BMGD #13: Jacob 5-7

March 19, 2012 | 19 comments

Jacob 4 was last week, but it is important to remember the set-up for Jacob 5:

And now I, Jacob, am led on by the Spirit unto prophesying; for I perceive by the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation. But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build. And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner? Behold, my beloved brethren, I will unfold this mystery unto you; if I do not, by any means, get shaken from my firmness in the Spirit, and stumble because of my over anxiety for you. (Jacob 4:15-18)

So remember that one main purpose of including this allegory in the text is to explain how it is that, after rejecting the foundation, the Jewish people can become the cornerstone.

 1 Behold, my brethren, do ye not remember to have read the words of the prophet Zenos, which he spake unto the house of Israel, saying:

So we can’t help but be fascinated by a prophet that Jacob takes for granted his audience knows well but that we have never even heard of before!  (See also see 1 Nephi 19:10; Alma 33, 34; Helaman 8, 15; 3 Nephi 10.) What does this incident tell you about the Nephite records?  About our records?  How might it inform your approach to the canonization process, and our subsequent study of the scriptures?

 2 Hearken, O ye house of Israel, and hear the words of me, a prophet of the Lord.

Should we read this verse as poetry (the parallelism is easy and obvious)?

 3 For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive-tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.

Why do you think the symbolic identity of the tame olive tree is given by the Lord but none of the other referents are explained?  Why do you think it is done at the very beginning of the allegory, when at the end would have been, I think, more typical?

What does it mean symbolically to say that the House of Israel “waxed old”?  Isn’t that “natural” and “normal”?  Is the following decay then normal?

 4 And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard went forth, and he saw that his olive-tree began to decay; and he said: I will prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it, that perhaps it may shoot forth young and tender branches, and it perish not.

NB that the master’s response is not anger.  We’re all happy about that, but how then do you reconcile this picture with the one we get in Isaiah and elsewhere of a Lord who is seriously ticked at their unrighteousness?

Pruning is a great symbol for a necessary-for-growth but painful experience.  Hugh B. Brown tells this story:

I had purchased a farm. It was run-down. I went out one morning and saw a currant bush. It had grown up over six feet high. It was going all to wood. There were no blossoms and no currants. I was raised on a fruit farm in Salt Lake before we went to Canada, and I knew what ought to happen to that currant bush. So I got some pruning shears and went after it, and I cut it down, and pruned it, and clipped it back until there was nothing left but a little clump of stumps. It was just coming daylight, and I thought I saw on top of each of these little stumps what appeared to be a tear, and I thought the currant bush was crying. I was kind of simpleminded (and I haven’t entirely gotten over it), and I looked at it, and smiled, and said, “What are you crying about?” You know, I thought I heard that currant bush talk. And I thought I heard it say this: “How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as big as the shade tree and the fruit tree that are inside the fence, and now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me, because I didn’t make what I should have made. How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.” That’s what I thought I heard the currant bush say, and I thought it so much that I answered. I said, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and some day, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down, for caring enough about me to hurt me. Thank you, Mr. Gardener.’ ”  Citation

What does digging do for a plant?  Of what is it a symbol?

Does the digging relate to harrowing, as mentioned elsewhere in the BoM?

Daniel Fairbanks on why you dig around an olive tree:

In simple terms, it is necessary to loosen the soil to make nutrients and moisture available to the roots. Because the upper layers of soil tend to tie up phosphates and potash, they often do not reach the feeder roots unless the soil is disturbed. Deep plowing of the whole area may be advisable in most cases. Light or sandy soils will not benefit from plowing because they are naturally well aerated and nutrients easily penetrate them. As clay content increases the need for deep plowing does as well. Shallow working of the soil by plowing and harrowing also has advantages. It forms an insulating layer, which prevents evaporation of water, increases permeability of the soil, kills weeds, and aerates the soil, increasing nitrification and root development. Sometimes two plowings or more a year are advised: one in the summer to “prevent the ground from cracking and exposing the roots to the sun, and the other in mid-autumn, forming ditches from the higher to the lower slopes.” Citation

 5 And it came to pass that he pruned it, and digged about it, and nourished it according to his word.

What is the purpose of this verse, since all of its material was presented in the previous verse?  My guess would be that v4-5 establishes right from the beginning that the master is trustworthy in the fulfilling of his word.

 6 And it came to pass that after many days it began to put forth somewhat a little, young and tender branches; but behold, the main top thereof began to perish.

It is easy, I think, to gloss over the passage of time in this allegory, but I also think it significant that it took “many days” for the new growth to appear.

Does this verse show the master as “wrong” (or only “half right”) in that his plan in v4-5 did not result in preserving the main top?

 7 And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard saw it, and he said unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, go and pluck the branches from a wild olive-tree, and bring them hither unto me; and we will pluck off those main branches which are beginning to wither away, and we will cast them into the fire that they may be burned.

According to this article, pests can cause a vineyard to decay.  In this situation, burning is desirable because it would destroy the pests and prevent their spreading.  Of what might this be a symbol of?

What does it mean to suggest that the master of the vineyard grieves?  Are you surprised that the answer isn’t anger or something else?  (NB that grief is mentioned several times in the allegory.)  Does this teach you anything useful about your own grief?  What does the master do with his grief in the allegory?

 8 And behold, saith the Lord of the vineyard, I take away many of these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will; and it mattereth not that if it so be that the root of this tree will perish, I may preserve the fruit thereof unto myself; wherefore, I will take these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will.

This is our first indication that it is the fruit and not the tree itself that is the real concern of the vineyard owner.  What might this mean on a symbolic level?

Of what is grafting a symbol of?  NB that there is something “unnatural” about it.

If you think of grafting in terms of people joining the Church, what would that teach you about converts?

What work are the last three words of this verse doing?  (In another context they might sound arrogant or capricious; certainly they are not strictly necessary given that he’s the master of the vineyard and he’s the one making a plan, so of course he will put them where he wants them!)

Of what is the root a symbol?

 9 Take thou the branches of the wild olive-tree, and graft them in, in the stead thereof; and these which I have plucked off I will cast into the fire and burn them, that they may not cumber the ground of my vineyard.

Lehi on what grafting means:  “And after the house of Israel should be scattered they should be gathered together again; or, in fine, after the Gentiles had received the fulness of the Gospel, the natural branches of the olive tree, or the remnants of the house of Israel, should be grafted in, or come to the knowledge of the true Messiah, their Lord and their Redeemer”  (1 Ne 10:14).

I’m curious about the fact that v8 had the master as the actor, but in this verse, it is the servant.  What might you conclude from this?

What would cumbering the ground symbolize?

 10 And it came to pass that the servant of the Lord of the vineyard did according to the word of the Lord of the vineyard, and grafted in the branches of the wild olive-tree.

Who does the servant represent?

In v4 and v5, we got the master’s plan and then the master’s implementation narrated.  In v9, we get the plan and in v10, we are told, not shown, the implementation.  Could this be significant?

11 And the Lord of the vineyard caused that it should be digged about, and pruned, and nourished, saying unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, that perhaps I might preserve the roots thereof that they perish not, that I might preserve them unto myself, I have done this thing.

What do you make of the interdependence of roots and branches on a symbolic level?

Is the master saying that he wants to preserve the roots (above, he wanted to preserve the fruits)?  If so, what might this symbolize?  (Of what use are the roots?)

What do you make of the master justifying himself to his servant in this verse?

 12 Wherefore, go thy way; watch the tree, and nourish it, according to my words.

 13 And these will I place in the nethermost part of my vineyard, whithersoever I will, it mattereth not unto thee; and I do it that I may preserve unto myself the natural branches of the tree; and also, that I may lay up fruit thereof against the season, unto myself; for it grieveth me that I should lose this tree and the fruit thereof.

Skousen thinks that “parts” instead of “part” is more likely to be original here; this may be a fairly significant change in that it casts that part of the vineyard as non-unique.  (Same change in v19; v14 has “parts” as well.)

 14 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard went his way, and hid the natural branches of the tame olive-tree in the nethermost parts of the vineyard, some in one and some in another, according to his will and pleasure.

What do you make of “hid”?

NB the emphasis on the will of the Lord.  (Cf. “whithersoever I will, it mattereth not unto thee” in the previous verse.)  Why?

 15 And it came to pass that a long time passed away, and the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Come, let us go down into the vineyard, that we may labor in the vineyard.

 16 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard, and also the servant, went down into the vineyard to labor. And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: Behold, look here; behold the tree.

What do you make of the servant taking charge of the interaction at this point?

 17 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard looked and beheld the tree in the which the wild olive branches had been grafted; and it had sprung forth and begun to bear fruit. And he beheld that it was good; and the fruit thereof was like unto the natural fruit.

Echoes of the creation story (“beheld that it was good”) here?

NB that a significant amount of time must have passed.

 18 And he said unto the servant: Behold, the branches of the wild tree have taken hold of the moisture of the root thereof, that the root thereof hath brought forth much strength; and because of the much strength of the root thereof the wild branches have brought forth tame fruit. Now, if we had not grafted in these branches, the tree thereof would have perished. And now, behold, I shall lay up much fruit, which the tree thereof hath brought forth; and the fruit thereof I shall lay up against the season, unto mine own self.

This is our first reference to moisture.  Of what is it a symbol?  (And how can we get people to stop using this word in their public prayers?)

 19 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Come, let us go to the nethermost part of the vineyard, and behold if the natural branches of the tree have not brought forth much fruit also, that I may lay up of the fruit thereof against the season, unto mine own self.

 20 And it came to pass that they went forth whither the master had hid the natural branches of the tree, and he said unto the servant: Behold these; and he beheld the first that it had brought forth much fruit; and he beheld also that it was good. And he said unto the servant: Take of the fruit thereof, and lay it up against the season, that I may preserve it unto mine own self; for behold, said he, this long time have I nourished it, and it hath brought forth much fruit.

 21 And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: How comest thou hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot in all the land of thy vineyard.

