Jacob 5 The allegory of the olive-tree
This allegory tells the story of the Lord’s dealings with the house of Israel. This relationship is of utmost importance because it is so commonly dealt with in other scriptures. Anyone who proclaims to understand the scriptures and the dealings of the Lord with his people must understand this allegory.
Joseph Smith once revealed a secret to understanding a passage of scripture, “I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable?” (Teachings, p. 276-7). If we apply this rule to understanding the allegory of the olive-tree, we only have to look at Jacob 4:17-18, And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner? Behold, my beloved brethren, I will unfold this mystery unto you. This is the question which prompted the recital of the allegory of the olive-tree, “how can the house of Israel ever be established in Christ after having rejected Him?” The Lord will demonstrate how to get good fruit out of once wicked branches.
By way of introduction, the allegory must be divided into three main sections. Section 1 is described by verses 1-14. Section 2 is described by verses 15-28. And section 3 is described by verses 29-75. Each of these sections is divided by the passage of a long time period, see verses 15 and 29. Therefore, there are three main visits of the Lord and his servants to the vineyard. Each visit is separated by the passage of a lot of time. Keep this in mind as you read for the chronology of the allegory is important and will help us with the correct interpretation. Another help is to understand what the figures in the allegory represent. The Book of Mormon Institute Manual gives a key:
1. The vineyard
1. The world
2. Master of the vineyard
2. Jesus Christ
3. The servant
3. The Lord’s prophets
4. Tame olive tree
4. The house of Israel, the Lord’s covenant people
5. Wild olive tree
6. Groups of people
7. The roots of the tame olive tree
7. The gospel covenant and promises made by God that constantly give life and sustenance to the tree
8. Fruit of the tree
8. The lives or works of men
9. Digging, pruning, fertilizing
9. The Lord’s work with his children which seeks to persuade them to be obedient and produce good fruit
10. Transplanting the branches
10. Scattering of groups throughout the world or restoring them to their original position
11. The process of spiritual rebirth wherein one is joined to the covenant
12. Decaying branches
12. Wickedness and apostasy
13. Casting the branches into the fire
13. The judgment of God
Joseph Fielding Smith
“But we have something in the Book of Mormon that, if we did not have other truth expressed in it, would be sufficient evidence of the divinity of this book. I have reference to the fifth chapter of Jacob…I think that as many as ninety-nine out of every hundred who read the Book of Mormon, read this parable through without grasping the fullness and meaning of it. And I think this is one of the greatest passages in the Book of Mormon…No matter how many times you have read the Book of Mormon,…take a few minutes at some convenient time and sit down and just read carefully every word in the fifth chapter of the Book of Jacob…No greater parable was ever recorded…I tell you, my brothers and sisters, Joseph Smith did not write it. That was written by the inspiration of the Almighty…When you read that chapter through if you cannot say in your soul, ‘this is absolutely a revelation from God,’ then there is something wrong with you.” (Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 4, p. 203-7 as taken from Latter-day Commentary on the Book of Mormon compiled by K. Douglas Bassett, p. 183-4)
Jacob 5:1 the prophet Zenos
The prophet Zenos is not found in the Old Testament. Undoubtedly, his record was contained on the brass plates of Laban. We often forget that the brass plates represented a larger body of literature than our current Old Testament. This is apparent from the statement of Nephi, it (today’s Bible) is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many (1 Ne 13:23). The plates of brass obviously contained a considerable body of literature no longer extant in our Old Testament. It contained the words of many prophets whose message, without the Book of Mormon, would have otherwise been lost to the world. These were men who clearly taught of a Messiah who would come in the flesh to redeem his people. These prophets include Zenock, Zenos, and Neum (see the Book of Mormon Index).
