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An Interruption of Jacob

The Jacob 5 discussion will resume Monday. This is a current-events comment:

The City Creek multi-billion dollar project has excited a lot of criticism. The result has been dismay by many faithful Latter-day Saints. Their anxiety over the project has become the subject of many conversations on the Internet.

To grapple with this outpouring of criticism and in some cases disgust, the church has paid employees and volunteers who post on-line responses using personas, or anonymous identities to beat back those who express concern. Many of the multiple personas are put up by the same church employee.

The arguments advanced by those who are concerned about the investment in the City Creek shopping center most often cite scripture. Their observations are based on sincere belief, supported by positions taken from scripture study, and reflect honest concern. The defense is based on the concept of supporting the leadership, sustaining the church’s prophet, and uses comments taken from church talks, sermons, etc.

The gulf between these two positions is one of the great divisions in the church today. The numbers of those holding these two positions are not equal, however. The one is held by sincere, believing members of the church who honestly disagree with the use of these funds for this elaborate, costly project. The other is advanced for the most part by paid employees or volunteers who are doing so using multiple personas to justify the church’s conduct.

In the realm of political debate, the production of artificial arguments by personas has been termed “astroturf” because it is not real. The artificial “astroturf” is in contrast to the grassroots movement of people. When enough “astroturf” has been sent out by the political machines, the grassroots will often respond. What began as fiction, or hope, turns into actual public opinion. The political parties and big business employ these techniques all the time now.

Interestingly, there are those inside the church’s organized effort who do not believe the arguments they are advancing. Some of them have been persuaded the church’s position is in fact wrong. They continue to make the arguments. It is their job. But they do not believe in the position they advance.

It is a fascinating moment to watch. It will be equally interesting to see if conference visitors from around the United States and the world visit the City Creek project and return dismayed, or return home gratified to see this expensive investment by the church.

I’d like readers to note I’ve not taken a position in this post. It does not deal with anything other than the events unfolding and how the reactions are being advanced and defended. Nothing more.

Jacob 5: 19-26

After establishing good fruit in the original root, the Lord of the vineyard visited the scattered branches in “the nethermost part of the vineyard.” (5: 19-20; see also 3 Ne. 16: 1-3.) The Lord of the vineyard was satisfied that in each of the places where the natural branches were scattered, good fruit had returned. (5: 20, see also 2 Ne. 29: 12.)

Whether it was the “poorest spot in all the land of the vineyard” or another place “poorer than the first” it did not matter. The result was good fruit. (5: 20-21; 23.) The servant was dismayed at the locations to which the Lord had taken the scattered branches. In perplexity he inquired: “How comest thou hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot…?” (5: 21.) The servant was surprised to know the Lord of the vineyard would go to visit these poor places. It seemed beneath the Lord to have ministered in such humble, far flung lands, among such woebegotten peoples. But the Lord has “descended below them all” (D&C 122: 7-8) and found no indignity in visiting with such humble people in diminished circumstances. It may well have been because of the difficulty of the circumstances that fruit was produced. (Alma 32: 12-13.)

As if to confirm that difficulties are a blessing to His vine, when they get to the “good spot of ground,” the transplanted branches have produced conflicting fruit. In this most chosen land of all, the brothers were divided, and fought in continual ethnic-cultural-religious warfare for generations between themselves. Part of these branches produced good fruit, but part was corrupt and wild. (5: 25.) Although this was the best spot in the vineyard, and although the Lord of the vineyard had “nourished this tree like unto the others” it was still half corrupt. (Id.) This tree required pruning.

The Lord decided to “Pluck off the branches that have not brought forth good fruit, and cast them into the fire.” (5: 26.) Accordingly, nature itself removed the branches: “And thus the face of the whole earth became deformed, because of the tempests, and the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the quaking of the earth. And behold, the rocks were rent in twain; they were broken up upon the face of the whole earth, insomuch that they were found in broken fragments, and in seams and in cracks, upon all the face of the land. And it came to pass that when the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the storm, and the tempest, and the quakings of the earth did cease—for behold, they did last for about the space of three hours; and it was said by some that the time was greater; nevertheless, all these great and terrible things were done in about the space of three hours—and then behold, there was darkness upon the face of the land.” (3 Ne. 8: 17-19.)

