Why did God reject Cain’s offering? To answer correctly we must start a bit earlier in the story. The curse and calamity that Adam and Eve brought on themselves, and all humanity, is involved. The devil, demons, and those they influence will always be seeking to kill, steal, and destroy Man and Woman. This is because God says the devil will be able to harm their children, but one child will crush his head. Eve will have pain in childbirth and calamity, birthed by sin, will be crouching at the door.
The name Cain reaveals much
While the firstborn causes Eve pain and suffering at birth, he validates her worth. She is able to give her husband a first-born male child. She who helps cause the fall of creation might have some self-esteem issues. Eve gains honor by producing him and takes pride in his worth. As we see in the definition, the word “Cain” she uses to name him signifies, this is the first child. Literally, it also means possession, because he would be qualified as the first child to inherit all the possessions. Eve is a woman of few words, but she is allowed to tell us here the rationale for the name of her firstborn in her own words.
And Adam knew Eve as his wife, and she became pregnant and bore Cain; and she said, I have gotten and gained a man with the help of the Lord. (Genesis 4:2-4 KJV)
The word possession is also inherent in the terms “gotten and gained.” Let’s review her naming decision. Eve: “This child is my prize possession. I have a male child who will inherit. He is the important one. His name even means firstborn and possession.”
Does she value his birthright over his character? Does he learn to do the same? Cain might come to think, “I am the one who will possess everything by birthright. I need not follow all the rules, I do what I want and no one else tells me what to do.
The name Abel reveals more
Think I am reading too much into this first-born thing? Let’s contrast his to the name Eve gave to her second born. She does not comment on him at all, apparently, it is not worth mentioning. Most people do not investigate this, but it helps to unveil the mystery and answer the question, “Why did God reject Cain’s offering?
The name “Abel” is not what you may think from the similar-sounding English word, as in able to do, able worker, able body; no indeed. Abel literally can be translated breath, but far, far more often as, vanity.
In the KVJ Abel appears 73 times – vanity 61, vain 11, altogether vain 1. To Eve, her second son was literally no more valued than the breath already expelled to have him; worthless, no substance, a vapor. The pain endured to produce the firstborn had worth, but to Eve the pain endured to give birth to the second born was spent in vain.
To us, these are hallowed names of Bible figures like Joseph or David, but to them, they were hearing the meaning and the message in the name while they heard the name spoken. If we say, Joe, we do not make a value judgment. If we call him Shorty, we look to see if it is an appropriate moniker. Cain grows up all his life answering to the name, “Mr. First Born, my valued possession, my inheritance.” By contrast, he hears his mother and father call his brother “Mr. worthless, vain endeavor, thin air, pain in the ….” Did this have an impact on his perception of their relative value and worth? Absolutely.
Thanksgiving starts in the beginning
The boys part company. One goes into animal husbandry. The other, who greatly values and believes he will one day own the land, tills the ground, and becomes a farmer. However, at Thanksgiving sometimes you must show up at mama’s house and spend time with family members you would rather not dine with. They were forced to come together again.
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. (Genesis 4:2-4 KJV)
Then as now, there was a harvest event set forth as an important time to all come together. Despite the fall they remember God has provided for them year after year. They are to thank God for His care, provision, and remember their blessings. God could not take back their disobedience that caused them to be aware of nakedness. Still, He shed the blood of an animal and used its skin to make a covering for Adam and Eve. This foreshadows covenant blessings and obligations seen throughout millennia. The practice of bringing an animal to stand in the place of mankind and cover their sins was in place.
Why so much respect for Abel’s offering?
Cain and Abel come together to give an offering to God. One tends sheep, so he brings a sheep. The other tills the ground, so he decides to bring the fruit of the ground instead. That may seem fair and right, but it is not.
And the Lord had respect and regard for Abel and for his offering,
but for Cain and his offering He had no respect or regard. So Cain was exceedingly angry and indignant, and he looked sad and depressed. (Genesis 4:4-5 AMPC)
Unbiblical reasoning abounds on this subject.
“Hey,” we might say, “That is not fair! Why did God play favorites? Why did God choose one brother’s offering over the other? Poor Cain. Did they not both do their best?
Some say we do not know why God had respect only for Abel’s offering. They say “We do not know why God did what He did, but you never know what God is going to do. Meat is almost always more valuable. Perhaps Cain should have also brought a salad, fruit cake, and apple pie? Sometimes God does things we just do not understand.”
All kidding aside, you might come away from this traditional take on the story apprehensive. Are your works good enough to please God? You could do your best, bring it to God, and He might decide that it is just not good enough.
Anger management and a failed intervention
And the Lord said to Cain, Why are you angry? And why do you look sad and depressed and dejected? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin crouches at your door; its desire is for you, but you must master it. (Genesis 4:6-7 AMPC)
God clearly lets us know that Cain did know what to do and pleads with him to just do the right thing. Remember the enemy? The devil capitalizes on Cain’s anger and sees a way to eliminate both of the sons of Adam and Eve, preventing his demise. Just have Cain act unrightfully and kill the righteous one. So the devil played on Cain’s disdain for his brother to do away with both of them.
After our word study on names and having looked at their upbringing, there can be no mistake. The self-important Cain, who trusted in his being firstborn as the basis of why he was always due respect and regard, was exceedingly angry and indignant. Yet, his esteemed-as-worthless brother’s offering was highly esteemed, highly regarded, and accepted by God. Cain was given no respect and no regard.
Abel, Mr. Worthless, was accepted because he knew that the work of his hands had nothing to do with having his sins covered, his covenant honored, and the continued acceptance of God.
Why did God reject Cain’s offering?
Did Cain know what was an acceptable sacrifice, but refuse to give it? Absolutely. That is why God did reject Cain’s offering. At that last minute, even after the wrong sacrifice was made, God went to Cain and told him that if he would make the proper sacrifice, it would be accepted. My guess, it became unacceptable to Cain to have to go to his “worth less than exhaled breath” brother and barter to pay him the acceptable fee for a lamb each year.
So, this year, Cain would show that his work brought forth a bounty that was worth just as much or more than a dumb lamb. Be that accurate or not, Cain refused to come with the proper blood covenant sacrifice and substituted the work of his own hands. We must rely on the sacrifice lamb, not on our own works. Fortunately for us, Jesus is the sacrifice lamb. His blood not only covers our sin, it eliminates it.
 Strong’s Dictionary: h1892. הֶבֶל heḇel; or (rarely in the abs.) הֲבֵל habel; from h1891; emptiness or vanity; figuratively, something transitory and unsatisfactory; often used as an adverb: — x altogether, vain, vanity.