Jacob 6

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?

1 Nephi 10

And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.

For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him.

For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round.

Therefore remember, O man, for all thy doings thou shalt be brought into judgment.

1 Nephi 10:17-20

As my thoughts touch on these verses, I wonder if this is simultaneously one of the greatest blessings and greatest responsibilities of the gospel. God, the omnipotent creator of the universe, who gives life and light to all things, is willing to reveal himself to us. And while he may speak especially to chosen prophets and so on, he is willing to reveal himself by means of the Holy Ghost to “all those who diligently seek him”, no matter when or where they live. Each of us, however lowly, may be brought into supernatural communication with our creator.

At the same time, because that opportunity is available, we are accountable for whether we seek it or not. If we truly seek it ‘diligently’ (and from scripture and experience, I believe that must be a full-hearted and not a superficial effort – see James 1:6-7 and the conditions in Moroni 10:3-5), we will in time have that blessing. But if we choose not to seek it, or to seek it with sufficient diligence and faithfulness, we shall ‘be brought into judgment’.

2020 Edit:

I quote 1 Nephi 10:17-19 above, and that’s part of what always sticks out to me upon reading this chapter, because I think that’s an important part of the message of the Book of Mormon as a whole. Nephi also wants to see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost: and then we are reminded that this is the gift of God to all those who diligently seek him, both in the past as well as in the time that Christ shall appear. Nephi has confidence that if he seeks, he will find, which he does in 1 Nephi 11-14. This is really the turning point where this now becomes Nephi’s account, and not just that of his father, and so he states in verse 1 that ‘[a]nd now I, Nephi, proceed to give an account upon these plates of my proceedings, and my reign and ministry’ (my emphasis).

However, this is not just about Nephi. Just as Nephi had confidence that God could and would make things known to him by the power of the Holy Ghost, we are to have the same confidence on the same basis: that God had done so “as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come” (v. 17). We too can seek to learn and know things by the power of the Holy Ghost, and be confident that if we diligently seek him God will reveal himself to us. Many of the miracles in the Book of Mormon have counterparts in the Bible. This is particularly noticeable in 3 Nephi, where a number of events in Christ’s ministry there tie up with events in the Gospels, and are done in a way intended to draw attention to that fact. In part, this allows the Book of Mormon to act as a second witness – another testimony – of Jesus Christ, by testifying that the miracles he wrought were not confined to one narrow section of place and time, but took place elsewhere too. However, as I discuss in chapter 5 of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible (so this thing now stands out to me), the implied – and at times (like here) the explicit – message of the text is that such things are not just confined to the Book of Mormon either:

Mormon thus claims not only that he has witnessed them, but that these three Nephite disciples ‘will’ be among people in future times, and ‘can show themselves unto whatsoever man it seemeth them good’. Mormon moves beyond speaking of the appearance and activities of these men as a past event to predicting that they will be a part of future events and can be a part of present experience. Here Given’s concept of iterability offers an important point, that ‘the proliferation of historical
iterations … collectively become[s] the ongoing substance rather than the shadow of God’s past dealings in the universe’ (By the Hand of Mormon, p. 50). Likewise Hardy suggests that the miracles described are intended to act as a ‘concrete demonstration’ that Christ could likewise be ‘present in the lives of believers’ (Understanding the Book of Mormon, p. 198). The repetition of miraculous events like those in the Gospels may therefore be offered not only as a confirmation of those Gospel events, but also as a suggestion that such events need not be limited to any particular time and place but are paradigmatic.

Thus at the end of Book of Mormon’s narrative in 3 Nephi, this account – which features a wide range of miraculous events similar to those seen in the Gospels –concludes not only by affirming that such events took place, but also by asserting that such miracles can and are meant to continue to occur. The ‘iterability’ of such events may be there to indicate that these miracles and manifestations of Christ are not confined to the pages of the Bible, nor the Book of Mormon either, but to suggest implicitly – and in the case of appearances of the three disciples, explicitly – that such occurrences can be a reality now, in the lives of its readers.

(The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible, pp. 291-293)

What’s being offered here in this chapter is not just a story of how Nephi went on to have his vision, but a paradigm of how we can have such revelatory experiences too, and that is part of the point. Nephi could have them just as much as his father did and those before him, and we can experience them just as much as Nephi did and those before us.

Also worth noting is Lehi’s quoting from the future, by quoting the words of the yet unborn (by about six centuries) John the Baptist in 1 Nephi 10:8. I’ve written more about this (and the implications of this feat) elsewhere in this series, as well as in chapter four of The Book of Mormon and its relationship with the Bible.

I also find it interesting how Lehi speaks of the scattering (and future gathering) of Israel here. There’s heavy use of olive tree imagery (which presages the extensive allegory found in Jacob 5), but what I find interesting is the almost positive description of the scattering. That is usually depicted as a punishment due to wickedness (see, for instance, 1 Nephi 22:4-5). Yet here Nephi records Lehi as saying:

Wherefore, he said it must needs be that we should be led with one accord into the land of promise, unto the fulfilling of the word of the Lord, that we should be scattered upon all the face of the earth.

(1 Nephi 10:13)

Here, the scattering not only has a pleasant destination (‘the land of promise’), but is done to fulfil the divine word. It seems that few of God’s acts have just one motivation, and crucial events in his plan appear to address multiple things at the same time. While punishment is part of the picture for the scattering, it is not the only thing, and while the future gathering fulfils God’s promises, the scattering was also a necessary part of the plan, one which provided for the word of God to go out to all the world, to (as Jacob 5 indicates) save more than one olive tree, and as Paul suggests in Romans 11 (also filled with olive tree imagery), a means by which ‘salvation is come unto the Gentiles’ (Romans 11:11).