The pruning then, like the Lord of the vineyard’s pruning at any time, was targeted and specific. It is designed to remove only the branches worthy of destruction. The righteous do not need to fear. Those who reject the prophets sent to them, reject the prophets’ message, and give no heed to the prophets, need to fear. (3 Ne. 10: 12-14.) The message of Jacob comes full circle. He returns to his earlier theme, when he promised the righteous they would be spared. (See 2 Ne. 6: 18, and the prior post Nephi’s Brother Jacob, Part 7.) He is consistent.

Jacob 5: 14-18

When the Lord scattered Israel, He “hid” them “in the nethermost parts of the vineyard.” (5: 14.) The word “hid” suggests the deliberate concealment of the people, their true origin, their blood relation to Jacob, their destiny to become part of the covenant Family of Israel, and their loss from the record of history and even their own memory of the earlier connections. The Lord of the vineyard intended for this part of His plan to remain concealed. He knew what He was doing. He was acting on a plan designed to produce preservable fruit, but mankind would be oblivious to His methods. His ways are not always shared or understood by man. (Isa. 55: 8-9.)

The places are not numbered, but described as “nethermost.” Nor is the design identified other than “some in one and some in another, according to his will and pleasure.” This is an order which He keeps to Himself, but we are told it reflects His “will” and His “pleasure.”

The Lord left the vineyard to continue in the ordinary course “that a long time passed away.” (5: 15.) There is no haste involved. Men come and go across generations while the design of God unfolds. We are impatient and want to see God’s plan unfold completely within our lifetime here, but His work is ageless and spans generations. Rarely does He promise a single generation will witness promised events. (See, e.g., JS-M 1: 32-34.)

When a “long time” had passed away, the Lord no longer stood watch, but took His servant and “went down” to “labor in the vineyard.” (5: 15.) His presence and ministry among men took a more direct effort. He “went down into the vineyard to labor” for the souls of men. Behold the condescension of God, indeed!

The underlying “root” was able to give “nourishment” to the hybrid people living when the Lord came. The surviving prophetic warnings and limited practices supported this new Dispensation, making it a field white, already to harvest. (5: 17-18.)

There He found among those grafted into the natural root disciples willing to follow Him. Among them were those who were “good” and “like unto the natural fruit”– which would make them candidates to be adopted as sons and daughters of God, as the Family of Israel. The Lord rejoiced because He realized He could “lay up much fruit, which the tree thereof hath brought forth; and the fruit thereof I shall lay up against the season, unto mine own self.” (5: 18.)

The Lord’s personal ministry resulted in a great harvest of souls. There were many willing to accept His mission, respond to Him, and go through the process of changing into covenant Israel again. Sons and daughters of God returned to the earth by adoption into the Family of God. (See, e.g., Rom. 8: 16-17; Eph. 1: 5; 2: 19, 1 John 3: 2; among many others.)

An Important Quote

That which can be destroyed by truth should be.
P.C. Hodgell

Jacob 5: 10-13

The Lord caused his “servant” to perform all He determined to do for the vineyard. (5: 10.) The wild branches were grafted in and the covenant was suspended. The lines were broken. It would require a restoration of the covenant and adoption for the “natural fruit” to reappear. (5: 10.)

Labor was required from the Lord’s servant as well as the Lord Himself. The vineyard required “digging about” and “pruning” and “nourishing” in an attempt to preserve the “root” to which it would be possible to one day to return. (5: 11.) These words tell us how constant the care has been, while scattered and wild remnants have apparently lay fallow without any fruit. Though the people have fallen, the Lord labors on.

