On Grudging Obedience

April 16, 2007    By: Jacob J @ 12:21 am   Category: Life,Scriptures

Not too long ago DMI Dave said he was going to start putting up something devotional on Sundays. I like the idea, but this is as devotional a post as I could come up with for today.

The Lord commanded Cain to offer the “firstlings of their flocks for an offering unto the Lord” (Moses 5:5). You might expect that Satan would come along and tell Cain not to do it. Instead, Satan “commanded [Cain], saying: Make an offering unto the Lord” (Moses 5:18). Rare agreement between God and Satan. Seem strange? Read on…

We get some hints as to why Satan may have wanted Cain to make an offering as the story unfolds.

Cain did finally make an offering, but the Lord didn’t accept it. Where did Cain go wrong? Many have supposed it was Cain’s offering of fruit, as opposed to Abel’s blood offering, that made the offering unacceptable, but this does not appear to be the case. The law of sacrifice given to Adam in the Garden of Eden included both the “firstfruits of the field” as well as the “firstlings of the flock.”[1] Both types of offerings were later part of the Mosaic Law (Deut 18:4; Num 18:8-14).

While Abel “brought of the firstlings of his flock,” Cain merely “brought of the fruit of the ground” (Moses 5:19). Notice that Cain offered “fruit” rather than “firstfruit.” It appears that Cain offered left-overs instead of offering his best. Joseph Smith said that “Cain also being authorized to offer sacrifice but not offering it in righteousness, therefore he was cursed.”[2] Cecil Hook astutely pointed out that the Lord was judging the men, not the offerings.[3] The scripture reads, “And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering, but unto Cain, and to his offering he had not respect” (Moses 5:20-21). Notice that the emphasis is on the man, not the offering. Cain’s offering was rejected because he did not offer in righteousness; he did not offer his best. As the Psalmist wrote, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent” (Prov. 21:27).

Satan’s overall strategy becomes clear with what follows. When Cain found out the Lord rejected his offering he “was very wroth” (Moses 5:21). “And Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord (Moses 5:26). As soon as Cain’s offering was rejected his pride prompted him to reject the Lord in return. Once Cain rejected the Lord, Satan was right there to step in and take the place of God. Within just three verses, Satan is already making his own dark covenants with Cain. Making an unacceptable offering was actually more detrimental than offering no sacrifice at all because it set Cain up for rebellion instead of simple disobedience.

I wish I could say I have never fallen into this trap myself. We all have those times when we know we are supposed to do something but we just don’t feel like it. I remember many days in which that thing was tracting. Unfortunately, I can remember some days where I offered left-overs. I can picture myself trying to make it through another day of tracting, going about it in a grudging sort of fashion, reminding myself often of what a sacrifice it was, then wondering at the end of the day why I was not happy and why I was not being blessed. Not an introspective sort of wondering, but a “God owes me blessings” sort of wondering. “Where are they, let’s have them.” Of course, I got the same answer that Cain did. God could not accept my offering any more than he could accept Cain’s. I had not offered God my best, my firstfruits, my broken heart.

At that point, I faced the same temptation Cain faced. My pride told me to reject the Lord if he would not accept my offering. I didn’t have to be serving a mission anyway. My instinct was to say, “Well, if my offering is not good enough I just won’t offer.” In offering an unacceptable offering, I had produced a justification for my underlying desire all along, which was to simply disobey. If Cain had started off by following Satan, without first making an offering to the Lord, he would always have known that he was the one responsible for leaving the Lord. Once his offering had been rejected he could always pretend (and I suspect he convinced himself) that it was God who had rejected him, not he who had rejected God. We play the same game on a smaller scale.

For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. (Moroni 7:8)

So what are we to do when God asks us to do something but we don’t feel like doing it? It appears from what I have stated above that we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Is that true?

Have you ever been worse off for offering a gift grudgingly than if you had not offered at all?

[1] Ehat, Andrew F.; and Lyndon W. Cook. The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary
Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Provo and Salt Lake City, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, and Bookcraft 1980. pg. 52, note 12.
[2] The Words of Joseph Smith. pg. 40-41
[3] Hook, Cecil. Free as Sons. http://www.freedomsring.org/fas/chap4.html


  1. It’s important to realize that the sacrifices we make are for our own benefit, not for God’s, and if we go looking for external rewards we end up robbing ourselves of the blessings that are intrinsic to the sacrifice itself.

