Several years ago I began a series of posts related to my personal reading of the Book of Mormon, in which I would pick out something that struck me through that read through. As happens, other pressures meant that while I continued reading, the posts stopped just after Jacob 5. I don’t think that’s a complete coincidence considering the approximately 20,000 words that I wrote on that chapter and the surrounding passages, for The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible. At the time it doubtless seemed a tad exhausting, and I certainly felt I’d written a lot about it.
However, it is my conviction that we can always learn more from reading the scriptures, that we can never – except at the perfect day – say we have learned everything from any particular passage, especially since the Lord may well use such passages to teach us things that the human authors never had in mind. And since I’ve always intended to return to the series (and have briefly from time to time) and finish it, that includes those chapters I might have written a lot about elsewhere, like today’s.
There is much that could be said about Jacob 6, especially as it relates to Jacob 5, but what stood out for me today as I read it comes in the very first verse:
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.
That last phrase – “must surely come to pass” – really stood out. Sometimes those things which are prophesied of seem so distant or far off from every day life. But, no matter how long it will take for them to happen, they will be fulfilled. Sometimes that requires waiting longer than thought: when reading this I thought of 3 Nephi 1, where despite being given a time-frame, many thought the time had already passed, and those who still kept faith with the prophecy faced extermination from those who did not. It seems some times that faith in such things is tested to the very brink, and then beyond some. And yet, all such things “must surely come to pass”.
The prophecy that Jacob is referring to here, of course, is particularly about the restoration of Israel, and then the end of the world (v. 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.
I’ve commented to some people before that the Book of Mormon is principally focused on the gathering of Israel, and the accompanying judgment upon the Gentile nations, rather than the Second Coming itself and those events that immediately precede it (see, for example, Nephi being commanded to leave writing about the latter to John the Revelator in 1 Nephi 14:18-25). And that’s true, but the Book of Mormon does talk about end of the world, and while distinct, the two events are linked: the gathering of Israel and everything accompanying it will be a necessary precursor to the Second Coming that will follow. And while some people have perhaps focused too much on such events, it is at the same time important to keep this in mind. This world – and the culture, and habits, and entertainments and so on built around it – will end. If we want anything we do to be of lasting value, we must build for another.
I’m also slightly intrigued by the mention that the servants of Lord (depicted as the servants of the Lord of the vineyard in Jacob 5) will both nourish and prune the vineyard. It’s easy to see things like the work of the Church, especially in things like missionary work, to be part of nourishing the vineyard (and in Jacob 5 itself, transplanting the various branches about). But what form will the pruning take, and what part will the servants of the Lord play in that?
I’ve commented before that sometimes, when going over these posts I’ve made previously, I’ve found the same elements sticking out to me when reading much later. The same is true today, even down to the very phrase “must surely come to pass” (v. 1). The inevitability of prophecy – at least of those that aren’t conditional – is awe-inspiring, and can be hard for people to believe. It can be difficult to look at the world around us and imagine it being much different. And yet things can change, in most unexpected ways. A year ago, I did not anticipate that in six months I’d be returning to university to study the sciences (indeed, it was about a week from a year ago today that I discovered that the opportunity even existed). Several months ago, I did not anticipate that the city I was living in would be about to enter lockdown due to a virus, with mass social isolation and huge economic impacts even setting aside the disease itself. I anticipated that there would be widespread pestilence at some stage (both from prophecy, and historical precedent), but I didn’t anticipate it would happen in a matter of months, where suddenly it’s not clear whether I’ll even sit my “first” year exams.
Things change, in ways we often cannot expect or anticipate, and can do so with bewildering speed. And yet prophecy can mark out sure events, hundreds or even thousands of years before they happen, and what’s more help us to realise in all of life’s events what is truly at stake, and that God is at the helm. Thus Jacob used Zenos’ prophecies to teach his own people, although they were far more remote from their fulfilment then we are. For wherever we are in the great chronicle of prophecy and history, and whether such events will happen next week or a century hence, they can teach us that what we obtain in this life is of little import, but what we do with this life has eternal consequences and shapes our immortal soul.
Thus Jacob taught his own people:
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.
Yea, today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts; for why will ye die?
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?
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.
O be wise; what can I say more?