|Cain and Abel – Titian
oil on canvas, 1542-1544
Santa Maria della Salute, Venice
The seemingly arbitrary rejection of Cain’s offering and acceptance of his brother Abel’s offering outlined in Genesis 4 has long been a source of contention for non-believers. They say this passage speaks of a capricious God that is unpredictable and vindictive.
Yet though we readily recognize the Messianic symbolism of Abel’s offering, the Mosaic law did allow for bloodless offerings. It was more the attitude that accompanied Cain's offering, than the nature of the offering, which made it unacceptable. This is taught with greater clarity in the Pearl of Great Price than in any translation of the Bible or it’s accompanying commentaries.
And Cain loved Satan more than God. And Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord. And in the 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 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. Now Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. (Moses 5:18-21)
It is argued that Cain had a bad attitude from the start, but when he (and to a lesser extent, his offering) was rejected, he lost it completely. To say he ‘was very wroth’ in our vernacular is understatement. One commentary translates this phrase literally as “it burned with Cain exceedingly”.
The account in Genesis describes things rapidly going downhill from this point. But before that point of no return, there was a moment when God reached out to Cain. I found it helpful to consider other biblical translations of Genesis 4:7 which describes this moment.
If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except though shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him; (Moses 5:23)
Ultimately, Cain 'rejected the greater counsel which was held of God’ (Moses 5:25) and remained ‘wroth, and listened not anymore to the voice of the Lord’ (Moses 5:26). This was no crime of passion, but rather obstinate rejection of the outreached hand of the Lord, preferring instead to ‘glory in his wickedness’ (Moses 5:31) in the company of Satan. It is the first recorded Faustian pact in history. Cain didn’t become Perdition by falling victim to some unseen predator lurking in the doorway. He chose it.
Although Cain’s fall was foreseeable, it was still preventable: do well and be accepted, otherwise sin lies at the door.