Even when the digging, pruning and nourishing have been finished, and while the results are unknown, the Lord of the vineyard directs His servants to “watch” carefully, and to provide yet further “nourishment” when the damaged tree requires it. (5: 12.) Throughout, it is all done by the Lord’s “words.” He is not absent. He is diligent; ever watchful. He owns the vineyard and everything that is located there. Because it is His, He wants the best for it.

As to the young branches He wants to preserve, so it may be possible at last to return to producing good fruit, He decided to move them “to the nethermost part of my vineyard.” (5: 13.) This allegory contradicts the idea of Jehovah as Lord of Israel alone. The Lord claims the entire vineyard, the world itself, as His. The notion of Jehovah being only a local Diety, as is thought by many scholars to be the prevalent idea at the time of Zenos’ prophecy, is destroyed by this assertion of ownership over the entire vineyard. Even “the nethermost part” of the world belongs to the Lord of the vineyard.

Even as He relocates His people throughout the vineyard, He continues to view the scattered branches as part of the same, single “tree” He hoped to preserve. He explains: “[I]t grieveth me that I should lose this tree and the fruit thereof.” (5: 13.) His intent is to continue to have covenant people, part of His Family, His own sons and daughters. Even though they are unable to continue in that relationship during the scattering, it is hoped ultimately it will allow Him to yet “lay up fruit thereof against the season.” (Id.)

This purposeful and attentive effort was reassuring to Jacob’s people. Though they were long separated from Jerusalem, and although the rising generation had never been there, this allegory assures them of God’s watchful eye. The covenant of Jehovah with Israel continued to be with the scattered branches though they had been transplanted across an ocean and were living in an island of the sea. (See 2 Ne. 10: 20.)

The history of the world is the history of Israel. The events are supervised by a Lord whose purpose is to lay up fruit against the season of the harvest. As we grow ever closer to the season of harvest, the plan will need to result in the appearance of natural fruit again. Otherwise, the entire vineyard will be gathered in bundles and burned.

Jacob 5: 7-9

As Israel decays, the Lord of the vineyard takes the dramatic step of cutting away the “main branches” or in other words the leading families, the recognized genealogical well-breds, or the families of rank and distinction. They were to be “burned” rather than further cultivated. (5: 7.) Their pride and arrogance disqualified them from preservation or further work. They were riddled with “decay” and unworthy of further effort. They were to be destroyed by fire. Fire is always a symbol of the Lord’s judgments designed to cleanse or purge. Killing the decayed and corrupt leading families was cleansing the tree of the decay that had taken hold in the lofty, inner-circles of the people of Israel.

Men may have respected, even admired the success and status of these “main branches” of the Israelites, but that was nothing to the Lord. All their great rank, position, support structure and apparent security were nothing once the Lord decreed they were to be burned. Invading conquerors would target these specific social leaders for removal as a precaution against further loyalty. These would have to be removed for the outside ruler from a foreign power to succeed. The very thing which made them secure was the reason they were targeted to be killed. In a natural political purge the “main branches” who seemed forever entrenched to rule were swept away. No more would they “cumber the ground of [His] vineyard.” (5: 9.)

To replace the notable families of distinction, the Lord determined to bring in “wild olive tree” branches, or those who have no distinction, or even family connections with the roots of Israel. (Id.) There would be new blood brought in by the conquerors with resultant intermarriages.

Unlike the main branches, there were “young and tender branches” which were not to be destroyed, but were instead to be transplanted. From Assyria or Babylon, these dislocated tribes would be spread into the nethermost part of the vineyard, or in the words of the Lord of the vineyard: “I will graft them whithersoever I will.” (5: 8.)

