A few weeks ago, I offered some comments on God as Creator of all things visible and invisible. All that exists has the Lord God as its source including us. With this is mind, there is nothing we can offer to God that does not already belong to Him, with the exception of our “free will.” Thus, while we belong to Him, we must freely choose to surrender ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice.
The first reference to an offering to God is found in Genesis 4:1-8. “Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, ‘I have gotten a manchild with the help of the Lord.’ Again, she gave birth to his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time (literally, at the end of days) that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up (literally, surely you will be accepted)? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’ Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”
One will readily notice that the passage makes reference to the Lord regarding—or, better said, accepting—Abel as well as his offering unto the Lord and that Cain and his offering were not. This should raise a red flag for us. Why would God be pleased with one and his offering, but not with the other and his offering? A careful reading and examination of the passage will disclose why. When we look at Cain’s offering, the literal reading is, he brought of the fruit of the ground at the end of days. The implication is that at the end of the time of harvest he brought what was left. He was not offering the first and choicest of the fruits—i.e., his very best—but that which was left at the end of the season. Having a tomato garden, I know the tomatoes at the beginning of the season are absolutely beautiful, plump and tasty. Those at the end of the season often are of a much poorer quality, with blotches, splits, cracks and holes. Many are simply not even edible. Thus Cain was not offering his very best to God, but after he himself enjoyed the best for himself, he offered the very poorest quality of the produce to God. One could almost say he ate the corn and offered to God the husks!
On the other hand, we are told that Abel brought of the firstlings of the flock. He brought young healthy lambs and their fat. So in contrast to Cain, Abel offers the first and the best, not an old goat that was gasping for breath.
There are several important points to observe from this passage. One is able to offer to God from how he makes his living, from the work of his hands—i.e., livestock if one is a shepherd, or produce if one is a farmer. What we offer is a direct reflection of our attitude towards God. The idea of offering the “first fruits” is intimately intertwined with the concept of offering our very best to God, before we decide what we will keep for ourselves. It is the basic acknowledgement that it all comes from Him and belongs to Him. Thus what we offer is an expression of our gratitude for all of His bountiful blessings. Certainly, whatever is offered should be the very best, and not simply what is left over or unusable. Abel offered his very best as an expression his gratitude, as he recognized God had blessed him with the increase of his flocks. Cain on the other hand gave begrudgingly and only after he had already enjoyed the very best for himself. The offering was unacceptable because it was not offered with a proper disposition and certainly was not worthy of offering to God.
If we love, honor and respect someone, do we not want to offer our very best? If one invites his or her priest to dinner after Theophany or a loved one, he does not clean out the front of the refrigerator and look for all the old food from the back to serve his guest. One would not dig through the freezer for something that has been in there entirely too long. One would likely make a special trip to the store and search for the freshest and best ingredients.
As we ponder our own offerings, do we offer God the first fruits of our labors, or what we have left after we have consumed the best portion for ourselves? Offering the “first fruits” is an act of worship and a conscious decision to give the very best to God before we decide what we will keep for ourselves. It all belongs to Him. Does our giving reflect our love, honor, respect and gratitude for God’s manifold blessings in our lives? Are we like Cain? Or, are we like Abel?
As we move through Scripture, we will note that the offering of the “first fruits” was one-tenth of that with which God had blessed them. And the offering was to be without spot or blemish.