The two women were dressed in flowing maxi-skirts with scarves over their hair and multiple shawls wrapped around their shoulders. One carried a very young infant in additional swaddles of cloth obscuring the child’s size except for the clearly visible infantile face. They could be admired for both their fairly youthful beauty and form that was slightly discernible through the folds of their dresses, and for the modesty that such dresses provided. Though apparently poor, the cloth was not worn nor ragged, and the stitchery and embroidery of the designs showed great skill and care had gone into the apparel.
We were at a train station in Italy, leaving a large atrium to enter a narrower walkway to the platforms when the women approached me. The one with the baby showed me his lovely face, and began to ask me for some money so she could feed her hungry child. The other moved courteously to my side to give me an unobstructed view of the begging woman and child.
Having been warned of Gypsies, I withdrew as the woman facing me came closer with her appeals, and turned slightly to keep an eye on the woman at my side. “Could you give me even a small money to feed my child?” she pleaded in a thick accent, but with excellent English enunciation. As I backed away, pulling my two wheeled suitcases, she gently reached out to touch my arm . . . at which point I yelled very loudly, “STOP touching me! Get away from me!”
Before you note how rude I was, let me point out that I looked intently at the woman in front of me, then to the woman at my side. When I turned back to see the woman in front of me, she was gone. When I looked a second time to the woman beside me, she had also vanished. I rapidly tried to scan the crowd around me for where they must be running, and could not see them anywhere in the atrium nor in the wide hallway in front of me. Such was the magic of their distractive ability, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I had probably just avoided being stripped of any money or valuables on my person. The one who had warned me about Gypsies said to make loud noise and call attention to them; they would disappear. And so they had.
These women and a host of others follow a long tradition of distraction to get what they want, though they usually will find out in the end that what they took was not what they really wanted. The original story is as old as human history. The details were written many centuries after the events by Moses, but the verbal traditions had maintained the pure form of the story (see May 17, 2015), besides Moses’ inside track to God’s revelation. Genesis 4 records the birth of the first two boys of Adam and Eve, Cain whose name sounds like the Hebrew for “obtained,” and Abel whose name means “breath”.
Both boys had followed their dad’s example to worship Yahweh, their creator. But God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. So Cain became the first person to use distraction to deceive. He invited his brother out into the field to see some of his agriculture. And while Abel was looking in the direction his brother had pointed, Cain took a rock and crushed Abel’s head. This is more detail than the actual story provides, but one possible scenario.
To understand the acceptance and rejection of their offerings, we must understand the Hebrew concept of “offering.” God is not a man who needs to eat or drink, so does not need the food offered to Him the way the Old Testament worshipers gave. When food was offered, it was usually cooked or prepared as food, and then consumed by the worshiper. If the offering was for praise, it was offered with words and thoughts describing how wonderful God is; if the offering was for thanks giving, the focus would be on God’s gifts; one for intercession or requests, prayers would be presented asking God for what was needed. The point of the offering was not to “feed God,” but to open the worshiper’s heart to spend time with Him.
Let’s imagine the story of Cain and Abel with a conversation that could have occurred if Cain had not been so stubborn and distracted by his selfishness. Suppose Cain invited Abel out to the field, and instead of distracting him to murder him, had asked him to explain why one offering was accepted and the other rejected.
- Cain: I do not understand. I am angry at God for rejecting my offering, and at you for being accepted just because you offered an animal and I offered grain. I do not raise animals and had none to bring.
- Abel: Cain, my brother, show me where you got your offering.
- Cain: From over here, by the swampy side of the field. I just picked some of the stuff that might have spoiled. After all, God was not going to eat it, anyway. It was just for show.
- Abel: Ah, I see the problem, Cain. My gift was accepted because it was the best of my flock. As you say, God is not a carnivore nor an herbivore. He would not eat either of the offerings. My offering was not accepted because it was animal versus vegetable.
- Cain: So what difference did the offering make? What was the point of it?
- Abel: Yahweh wants our best, Cain. He wants our hearts to enjoy meeting with Him. He wants to know you put thought into the offering and did not just pick out anything, especially something that meant little to you. If I had saved my best lamb for a feast with friends, it would have said to God that I loved them more than Him. It might have impressed my friends but what would that have said to God? Our offerings are not to be “just for show,” other than to be “just for showing God what we think of Him.”
- “Let me help you pick some of the best of your field, and let’s go back with another offering and see what He says to you.”
How different the history of mankind might have been. Oh, born into sin as we are, someone would have been the first murderer, but Cain’s story might have shown other lessons than the tragic ones it reveals.
Our lesson: Keep your focus on what is valuable. Offer your best to The God Who Is There. Do not allow the enemy of our souls to touch you. And Do Not Be Distracted! More on this next week when we begin to explore Practicing The Presence of God.