Jacob 5:3 I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive-tree
A tame olive tree is one that is cultivated by the master of the vineyard, specifically grown to produce good olives. The olive tree is a carefully chosen simile for several reasons:
“For centuries the olive branch has been associated with peace. When the dove returned to Noah in the ark, it carried in its beak an olive leaf, as though to symbolize that the earth was again at peace with God. (See Genesis 8:11) The olive branch was used in both Greece and Rome to signify peace, and it is still used in that sense in the great seal of the United States where the American eagle is shown grasping an olive branch in his talons…
“There is further symbolic significance in that the olive tree is different from most other fruit-bearing trees in the manner of its beginning. If the green slip of an olive tree is merely planted and allowed to grow, it develops into the wild olive, a bush that grows without control into a tangle of limbs and branches that produce only a small, worthless fruit. (See Harold N. and Alma L. Moldenke, Plants of the Bible, p. 159) To become the productive ‘tame’ olive tree, the main stem of the wild tree must be cut back completely and then a branch from a tame olive tree must be grafted into the stem of the wild one. With careful pruning and cultivating the tree will begin to produce its first fruit in about seven years, but it will not become fully productive for nearly fifteen years. In other words, the olive tree cannot become productive in and of itself; it requires grafting by the husbandman to bring it into production. One remembers the figure used by Jesus to describe himself, his Father, and those that serve them: ‘I am the true vine, and my father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. ‘ (John 15:1-3) The word purgeth in Greek means ‘pruned,’ and in Greek verse 3 keeps the metaphor and says, ‘ Now ye are pruned.’ God is the husbandman and prunes off the wild branches of our spiritual lives if we will but submit to his tender care. Thus we become like the tame olive tree…
“’The wild olive is a kind of reversion to the primitive plant—such as occurs also with the fig and almond—and it takes place whenever the growth of the olive is neglected….
“’In most neglected olive groves numerous little bushes of the ‘wild olive’ may be seen, which, though very unlike the cultivated tree—having a shorter, smaller, and greener leaf and a stiffer, more prickly stem—are nevertheless derived from it. As a rule the wild olive is but a shrub, but it may grow into a tree and have small but useless ‘berries.’ Where groves of wild olives are found in Palestine, they are probably always the descendants of cultivated trees long ago destroyed,’ (James Hastings, ed., Dictionary of the Bible, s.v. “Olive.”)
“The olive tree is remarkable for two other characteristics that are quite unlike other fruit-bearing trees. First, though requiring nearly fifteen years to come into full production, it may produce fruit for centuries. Some trees now growing in the Holy Land have been producing abundantly for at least four hundred years. The second amazing quality of the tree is that as it finally does grow old and begin to die, the roots send up a number of new green shoots which, if grafted and pruned in regular fashion, will mature to full-grown olive trees again. Thus, while the tree itself may produce fruit for centuries, the root of the tree may go on producing fruit and new trees for millennia. It is believed that some of the ancient olive trees in Israel today come from trees that were [in existence] when Christ was alive on the earth.” (Book of Mormon Student Manual, 1981, pp. 138-9)
Jacob 5:3 it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay
The chronology of this allegory is crucial to a proper interpretation. To give a sense for what time period is being spoken of we will take clues from the several instances in the chapter when the time period can be fairly well determined. The rest of the chronology must be extrapolated from known history and scriptural clues. This passage, describing when the house of Israel begins to decay, could be interpreted to refer to the time when Israel decided to establish a king. Note the interaction between Samuel and the Lord:
‘But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.
And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.’ (1 Sam 8:6-8)
Because of this interaction, Saul was chosen as a king over Israel (c. 1095 BC). Saul, of course, was followed by king David and king Solomon. After Solomon’s reign, the children of Israel began to wax grosser in their iniquities, especially among the northern ten tribes.
Jacob 5:6 it began to put forth somewhat a little, young and tender branches; but behold, the main top thereof began to perish
We can determine the general time period spoken of here because this is the time right before Israel begins to be scattered. The scattering of Israel begins with the sacking of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians. Therefore, this verse likely refers to the state of affairs before 721 BC. At that time, the northern kingdom was completely wicked. They were practicing idolatry. They had a long line of wicked, idolatrous kings, and had altogether turned from the Lord:
‘And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.
And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger.
Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel’ (2 Kings 17:16-18)
This was when the main top thereof began to perish. The other part of this prophecy refers to the young and tender branches which were still viable. This would refer to the same time period—when the smaller kingdom of Judah was still faithful to the Lord. Probably the most righteous king at this time was king Hezekiah. Of him the scriptures record:
‘And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did.
