Themes From Jacob, Part 3

The most striking theme of all is the Lord’s patience. The work of the vineyard is never immediate. It is generational. Those who enter the vineyard impatiently expect the Lord’s work will result in reordering the world for them while they spend their brief moment here.

There has been some confusion in Historic Christianity over the New Testament era expectation of the “end” of things. One of the questions Hugh Nibley asked was “the end of what?” He parsed through the material and arguments and suggested the “end” was of the church itself. The world would continue on, but the church would end. That is one of the themes of Jacob 5. The labor in the vineyard to bring back natural fruit is always against opposition. The success is brief. It requires considerable effort to coax the natural fruit back into production, and when left untended it quickly lapses back to wild, bitter fruit.

The Lord of the vineyard has never been in a hurry. The allegory was originally composed by Zenos in the time of the united Kingdom, some 2,900 years ago. It tells the story of Israel for the next 5,000 years. Jacob put it into his writing approximately 2,400 years ago when the events were only at about verse 14 of the allegory. This allegory was important to Jacob. It is also important to when Jacob’s record would be restored again. We are now at about verse 55, the era when the Lord and servants are trying to bring again some small appearance of natural fruit in the vineyard. We want the fruit from verse 73 to appear long before the story predicts it will return. We expect it to have begun as soon as He sets His hand to the labor by calling Joseph Smith. The allegory allows for no such interpretation. We want that because we think ourselves “natural fruit” and worthy to be saved against the season.

There is a great preliminary work with only the grafting back at first. It started with Joseph Smith. That graft hasn’t taken hold yet, nor produced fruit. It wasn’t intended to do so at the start. The graft will require the branches to take nourishment from the original roots; hence the notion of “restoration,” but the roots from which nourishment is to be taken are quite ancient. At first it is likely (measured by our conduct and preaching) that the only aspiration of the graft is to become merely another New Testament era faith, and not to find nourishment from the ancient roots which run back to the beginning. It is apparent, however the natural fruit will not reappear until the original, first generation teaching’s of man, which were in the beginning, return again at the end.

The Brother of Jared was redeemed from the fall, and was taught about the history of man from the beginning. Enoch’s vision included the story of man from the beginning until the end. Moses also. The vision on the Mount of Transfiguration included a similar visionary show of mankind’s history from the beginning. The reason Zenos composed, and Jacob transcribed this vision of the history of Israel through the end was because they shared in that instruction of what the Lord is trying to bring back into His vineyard. Joseph Smith was not being inadvertent when the accounts of Moses and Enoch, in the Book of Moses were restored. Nor when the Book of Abraham was revealed. These, as well as the Book of Mormon, pre-date the New Testament era. They tell about an original, ancient faith which was to return again so there would be fruit, or in other words, the hearts of the children would turn to the fathers.

When we take our reckoning from the New Testament era and claim ourselves to be like the other “Christian” faiths, we are not looking to the rock from whence we came. We are not taking nourishment from the roots. We now hardly understand Joseph’s preoccupation with the most ancient of themes and religion. Joseph now seems antiquated to us, and he hardly began to introduce the ancient faith which is still to come.

God’s patient cultivation of the tree can continue for so many generations as needed, and will linger without the return of natural fruit so long as we choose not to take nourishment from the original root where the strength lies. The Lord of the vineyard creates the conditions which allow growth, but it is the tree itself that must respond and grow.

Our impatience and expectation that God has given us all we need, and everything He intends for us to have, precludes us from taking in what we still lack. God may intend to yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God, but it will fall on deaf ears if we think we have everything we need for our salvation and exaltation already restored to us.

God’s very long-term view contrasts sharply with our ‘must-be-in-our-lifetime’ outlook. Generations come and go and think themselves saved while God waits patiently for natural fruit, willing to take nourishment from the strength of His Gospel, to finally reappear. Proud and vain men strut about proclaiming how special they and their cultic-following are before God, while God pleads for our repentance, humility and willingness to return to Him. Lofty branches still need trimming and only produce bitter fruit still. We witness how blind, fallen men think it is sufficient for the branches to feel themselves vindicated by reason of their loftiness. If our present form of “Zion” wasn’t “prospering” then we might be more acutely aware of our sickness, sores, disease and stench. We use the measuring rod of Babylon and conclude we are among the greatest of people rather than the standard of heaven against which we are loathsome, bitter fruit.

It is good the Lord of the vineyard is patient. It is good He waits for natural fruit to begin to appear before the next round of cutting down and casting into the fire. We should be grateful for His patience, but never fooled by it. His hand does not stay because we deserve it, but instead from His hope there will yet reappear the natural fruit He can lay up against the coming season.

