Commentary of John Mackay’s Interpretation

Italics: John Mackay///Normal: Me

We know from the rest of the story that Cain was an angry and violent man, who resisted God’s counsel, so his attitude was certainly a problem. However, there was more to it than that. How would Abel and Cain have known about offerings and sacrifices? Their parents, witnessed the first sacrifice ever made and observed what God Himself regarded as acceptable.

The biggest problem right away is the historical assumption that all this took place, instead of taking such stories as moral fables. We don’t know whether this was fully historical or partially historical, and it is best to not assume either position; however, Adam and Eve speaking to a serpent with a conscience seems irrational since animals possess no human quality. The assumption might be that it was a fallen angel, but this is a later conception found in later books.

…Yet Adam did disobey and God had every right to kill him and Eve. Adam and Eve realised their disobedience had spoiled their relationship with God, because even before God challenged them, they tried to cover themselves with leaves, i.e. parts of a plant. However, this covering was not accepted by God. Instead, God killed an animal, and shed its blood, in order to provide coverings of skin for Adam and Eve to replace the unacceptable fig leaf coverings.

If God had every right to kill Adam for making a mistake, then He would have failed in the reformation of humanity. And humans would not perceive God as this being of love, but of a strict legalistic entity. If God is indeed omniscient and all-loving, and very resourceful, surely, He could continue forgiving them while correcting them. As for the covering, this is mere speculation of the text. Perhaps, God noticed that such leaves weren’t fit for efficient clothing. Or maybe, He used an animal’s death to teach them about the problem of evil and its severe consequences. Otherwise, all of this is speculation, but I think God is a reformer of minds and purifier of hearts.

As there is no evidence that God spoke to man after Adam’s sin, nor was there any direct communion between God and Cain or Abel, Adam and Eve were the only source of information about sacrifice. So don’t be surprised that Abel brought an animal sacrifice as his offering, and it was accepted. Note also that mankind did not even begin to call upon the Lord’s name until the days of Adam’s Grandson Enosh. Cain’s vegetable offering was rejected, because it did not involve the death of a sacrifice and the shedding of blood.

There is also no direct evidence that God seeks blood oblations as this would imply that God is neither self-sufficient, nor just for killing the innocent for sinners, and definitely neither forgiving via legitimate means. As for Cain’s offering, it should be noted that his character and motives for the offering were rejected instead of the methodology. Even David in the psalms mentions that God doesn’t desire or need blood oblations, but desires a gentle and repentant spirit. Only when offerings are given through a pure heart, are they accepted by God (Psalm 51:16–19). But the reality is, He needs none of it. So, I should be shocked that you think God doesn’t accept Cain due to the methodology of his worship. In summary, He doesn’t need sacrifices, but also doesn’t hate them as an expression of honest worship.

…Eventually God taught the Israelites about the shedding of blood for forgiveness of sin, when He instructed them to put blood on the door-frames of their houses to prevent them from being punished in the same way God punished the Egyptians. He later gave them clear and detailed instructions in the Law of Moses, which were to be implemented throughout the rest of the Old Testament times in anticipation of the one true sacrifice who was to come, i.e. the Saviour Jesus Christ who shed His blood and died for the sin of mankind.

To say that God taught them would be an exaggeration, because the ancient world (specifically the Middle East) had this knowledge regardless of God, so most likely, they learned this from their neighbors as this was pretty common. The text best translates as “the deliverance or release of sins,” which is related to purification, liberty, or healing but not forgiveness. The blood on door frames only applied to the last misfortune, but affecting a minority of people (e.g. the firstborn). The blood of Jesus has nothing to do with sudden forgiveness for sins, but instead, it was about purifying the mind from sin and shame (Hebrews 9:14). He came to save us from sin, not forgive us of sin (Matthew 1:21). Remember, the purgative or deliverance language.

We read in the letter to the Hebrews: “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).

Notice “almost” is used to denote there being an exception to this rule. The fine flour and scapegoat offerings are two prime examples of this. The law of Moses is neither fully divine, nor synonymous to God, but instead, it is a human regulation that God allowed for therapeutic purposes and cultural expressions of worship concerning the sacrificial system. The author is saying that Jesus is a superior cleanser of sin than any ritual purification offerings, and He offers true motivation to live apart from sin.

But the question asked refers to the plant sacrifice allowed under the Law of Moses…But there was one situation where God did accept a plant product in the context of repentance for sin. In Leviticus 5, we read that if someone was so poor that they, or a member of their family, could not provide the minimum blood sacrifice of two pigeons they could bring an offering of one tenth of an ephah of fine flour. This is about two litres — not a large amount, but as people in those days ground their own grain for flour each day, it would have involved some labour to obtain. Stop and ask would such a ‘poverty clause’ have been applicable to Cain in world which had neither drought or flood or famine?

The fact that God gave an exception for offerings of sin already proves that He doesn’t strictly require blood oblations for this appeasement nonsense. Imagine being ignorant of these concepts but maintaining a sense of awe and respect for God. Assume this person deduced that one god existed based on his observation of reality and nature. Would God deem you condemned and unforgivable for eternity over this lousy ritualistic concept? It doesn’t sound merciful and just to any pneumatically logical mind.

…It would not be until the sacrifice of Christ that this Sin problem derived from Adam would really be dealt with. As Paul writes “with one man came sin … so one man had to die.”(Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15).

This is a good way to take verses out of context to fit a narrative, but unconvincing.

At such time when the sins of the whole community (rich and poor) were dealt with by sacrificing an animal with the shedding of its blood, which was then presented by the High Priest to God in the Most Holy Place. Only then was the debt of their sins, intentional or unintentional, regarded as “paid”. Note well — the flour offering did not achieve this!