Thinking back to who you think the servant symbolizes, what do you learn about the servant’s questioning of the master here?  Is it appropriate (cf v22)?  If it is, what might we learn from it?

Given that the planting here was, in fact, successful (and the servant knows this), does the servant’s question surprise you?

 22 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto him: Counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor spot of ground; wherefore, I said unto thee, I have nourished it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit. 

The language here is very similar to Jacob 4:10 (“seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand”).  In what ways might that link be significant?

Was the servant counseling the Lord?  I thought he was just asking a question!  NB also that v13 now seems to be a prophetic preempting (“whithersoever I will, it mattereth not unto thee”) (although it didn’t work!) of this question.

Why would the Lord put branches in a poor spot of ground?

23 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Look hither; behold I have planted another branch of the tree also; and thou knowest that this spot of ground was poorer than the first. But, behold the tree. I have nourished it this long time, and it hath brought forth much fruit; therefore, gather it, and lay it up against the season, that I may preserve it unto mine own self.

Do you assume that the Lord was personally nourishing this tree, or that a different servant was nourishing it for him?  (I’m interested in the fact that the servant doesn’t seem to know about what has been going on here.)  What does this suggest about the servant–both as a symbol and regarding his character?

Of what is “the season” a symbol of?

Brant Gardner:

On the level of allegory, the tension is set between the expectation that a poor circumstance yields a poor result and that a good circumstance will yield a good result. The examples become diametric opposites of the expectation. The historical connection will be apparent in the next example, but the moral lesson of the allegory comes through without any connection at all. The Lord is telling us that we may not use our circumstances as an excuse for our spiritual progress. We may not say to him that we could not believe because we were poor, or that our lives were difficult. We cannot say to him that we would have been faithful had we been comfortable. Indeed, there is a highlighting of the scriptural theme of the difficulty of producing spiritual fruits amidst the distractions of prosperity. Citation

 24 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said again unto his servant: Look hither, and behold another branch also, which I have planted; behold that I have nourished it also, and it hath brought forth fruit.

 25 And he said unto the servant: Look hither and behold the last. Behold, this have I planted in a good spot of ground; and I have nourished it this long time, and only a part of the tree hath brought forth tame fruit, and the other part of the tree hath brought forth wild fruit; behold, I have nourished this tree like unto the others.

Different grounds have different effects on the trees, despite the master’s attention.  Surprisingly, it is the tree in good ground that does the worst.  What might this symbolize and what can we learn from it?

A cynic might conclude that the master is not omniscient, not omnipotent, as shown in this allegory. How might you respond to that idea?

Many readers take these “nethermost” branches as Lehites, with the “good” Nephites and “bad” Lamanites.  Do you agree with that reading?  (How then would you make sense of the three groups mentioned in v39?) How else might you interpret this passage?

 26 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Pluck off the branches that have not brought forth good fruit, and cast them into the fire.

 27 But behold, the servant said unto him: Let us prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it a little longer, that perhaps it may bring forth good fruit unto thee, that thou canst lay it up against the season.

Is the servant more merciful than the master?

In v21, the servant asked a question and in v22, was told to quit trying to tell the master what to do.  In this verse, the servant makes a suggestion (not just a question), and it is accepted and acted upon with no reprimand.  What is the difference between the two situations?  What does this symbolize and what can you learn from it?

Brant Gardner:

Perhaps these two verses provide the strongest indication that the Lord/servant relationship is a literary device rather than an attempt to accurately depict the relationship between either the Father and the Son, or the Son and the prophets. We have here the Lord seeing the branches that do not bring good fruit, and deciding to destroy them. This is a natural assumption from a botanical viewpoint. However, the servant pleads to make the attempt to save these branches. Rather than indicate any type of disagreement, this is a literary structure that allows for the continuation of the wild branches when the more logical thing would have been their destruction. The allegory has roots in botany, but reality in history, and the way the Lord works with his children is never so capricious as to completely destroy them when they first disappoint Him. Citation

 28 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard and the servant of the Lord of the vineyard did nourish all the fruit of the vineyard.

NB that all parts of the vineyard are nourished.  (If you are reading historically, what does this symbolism suggest?)

Are you surprised that there was no statement of agreement of the Lord to the servant’s suggestion narrated in the text?

Is it significant that they are nourishing the fruit, and not the roots, or the trees, or the branches?

 29 And it came to pass that a long time had passed away, and the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Come, let us go down into the vineyard, that we may labor again in the vineyard. For behold, the time draweth near, and the end soon cometh; wherefore, I must lay up fruit against the season, unto mine own self.

This verse (and a few others) give the impression that the fruit is a benefit to the owner of the vineyard.  This makes sense on a surface reading, but how might it work symbolically?

This verse suggests that there was a long period when neither the servant nor the master was laboring in the vineyard.  What might this symbolize?  Does this picture of “neglect” surprise you?

 30 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard and the servant went down into the vineyard; and they came to the tree whose natural branches had been broken off, and the wild branches had been grafted in; and behold all sorts of fruit did cumber the tree.

The only previous use of “cumber” in this allegory was negative.

 31 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard did taste of the fruit, every sort according to its number. And the Lord of the vineyard said: Behold, this long time have we nourished this tree, and I have laid up unto myself against the season much fruit.

Aren’t all raw olives bitter? (Perhaps the assumption is that the master treats the olive and it is still bitter, although this is not stated.)

32 But behold, this time it hath brought forth much fruit, and there is none of it which is good. And behold, there are all kinds of bad fruit; and it profiteth me nothing, notwithstanding all our labor; and now it grieveth me that I should lose this tree.

Does this mean that the servant’s suggestion in v28 was a bad idea?  Why did the master try it?  Why did the servant suggest it?  What does all of this symbolize?

V30 said “all sorts”; v31 said “every sort,” but this verse says that none of it is good; indeed, this verse notes that there “are all kinds of bad fruit.”  What to make of that?

What do you make of the fact that the master had to taste the fruit to know its true character?

 33 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto mine own self?

Are you surprised to see the master asking for ideas after chastising the servant for asking a question above?  Why does the master need to ask the servant what to do?  What does this mean symbolically?

 34 And the servant said unto his master: Behold, because thou didst graft in the branches of the wild olive-tree they have nourished the roots, that they are alive and they have not perished; wherefore thou beholdest that they are yet good.

 35 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: The tree profiteth me nothing, and the roots thereof profit me nothing so long as it shall bring forth evil fruit.

Are you surprised by the introduction of a moral note with “evil” (as opposed to the more ambiguous “bad”) in this verse?

 36 Nevertheless, I know that the roots are good, and for mine own purpose I have preserved them; and because of their much strength they have hitherto brought forth, from the wild branches, good fruit.

Compare v35–how is it possible that good roots bring forth bad fruit (and what does this symbolize)?

 37 But behold, the wild branches have grown and have overrun the roots thereof; and because that the wild branches have overcome the roots thereof it hath brought forth much evil fruit; and because that it hath brought forth so much evil fruit thou beholdest that it beginneth to perish; and it will soon become ripened, that it may be cast into the fire, except we should do something for it to preserve it.

Boyd K. Packer:

There is great meaning in Jacob’s parable for the Church in our generation. Meetings and activities can multiply until they take “strength unto themselves” at the expense of the gospel—of true worship. This change in budgeting will have the effect of returning much of the responsibility for teaching and counseling and activity to the family where it belongs. While there will still be many activities, they will be scaled down in cost of both time and money. There will be fewer intrusions into family schedules and in the family purses. Church activities must be replaced by family activities. Just as we have been taught with temporal affairs, the spirit of independence, thrift, and self-reliance will be re-enthroned as guiding principles in the homes of Latter-day Saints. And, just as stake leaders now will sponsor fewer activities, leaving more of the time and money to ward leaders, ward leaders in turn will leave more of both to the families. This decision will set a better balance between families being assessed time and money to support Church activities and Church activities complementing what families should do for themselves. That is a difficult balance because some families need more support than others. Perhaps we have been over-programming stable families to meet the needs of those with problems. We must seek a better way. Apr 1990 fireside

38 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Let us go down into the nethermost parts of the vineyard, and behold if the natural branches have also brought forth evil fruit.

Again, do you read this as evidence of the master’s lack of omniscience?

 39 And it came to pass that they went down into the nethermost parts of the vineyard. And it came to pass that they beheld that the fruit of the natural branches had become corrupt also; yea, the first and the second and also the last; and they had all become corrupt.

Are “corrupt” and “bad” synonyms?

I almost want to read v38 to say that he wouldn’t have made this visit to the nethermost parts of the vineyard had the fruit from the old tree been good.  Could that be right?

 40 And the wild fruit of the last had overcome that part of the tree which brought forth good fruit, even that the branch had withered away and died.

 41 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?

Jeffrey R. Holland:

Looking out on the events of almost any day, God replies: “Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands. … I gave unto them … [a] commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood. … Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?” That single, riveting scene does more to teach the true nature of God than any theological treatise could ever convey. It also helps us understand much more emphatically that vivid moment in the Book of Mormon allegory of the olive tree, when after digging and dunging, watering and weeding, trimming, pruning, transplanting, and grafting, the great Lord of the vineyard throws down his spade and his pruning shears and weeps, crying out to any who would listen, “What could I have done more for my vineyard?” What an indelible image of God’s engagement in our lives! What anguish in a parent when His children do not choose Him nor “the gospel of God” He sent!How easy to love someone who so singularly loves us! Oct 03 GC

I’ve asked these questions before, but we are back to them:  Thoughts on grief?  Thoughts on the lack of omnipotence/omniscience of the master?

 42 Behold, I knew that all the fruit of the vineyard, save it were these, had become corrupted. And now these which have once brought forth good fruit have also become corrupted; and now all the trees of my vineyard are good for nothing save it be to be hewn down and cast into the fire.

 43 And behold this last, whose branch hath withered away, I did plant in a good spot of ground; yea, even that which was choice unto me above all other parts of the land of my vineyard.

How is it possible that the best land produces the worst fruit, and what does this symbolize?