    There is deep magic in sacrifice, and in a mysterious way, the sacrifice is the blessing. But only if conducted properly.

    Put another way, a proper sacrifice is like an electric current, while a grudging sacrifice is a short circuit, and no sacrifice is when the power is turned off. It’s better to have the power off than to get electrocuted, but it’s even better to have everything in working order. Turn off the power, fix the circuit, and then turn it on again.

    Comment by Tsuzuki — April 16, 2007 @ 2:09 am

  2. It’s better to have the power off than to get electrocuted, but it’s even better to have everything in working order

    Piffle. I have a hard time imagining that death, however metaphorical, will be the fruit of a grudging sacrifice while offering no sacrifice at all simply maintains the status quo.

    Clearly, pretending to offer a sacrifice in an effort to deceive the Lord is going to get us nowhere fast, but I think the type of gruding sacrifice mentioned above, e.g., tracting with a bad attitude, but tracting nonetheless, belongs to a different class of behavior that needn’t be judged so harshly.

    Comment by Peter LLC — April 16, 2007 @ 5:37 am

  3. Jacob, one of the most poignant experiences of my mission was having a companion who I didn’t like, and attemped to manipulate him by offering a false apology to him. This false concession on my part only enraged me further when my companion did not take the bate of my “sacrifice” and instead of him canging himself to what I wanted him to be, he simply forgave me and moved on doing things the way he always had done them.

    At that point, I hated my companion. I even took it out on my investigators, in my tone and attitude. It was bad. I eventually realized that I was wrong in my hate and that I could either change my heart to be in line with my false sacrifce and thus make it true, or I could continue to wallow in my rage and ruin my life. By the point I had mentally worked it all out, we were no longer companions.

    I don’t know if my sin of comission, falsely apologizing, made things worse for me than if I had never apologized, as I do not have the opportunity to live both realities, but for the short term, I know I definitely made things worse for myself and those around me.

    Comment by Matt W. — April 16, 2007 @ 7:37 am

  4. Christ’s teachings of the man who said “I go. And went not.” and the man who said “I go not.” but later changed his mind and went may cause problems for your model here.

    Christ seems to favor the grudging service over no service at all.

    Cain’s primary fault was not that he gave grudgingly, but that later “he was wroth.” It was pride and rebellion, not a bad attitude that brought his downfall.

    Comment by Seth R. — April 16, 2007 @ 8:59 am

  5. Jacob: Cain did finally make an offering, but the Lord didn’t accept it. Where did Cain go wrong?

    My assumption is that he went wrong by obeying Satan and not God. Therefore, in this tale Cain wasn’t grudgingly obeying God when he made his offering, he was willingly (eagerly?) obeying Satan. It should be no surprise then that God rejected such an offering.

    Perhaps the biggest mistake Cain made was assuming God was like a vending machine. He must have figured that he could drop in his quarters (offering in this case) and God would have to give him his due as if it were a business transaction. The lesson to be learned is that God is a person and our offerings to God are “deposits” into a personal relationship that we are developing with him.

    So I think that when we do something for God even when we aren’t too thrilled about it does indeed work to build our personal relationship with him still.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 16, 2007 @ 11:49 am

  6. I really, really, really hate going to church meetings! Last night I had a 2 hour Stake Auxillary Training meeting that I was not at all thrilled to be going to, but I went very grudgingly.

    I sat through about 2/3 of the meeting with a very angry feeling until I began to wonder why I was being so hard hearted about the whole thing.

    Anyway, I went home concerned about my own spiritual state and ended up having some good personal prayer and scripture time later that evening and feeling a little better about things by the time I went to bed. I was being a butt at first, but I think I learned a little and was blessed in the end.

    I still hate meetings though!

    Comment by kristen j — April 16, 2007 @ 12:51 pm

  7. Where can I get a cheap copy of Words of Joseph Smith?

    Comment by Eric Nielson — April 16, 2007 @ 2:10 pm

  8. Eric,

    Just subscribe to for Gospelink. It is in there (along with boatloads of other useful resources). Hard copies are hundreds of dollars these days.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 16, 2007 @ 2:15 pm

  9. What?! No one appreciated my rambling story?

    Comment by kristen j — April 16, 2007 @ 5:50 pm

  10. I had no time to blog yesterday, but I loved your rambling story and I can’t just let #9 hang there without response any longer. BTW, I hate meetings too. As far as I can tell, nearly everyone hates meetings, so who is scheduling all the meetings?!?