3 Nephi 12: 31-32



“It hath been written, that whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whoso shall marry her who is divorced committeth adultery.”


First and foremost, this is a verse dealing with male conduct. The verse is masculine in orientation and word usage, and deals with a male’s prerogative under the law that existed then. So applying this new, higher law, beyond that is not warranted, as will be more clearly seen in the discussion below.


The ease with which a divorce could be granted made the serious nature of the act unappreciated. Today it is still unappreciated. Divorce rates among Latter-day Saints have risen to practically mirror the population at large. We follow all the surrounding social trends, but are a little slower in getting there. We are not “peculiar” any longer. We are just slower.


Christ was re-enshrining the significance of marriage. It should not be easy to end a marriage. But, then again, perhaps the kind of marriage Christ is speaking of is one of a higher order and rarely exists here.


Although there are reasons for every marriage to be treated as sacred and worth preserving, it was always intended for there to be a higher purpose in marriage. It was intended to be an eternal union, inside of which sacred acts mirroring heaven itself take place. Bringing into this world new life by the loving union of two partners is a mirror of heaven. Such things are, or ought to be, most sacred.


But a higher kind of union, where love is the prevailing rule, is not often established here. More often than not, the marriages of this world are corrupted, just as society itself is corrupted.


I hardly dare offer a different view of these verses, because people think they know what they’re reading in them. I’m not sure we have ever seen what Christ is actually speaking about. Though caution would suggest otherwise, I’m going to go ahead with offering a different view.


First, this is always interpreted to be discussing things which are coarse or material, but it comes immediately following a discussion about the inner or spiritual self. This suggests our normal reading of this language may be incorrect. When the focus of Christ’s new and higher law is the inner man, then to read this as applying to outward behavior (fornication/adultery) may miss the point.


Second, notice the contrast between the only justified reason for terminating the marriage (fornication) and the subsequent results (adultery). Two different words are used, suggesting two different meanings are present.


I’ve consulted with John Hall about the New Testament language in the Matthew account of this sermon, where “porneia” is the typical rendering.  There the meaning of the first word which we render “fornication” could be a variety of things including: prostitution, sexual permissiveness or merely a sexual act. But, if the word was “poneria” then it could, by broad measure,  mean bad acts (with no sexual connotation at all).


There is a possibility that the correct way to read this could be rendered in this way: “Whoever puts away his wife for any reason other than the lack of marital intimacy…” That would mean the only justified reason to end the marriage is that the marriage has ended within the heart. There is no longer any love in the relation. It has died. It is no longer worthy of preservation, and therefore, the death of the heart justifies the death of the relation.


However, the focus is on the woman’s heart. That is, if the woman still retains marital intimacy for the husband, he cannot be justified in putting her away.  He is obligated to retain as his wife the woman who loves him. If he puts away such a wife, then he causes her to commit adultery.


This, then, raises the issue of the meaning of adultery. We tend to view it as a physical act involving sexual union with another. But adultery also holds the connotation of unfaithfulness, as in Israel becoming unfaithful and playing the part of an adulteress, worshiping other gods. (See, e.g., Jeremiah 3: 8.) When forced away by the man she loves, a woman is then “adulterated” by the act of the man. He is accountable for the treachery involved in dissolving the marriage which the woman wanted, and forcing her into the relation with either no one, or with another man. Either one is “adulterating” the marriage which she had with him. He is accountable for that uncharitable, unkind, and unjustified treatment of the woman.


On the other hand, when she has lost affection for him, and the union has become hollow and without love, then the marriage is dead and continuation of the relation is a farce. It is not a marriage. In fact, it is a pretense and an abomination unworthy of preservation. It will not endure. It is not eternal and not possible to preserve beyond the grave.


No union that has not been sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise will endure beyond the grave. (See D&C 132: 718, among other places.) The reason for sealing such a marriage by the promise of the Spirit is because it replicates the kind of holy union found in heaven. It is like unto the unions between gods and goddesses. It is worthy of preservation because it is eternal. It is enduring. It is worth preserving into all eternity. It is sealed because the gods recognize on the earth a mirror of what is found in heaven itself. Therefore heaven ratifies and approves the relationship. They do not create such relations in heaven, but instead recognize them here, and approve them for eternal duration. Without such a relationship, the parties are worthy of continuation as angels, but not as spouses, as Christ would put it elsewhere. (Matt. 22: 30; see also D&C 132: 17.)


It is true enough that the restored Gospel allows everyone the opportunity to come to the Temple and receive ordinances which hold the promise of an eternal union. But those are relationships where the parties are on probation. They are given as an opportunity to work out your salvation before God. They are given so that if you are true and faithful, the time may come when you are called up and chosen by the Holy Spirit of Promise to be kings and queens, priests and priestesses, whereas now you are only given opportunity to prove yourself worthy to become such.