 44 And thou beheldest that I also cut down that which cumbered this spot of ground, that I might plant this tree in the stead thereof.

Brant Gardner writes:

Translated into history from the veiled terms of allegory, this is the only absolute reference to a population existing in the New World prior to the arrival of the Lehites. Just as Israel entered its promised land, and needed to “unencumber” their ground, so is it implied that the Lord has done the same for the Lehites. Citation

Do you agree with this reading?  (Personally, I’m inclined to think that the Lehites interacted with natives extensively.)

 45 And thou beheldest that a part thereof brought forth good fruit, and a part thereof brought forth wild fruit; and because I plucked not the branches thereof and cast them into the fire, behold, they have overcome the good branch that it hath withered away.
Skousen thinks “the other part thereof brought forth wild fruit” is original.  This may be a significant change because it suggests a (symbolic, at least) duality instead of a whole bunch of parts.

How would you respond to someone who reads this verse as indicating that the master is admitting to making mistakes (“because I plucked not the branches . . .”)?

NB that this all happened because of the suggestion of the servant . . . What do you make of that fact, and the fact that the master doesn’t really call attention to it or assign blame?

 46 And now, behold, notwithstanding all the care which we have taken of my vineyard, the trees thereof have become corrupted, that they bring forth no good fruit; and these I had hoped to preserve, to have laid up fruit thereof against the season, unto mine own self. But, behold, they have become like unto the wild olive-tree, and they are of no worth but to be hewn down and cast into the fire; and it grieveth me that I should lose them.

 47 But what could I have done more in my vineyard? Have I slackened mine hand, that I have not nourished it? Nay, I have nourished it, and I have digged about it, and I have pruned it, and I have dunged it; and I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long, and the end draweth nigh. And it grieveth me that I should hew down all the trees of my vineyard, and cast them into the fire that they should be burned. Who is it that has corrupted my vineyard?

Neal A. Maxwell:

In the anguishing process of repentance, we may sometimes feel God has deserted us. The reality is that our behavior has isolated us from Him. Thus, while we are turning away from evil but have not yet turned fully to God, we are especially vulnerable. Yet we must not give up, but, instead, reach out to God’s awaiting arm of mercy, which is outstretched “all the day long.” (Jacob 5:47; Jacob 6:4; 2 Ne. 28:32; Morm. 5:11.) Unlike us, God has no restrictive office hours. Oct 91 GC

What is the purpose of the lord’s questions?  (real, rhetorical, pedagogical, etc.)

The first sentence (a question) has become something of a repetitive, rhetorical lament, but in this case, we and the master actually know the answer to it because it was given in v25 (“I plucked not the branches thereof and cast them into the fire”).  Why, then, is the master asking this question?

Is the question about corruption the same thing as a question about who/what causes apostasy?

Dunging:  yuck.  Symbolism?  You have to be pretty much surrounded by poop in order to reach your potential.

This is the allegory’s first reference to dunging (although it might be implicit in nourishing).  Why do you think it hasn’t been mentioned before this point, especially since it was happening?

How do you reconcile the hand stretched forth almost all day with the master and servant’s frequent absences from this part of the vineyard?

Does the “who” (as opposed to “what”) surprise you?  (And again with the lack of omniscience.)

Harold W. Wood:

I saw a wheat field that appeared to be greener and taller than the others. Thinking about it for a while, I concluded that occasionally some loving farmer drives over the field with his tractor and pumps manure all over it. I thought, ‘My, it’s just like life. Here we are minding our business, growing our little hearts out. We’re really quite green, somewhat productive, and very sincere. When out of the blue, life deals us a dirty one, and we’re up to our eyebrows in manure.’ We, of course, conclude that life as we know it has just ended and will never be the same again. But one day, when the smell and the shock are gone, we find ourselves greener and more productive than we have ever been. Unfortunately, no matter how often we go through these growing experiences, we are never able to appreciate the sound of the tractor or the smell of the manure.  Citation  (Note:  I couldn’t find a primary source for this story.  I don’t normally use secondary sources, but this is still a fun story even if apocryphal, so I’m going to break my own rule here.)

 48 And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard—have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves. Behold, I say, is not this the cause that the trees of thy vineyard have become corrupted?

Given the extremely emotive lament that the master has just made, what do you make of this somewhat clinical response from the servant?

I’m struck by the fact that the message of this verse is “some kinds of growth are bad.”

Remember that this verse is answering a question at the end of the previous verse:  “Who is it that has corrupted my vineyard?”  How does this verse answer that question–by which I mean, how is it that loftiness causes corruption?

Spencer W. Kimball:

It seems that some among us have this same problem; they want bountiful harvests—both spiritual and temporal—without developing the root system that will yield them. There are far too few who are willing to pay the price, in discipline and work, to cultivate hardy roots. Such cultivation should begin in our youth. Little did I know as a boy that daily chores in the garden, feeding the cattle, carrying the water, chopping the wood, mending fences, and all the labor of a small farm was an important part of sending down roots, before being called on to send out branches. I’m so grateful that my parents understood the relationship between roots and branches. Let us each cultivate deep roots, so that we may secure the desired fruits of our welfare labors. Oct 78 GC

What might loftiness symbolize?

Heber C. Kimball read the leaders of the church as the roots and the members as the branches (citation).  Does that reading make sense to you?

 49 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Let us go to and hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire, that they shall not cumber the ground of my vineyard, for I have done all. What could I have done more for my vineyard?

 50 But, behold, the servant said unto the Lord of the vineyard: Spare it a little longer.

 51 And the Lord said: Yea, I will spare it a little longer, for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard.

Arthur Henry King:

This is a brief parallel to a longer dialogue between the Lord and Abraham in Genesis 18:23–32, where Abraham pleads with the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorrah. Citation

What do you make of the relationship between the servant and the master?  (Does it change throughout the allegory?)  How would you characterize the servant and the master based on this exchange?

 52 Wherefore, let us take of the branches of these which I have planted in the nethermost parts of my vineyard, and let us graft them into the tree from whence they came; and let us pluck from the tree those branches whose fruit is most bitter, and graft in the natural branches of the tree in the stead thereof.

 53 And this will I do that the tree may not perish, that, perhaps, I may preserve unto myself the roots thereof for mine own purpose.

 54 And, behold, the roots of the natural branches of the tree which I planted whithersoever I would are yet alive; wherefore, that I may preserve them also for mine own purpose, I will take of the branches of this tree, and I will graft them in unto them. Yea, I will graft in unto them the branches of their mother tree, that I may preserve the roots also unto mine own self, that when they shall be sufficiently strong perhaps they may bring forth good fruit unto me, and I may yet have glory in the fruit of my vineyard.

 55 And it came to pass that they took from the natural tree which had become wild, and grafted in unto the natural trees, which also had become wild.

 56 And they also took of the natural trees which had become wild, and grafted into their mother tree.

V55 makes clear that the terminology is getting a little ponderous at this point but, even so, what do you make of the introduction of the “mother” concept in this verse?  Any relation to the “mother Gentiles” from 1 Nephi?

 57 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Pluck not the wild branches from the trees, save it be those which are most bitter; and in them ye shall graft according to that which I have said.

 58 And we will nourish again the trees of the vineyard, and we will trim up the branches thereof; and we will pluck from the trees those branches which are ripened, that must perish, and cast them into the fire.

 59 And this I do that, perhaps, the roots thereof may take strength because of their goodness; and because of the change of the branches, that the good may overcome the evil.

Paul H. Hoskisson reads the “additional strength” as items such as additional scripture (=D & C 137 and 138, for example).  Do you find that persuasive?

I find “perhaps” to be very curious . . .

 60 And because that I have preserved the natural branches and the roots thereof, and that I have grafted in the natural branches again into their mother tree, and have preserved the roots of their mother tree, that, perhaps, the trees of my vineyard may bring forth again good fruit; and that I may have joy again in the fruit of my vineyard, and, perhaps, that I may rejoice exceedingly that I have preserved the roots and the branches of the first fruit—

 61 Wherefore, go to, and call servants, that we may labor diligently with our might in the vineyard, that we may prepare the way, that I may bring forth again the natural fruit, which natural fruit is good and the most precious above all other fruit.

What is the difference between “good” and “natural” fruit?  Why is natural fruit the best?

 62 Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our might this last time, for behold the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard.

 63 Graft in the branches; begin at the last that they may be first, and that the first may be last, and dig about the trees, both old and young, the first and the last; and the last and the first, that all may be nourished once again for the last time.

 64 Wherefore, dig about them, and prune them, and dung them once more, for the last time, for the end draweth nigh. And if it be so that these last grafts shall grow, and bring forth the natural fruit, then shall ye prepare the way for them, that they may grow.

 65 And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.

 66 For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.

I read this verse to say that if the root and top are equal in strength, then the natural result of that is for the good to prevail.  What might that symbolize?

This verse seems to set “not cumbering the ground” as the goal.  What might that symbolize?

 67 And the branches of the natural tree will I graft in again into the natural tree;

 68 And the branches of the natural tree will I graft into the natural branches of the tree; and thus will I bring them together again, that they shall bring forth the natural fruit, and they shall be one.

 69 And the bad shall be cast away, yea, even out of all the land of my vineyard; for behold, only this once will I prune my vineyard.

 70 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard sent his servant; and the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few.

What do you make of the introduction of other servants at this point?  Who or what do they symbolize?

 71 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto them: Go to, and labor in the vineyard, with your might. For behold, this is the last time that I shall nourish my vineyard; for the end is nigh at hand, and the season speedily cometh; and if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up unto myself against the time which will soon come.

 72 And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.

Skousen thinks “and did go to it” is original.

 73 And there began to be the natural fruit again in the vineyard; and the natural branches began to grow and thrive exceedingly; and the wild branches began to be plucked off and to be cast away; and they did keep the root and the top thereof equal, according to the strength thereof.

