Thinking Out Loud

December 10, 2012

Worship War Leads to Murder

Yesterday our pastor referenced Genesis chapter 4, and as I considered the story of Cain and Abel, I thought it interesting that the first recorded act of worship in scripture ends in murder. It is easy to get caught up in tertiary interpretations of the text, and I don’t for a minute want to suggest that this ‘meat versus vegetables’ distinction is in any way related to our modern ‘hymns versus choruses’ worship wars; I only want to note in passing that the one of mankind’s darkest moments — that murder should enter the story so early on — was preceded by an act of worship.

Gen 4 (NLT) : 3 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, 5 but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.

6 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

8 One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.


Hebrews 11 (ESV) : 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.

I thought it best to bring in the heavy artillery here to look at what this passage does say, so I consulted several of my print commentaries.

The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible observes: “Abel is a shepherd and Cain is a farmer. Both brothers bring offerings to the Lord suitable to their vocations. There is no indication in the text that one offering is inferior to the other.” (p. 15)

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary notes: “No reason is given here for the rejection [by the Lord]. And the scripture does not tell us how God indicated his disapproval. It may be that fire fell from heaven and consumed the accepted offering but left the other untouched. Some have thought that Can’s offering was rejected because Cain failed to perform the proper ritual. Others have advanced the idea that the nature of the gifts made the difference — the one being flesh and involving death and bloodshed. (See Heb 9:22) …Because Abel was a man of faith, he came in the right spirit and presented worship that pleased God. We have reason to believe that Abel had some realization of his need for substitutionary atonement. To all appearances both offerings expressed gratitude, thanksgiving and devotion to God. But the man who lacked genuine faith in his heart could not please God even though the material gift was spotless. God did not look upon Cain because He had already looked at him and seen what was in his heart. Abel came to God in the right attitude of heart for worship and in the only way sinful men can approach a Holy God. Cain did not.” (p..9)

The International Bible Commentary states: “We are now introduced to a series of events showing us how quickly the results of The Fall were revealed. As was said in [chapter] 3 [verse] 7, the first effects of sin were seen in the family and it is entirely consistent with this that the first murder is fratricide… No suggestion of previous tension between the brothers is mentioned… [Both sacrifices] were the recognition of Yahweh’s lordship. Both gave of what they had, and so Leupold is certainly correct in saying, ‘Those who see the merit of Abel’s sacrifice in the fact that it was bloody certain do so without the least warrant from the text.’” (pp. 118-119)

The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible continues: “Cain is very angry and his face is downcast. Cain is the first angry and depressed man in the Bible. He should be able, however, to overcome those feelings before they overcome him…” Cain kills Abel in the field… First man fell out of relationship with God. Now he falls out of relationship with his brother. How can Cain love god whom he cannot see, when he cannot love Abel whom he can see?” (p. 15)

Again, I don’t want to get lost in secondary interpretations, but I hope the worship wars in your church never proceed to this level. I hope that what we bring and have to offer to God is brought with right attitudes, right motivation, and according to the standards God has set. Remember, “Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”

– - – Previously published at Christianity 201 – - -

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