God taught the sacrifices and meanings to Adam and the knowledge was passed down
Q. Could you explain what is going on in Gen 4.1-8 with the story of Cain and Abel?
A. This is a very interesting story and there is a lot going on, so we’ll look at this verse by verse so the proper context can be brought out.
Cain and Abel were brothers by Adam and Eve.
They had other siblings (Gen 5.4) not named in Scripture because it wasn’t important.
Abel was a shepherd and Cain was a farmer and in v3 it says they both came to give offerings "at the end of days" in Hebrew which means it could have been a Sabbath or the end of a particular time span.
Knowledge of the type of offerings God required will needed here to understand what is going on and you must look up the words in Hebrew being used here.
A good study of the book of Leviticus will bring that out, so it won’t be discussed here, but it will give insight to what these two were doing.
You see, the sacrifices and what they meant to God did not start with Israel and the book of Leviticus.
God taught them to Adam and this knowledge was passed down.
We see Abraham offering burnt offerings, Jacob offering peace offerings and Moses told Pharaoh they were going out to offer sacrifices to the Lord before the Exodus.
Cain brought an offering from the ground called a "minchah" in Hebrew in v3 which meant it was probably a thank offering involving some sort of bread offering.
Abel on the other hand brought a blood sacrifice and it was a sin offering.
We know whatever was going on, God required a sin offering from Cain also because the Lord had regard for Abel’s offering and did not for Cain.
So, Cain became angry and thought his status as first-born was being rejected also.
This caused him to be very upset.
So the Lord asks Cain "why are you angry?" in v6.
Then in v7 the Lord tells him what to do.
He says "If you do well" meaning if Cain was innocent and blameless his thank offering would have been accepted, but he needed a sin offering and then he would feel better because it would have been accepted also.
But the Lord said "if you don’t do well, sin is crouching at the door."
Now, what He is saying is this.
In Hebrew, the word for sin there is "chata’at" which means a sin offering.
The translators of the KJV and NASB just use the English word "sin" but sin offering is implied.
You see this many places in the Bible, for instance in Hosea 4.8 it says "they feed on the sin of my people" but it should be translated "sin offering" and the same thing happened in Gen 4 7.
Another example of this is 2 Cor 5.21 where it says Yeshua became sin but it means "sin offering" which gives it a whole different meaning.
Yehsua didn’t become sin, that would have made Him a defective offering of Himself.
Ephesians 2.14 says that Yeshua "is our peace" but it means our peace offering, a "shelem" in Hebrew.
In Isaiah 53.10-11 it says that he rendered himself as a "guilt offering" or "asham" in Hebrew (NASB).
There are many more examples of this.
So, God was requiring a sin offering from Cain and that is why his offering was not accepted, it had nothing to do with his rejection of Cain as first-born.
He then goes on to say that the sin offering is "crouching" meaning "stretched out in submission" at "the door," or available, for him to offer right now.
The verse ends with "and unto you (Cain) shall his (Abel) desire be, and you (Cain) shall rule over him (Abel)."
As first-born he had ruled over Abel.
Cain feared that Abel’s offering being accepted changed this.
God tried to rest his fears.
All he had to do was bring the lamb but Cain’s pride got in the way, so he decided to take matters into his own hands and killed Abel, thus restoring himself back into first-born status.
That’s what it means in Jude 11 when he talks about "the way of Cain.."
It is simply our pride that gets in the way of doing what God wants us to do, and many have gone that way, too.
Well, Cain’s plan didn’t work and he was driven away.
To study the Scriptures requires many things.
You will have to understand history, the languages, culture, geography, the Temple and it’s sacrifices and biblical time.
You have to read the Scriptures as if you were there at the time it was written and you need a teacher.
I want to encourage you and anyone who reads these articles to do that and you will move from one who could tell someone what God said to someone who can tell someone what God means, they are two different things.
I hope this helps and thanks for the question.