There are many unhappy Latter-day Saint marriages which exist in name only.  The notorious high record use of anti-depressants by women in Utah is driven in large part by unhappy marriages they believe ought to be preserved because of a misunderstanding of these verses. Yet the underlying reality that the union causes suffering rather than rejoicing cannot be escaped. So they alter their natural reaction to the unhappy union by altering the brain with chemicals. Such a marriage cannot endure into eternity. Though the woman may sacrifice herself to preserve her heart’s desire to be a faithful, married mother, her unworthy marriage is not what will endure. It cannot be sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise, though she may be otherwise qualified.


Now, to be clear, I do not advocate divorce, particularly where minor children are involved. But I do advocate a higher view of the marital union where the prevailing reason for the union is love. This should be the whole preparation for marriage. Before contracting the union, the parties should look for that spouse with whom they can find heaven on earth. Unhappy marriages might all be saved if the parties would repent. The higher ideal is not impossible for any union to seek and find. That is the right of every party here, if they will but seek after it. If however, after every effort has been made to both find, and cultivate such a union, it proves to be an impossibility, then the parties ought to use the precious time allotted to them in mortality to find a union which will be worthy of continuation. Not at the expense of their children, who are entitled to have both parents raise them. The Holy Spirit of Promise was intended to be shed upon many marriages, rather than a comparative few.  Happiness was the design of our creation. When we avoid it by our misconduct and foolishness, we do not please heaven. Nor does gritting our teeth, putting up with miserable relationships, and enduring an unholy union please heaven or merit some eternal reward.


These words of Christ are speaking of a higher way to conduct our lives. To read into them exclusively outward behavior, when the whole import of the sermon addresses the inner-man, is out of context. I think we hardly understand the Lord’s meaning. But, then again, perhaps it is best if we do not understand His full meaning until we are ready to see for ourselves what great things the Lord has in store for those who love Him. (D&C 76: 114-117.) Perhaps it is best that man is not capable of making them known.


Now, as to the woman, there is another standard. He does not articulate it here, but can be found throughout scripture. A woman’s love of and fidelity to her husband is more often than not a product of her nature. It takes quite a fool to turn a wife’s natural affection for him into distrust and bitterness. But there are churlish men, as we know from scripture. Sometimes they marry an Abigail. (See 1 Sam. 25: 3.)

2 Nephi 29: 6-7

 
“Thou fool, that shall say: A Bible, we have got a Bible, and we need no more Bible. Have ye obtained a Bible save it were by the Jews?  Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?”
 
This is a continuing statement made to Nephi by the Lord. Besides the sermons delivered in the New Testament and Third Nephi, this is one of the most extensive revelations to be found given by Christ. Given its length, and the fact it is a quote from the Lord, we are compelled to take note. The Lord is doing all He can to draw our attention to the fact that the Book of Mormon MUST be valued above the Bible. It MUST take its place in latter-day study of God’s acts among men.
 
To say you have enough information from God is foolish.  God “created all men,” and as a result He “remembers all men.” He will “bring forth [His] word unto the children of men” in whatever place, time and circumstance as He decides. He cannot be circumscribed by our preferences or false understanding. He can and does exercise the prerogative to speak to whomever He decides.
 
When the Book of Mormon came forth, all people were startled at the idea God had more to say. They thought it an odd thing for anyone to claim there was yet more scripture. Joseph was persecuted and hated for announcing he had a new volume of scripture.
 
Now, some 180 years later we think the Lord is bound to talk to a specific person, in a specific way, and that anyone else or anywhere else is beyond the Lord’s capacity to accomplish. In our own way, we are also bound to a tradition which excludes the Lord’s prerogatives; we just redefine the box we confine the Lord.
 
He “brings forth His word” without regard to our views, and to “all the nations of the earth.” Now “nations” is not the same thing as we regard it today. The “nations” at the time of the Book of Mormon were something we would call “people” or “ethnicity” like the Israelites.  
 
The definition of an “isle of the sea” includes everything that is not part of the great Euro-Asian-African land mass. Although we regard North America as a continent, in the Book of Mormon vernacular it is an “isle of the sea.” (2 Ne. 10: 20.) Further, most of Israel was relocated onto the isles of the sea. (1 Ne. 22: 4.) So when the Lord affirms He speaks to those on the “isles of the sea” He is confirming that there are multiple locations, involving multiple parties, each one of which has received sacred communication from Him. There are, in short, still a great deal of His words which have not as yet come to our attention. They are coming. When they do, we are warned to take care in what we choose to reject.
 