 74 And thus they labored, with all diligence, according to the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard, even until the bad had been cast away out of the vineyard, and the Lord had preserved unto himself that the trees had become again the natural fruit; and they became like unto one body; and the fruits were equal; and the Lord of the vineyard had preserved unto himself the natural fruit, which was most precious unto him from the beginning.

Skousen thinks “and the good the Lord did preserve unto himself” is original.

75 And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them: Behold, for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will; and I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good, even like as it was in the beginning. And blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard.

 76 For behold, for a long time will I lay up of the fruit of my vineyard unto mine own self against the season, which speedily cometh; and for the last time have I nourished my vineyard, and pruned it, and dug about it, and dunged it; wherefore I will lay up unto mine own self of the fruit, for a long time, according to that which I have spoken.

 77 And when the time cometh that evil fruit shall again come into my vineyard, then will I cause the good and the bad to be gathered; and the good will I preserve unto myself, and the bad will I cast away into its own place. And then cometh the season and the end; and my vineyard will I cause to be burned with fire.

No matter how many times I read this, I always find it shocking to come to v77 and find that after 76 verses of concern for the vineyard, he’s going to torch it.

General thoughts about the allegory:

(1) The picture that emerges of the master of the vineyard is of someone with a deep concern for the vineyard, but who is not omnipotent or omniscient.  What do you make of that?

(2) This article identifies the following principles of olive culture in the parable:

A vineyard benefits from being nourished (vv 3, 4, 5, 11, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 28, 31, 34, 47, 58, 63, 71, 75, 76) which in some instances includes being dunged (w 47, 64, 76) to provide plant nutrition.

A vineyard will decay (vv 3, 4).

The principle of pruning contributes to the health of the tree and improves production of fruit (vv 4, 5,11, 27).

Proper care will cause young and tender branches to form (vv 4, 6).

Branches can be removed and grafted onto other olive trees (vv 8, 9, 10, 17, 18, 30, 34, 52, 54 ,55 ,56, 57, 60, 63, 64, 65, 67, 68) or can be planted to start new trees (w 23, 24, 25,43).

The amount of root needs to be balanced with the amount of foliage (vv 37, 48 ,65, 66).

Fruit can be wild (bad or evil) or domesticated (good)(vv 17, 18, 20, 25, 26, 27, 30, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 42, 45, 46, 52, 54, 60, 61, 65, 77).

Land for growing trees can be poor (evil) or good (vv 21–23, 25, 43), but proper nourishment in either case can produce goodfruit.

If the foliage of an otherwise healthy tree is removed or reduced, the roots may perish (w 8, 18, 34, 36, 54, 60, 65, 66).

I think it would be useful to consider the potential symbolic value for each of those statements.

(3) Do you agree with this reading of the symbolism of the allegory:

Symbolically, the tame tree is the house of Israel (Jacob 5:3), the wild tree is the Gentiles, the roots of the tree can be interpreted as the blood of Israel among the Gentiles, and grafting refers to “com[ing] to the knowledge of the true Messiah” (1 Nephi 10:14). The vineyard is probably the world, the master of the vineyard is interpreted as Jesus Christ and the servants are prophets and missionaries. When the Gentiles accept the gospel, they become “new creatures” fully capable of producing fruit as large and delightsome as the Israelites. Conversely, when the Israelites become wild or are “overcome” by the wild roots, they have no more potential to produce large fruits of marvelous quality than do the Gentiles. Thus, the allegory violates a botanical principle to teach a spiritual truth.  Citation

Other suggestions for the symbolism:

–Lord of the vineyard: Heavenly Father, Jesus, the prophets

–therefore, the servant: Jesus, the prophets, us

–roots: the covenant, the scriptures, the gospel

(4) Do you agree with this historical understanding of the allegory:

1. The olive tree “grew, and waxed old, and began to decay” (v 3).

“The house of Israel was in Egypt, because of the famine in Canaan” (25).

2. It was tended, and young tender branches grew (vv 5–6).

The new generation of Israelites were allowed to enter Canaan after their parents had been detained in the wilderness for forty years. Also God took the Melchizedek Priesthood from the Israelites and left “the lesser or Aaronic Priesthood” (26).

3. The main top began to perish so the tame branches were replaced with wild ones to preserve the roots (vv 6–7,10–11). The Melchizedek Priesthood was taken away and the Gentiles (wild branches) were grafted in; ie, the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests (26).

4. Young and tender branches were placed in the nethermost part of the vineyard to preserve the natural branches (v 13). They were planted in different places (v 14).

“These are the ten tribes (about 721 BC), the Jews (about 607 BC), and the Lamanites (about 600 BC).” This ends the first period from about 1800 to 400 BC (27).

5. “Along time passed away” (v 15).

About 400 BC to about AD 30 (27).

6. On the main tree the wild branches brought forth tame fruit. Without these branches the tree would have perished (v 18).

This is during the ministry of Jesus (AD 30–34) when the Gentiles bore good fruit; for instance, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (28).

7. The first natural branch which was hidden in the nethermost part of the vineyard brought forth much good fruit (v 20). It was on the poorest spot in the vineyard (vv 21–22).

“The ten and a half tribes [were] taken into Assyria and then led further into the north” (28).

8. The second branch was planted in ground that was even poorer but brought forth much good fruit (v 23).

The Jews (29).

9. The third branch was planted in a good spot of ground and a part brought forth tame fruit and a part brought forth wild fruit (v25).

The Nephites and Lamanites (29).

10. All of the fruit of the vineyard was nourished (v 28).

This is probably “the period between AD 34 and 36, when all were converted to the Lord (4 Nephi 1–2)” (29).

11. A long time passed away (v 29).

The Apostasy to the Restoration (29).

12. The main tree whose natural branches were replaced with wild branches had “all sorts of fruit” (v 30). It brought forth much fruit, but none of it was good (v 32). The roots of the tree were still good (vv 34–36).

The Gentiles who had been grafted into the house of Israel had many different religions (fruit), but none were true. “The blood of Israel” (roots) was, however, “scattered among the Gentiles” (30).

13. The three natural branches in the nethermost parts of the vineyard had also become corrupt (v 39). The wild fruit of the third branch “had overcome that part of the tree which brought forth good fruit” (v 40), even though it was planted in ground which was choice above all other (v 43). Thus, all of the trees of the vineyard had become corrupted although they once brought forth good fruit (v 42).

The lost tribes, the Jews, the Nephites, and the Lamanites had all become corrupt. The Lamanites overcame the Nephites even though the Nephites lived in the land choice above all other lands. “Those he had cut down so that he ‘might plant this tree’ (Jacob 5:44) were the Jaredites” (30).

14. The problem was the loftiness of the vineyard. The branches grew faster than the strength of the roots and the branches became corrupted (v 48).

“Apostasy crept in” (31).

15. The branches from the nethermost parts of the vineyard were grafted onto the good roots of the mother tree (v 52) and branches of the mother tree were grafted onto the good root of the branches in the nethermost parts of the vineyard (vv 54–56).

The mother tree is the fulness of the gospel in the latter days established by the house of Israel scattered among the Gentiles. Thus, the branches of this mother tree will then take the gospel to the branches from the nethermost parts of the vineyard or the lost tribes, Jews, and Lamanites. The blood of Israel (roots) is to become the mother tree (31–32).

16. Only the most bitter branches were plucked and the trees of the vineyard were nourished (vv 57–58).

Only the most wicked were removed “until the natural branches could derive nourishment from the natural roots” (32).

17. Servants were called to prepare the way to bring forth natural fruit again (v 61) for the last time (v 62).

Missionaries are being sent out and have been seeking the natural fruit for more than 150 years (32).

18. The servants would graft in the last branches first and the first branches last (v 63).

The last group taken away, Lehi’s group, will be the first to be grafted back. The second group will be Judah and the last branch will be the lost tribes (32–33).

19. The servants would clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, but not all at once, so the roots would still have strength (v 65). They would maintain equal root and top growth until the good could overcome the bad. They would cut the bad and cast it into the fire. Thus the branches of the natural tree would be grafted again into the natural tree (vv 67–68), and the bad would be cast away (v 69). It will be a gradual process, but eventually the Lamanites, Jews, and lost tribes will be “ ‘like unto one body’ . . . (Jacob 5:74)” (33).

20. The servants came but they were few (v 70). They were told to labor with their might because this was the last time the vineyard would be nourished for the end was nigh at hand (v 71). The natural branches began to grow and thrive exceedingly and the wild branches were cast away. The roots and top were equal in strength (v 73).

Again, the missionaries are the instruments in bringing the natural branches back to the main tree (33).

21. They labored until all of the bad had been cast away and the trees produced natural fruit and “became like unto one body” (v 74). All the fruit was good as it had been in the beginning (v75).

The tribes of Israel will be united under one shepherd (33).

22. The master said, “for a long time will I lay up of the fruit of my vineyard” (v 76).

The Millennium (33).

23. The master said that when the time came that evil fruit should come into his vineyard he would preserve the good and cast away the bad. “And then cometh the season and the end; and my vineyard will . . . be burned with fire” (v 77).

This is the end of the Millennium when the evil fruit appears again and the righteous are saved and the wicked are burned along with the vineyard. The mission of the house of Israel will be completed and “the temporal existence of the earth will then be completed” (33).  Citation

Paul H. Hoskisson also sees a historical outline, but divides the material up somewhat differently:

(1) verse 3, the founding of the house of Israel (the “taking and nourishing” of the tame olive tree) sometime in the Middle Bronze Age (2100–1600 B.C.) and the aging thereof in the Late Bronze Age (1600–1200 B.C.)

(2) verses 4–14, the nurturing (starting approximately with the Iron Age, traditionally dated from about 1200 B.C.) and the scattering of the house of Israel, culminating (as far as the allegory is concerned) more or less shortly after 600 B.C.

