Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16)
The story of Cain and Abel is the first following right after the events of the fall. The story of the fall is full of despair and fear of the uncertain future. Humanity lost everything: relationships (God and among themselves), home, and future. However, here a new story begins with a bright and new hope.
The new hope is expressed in the introduction to the story (Gen 4:1-2). It resonates with the promise of an offspring a woman will bear who will conquer the evil. However, this information is very brief and the story goes rather a disastrous way.
The most puzzling and often debated portion of the story is the offering part (Gen 4:3-5) dealing with the offering of both brothers. A primary word used here for the offering is mincha (h. מִנְחָה). On other places in the Old Testament, this word is usually used to denote grain offering, however, in this text, its general meaning “gift” or “offering” is employed. This is due to the different character of both offerings thus forcing general meaning. This conclusion is drawn from various reasons. it is supported by a verbal form of the word mincha which is מנח meaning “to give”. Further, this offering in the meaning of grain offering excludes any slaying (compare with other offerings in Lev 1-7).
Very plausible solution for the understanding of the story can be drawn from the assumption that there was something in the character of the offerer. God warned Cain about doing good to conquer sin (Gen 4:6-7). What was really in his heart is manifested later in the act of murder.
This idea is also supported by the grammar of Gen 4:2-4. In both cases, the same verb “to bring” (h. בוא) and verbal stem (Hiphil) is used to describe the actions of the brothers. However, each having a different verbal aspect. In the case of Cain, imperfect aspect is employed, and in the case of Abel, perfect aspect is employed. The reason for this difference is stylistic to show that both are doing the same thing but differently and we are not told explicitly what it is. Moreover, in the New Testament, there is an allusion to this text in Hebrews 11:4 making case for the quality of faith - also something inner.
Nonetheless, it should be given justice to the following content of the story (Gen 4:6-16) which is too often disregarded. This is especially because the focus of the story is not primarily on the question of proper or improper offering but rather what is going on with Cain, who actually is the main character of the story.