When I was first investigating the church, this argument was presented to me by the missionaries in one of the first discussions. I have to admit the proposition made such sense to me that I found it completely persuasive. The idea that God would not be in communication with the vast majority of mankind living separate from Palestine during the Lord’s life seemed to be a sort of abandonment by the Lord. If He is the God of all mankind, then ought He not speak to all mankind?
The “wise men from the east” were not locals to Palestine.  Yet they remained both connected to, and watching for signs involving the birth of the Lord. If them, why not others? The Book of Mormon answers this query. This idea was too persuasive for me to find doubt.
 
If God does remember all mankind, and speaks to the various nations over time, then the failure to keep the information intact is also explained. The Book of Mormon shows what and how a society’s faith fails and is lost. It explains how very careless mankind is with knowledge given by God.
 
Riddles of history are better answered both directly and indirectly in the Book of Mormon than any other text, including the Bible.

1 Nephi 13: 40-41

1 Nephi 13: 40-41:

“And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved. And they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb; wherefore they both shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth.”
 
The “books” that the prior verse referred to are now called “records” by the angel. The “records” will be among and originate from the gentiles. The purpose of the “records” is to establish the truth of the original records of “the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” The purpose of the whole is to confirm the reality of Christ in His mortal ministry. Christ, who came to earth, lived and died as a mortal, was the Savior of mankind. The New Testament record confirming His ministry, sacrifice and resurrection is true! Their testimonies of Christ are reliable. He is our Savior and our God!
 
The “plain and precious” things that got removed will be returned to us.  I’ve spoken of that before and won’t repeat it again here. But the “plain and precious” things will become known to “all kindreds, tongues and people” again. 
 
I was thinking about what was required for Joseph Smith to be able to get a message out in his day. He needed a printing press, which he could not afford. He needed Martin Harris to give a $3,000 note backed by a mortgage on his home to motivate the printer to make the first printings of the Book of Mormon. He needed an army of disciples to distribute the material on foot or horseback. He needed an infrastructure that went well beyond his individual means. Today Joseph would need a keyboard and an internet connection. He could speak to more people in a few minutes, across a wider swath of the globe, as a single individual acting alone, than he was able to speak to through an army of followers who uprooted their lives to follow his teachings.
 
We continue to make great sacrifices in purse and time to send missionaries throughout the world even today. In truth, if Joseph Smith had access to the internet he could have restored more things to more people in less time than has been done from 1830 to the present. It makes you wonder – if the truth were not packaged, marketed, focus-grouped through approved language, and accompanied by supporting photos and digital graphics – if the truth were simply spoken plainly, would it have any effect? Does it need an infrastructure of trained professional marketing to accompany it? Does it need a slick website to attract His sheep? Is His voice enough?
 
What if someone were to declare “that all men must come unto the Lamb of God, who is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world, or they cannot be saved.” What if they were to declare in sober words that the Lamb of God lives still! That He had appeared to and spoken with the one making the declaration.  Would there yet be those who would hear and repent?
 
Would that message be drowned out by the chorus of foolish and vain things being spoken in the name of Jesus Christ by those who, despite having real intent and sincere desire, have not been given power to declare His words? Would such a message only be another bit of entertainment for the bored and curious to give but passing notice? Could the world be given such a message and warned, but fail to see what it is they are being offered for one last time before the harvest is to begin? If so, would we notice?
The verse raises interesting options for the Lord to fulfill His promises in ways which have only come into existence in the last few years.  He certainly does have the ability to “hasten His work” when He chooses. (D&C 88: 73.)
 
Should someone choose to come, the verse reports: “they must come according to the words which shall be established by the mouth of the Lamb; and the words of the Lamb shall be made known in the records of thy seed, as well as in the records of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” What does that include? Authoritative baptism? Authoritative bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost? Prophecy?  Revelation? The “rock” of seership we discussed a few days ago? How must they come?  The Book of Mormon suggests it must be through the gate of revelation.  (Moroni 10: 4-5.)  Without revelation you cannot obtain the testimony of Jesus; which is the spirit of prophecy. (Rev. 19: 10.) Or, in other words, unless you find prophets who can bear testimony of Him, you have not yet found the means for salvation. This becomes quite interesting and important. Very frank about the conditions for salvation.
 
Then the promise is that all these witnesses, all these records, and all these disciples are to become “one.”  “[T]hey both (records) shall be established in one; for there is one God and one Shepherd over all the earth” who in turn makes people to be “one” as well. A great assembly, a general congregation and Church of the Firstborn.
 
How great a promise has been offered to those who will receive! What good, however, is it to offer a gift if the one to whom it is offered refuses to accept? (D&C 88: 33.)