(3) verses 15–28, the former-day Saints, approximately the first century of the Christian era

(4) verses 29–49, the Great Apostasy, up to about 1820

(5) verses 50–74, the gathering of Israel beginning in 1820

(6) verses 75–76, the Millennium

(7) verse 77, the end of the world.  Citation

I personally have a deep hostility to any kind of reading that closely links historical events to scriptural allegory, but that might just be me.  No, wait, it is also Brant Gardner:

The question of the identification of the servant raises an important question about the nature of allegorical interpretation. How much of the allegory will fit into a precise “translation” into more identifiable people or events? Hoskisson is clearly an interpreter on the literal end of the scale, as he assigns rather specific time periods to various events in the allegory. While clearly applicable to the real world (else the allegory holds no meaning whatsoever) the absolute applicability of allegory is not required for instructional value, and indeed, virtually any allegory distorts “history” into “story.” Pushed to precision, virtually all allegories fail to make a precise match to the events the symbolize. It is essential to understand that the creation of allegory provides some modicum of literary license to the creator, in that events and times may be generalized rather than clearly delineated. Indeed, even in Hoskisson’s reading, single events in the allegory become assigned to multiple events in history, a process demonstrating the inability of a one-to-one reading of the story (Hoskisson, p. 76 where the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities are part of the scattering process). Citation

(5) Truman Madsen suggests links between the olive tree and many other scriptures:  the tree of life, Jesus’ visit to the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane (=’oil press’, he hints that the ‘great drops of blood’ are evocative of the oil being pressed), Isaiah 11:1-5 (placing the Messiah as the olive tree).  M. Catherine Thomas adds to the list:

A tree planted by a river is an Old Testament symbol of a righteous man (Psalm 1:3, Jeremiah 17:8). Isaiah writes, “The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; . . . that they might be called trees of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:1, 3). In Daniel’s dream the great tree represents a man (Daniel 4:10, 22). Another tree in Isaiah produces a stem (of Jesse), which is Christ (D&C 113:1–2). Two famous trees grow in Eden: the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life (Genesis 2:9, 17). A millennial tree of life in Revelation 22:2 has leaves to heal the nations, an obvious reference to the Savior. Jesus is hanged on a tree of life (Acts 5:30). In vision Lehi and Nephi see a divine tree that is connected with Jesus’ saving ministry (1 Nephi 8:10; 11:8). Lehi’s dream tree receives at least three meanings: the Son of God and his divine activity (1 Nephi 11:7); the love of God (1 Nephi 11:22, 25); the tree of life (1 Nephi 11:25; 15:22). Since these meanings all overlap, we would understand that Lehi’s dream tree represents multiple facets of Christ. Most often in scripture, then, the tree is an anthropomorphic symbol. A tree serves well as such a symbol because it has, after all, limbs, a circulatory system, the bearing of fruit, and so forth. Specifically, scriptural trees stand either for Christ and his attributes or for man. Here we might make an observation about divine symbols. The finite mind wants to pin down a one-to-one correspondence between the elements of an allegory and that which they represent, but the divine mind works in multiple layers of meanings for symbols. In scripture the meaning often lies in the aggregate of allusions and associations. The olive tree is one of these layered symbols. It is Israel at the macrocosmic level; it is also an individual Israelite being nourished by an attentive God. Citation

I particularly like the direction of that final paragraph.

M. Catherine Thomas goes into more detail on the relation of Lehi’s tree and the olive tree:

But the olive tree seems also to reflect the Savior himself, as we can see when we analyze the relationship between Jacob’s olive tree and Lehi’s dream tree. The two trees appear in juxtaposition with each other in 1 Nephi, chapters 8 through 15. Lehi’s dream tree first appears in chapter 8. The first reference to the olive tree appears two chapters later in chapter 10, grafting in to this olive tree being defined as coming to the knowledge of the true Messiah (1 Nephi 10:12–14). Then in chapter 11 Lehi’s dream tree is shown to Nephi, who observes that the tree is the Son of God shedding forth his love (1 Nephi 11:7, 21–22). Next, in chapter 15, Nephi explicates the olive tree for his brethren, saying that the covenant people will receive strength and nourishment from the true vine when they are grafted into the true olive tree (1 Nephi 15:16). The reference to the true vine suggests a passage from John: “I [Christ] am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). This discussion of the true vine and the true olive tree leads to Nephi’s explication of the dream tree, suggesting that a strong relationship between these two trees exists in the minds of both Lehi and Nephi since they are discussed alternately. Thus the dream tree is Christ, and the true olive tree is Christ. Extending this point, we can examine the fruit of these two trees. When Jacob is about to introduce the allegory he exhorts the reader to be the first-fruits of Christ (Jacob 4:11). Nephi says that the fruit from Lehi’s dream tree is “most precious and most desirable above all other fruits” (1 Nephi 15:36). In identical language, the olive tree’s natural fruit is “most precious above all other fruit” (Jacob 5:61) and “most precious unto him from the beginning” (Jacob 5:74); that is, the fruit from both trees is described as “most precious.” It would seem that the fruit represents harvestable souls, or those that can be or have been sanctified by the Savior’s atoning power. Citation

(6) Truman Madsen on olive culture generally:

One Jewish legend identifies the tree of life as the olive tree, and with good reason. The olive tree is an evergreen, not a deciduous tree. Its leaves do not seasonally fade nor fall. Through scorching heat and winter cold they are continually rejuvenated. Without cultivation the olive is a wild, unruly, easily corrupted tree. Only after long, patient cultivating, usually eight to ten years, does it begin to yield fruit. Long after that, new shoots often come forth from apparently dead roots. As one stands in the olive groves and is struck by the gnarled tree trunks that are at once ugly and beautiful, it is hard to avoid the impression of travail—of ancient life and renewing life. Today some trees, still productive on the Mount of Olives, are 1,800 years old, and perhaps older. The olive tree appears almost “immortal.”

To this day, preparing the rock-pocked land of Israel and then planting, cultivating, pruning, grafting, and harvesting olive trees is an arduous process. Even after the harvest, olives are bitter, useless to man or beast. To make them edible, one must place them in a large stone box, layer them with salt and vinegar, make more layers of olives, and add more purgatives. Slowly the bitterness is purged from them. These refined olives are a delicious staple food that graces the tables of the common people and of the rich.

To produce olive oil in ancient times, the olives had to be crushed in a press. Seasoned olives were placed in strong bags and flattened on a furrowed stone. Then a huge, crushing, circular rock was rolled around on top, moved by a mule or an ox encouraged by a stinging whip. Another method used heavy wooden levers or screws twisting beams downward like a winch upon the stone with the same effect: pressure, pressure, pressure—until the oil flowed.

Olive oil was used both internally and externally. It was a cooking oil, made better by heating, and was a condiment for salads and breads and meats. The pure oil had other vital uses: it was an almost universal antidote, reversing the effects of a variety of poisons. It was often used in a poultice believed to drain infection or sickness. As an ointment, olive oil—mingled with other liquids—soothed bruises and wounds and open sores. Oil and wine were poured by the Good Samaritan into the wounds of the robbed and beaten traveler near Jericho. Oil and wine were also poured by the temple priests on the altar of the temple.

Olive oil was also the substance of light and heat in Palestine. Into olive lamps—small vessels with a hole at each end—one poured the oil. Even in a darkened room one lamp, one thin flame of light, was enough to lighten the face. A Jewish oral teaching says the drinking of olive oil is likewise light to the mind—that it enhances intellectual processes. The mash that remained after repeated crushings of oil was a household fuel, needed even in the summer in the Judean desert after sunset. The image of pouring oil on troubled waters, and the associated olive branch of peace—such as the offering of peace and relief to Noah after raging seas—were common in Bible lore. In other spiritual contexts oil was the token of forgiveness. Hence Paul speaks of it as “the oil of gladness” (Hebrews 1:9). Citation

That’s a long quote, but it is the background that an Israelite would have known (Jacob?  Maybe not so much . . .) and brought with them to their reading of the allegory.  So I might read it to the class and, before reading it, ask them to consider what this background about olive culture implies for their understanding of the symbolism of the allegory.

(7) M. Catherine Thomas writes:

Joseph Smith explained the way to understand parables and allegories: “I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer?”1 Jacob poses two key questions in his introduction to the allegory, which provide some clues to its meaning. First, Jacob asks: “Why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him?” (Jacob 4:12). Jacob then points to the Jews’ deliberate efforts to distance God and render him incomprehensible: they sought to create a God who could not be understood (Jacob 4:14). For their self-inflicted blindness God took away “his plainness from them . . . because they desired it” (Jacob 4:14). Here Jacob asks the second key question: “My beloved, how is it possible that these [the Jews], after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner? Behold, my beloved brethren, I will unfold this mystery unto you” (Jacob 4:17–18).  Citation

If you follow Thomas’ approach to the allegory, then how does the allegory answer those two questions?

(8) M. Catherine Thomas writes, “Fifteen times we read that he wishes to preserve the harvestable fruit and lay it up, as he says, “to mine own self.” (Citation)  If you take “to mine own self” (modern English:  to myself) as a key phrase in this allegory, what do you conclude?  What is the symbolism?  Here is Thomas’ answer:

In Latter-day Saint usage, atonement, or at-one-ment, refers not only to the act of redemption Jesus wrought in Gethsemane and on the cross, but also to the Lord’s ongoing labors to bring his children back into oneness with him. After all, it is his work, as well as his glory, to bring to pass the eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). The word atonement first appears in William Tyndale’s 1526 English version of the Bible.He used the word at-one-ment to translate the Greek word for reconciliation (katalag?) (Romans 5:11). The Savior’s yearnings for this state of oneness with his children appear not only in this allegory but also in such places as the great intercessory prayer in John 17 and the luminous prayer sequences in 3 Nephi 19. In understanding Jacob’s allegory, it is helpful to understand the strength of the divine desire behind the process of at-one-ment.