Formerly, he mentioned the verse in Hebrews, which specifically said that almost everything was purged by blood, implying exceptions to this rule. There is also no sin debt that is ever mentioned in the text. Yes, the High Priest mediated for the poor, but he also mediates for the rich who actually did offer animals, so it can be said that if their fine flour offering was not sufficient, then neither was the animal offered by the rich since the Priest offers regardless. Even Hebrews quoting Isaiah says that not even the blood oblations could take away sin, and the problem wasn’t forgiveness from God, but the problem was lack of mental purification from sin and shame (Hebrews 10:3, 4). Neither fine flour nor blood from animals took away sin from their minds, but the Lord Himself truly motivates the heart away from shame and sin. He even admits that sacrifices were for protection from the angel of death in his article: “God’s law of blood providing a covering for sin was also reinforced by the Passover, which the Israelites were commanded to celebrate every year to remember when the blood of a sacrificed lamb protected them from the Angel of Death in Egypt.” We later find it out that this being is actually Satan, who is an angel and has power over death according to Hebrews 2:14. This matter is not concerning forgiveness from God, but deliverance from sin, death, and the devil. Interestingly, this Jewish account acts as a pneumatic typology for Christus Victor instead of Penal Substitution as an atonement theory.

Now think again, as we ask did any of these ‘grain offering’ requirements apply to Cain? Cain was not poor. He may not have kept animals himself, but he belonged to the family that owned everything on the planet, and he could have easily traded some of his produce for an animal raised by his brother Abel, or he could have gone out and caught an animal from the surrounding environment.

It is irrational for God to expect Cain to offer an animal when he was not a shepherd, but Abel had this expertise. Why did God not make Abel some High priest for people like Cain and his family? It seems inconsistent. God didn’t slay Cain because he offered the wrong offering. Instead, God judged Him in mercy for slaying his brother out of envy. It seems inconsistent if they’re in the presence of God.

Cain had either deliberately not learned, or had deliberately ignored, the “law” that had been given at his time i.e. the teaching from his parents, who had learned it from God, about sin and suitable sacrifices.

I highly doubt Cain was disobedient over something pretty trivial. It seems more rational to suggest that Cain was simply a man with impure motives. He sought to praise God with ulterior motives to be blessed by Him, but God knew his heart and lifestyle. An evildoer like the Pharisees would have obeyed this precept, but even this wouldn’t have honored God. It is easier to obey a ritual method than become a righteous soul. I’m sure Cain would have obeyed this strict method of ritual offerings if this was required of him. But in terms of morality, it seems more probable that Cain was angered because having a pure heart isn’t easily attained as following the right protocols. It is irrational to think that Cain was angered over trivial and ritual disobedience, because such a thing could have been easily obeyed as the writer claims. But it should be noted that becoming a righteous soul is much harder than obeying rituals (go back to the time of Israel), which is a more probable reason for Cain to envy his brother. He was unwilling to change his heart, not change his methodology of worship since even evil Israelites had obeyed only in the ritual level. As the psalmist claimed, it is a broken and contrite heart that the Lord accepts (51:17). Before anyone objects due to the meaning of the Cross, to summarize, Christ sought to reform our minds back to God and purge us from sin (Titus 2:11–14). He helps fallen humanity through moral inspiration and acts as a work of therapy. The Cross is a work of cleansing and a revelation of His constant forgiveness, but it is not a work of legal justification and not a causation of His forgiveness.

Patristic Interpretations

Even the Church Fathers regarded this concept of God needing offerings to be false and folly:

Clement of Rome:The Lord, brethren, stands in need of nothing; and He desires nothing of any one except that confession be made to Him. For, says the elect David, I will confess unto the Lord; and that will please Him more than a young bullock that has horns and hoofs. Let the poor see it, and be glad. And again he says, ‘Offer unto God the sacrifice of praise, and pay your vows unto the Most High. And call upon me in the day of your trouble: I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. For the sacrifice of God is a broken spirit’ ” (1st Clement: Chapter 26).

Mathetes: “They, on the other hand, by thinking to offer these things to God as if He needed them, might justly reckon it rather an act of folly than of divine worship. For He that made heaven and earth, and all that is therein, and gives to us all the things of which we stand in need, certainly requires none of those things which He Himself bestows on such as think of furnishing them to Him” (Epistle to Diognetus: Chapter 3).

Irenaeus: “Rejecting, indeed, those things by which sinners imagined they could propitiate God, and showing that He does Himself stand in need of nothing; but He exhorts and advises them to those things by which man is justified and draws nigh to God. This same declaration does Isaias make: ‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? saith the Lord. I am full’ ” (Against Heresies: Book IV, Chapter XVII).

Athenagoras: “And first, as to our not sacrificing: the Framer and Father of this universe does not need blood, nor the odour of burnt-offerings, nor the fragrance of flowers and incense, forasmuch as He is Himself perfect fragrance, needing nothing either within or without; but the noblest sacrifice to Him is for us to know who stretched out and vaulted the heavens, and fixed the earth in its place like a centre, who gathered the water into seas and divided the light from the darkness, who adorned the sky with stars and made the earth to bring forth seed of every kind, who made animals and fashioned man” (Plea for Christians: Chapter 13).

According to patristic thought and tradition, John Mackay would be wrong in his interpretation of the Old Testament and perception of the Christian God.

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George M. Garcia

George M. Garcia

A writer interested in theology and the supernatural. A Christian with divine experiences and a vast understanding of Scripture.