Everything I said about Jacob 4, in terms of being able to mention all sorts of things, applies even more to Jacob 5. Most of chapter four of my thesis is a detailed examination of Jacob 5, and I can confidently say after that exercise that there’s a lot to examine. I’ve also happened to post about Jacob 5 before in part, in commenting on an article that I felt was inadequate in its approach to the allegory. So there’s a lot that could be said, and a lot that I have said elsewhere.
What struck me reading through it this time though was the very first few verses (Jacob 5:1-3):
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:
Hearken, O ye house of Israel, and hear the words of me, a prophet of the Lord.
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.
Aside from the incongruity of a olive tree in a vineyard (something I do happen to discuss in the thesis), this opening reminded of thoughts I had when I was first writing the chapter, and unravelling the vast number of ways in which Jacob 5 connects to biblical passages that use olive tree imagery. It’s one of those things where the more you dig down, the more complex the issue actually gets. Scholarship tends to be very focused on the issue of where such ideas came from, and Jacob 5 has attracted similar commentary. But who first used the Olive Tree to symbolise Israel? The deeper one digs the more it seems like a chicken and egg scenario where it’s not quite clear what influenced what (assuming direct contact at all). And of course, Zenos does not attribute this image to himself but directly to the Lord.
It’s while I was thinking of this chicken and egg issue that my mind turned to a couple of other scriptural passages:
Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; for, for this end hath the law of Moses been given; and all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him.
(2 Nephi 11:4)
And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me.
From these verses we learn that all things given by God typify Christ, and that all things are created – both spiritual and temporal – to bear record of God, Christ and the plan of salvation (see Moses 6:62). With these verses in mind, I wondered if this whole thing went even further? Perhaps it’s not an issue of ascribing who first used the olive tree to represent Israel to any one author, even God? With the above verses in mind, is it not possible that the Olive Tree was purposely created and permitted to have the traits that it has, precisely so that it might serve as such a symbol (for God would know of the destiny of Israel)? In other words, is it the symbol that came first, before the actual tree and even the world itself was created?
Ah, Jacob 5 my old friend. I’ve written and published extensively on Jacob 5 elsewhere, so for a more exhaustive look at the chapter, I’d refer you to chapter four of The Book of Mormon & its relationship with the Bible.
While reading over it the past couple of days, however, what stood out most in my mind was the perseverance the Lord of the vineyard (who symbolises variously the Father, or Christ; symbols in this allegory should not be taken as referring to one and only one thing) displays in his care for the trees of his vineyard. Facing the corruption of the initial tree he works diligently upon it, and when it becomes clear that main branches are continuing in their corruption, he implements the plan to remove the corrupt branches, plant the young and tender branches elsewhere, and to graft wild branches into the main tree.
When at a later stage – after lengthy labour on his part, and a period in which the main tree and the satellite trees have all borne good fruit – he finds all the trees have become corrupted, he expresses his lament, his frustration at their corruption despite all his labours evident:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Yet while he suggests there is now not much more to be done than to “hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire” (v. 49), and it is the servant who urges him to spare the trees a little longer (v. 50), it is the Lord of the vineyard who introduces the plan of another lengthy programme of labour to save all the trees (vv. 51-69): returning the natural branches to the mother tree; grafting branches from the mother tree onto the satellite trees; pruning, dunging and digging about the trees; and plucking off and burning the branches with the most bitter fruit in a careful fashion so as to not overwhelm the remaining branches.
I’m sure the Lord would be justified in being most frustrated with us, individually and collectively, for how despite his aid, blessing and invitations we continue to go astray and do wrong. And yet, again and again, he is prepared to perform a lengthy work in us, in order that we might be spared and might bear good fruit.