(9) M. Catherine Thomas:

If God is seeking access to his children continually, what is the meaning of the periods of divine absence in the allegory? The Lord declares, “I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long” (Jacob 5:47). Jacob drops the word almost when he reiterates: “He stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long. . . . Come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. . . . For why will ye die? . . . For behold, . . . ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long” (Jacob 6:4–7). Cleave is atonement language. It is not God who has ceased to cleave, but man who has rejected God’s love. These periods in which we do not see divine activity signify not so much the Master’s absence, but rather Israel’s voluntary withdrawal from the true olive tree. Citation

(10) Noel B. Reynolds identifies the following texts as coming from Zenos:  1 Nephi 19:8–17; 22:15–17, 23–26; 2 Nephi 2:30; Jacob 5:2–77; Alma 33:3–18; 34:7; Helaman 8:18–19; 15:10–13; 3 Nephi 10:14–16.  (How) do these texts shape your interpretation of this allegory?  (The article at the link explores other BoM phrases that may be dependent on Zenos.)

(11) The allegory can be hard to teach because it is so long, there is no way to read the entire thing in class and discuss it verse by verse.  However, I think it can be useful to ask general questions:  What does this parable teach you about the character, motives, and desires of God?  Of the servants?  How might you think differently of yourself if you thought of yourself as the fruit of a tree?  What does the allegory teach about community?  Does it surprise you that there is so little discussion of the dangers that the vineyard faces (pests, [do birds eat olives?], thieves, etc.)?

(12) Paul H. Hoskisson writes, “The allegory is also, as any well-written allegory is, at once simple and complex, obscure and obvious”  (Citation).  Do you agree with that statement?  If so, in what ways is this allegory complex or obscure?

(13) Paul H. Hoskisson writes, “The Lord, the servant, and the goodness of the roots remain constant throughout the allegory” (Citation).  What do you think the roots represent?  Possibilities:  scripture, covenants, light of Christ, the gospel, Holy Spirit.  Others? (How do the roots relate to the soil, which varies in quality?)  (Remember in thinking about this the role of grafting–how might the grafting actions limit the possibilities for what the roots can symbolize?)

(14) I’ve seen it suggested that master=God and servant=Christ but also that master=Christ and servant=church leaders.  Which one is more persuasive to you and why?

(15) Paul H. Hoskisson writes, “The allegory leaves no doubt that God attempted everything in his power to prevent the Apostasy” (Citation).  If you agree with that statement, does it then follow that preventing the apostasy was beyond God’s power?  (I’m not trying to play offender-for-a-word games here; I’m trying to grapple with the picture that the allegory presents of the master of the vineyard as limited, and what that might mean for interpreting the master as a symbol for God/Christ.)  Arthur Henry King suggests that the “human” qualities of the master, combined with the divine qualities, suggest the incarnation (citation).

(16) Arthur Henry King argues that the allegory is a version of Isaiah 5 (citation).  How can Isaiah 5 add to your understanding of the allegory?

(17) Arthur Henry King writes, “There are twenty-one paragraphs in this parable. They are marked in the first edition (1830), but more recent editions are divided into verses . . .

Paragraph 1: verses 1–9

Paragraph 2: verses 10–13

Paragraph 3: verses 14–15

Paragraph 4: verses 16–18

Paragraph 5: verses 19–20

Paragraph 6: verses 21–22

Paragraph 7: verse 23

Paragraph 8: verses 24–25

Paragraph 9: verses 26–28

Paragraph 10: verse 29

Paragraph 11: verse 30

Paragraph 12: verses 31–34

Paragraph 13: verses 35–37

Paragraph 14: verses 38–40

Paragraph 15: verses 41–47 (note the length of this)

Paragraph 16: verse 48

Paragraph 17: verses 49–54 (another long one)

Paragraph 18: verses 55–69 (the parable’s main speech)

Paragraph 19: verses 70–71

Paragraph 20: verses 72–74

Paragraph 21: verses 75–77″ (Citation).

NB that all but the first paragraph begin with “and it came to pass.” Would you interpret the allegory differently if you read it in paragraphs?

(18) This article by John W. Welch has a table near the end giving word counts for each word used in the allegory. (If you ever have to take a closed-book final in Reformed Egyptian, there is no doubt that Jacob 5 is the passage you would be praying for–the vocab is very limited.) It might be instructive to study the table and consider why some words are used so frequently and others so rarely.

(19) Daniel Peterson:

Olives, writes Theophrastus, come in two varieties: wild (kotinos) and tame (elaa).“Wild plants seem to bear more, as the wild pear and olive, but the tame bear better fruit.”Not only did the wild olive produce more than the tame, but it was more tenacious and hardy. Ancient authors knew very well that “it is not possible for a wild olive to produce tame olives” through any amount of cultivation,yet Theophrastus reports that “they say that certain such changes may occur by themselves (automat?n), sometimes the fruit and sometimes even the whole tree, which the prophets (hoi manteis) think are signs (s?meia). . . . Even from a tame olive may come a wild olive and from a wild olive may come a tame olive (though that is rare).” Citation

(20)  Daniel Peterson:

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that the earliest uses of the olive were generally sacral. Later, when its use was profaned, famines and wars soon followed. Like wickedness, the wild olive is more persistent and long-lived than its tame counterpart. But its fruit is worthless and undesirable. Holiness takes cultivated effort.  Citation

(21) The main uses for olives in ancient Israel were as food, in religious ritual (the anointing of priests and kings), in lamps, and as medicine.  How might those uses impact your interpretation of the allegory?

(22) The word “allegory” seems to be uniformly used by readers of Jacob 5, but the word itself is not in the BoM, where this section is called merely “the words of Zenos.”  Are there any dangers to our application of the concept of “allegory” to this text?

(23) David Seely points to some OT texts that may resonate with Jacob 5:  Psalm 52,  Psalm 80,  Hosea 14, and Jeremiah 11 (Citation).

(24) Jim F. explores the similarities and differences between Jacob 5 and Romans 11 here.

(25) Jim F. writes, “Though we commonly assume that the wild branches grafted into the trees in Jacob 5 are the Gentiles, there is no textual warrant in Jacob 5 for doing so. The presumed similarity of the parable to Romans 11 may be part of the reason for that reading. However, if we follow the reading suggested by Jacob 6 and such passages as 1 Nephi 10:12–14 and 15:13–16, perhaps we will read the workers in Zenos’s parable, rather than the grafted branches, as representing the Gentiles” (Citation).

(26) Is Jacob 5 related to Alma 32?

(27) In some OT and NT scriptures, olive oil may be a symbol for the Holy Spirit.  If you read that meaning into this allegory, what might you conclude?

(28) So physical olives (and their products) and literary references to olives are ubiquitous in ancient Israel but, apparently, unknown in the Americas.  I’m curious what the Nephites thought of this allegory, especially as their temporal distance to Jrsm grew.

(29) When we attended the Berkeley Ward, the building had olive trees along the sidewalk.  The olives would fall on the sidewalk and make a big, slippery, dangerous mess.  That anecdote is not relevant, but I felt the need to share it anyway.

(30) Daniel Fairbanks:

Nearly all of the allegory in Jacob 5 corresponds exceptionally well with both ancient and modern botanical principles and horticultural practices.  . . . However, there appear to be three points in the allegory that may strike a modern botanist as unusual. While these anomalies or unusual circumstances are relatively minor from a scientific standpoint, they represent important metaphorical points of the allegory that were apparently necessary to portray Zenos’s intended meaning. Such anomalies are often introduced in allegories, partly to remind the audience that the allegory represents a reality beyond its constituted parts and also to cause the audience to remember the extraordinary powers that impel the depicted events. . . .

1. . . . “Wild” branches do not naturally yield “tame” fruit—in other words a grafted olive branch keeps its genetic constitution regardless of what type of olive tree it is grafted onto. When branches of a wild olive tree are grafted onto a tame olive tree (Jacob 5:10), we assume that this is analogous to grafting a wild species (O. oleaster) onto a domesticated species (O. europaea). If this assumption is correct we would not expect to obtain the desirable large-fruited tame olives from the small-fruited wild olive branches. The tame olives are selected for their desirable characteristics and each cell of any branch will be genetically the same as the tree from which it was cut. Thus, the grafted wild olive branch has an inferior genetic constitution for fruit size, and other characteristics, causing all of the fruit on the wild branch to be small and undesirable. Cultural practices involving proper nutrition, elimination of diseased parts, proper pruning, irrigation, and so forth, will not cause wild fruit to attain the same size and desirable characteristics as tame fruit, particularly if compared with trees or branches that are genetically tame and are properly tended. If wild trees are carefully tended, the fruit becomes larger than normal, but it would still have the same genetic characteristics of the wild species. The manner in which the servant and Lord of the vineyard speak of the olive tree in verses 16–18 implies that they were pleasantly surprised that the wild branches bore fruit “like unto the natural fruit”: “Behold, look here; behold the tree.” This result would not normally have been expected without divine assistance or extraordinary conditions.

Likewise, when the tame tree produced much fruit (Jacob 5:23) and then became corrupt (Jacob 5:39), this seems to represent a fundamental botanical change. The text states that the natural tree “had become wild” (Jacob 5:55). If this refers to a change in the actual nature of the fruit, this could only be accomplished by grafting, for one cannot obtain wild fruit from a tame tree in the natural course of events. While a domesticated tree does not become wild in the sense of changing species, the fruit set may become too light or too heavy, or pests or disease may damage the crop left unattended. With lack of care the fruit would be small and unusable like wild fruit, but it would still have the other desirable genetic characteristics for which it was originally selected and cloned. By asserting that the natural fruit became wild, the allegory emphasizes the serious and extensive nature of changes that result from corruption within the House of Israel.

2. Although it would also have been unusual for an olive grower to graft wild branches onto a tame tree, circumstances exist when it makes good sense to do so. Due to the vigor and disease resistance of certain wild species, grafting wild stock onto a tame tree can strengthen and revitalize a distressed plant (see question thirty-nine, later in this chapter). Zenos’s allegory portrays the Lord of the vineyard as somewhat exasperated, trying all available options to revive his old, beloved tree, including the extraordinary step of experimenting to see if any good might come by grafting wild stock onto the branches of the natural tree. Although doing this would have been an unconventional, perhaps even desperate measure, the Lord will spare no effort to obtain again the desired fruit from his choice plant.