With the mixing of foreign blood in the remaining “root” of the tree, and grafting of the “young and tender branches” into “wild” trees throughout the vineyard, the Israelite bloodlines become fragmented, scattered and no longer purely either Jacobian (by blood) or Israelite (by adoption). It would not matter if you look to the main root, or to the many scattered branches, they were all mingled with the “wild” gentile stock to produce a hybrid people. The corruption of the family was too deeply entrenched. They would not be able to repent any longer because their arrogance and ignorance prevented them from seeing their true condition. They thought themselves so highly favored of God they could not fall. Therefore, it was altogether necessary for them to fall. Without such a traumatic message delivered to the entire family, they would continue to presume safety meant they were justified. Any sign of prosperity was interpreted to mean they were right with God.

The family of Jacob needed this trauma for the covenant with Israel to be preserved. They were dying and not noticing it. Though it was terrible to endure, the Lord of the vineyard had the ultimate best interests of the entire tree in mind. He did what was needed to restore health and vigor. The covenant had been broken anyway, and this would make possible a renewal of the covenant and restoration from scattered Jacob the Family of Israel.

Jacob 5: 3-6

Israel was and is the only family which will be saved. It is the “tame olive tree” that the Lord “took and nourished in his vineyard.” (5: 3.) Despite all the Lord’s efforts, however, the actual family tree “waxed old, and began to decay.” (Id.) It lost its vitality. It tired of the Lord. His desire and “nourishment” was not able to overcome the tree’s indifference to what He offered them. It began to decay.

The Lord was unwilling to abandon His tree even when there was no productivity in it. He intended to continue to create the Family of God, despite the failure by the family to respond to His invitation. He initially set about to “prune it” (that is, to cast away from the Family of God or Israel, those who failed to live worthily) and to “dig about it” and then to “nourish it.” In the initial work it is the Lord directly who does the work. He does not send a servant to perform the labor. (5: 4-5.)

“Pruning” involves cutting away. It destroys. The goal is ultimately to bring about vigor and life. But the initial work requires destroying to clear away and make the growth possible. The result is harsh and violent in the short run, but there is something important going on in the work of “pruning” away. The larger purpose is what the Lord has in mind. The short term sacrifices and difficulties are unavoidable and necessary. They must be endured.

“Digging about” the tree is also violent. It is threatening, and imposes upset and difficulties. The Lord’s benign intent is not understood when the pruning and digging are measured against short term standards. They must take a longer view.

The Lord’s purpose is to “perhaps” produce “young and tender branches.” (5: 5.) It is “perhaps” because the Lord grants the tree agency to respond, not compulsion to force compliance. The Lord can coax, but the tree must grow.

The older branches are not intended to be preserved. They bear nothing but bad fruit. The young and tender branches are the goal. These, however, will not yield fruit for some time. They must have an opportunity to develop.

This description of ancient Israel shows how the Lord’s work was always purposeful and designed to preserve the tree and continue to create sons and daughters of God. However, despite all He did, the “little, young and tender branches” were comparatively small in the scheme of things. As to the “main top thereof” it “began to perish.” (5: 6.)

The infrastructure, the hierarchy, the temple, the priestly class, the learned Rabbis and the schools of thought were rotting. They were nothing like what would be required to produce fruit. They were religious but heritical. They were devoted, but not His sons and daughters. The family line was broken. They needed to be adopted back again, because they lacked the power to remain connected.

This is an odd juxtaposition: The “main top” is corrupt. The “young tender branches” are nothing like the great growth overshadowing them. Yet the Lord sees in the young growth what He seeks. As to the “main top” there is nothing but “perishing” and decay.

Israel is so often in this predicament. They despise the truth, but respond warmly to flattery telling them they are righteous. (Hel. 13: 27-28.) When someone is sent by the Lord of the vineyard calling for repentance, Israel rejects him, says he is a sinner and a false prophet. (Hel. 13: 25-26.) Ultimately, however, for the bloodline of Jacob to rise up and become fruit worthy of preservation, there must be a change from blood connection to Jacob to an adoption into Israel. Then they become sons and daughters of God, and fruit worthy of preservation. (Mosiah 27: 25.)

