But why does God look graciously on the offering of Abel only? Not because the animal offering was in itself more valuable than the fruit offering;6 also not because Abel offered of the firstborn, and of these the fat, as most choice, while Cain offered only of the fruits in general,7 for in that case we should have no ground for the fact that God does not regard Cain’s offering at all; still less, because Abel had in view the expiation of sin while Cain had not,1 of which there is no indication whatever; least of all because fruits were not acceptable to God because of the curse resting on the ground.2 There can be no thought of mere errors of ritual in this pre-legalistic period, and groundless arbitrariness is also, in spite of Ex. 33:19, excluded in the case of God. The reason must therefore lie in the disposition presupposed in the offerings, as seems to follow from the expression already emphasised by Gregory the Great and by Luther: On Abel and his offering, on Cain and his offering, not: On the offering of Abel or of Cain. So, according to Heb. 11:4, by πίστις the θυσία of Abel was πλείων.
Cain, also, in his sacrifice gave spontaneous expression to his religious feeling, and the narrator has not found it necessary to indicate precisely wherein his attitude was defective. The point of importance is, that when man finds himself disregarded or rejected by God, he ought not then to bear ill-will against even his fellow-man. But it burned exceedingly in Cain, i.e. there arose in him a raging fire, namely, of vexation or ill-humour. This very fact proves that even before now his mind was not in a right state. “חָרִה thus without אַף occurs in the Pentateuch again only in ver. 6, chs. 18:30, 32, 31:36, 34:7; Num. 16:15” (Knobel). And his countenance fell, i.e. drooped; the attitude of one cast down, vexed, dejected (Job 29:24; Jer. 3:12).
A. Dillmann, Genesis Critically and Exegetically Expounded, Vol. 1, trans. Wm. B. Stevenson (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1897), 186-87.