3. It might also seem odd that one of the trees planted in poor soil should produce good fruit. One of the branches was planted in “a poor spot of ground . . . poorer than the first” (Jacob 5:22–23). Nevertheless, this plant thrived. Although olives sometimes do well in poor soils because of their long maturing period and ability to tolerate considerable salinity, boron, etc., it is only with much attention to cultural practices that productive trees will grow on poor soil. When all of the important cultural factors are carefully optimized, olive trees will grow and produce a crop on poor soil. Accordingly, the unusual poorness of the soil in this part of the allegory draws attention to the extraordinary care and power of the Lord of the vineyard. The production of good fruit by the plant under these circumstances is attributable exclusively to the fact that the Lord had “nourished it this long time” (Jacob 5:23).  Citation

(31)  Jim F.:  “Why do the scriptures use allegories and metaphors? What might that say about how we should think about the scriptures? ”

(32)  As ch6 makes clear, Jacob reads the allegory as being about the House of Israel.  Is it also possible to read it as a personal level–that is, the vineyard is the individual’s soul, where bad fruit and corruption must be rooted out?  (I think 6:7 hints that this might be another appropriate reading of the allegory.) Are there any other profitable ways to read this allegory?  Elder Holland suggested that the following three levels could be used to read the allegory (I’m ticked that I can’t find the citation for this):

–individual child of God

–house of Israel

–entire family of humanity

Noel B. Reynolds writes, “Unlike the more historically oriented interpretations of Lehi and Nephi, Jacob moves directly to the implications for individuals” (Citation).  Do you agree?  Why might Lehi and Nephi (who took their own tree visions in very different directions) have read Zenos in a more historical sense and why might Jacob have read it as applying more to an individual?

(33)  Ted Gibbons:

Jacob engraved this allegory on the plates (a herculean task!) in order to show us what the master of the vineyard did for [the Jews], and will do for us when we make mistakes. Try reading Jacob 5 with just this
question in mind: “What can I learn here about what the Savior will do for those he loves when they stray from the strait and narrow path?” Citation

(34) This can be a hard lesson to teach because (1) there is so much material but (2) it is repetitive.  You already know I don’t like the historical approach.  I do like what Ted Gibbons does in this outline with themes.

(35) So thinking about how 4:17 sets up the allegory (“And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner?”), I think it is fair to say that the shortest possible answer to Jacob’s question is “grafting!”

(36) Brant Gardner writes:

How can one who is rejected by Israel become the leader of Israel? Jacob presents the answer through scripture. His explanation is not from his own words, but based in scripture. It will also be typical of the way he and Nephi cite scripture, largely uncommented, and presented as self-evident. Citation

I have been very much struck by this observation not only here but in the Isaiah chapters as well:  Nephite authors tend to treat scripture quotations as self-explanatory, whereas we want to exegete them nigh unto death.  Are we wrong to do that?  Were they wrong to treat them as self-explanatory?  How should their practices influence our scripture reading?

(37) Brant Gardner:  “the trunk of the tree is never the focus of the allegory” (Citation).  What do you make of that?  What does the trunk symbolize?

(38) If you need to teach this to youth:  it might be interesting to assign various students to assume the perspective of the master, the servant, the roots, the wild branches, the tame branches the trunk, the fruit, etc., before you read, then read various chunks of the allegory, and ask them what they learned from their position.

(39) Whether you see the branches, or the fruit, or the oil from the fruit as people/groups of people, the conclusion remains that they seem to be completely passive in this allegory. At the same time, the only way (that I can figure out) to ‘rescue’ the idea of the omniscience and omnipotence of the Lord is to assume that free agency plays the determinative role in the various outcomes for the fruit.  How might we reconcile the passivity with the free agency of people in this allegory?

 1 And now, behold, my brethren, as I said unto you that I would prophesy, behold, this is my prophecy—that the things which this prophet Zenos spake, concerning the house of Israel, in the which he likened them unto a tame olive-tree, must surely come to pass.

 2 And the day that he shall set his hand again the second time to recover his people, is the day, yea, even the last time, that the servants of the Lord shall go forth in his power, to nourish and prune his vineyard; and after that the end soon cometh.

 3 And how blessed are they who have labored diligently in his vineyard; and how cursed are they who shall be cast out into their own place! And the world shall be burned with fire.

 4 And how merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long; and they are a stiffnecked and a gainsaying people; but as many as will not harden their hearts shall be saved in the kingdom of God.

Do you read this verse to say that the House of Israel is both the roots and the branches?  How does that affect your interpretation of these symbols?

 5 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I beseech of you in words of soberness that ye would repent, and come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. And while his arm of mercy is extended towards you in the light of the day, harden not your hearts.

This verse is enormously important as a “therefore, what?” conclusion to the allegory.  Given that, how does this verse influence your reading of the allegory?

 6 Yea, today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts; for why will ye die?

Is “die” the word that you would have expected here?

 7 For behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit, that ye must be hewn down and cast into the fire?

I think this verse makes clear that a personal, as well as societal/historical, application of the allegory is appropriate.

 8 Behold, will ye reject these words? Will ye reject the words of the prophets; and will ye reject all the words which have been spoken concerning Christ, after so many have spoken concerning him; and deny the good word of Christ, and the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and quench the Holy Spirit, and make a mock of the great plan of redemption, which hath been laid for you?

 9 Know ye not that if ye will do these things, that the power of the redemption and the resurrection, which is in Christ, will bring you to stand with shame and awful guilt before the bar of God?

 10 And according to the power of justice, for justice cannot be denied, ye must go away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment.

NB that Jacob has been following the allegory in this chapter, but at this point he talks about a lake of fire instead of burning of a vineyard.

 11 O then, my beloved brethren, repent ye, and enter in at the strait gate, and continue in the way which is narrow, until ye shall obtain eternal life.

 12 O be wise; what can I say more?

M. Russell Ballard:

Those of you who are parents and grandparents have a sense of what Jacob must have been feeling at the time. He loved his people, partly because they were also his family. He had taught them as clearly as he could and with all the energy of his soul. He warned them in no uncertain terms what would happen if they chose not to “enter in at the strait gate, and continue in the way which is narrow” (Jacob 6:11). He couldn’t think of anything else to say to warn, to urge, to inspire, to motivate. And so he, simply and profoundly, said, “O be wise; what can I say more?” Oct 06 GC

Are you surprised by “wise” as opposed to “humble” or “faithful” or “penitent” or something?

 13 Finally, I bid you farewell, until I shall meet you before the pleasing bar of God, which bar striketh the wicked with awful dread and fear. Amen.

Skousen thinks “before the pleading bar of God” is original.  I like that much better (That bar surely is not too pleasing to the wicked! More seriously, the “pleading” makes sense of what the servant does in the allegory.).

1 And now it came to pass after some years had passed away, there came a man among the people of Nephi, whose name was Sherem.

Is Sherem from the Lamanites?  Is he a New World native?  NB that we learn in v4 that he has a “perfect knowledge” of the language of the people.

 2 And it came to pass that he began to preach among the people, and to declare unto them that there should be no Christ. And he preached many things which were flattering unto the people; and this he did that he might overthrow the doctrine of Christ.

Why would someone focus a ministry on the idea that there would be no Christ?

Why would the idea that there would be no Christ be flattering?

“Overthrow” is an interesting word–why do you think it is used here?  What does it mean to say that a doctrine can be overthrone?  (I think it means that it must be able to reign.)

 3 And he labored diligently that he might lead away the hearts of the people, insomuch that he did lead away many hearts; and he knowing that I, Jacob, had faith in Christ who should come, he sought much opportunity that he might come unto me.

I like “labored diligently,” especially given the contrast with the servant and master’s labor in the previous chapter.

In the Bible, “hearts” usually means “minds.”  Do you think it has that meaning here?

 4 And he was learned, that he had a perfect knowledge of the language of the people; wherefore, he could use much flattery, and much power of speech, according to the power of the devil.

 5 And he had hope to shake me from the faith, notwithstanding the many revelations and the many things which I had seen concerning these things; for I truly had seen angels, and they had ministered unto me. And also, I had heard the voice of the Lord speaking unto me in very word, from time to time; wherefore, I could not be shaken.

I find it very interesting that Jacob relies on his personal experiences here in order to block Sherem’s attacks.  He really doesn’t engage Sherem at all on the substantive issues of Sherem’s critique of Jacob’s beliefs.

Is it fair to say that v4-5 posit an adversarial relationship between certain kinds of knowledge?

 6 And it came to pass that he came unto me, and on this wise did he speak unto me, saying: Brother Jacob, I have sought much opportunity that I might speak unto you; for I have heard and also know that thou goest about much, preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ.

NB “Brother Jacob.”

 7 And ye have led away much of this people that they pervert the right way of God, and keep not the law of Moses which is the right way; and convert the law of Moses into the worship of a being which ye say shall come many hundred years hence. And now behold, I, Sherem, declare unto you that this is blasphemy; for no man knoweth of such things; for he cannot tell of things to come. And after this manner did Sherem contend against me. 

Is it true that they were not keeping the law of Moses?

The idea that a prophet could tell of things to come is pretty well established in the OT.  Why does Sherem doubt that idea, when the rest of this verse suggests that he has (what he considers to be) a fairly high reverence for the OT?

This brief article shows how Sherem’s accusations are not just random rhetorical thrusts, but specific and very serious violations of the Law of Moses.  Again, I am struck by the fact that the ‘bad guys’ in the BoM (see Laman and Lemuel) aren’t secular or lawless or wicked so much as they advance an interpretation of the law of Moses that is more orthodox and traditional than the one advocated by BoM prophets.  It all comes down to (mis)reading the scriptures.

8 But behold, the Lord God poured in his Spirit into my soul, insomuch that I did confound him in all his words.

 9 And I said unto him: Deniest thou the Christ who shall come? And he said: If there should be a Christ, I would not deny him; but I know that there is no Christ, neither has been, nor ever will be.

