by providing clothing for those who were naked just like he had heard of God doing for his parents (see Genesis 3:21). Cain on the other hand was a victim of the same desire that turned his mother (and later his father) away from what God had commanded. Cain noticed that the fruit was good for food. While Cain certainly was living out God’s instruction to work the ground (see Genesis 2:5, 2:15, and 3:17,18), he was interested in being feed. Is it not powerful to see that even from the earliest generations that evil devours? It causes us to look at the properties of what God has made and see a source of food for our ravenous desires. Desires that reshape everything around us into a perspective that gives everything value based on how well it can feed us. Hence Cain’s inability to master his desire (see Genesis 4:7) and God’s removal of any further fruitfulness from the ground to Cain (see Genesis 4:12). Remember one of the big differences between a sheep and a wolf is the strategy they use to obtain food. The wolf hunts in a pack with great strategy to pick out the weak and slow. The sheep knows his master’s voice and patiently follows him trusting in his protection until he is brought to greener pastures.
Yet to those who put aside this desire and look intently at the Lord, they are clothed. Jesus said it best much later in Matthew. “When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:38-40 KJV) Is it really beneficial to try to manage your food rather than surrender to He who is able to cloth you with righteousness?
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” (Colossians 3:12, 13 KJV)