Jacob Chapter 5

Of all the material Jacob could have adopted as his prophecy, his selection of Zenos’ allegory of the Olive Tree is telling. The account is a journey through various dispensations of the Gospel, tracking a bloodline of chosen people. To Jacob’s credit, he realized the work of salvation was devoted primarily to rescuing the descendants of a chosen line beginning with Abraham.

The allegory is a family story. The use of the Olive tree is a deliberate symbol of a family, and of the tree whose value was beyond question in the culture from which the allegory sprung. To understand the story, it is necessary to settle on meanings.

The tree is a family line belonging to the “house of Israel.” (Jacob 5: 3.) The work of the Lord of the vineyard and his fellow laborers is designed to cause the chosen family line to produce fruit worthy of preservation. The “fruit” is people, or more correctly, children raised in righteousness who comprehend and accept the Gospel and abide by its teachings. The name “Israel” is the new name given to Jacob. Jacob was renamed by the Lord because the Lord took him into His own family. Naming signifies Fatherhood over Jacob, and the name Israel signifies the Family of God.

Not every descendant of Jacob is also a descendant of Israel. Blood is one thing, adoption into the Family of God is another. The allegory should be read with the proper context. It is about preserving the Family of Israel, or in other words, the Family of God.

To correct and instruct the chosen family, it was necessary for the Lord of the vineyard, in a desperate attempt to cause the family to produce fruit worthy of preservation, to disburse the children, scatter them throughout the vineyard, graft wild branches into the roots and tame branches into wild roots. In one sense the failure of the chosen family is to the world’s great blessing. In the end, the world overcomes the chosen family and all those grafted into it, and in the final effort the work returns to the original roots and the original branches in a desperate final attempt to salvage something from the vineyard before it is burned.

Choosing this allegory as the great central theme of Jacob’s book shows his comprehension of sacred history and prophecy, and his knowledge of the future. Unlike Nephi, whose muse was Isaiah, the fully mature prophet Jacob turned to Zenos to act as “second witness” to his prophecy. We have in Jacob Chapter 5 the great explanation of how we got where we are today, and what will unfold before the Lord’s return to burn the vineyard. It is odd we spend so little time with the material. It is the central theme of all man’s history (from God’s point of view).

The family is scattered into several different parts of the vineyard:
First, the location of the original tree.
Second, an undisclosed number of “nethermost parts of the vineyard.” (Verse 14.)
Third, a “poorest spot.”  (Verse 21.)
Fourth, a “poorer spot than the first.” (Verse 23.)
Fifth, a “good spot.” (Verse 25.)
However, there is no attempt to quantify the number of spots because the allegory is intended to convey meaning apart from numbers. You can cross check the other prophecies from Nephi (2 Ne. 29: 3) and Christ (3 Ne. 17: 4) and find there is no definitive number given of how many separate groups are included in the “nethermost parts of the vineyard” where Israel was scattered.

What should leap out to you from this allegory is the nature of the Gospel and God’s work among mankind. It was and is related to preserving a single family line. The “God of Israel” is concerned with preserving the chosen line of heirs. The Gospel was and is a family matter, and the target of the Lord’s work is now and always has been the preservation of a specific group He intends to preserve.

This is an image we have trouble with in our current multiculturalism. We tend to view all mankind as the beneficiaries of God’s plans to save mankind. They are to some extent. After all, He provides the sun and rain to everyone regardless of their ethnicity. (Matt. 5: 45.) And every people are given according to His mercy some portion of truth calculated to benefit them. (Alma 29: 8.) However, Zenos and Jacob agree the Lord’s primary effort has been directed at preserving one family, and the world has been the incidental beneficiaries of this global effort to preserve them.

We will look at the history of this family as told through the allegory of the Olive tree.

Comments/Answers

Although “comments” are disabled, I still receive comments on those old threads. They just no longer go onto the blog.

In response to a question about the source of information regarding the church’s tithing investment system, I have confirmed that information from three sources in the church offices, therefore put it up because it was accurate. But I keep confidences, and sources are not disclosed unless they want to be disclosed.