 10 And I said unto him: Believest thou the scriptures? And he said, Yea.

 11 And I said unto him: Then ye do not understand them; for they truly testify of Christ. Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ.

 12 And this is not all—it has been made manifest unto me, for I have heard and seen; and it also has been made manifest unto me by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, I know if there should be no atonement made all mankind must be lost.

 13 And it came to pass that he said unto me: Show me a sign by this power of the Holy Ghost, in the which ye know so much.

 14 And I said unto him: What am I that I should tempt God to show unto thee a sign in the thing which thou knowest to be true? Yet thou wilt deny it, because thou art of the devil. Nevertheless, not my will be done; but if God shall smite thee, let that be a sign unto thee that he has power, both in heaven and in earth; and also, that Christ shall come. And thy will, O Lord, be done, and not mine.

 15 And it came to pass that when I, Jacob, had spoken these words, the power of the Lord came upon him, insomuch that he fell to the earth. And it came to pass that he was nourished for the space of many days.

“Nourished” is kind of surprising–what’s going on here?  Is it related to the nourishing in the allegory?  Who is nourishing him–the Lord or the people?

 16 And it came to pass that he said unto the people: Gather together on the morrow, for I shall die; wherefore, I desire to speak unto the people before I shall die.

 17 And it came to pass that on the morrow the multitude were gathered together; and he spake plainly unto them and denied the things which he had taught them, and confessed the Christ, and the power of the Holy Ghost, and the ministering of angels.

 18 And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment.

 19 And he said: I fear lest I have committed the unpardonable sin, for I have lied unto God; for I denied the Christ, and said that I believed the scriptures; and they truly testify of him. And because I have thus lied unto God I greatly fear lest my case shall be awful; but I confess unto God.

Do you think Sherem’s fear of having committed the unpardonable sin is a reasonable fear?

 20 And it came to pass that when he had said these words he could say no more, and he gave up the ghost.

According to Deut 19:19, death was the punishment that the law of Moses required in this situation.  Interesting that it happens ‘naturally,’ without Jacob’s intervention (cf. Laban’s head).

 21 And when the multitude had witnessed that he spake these things as he was about to give up the ghost, they were astonished exceedingly; insomuch that the power of God came down upon them, and they were overcome that they fell to the earth.

You know, it is quite a common thing for us to read the anti-Christs in the BoM as patterns that are applicable to our day.  The problem that I have with this is that I’ve never really seen an anti-Mormon admit their fault and then die dramatically.  (Nor would I want to see the latter, I hasten to add.)  Why do you think these dramatic endings are part of a story that is supposed to be a pattern for us?

 22 Now, this thing was pleasing unto me, Jacob, for I had requested it of my Father who was in heaven; for he had heard my cry and answered my prayer.

Are you at all creeped out that Jacob wanted this guy dead and was pleased when it happened?

 23 And it came to pass that peace and the love of God was restored again among the people; and they searched the scriptures, and hearkened no more to the words of this wicked man.

Is it OK for Jacob to call him wicked after he has repented and made restitution?

 24 And it came to pass that many means were devised to reclaim and restore the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth; but it all was vain, for they delighted in wars and bloodshed, and they had an eternal hatred against us, their brethren. And they sought by the power of their arms to destroy us continually.

 25 Wherefore, the people of Nephi did fortify against them with their arms, and with all their might, trusting in the God and rock of their salvation; wherefore, they became as yet, conquerors of their enemies.

 26 And it came to pass that I, Jacob, began to be old; and the record of this people being kept on the other plates of Nephi, wherefore, I conclude this record, declaring that I have written according to the best of my knowledge, by saying that the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from Jerusalem, born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren, which caused wars and contentions; wherefore, we did mourn out our days.

Skousen thinks “in a wild wilderness” is original; that strikes me as a exactly the kind of thing Jacob would say, both as a Hebraism and as an emotive person.

27 And I, Jacob, saw that I must soon go down to my grave; wherefore, I said unto my son Enos: Take these plates. And I told him the things which my brother Nephi had commanded me, and he promised obedience unto the commands. And I make an end of my writing upon these plates, which writing has been small; and to the reader I bid farewell, hoping that many of my brethren may read my words. Brethren, adieu.

The end of ch6 suggests that Jacob thought that that would be the end of his record.  I think it is safe to assume that after that, the Sherem incident happened and Jacob felt inspired to include it in his record.  In what ways might this be significant?

How does the Sherem story compare with the Nehor and Korihor stories?

General thoughts:

(1) General comments about Jacob’s ministry.  He’s an interesting figure in being the first BoM writer who doesn’t have a direct experience of Jerusalem.  He also seems sensitive and somewhat emotional, both in his writings and in his experiences before becoming the record keeper.  We have of his writings:  the Isaiah material in 2 Nephi 6-10, the temple sermon (Jacob 1-4), the allegory (Jacob 5-6), and the incident with Sherem (Jacob 7).  Thoughts on Jacob?

Additional Resources:

(1) Full text of the book The Allegory of the Olive Tree.  (If you are only going to read one article from it, read M. Catherine Thomas’.  If you have specific questions about growing olives, read this.)

19 Responses to BMGD #13: Jacob 5-7

  1. Cameron N on March 20, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    So much to digest here. All I can say right now is thank you so much for sharing, and this is my favorite content on Times and Seasons.

  2. Cameron N on March 20, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    I always loved Jacob. I’m an emotional/sensitive person, and I just really connect with his wording and approach. I love the range of inspired people that can be witnesses of the truth. Both the Jacobs/Elder Scotts, as well as the Elder Oakses (ancient equivalent anyone?)

  3. Julie M. Smith on March 21, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Thanks for your comments, Cameron N.

  4. Blake on March 21, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Julie: This is such a great job that it is hard to express. Thank you for this kind gift.

  5. Julie M. Smith on March 21, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Blake, thanks. I’ve been wondering lately if it is worth posting these–with no comments usually, I don’t know if anyone is even reading them. So I appreciate the feedback.

  6. Alison Moore Smith on March 21, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Speaking for myself, I always read your posts. But what could I possibly add?! You’ve covered all I can think of and far more.

    I just posted my thanks on your first column of the year and hope you realize it applies equally to all others. :)

  7. Cameron N. on March 21, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    I will personally contribute in-depth comments to each post of these you do if it means they continue. I’m sorry I should contribute more so you feel nourished as well. So far, I’ve been mostly a moocher!

  8. Cameron N. on March 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    BTW, love the inside reference Allison!

  9. Ardis E. Parshall on March 21, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Yes, Julie, I always read these with great interest. I’ll try to say so, even if it’s just “thanks,” so you know that.

  10. Ben S on March 21, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    “with no comments usually, I don’t know if anyone is even reading them.”
    I appreciate them as well, though I don’t always have enough time to make it all the way through.

    We all need supportive comments; posts like this (and others, I have the same “blog insecurity” with my Institute posts) don’t lend themselves to discussion terribly well, unless one disagrees with something substantially.

  11. wreddyornot on March 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    I read them and usually copy them to my Kindle to use as a GD student. Thank you for posting them, for your thoughts, insights, and references.

  12. Lucy on March 21, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Since the Book of Mormon was written for our day, and plainly testifies of Christ to Jew, Gentile, Lamanite and all, I don’t think
    that it is too much of a stretch to infer that Mormon included these portions, including the allegory of the olive tree, among the records in part because he foresaw not only that some of the Jews would at first reject Christ as the cornerstone, but others in the latter-days would as well. Even then, the ancient servants in the vineyard petitioned the Lord, as do latter-day servants in the vinyard, to spare the lofty trees a little longer before burning time. Jacob and subsequent Book of Mormon authors earnestly looked forward to (or backward to) the coming of Christ and His atoning sacrifice, resurrection and then forward (like us) to the second coming. When I ask the question “Why did the Lord include Jacob in the Book of Mormon?” it makes sense to me that at least one reason is because the Lord foresaw the things that Jacob foresaw in the latter days, and that he, along with his brother Nephi and others such as Isaiah, desired to bring souls unto Christ, who is the stone and the only sure foundation upon which to build.

  13. Athena on March 22, 2012 at 12:59 am

    I study and save these religiously, as it were. Thanks for putting in all the time and effort.

  14. Sam Brunson on March 22, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Julie, I use these in my scripture study and as a student in Gospel Doctrine. (We’re running about a week behind your schedule, though, so I usually don’t start reading any given post until it’s been sitting there a week.)

    So I don’t respond substantively, but I’m happy to respond and say thanks. This series has really enriched my study this year of the BoM.

  15. Clean Cut on March 22, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Just wanted to say I too appreciate these posts, even though I’m a week behind too. (Reading Jacob 1-4 now). This is a novel way of getting some scripture reading in for the week, going verse by verse followed by your questions after each verse. It’s insightful to me to feel like I’m reading with someone (even if I’m alone at the time and just pull this up on my smartphone) and see how others are thinking about the scriptures for our Gospel Doctrine lessons, which I enjoy greatly.

  16. Ray on March 22, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    I don’t think I’ve commented on these, except for maybe one, but I really enjoy them. I also will try to say thanks, at least, more often.

    I absolutely love Jacob 5, for many reasons – not the least of which is how I read and interpret the pruning that occurs right up until the end. When I see what appears to be pruning of former incorrect doctrines and understandings, I am comforted greatly by this allegory. I wish they hadn’t existed and needed to be pruned, but I am grateful we have something that allows me to see a patient God who, in isolation, might burn the vineyard to stubble but who endures to the end for no other reason than he doesn’t want to lose any more of his cherished fruit than is necessary.

  17. Julie M. Smith on March 23, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Ray, I love the idea of pruning incorrect doctrine.

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

  18. KSF on March 23, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I am another who reads and doesn’t comment – but I do appreciate your thoughts. It helps me to maintain interest in keeping up with the prescribed reading for GD even if classes are sometimes a little lack lustre. Thanks for sharing.

    PS Same applies to Ben S’s Institute posts.

  19. Jacob F on March 25, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Julie, thanks for another great commentary. I read but don’t comment, and appreciate your insights.


Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.