First Things First

Read Genesis 4:1-7.

As we dig deeper into the discussion we began on Sunday morning, let’s consider the two following thoughts.

  1. “In the course of time” (v. 3)
  2. “he had no regard” (v. 5)

“In the course of time…” (v. 3)

We assume these five small words in English to be rather unimportant. They sound, at first glance, to be a casual way to introduce the story we are about to encounter. Much like fairy-tales begin with “Once upon a time”. However, if we pause for a moment we see Cain’s “flaw in the intention of the giver” (see note on Gen. 4:5).  Perhaps these five words give us a bit of a glimpse into the mind and heart of Cain, and maybe ourselves.

Verse 3 (especially when compared to v. 4) seems to suggest, at the very least, that giving was not a priority for Cain, both in WHEN he gave and in WHAT he gave. He gave when he “got around to it”. He gave something, but the sacrificial aspect in his giving must have been missing. All of these reflect the poor condition of Cain’s heart.

We often seek to cover up the condition of our hearts with an excuse. That’s what happens in Genesis 3:12 when God inquires to Adam about why he’s recently discovered his nakedness. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” The woman follows the same thought when she says, “The serpent deceived me…” What did Adam and Eve do? They tried to cover their sin by clothing themselves and hiding from God’s presence.

What was David’s initial reaction upon learning that Bathsheba had become pregnant? He sought to cover up his rebellion.

Too often, our first inclination is to respond to sin by 1) covering it up, and 2) making excuses.

Can we be honest for a moment? What excuses do you use for not giving?

1) I can’t pay my monthly bills as it is, much less give any extra. We often quirk, “There’s too much month at the end of the money?”

2) I need just a little more income, then I’ll be able to give. Maybe you tell yourself that you’ll start giving when your financial situation improves.

3) I plan on giving as soon as I pay off _________.

4) My past financial mistakes keep me from giving.

This list could keep going I’m sure. We don’t have time to dive into each and every excuse. Let’s just summarize be noting, “Any excuse will do when you’re looking for one.”

Paul said, “in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money…(2 Tim. 3:1-5). Here again, we see Paul linking together money and the heart. If we’re honest, let’s just admit that the absence of giving is a symptom of a deeper problem.

2. “he had no regard…” (v. 5)

Cain did not bring the firstfruits…he brought only “some” of his crop (v. 3). This is contrasted with the offering of Abel (“but Abel”), who brought not only “some” of his “firstborn”…but the best of the animal, the fatty portions (v. 4).

It has been suggested that the parallel language “some of the fruits of the soil” and “some of the firstborn of his flock” insinuates that Cain also brought the best of his offerings. Yet the passage is intent on showing the contrast between the two men. Also interpreting Cain as stingy conforms with (these verses) depiction of his self-absorbed attitude (4:7) and his absence of conscience (4:13). We think the absence of “firstfruits” for Cain (would naturally be associated) with Seth’s “firstborn” (and) would not have been lost on the Mosaic audience.

God’s response toward Cain and Abel, therefore, was not due to the nature of the gift per se, whether it was grain or animal, but the integrity of the giver. The narrative ties together the worshiper and his offering as God considers the merit of their individual worship: “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor” (vv. 4–5). Both giver and gift were under the scrutiny of God. Cain’s offering did not measure up because he retained the best of his produce for himself. For the writer to the Hebrews (11:4), Abel’s offering was accepted because it was offered in faith. As Luther noted, “The faith of the individual was the weight which added value to Abel’s offering.” Unlike a human observer, God sees the condition of the human heart and weighs the motive of the worshiper (e.g., 1 Sam 16:7). Elsewhere Scripture shows that the Lord requires of the giver an obedient and upright heart (e.g., 1 Sam 15:14; Hos 6:6; Matt 5:24).*

You see, the issue of giving involves both WHAT we give and HOW we give it? Take this week to reflect on your habits of giving. In what areas might you struggle? Without going too far out on a limb, I assume we all struggle with giving in different areas and in different ways. Perhaps it is in the frequency of your giving? Perhaps it is in the amount? I can’t answer these questions for you, but if we take a moment and are honest with God, I’m sure the Spirit will speak to each of us.


* A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 268.

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