Jacob 5

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.

(Moses 6:63)

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?

The Conductor of History

And now I say, is there not a type in this thing?

(Alma 37:45)

When reading the scriptures, types and typology are perhaps one of the most elusive but rewarding things we can discover. Particularly when reading those passages others might dismiss as simply “stories”, we should pay attention not only to what principles those stories might teach us, but also the ways that people, objects or events may be a ‘type’ that prophetically prefigures a future or eternal ‘antitype’. Thus ‘all things which have been given of God’, such as the Law of Moses or the bronze serpent of Moses typify Christ (2 Nephi 11:4, Alma 25:15, Alma 33:19). The Liahona not only guided Lehi and his family to the promised land, but serves as a type of ‘the words of Christ’ which can guide us ‘beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise’ (Alma 37:38-45).

A crucial thing about types is that these are not allegorical or symbolic readings, an artifact of either the writers or the reader. Rather the idea of types is founded on the conviction that – just as God can communicate directly through revelation – He can also reveal Himself and His works through everyday and historical events. Thus God on some level orchestrates these events so they may teach His intended messages, in some cases to audiences very far removed in space and time from the original events.

This idea of God orchestrating events to this level might be a trifle unsettling to Latter-day Saints, who obviously also have a conviction of human agency. Some might wonder how, even with God’s perfect foreknowledge of all things, God can be ultimately in charge of what happens. The idea of God as the ultimate ‘author’ of human history may appear to give insufficient acknowledgement that – unlike the fictional characters of an author who think, feel and act at the author’s whim – God has permitted us the power and ability to act for ourselves.

I was thinking about this when my mind lit upon an analogy that I feel fits better, that of God being the conductor of history. He, through His own choice, doesn’t control the musicians as puppets and we are not mere extensions of His will. But he knows us, and has past, present and future continually before His eyes. And thus, though he grants us agency, he remains in control of the final piece because he does dictate when and where we play.