    Comment by Jacob J — April 17, 2007 @ 9:05 am

  11. Okay, I can see I shouldn’t post things when I will not be able to respond for a full week. My apologies.


    Your comment made me think of this scripture:

    23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
    24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. (Matt. 5)

    Peter LLC,

    Yea, electrocution might be to harsh of a metaphor. Fair point. I certainly hope there is some leniency when we do something we know is right, albeit grudgingly.


    Good story, thanks for sharing it.

    Seth R,

    In the story about one man who said “I go” and went not and another who said “I go not” but later changed his mind and went, it doesn’t seem to me that either one of them offer grudging sacrifice. The first simply didn’t obey, the second didn’t obey until after changing his mind. I agree that it was Cain’s being “wroth” that was the problem. I am suggesting that the grudging offering was influential in his being wroth.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 21, 2007 @ 6:15 pm

  12. Geoff,

    My assumption is that he went wrong by obeying Satan and not God. Therefore, in this tale Cain wasn’t grudgingly obeying God when he made his offering, he was willingly (eagerly?) obeying Satan.

    That’s an interesting take on this story. I think it is a reasonable interpretation; I don’t discount it. Perhaps my entire application is off base here. Just so the relevant text is handy, let me add it here:

    18 And Cain loved Satan more than God. And Satan commanded him, saying: Make an offering unto the Lord.
    19 And in process of time it came to pass that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.
    20 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock, and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel, and to his offering;
    21 But unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not respect. Now Satan knew this, and it pleased him. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
    22 And the Lord said unto Cain: Why art thou wroth? Why is thy countenance fallen?
    23 If thou doest well, thou shalt be accepted. And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door, and Satan desireth to have thee; and except thou shalt hearken unto my commandments, I will deliver thee up, and it shall be unto thee according to his desire. And thou shalt rule over him;
    24 For from this time forth thou shalt be the father of his lies; thou shalt be called Perdition; for thou wast also before the world.
    25 And it shall be said in time to come—That these abominations were had from Cain; for he rejected the greater counsel which was had from God; and this is a cursing which I will put upon thee, except thou repent.
    26 And Cain was wroth, and listened not any more to the voice of the Lord, neither to Abel, his brother, who walked in holiness before the Lord.

    The “And Cain loved Satan more than God” in verse 18 certainly goes well with your interpretation (but it must be viewed in connection with verse 13). And yet, if Cain was really eagerly obeying Satan, why would he be wroth when God didn’t accept his offering (verse 21)? Why would he even think God might accept his offering? Also, why does it say in vs. 26 that after he was wroth he “listened not any more to the voice of the Lord.” It seems he was still listening to the Lord to some degree before becoming wroth.

    Your vending machine analogy is rather like what I describe in my tracting experience. So, if this was Cain’s problem, then it may be we are getting the same message out of the story after all.

    Comment by Jacob J — April 21, 2007 @ 6:31 pm

  13. Jacob,

    Yes, we did come to the same basic conclusions.

    In answer to your question about why Cain got so pissy about having his offering reject; I think I answered it already. He saw God as a vending machine who had to bless him for doing the perfunctory sacrifices and when God did not bless him for it he got all bent — much in the way we all get torqued when a vending machine takes our money but fails to deliver our delicious treat.

    Now I’m not saying he didn’t communicate with God along the way, but he was acting in obedience to Satan when he made the offering in that story.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 21, 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  14. Geoff,

    Okay, so my question is: Why (on your view) did Satan command Cain to make an offering unto the Lord?

    Comment by Jacob J — April 22, 2007 @ 7:20 pm

  15. Hmmm… well it seems like it was a form of deception. My guess is he tricked Cain into thinking he could have it both ways — get all the benefits Satan offered while still appeasing God with the obligatory offerings.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 22, 2007 @ 7:57 pm

  16. Which is pretty much what grudging obedience is. We think we can have it both ways. We don’t really want to obey, but we want the rewards for obeying, so we try to give ourselves the appearance of obedience. It’s kind of like the way the company I used to work for compied with Sarbanes Oxley…

    Comment by Matt W. — April 22, 2007 @ 8:06 pm