And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD.
We now come to the first time that an “offering” (a gift to God as part of formal worship by humans) is mentioned in Scripture. As we will see, this account will contrast the offerings of the two brothers, Cain and Abel, and God’s reaction to each one.
This verse indicates that their worship was not random, but came at a specific time—“in the process of time it came to pass.” This can also be translated “at the end of days,” which could imply the end of the week, the end of the year or the end of the harvest. Commentators have different speculations about what this “process of time” represented. Many commentators believe this refers to a formal sacrifice that occurred on the weekly Sabbath.
Whenever it took place, it is likely that there was much that God would have taught this first family that is not recorded in the Bible. They would have been aware of the basic principles of His law. Since “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4) and Romans 4:15 teaches that “where there is no law there is no transgression,” the law must have been understood, at least in its basic form, by the first family. The Bible reveals there can’t be sin without law. Since offerings were brought to God, we can also assume that God instructed the first human beings how to present offerings and why they were necessary.
Cain brought an “offering of the fruit of the ground,” which makes sense since he was a farmer (Genesis 4:2). Though we will see that there was a problem with Cain’s offering, it was not wrong merely because it was from the field instead of the flock. God clearly prescribed agricultural offerings in the sacrificial system He later gave to ancient Israel (Leviticus 2:1-16).
We should also consider the two primary reasons physical offerings were brought to God in the Old Testament:
- To give thanks to God for His blessings and to ask for His continued blessings.
- To atone for and acknowledge one’s personal sins to God (see Adam Clarke’s Commentary of the Bible, note on Genesis 4:3).
As we will see in Wednesday’s Daily Bible Verse Blog post, there was something about Cain’s offering that was not right and that displeased God. It is also interesting to note that after their banishment from the garden, the first family did not totally reject the true God. From events we will read about, unlike righteous Abel (Matthew 23:35), apparently the rest of the family practiced a form of worshipping God through these sacrifices but continued to sin as they formulated their own ways of living, often ignoring God's guidance.
To learn more about the formal system of offerings that God later gave to ancient Israel, read our article on Leviticus.