He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.
He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.’ (2 Kings 18:3-5)
However, the interpretation that the wicked kingdom of Israel is the “main top” and that the kingdom of Judah represents “the young and tender branches” cannot be too strictly adhered to because there were those of the northern kingdom who were preserved by being scattered, and there were those of the southern kingdom whose wickedness ripened until they were destroyed. The example above is given to the reader for a frame of reference.
Jacob 5:7,10 branches from a wild olive-tree are grafted in to the mother tree
The branches from the wild olive-tree are brought in to replace the dying top branches. This again is referring to the time when the kingdom of Israel is being destroyed and other nations are brought in to replace them:
‘And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof…
Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Beth-el, and taught them how they should fear the Lord. (2 Kings 17:24,28)
These wild branches did not produce fruit right away. For centuries they believed in the Lord and yet continued to worship their own pagan gods. Because of this they were looked down on by their Jewish neighbors to the south. They eventually became “the Samaritans” and practiced a form of Judaism which was mixed with their pagan traditions. It was not until after the ministry of the Savior that they began to blossom, and the Gentiles were grafted in in greater numbers.
Jacob 5:7,9 main branches…we will cast them into the fire that they may be burned
Some of the wicked members of the northern kingdom were killed before the main body of Samaria was taken captive to Assyria. This likely occurred while the Israelites were under siege to the Assyrians for three years (1 Kings 17:5). No record specifically describes how many died in the wars and siege of the Assyrians.
The record is more complete regarding the destructions which occurred in Jerusalem when the Babylonians took the city:
‘Therefore he (the Lord) brought upon them (the Jews) the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand…
And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon’ (2 Chron 36:17,20).
Jacob 5:8,13,14 the young and tender branches are hid in the nethermost parts of the vineyard
This is the scattering of Israel when the natural branches are taken and spread all over the world. Note that the execution of most of the work to this point has been done by the servant (v. 10). This act, the scattering of Israel, is done only by the Master of the vineyard himself, the Lord of the vineyard went his way, and hid the natural branches of the tame olive-tree (v. 14).
Later in the chapter we learn that the Lord hid four distinct branches (v. 20-25). The only branch whose identity is known is the last of the four, which is a representation of the descendants of Lehi. This helps us understand the chronology. It implies that the other three branches which were hid up by the Lord were taken before Lehi and his family in 600 BC. One of these three branches is probably a representation of the ten tribes which were taken in 721 BC. The identity of the other two branches is unknown.
Jacob 5:15 a long time passed away
This is the first great division marking the beginning of section two of the prophecy. So far the wicked of Israel and Judah have been killed, the remnant has been scattered, and the Gentiles have been brought in to take their place. The Lord allows this long time to pass away to give the main tree and transplanted branches time to produce good fruit. This next section describes the Lord and his servant on a mission of observation. No transplants or grafting takes place, just the investigation of the vineyard and some nourishing.
Jacob 5:17 the tree…had sprung forth and begun to bear fruit
The mother tree, with Jewish roots and Gentile branches, had begun to bear fruit. How accurately this describes the early Christian era. At this time the Gentiles were blossoming in the knowledge of the resurrected Jesus Christ. One will recall that the Jewish Christians had some misgivings about taking the gospel to the Gentiles, but Paul was their champion. He understood the will of the Lord in bringing forth this great work.
‘For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles…
That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel’ (Eph 3:1,6)
In Romans he warns the Gentiles that they must produce good fruit or they will be destroyed as the Israelites which preceded them:
‘if the root be holy, so are the branches.
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.
Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee…
And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. (Rom 11:16-21,23)
After Christ comes and fulfills the Law of Moses, the Gentiles are adopted into the house of Israel, as participants in a new and everlasting covenant. They, in effect, become holy branches, for the branches of the wild tree have taken hold of the moisture of the root thereof (v. 18). For the rest of the allegory, it is easier to think of the mother tree as Christianity in general, with Jewish roots and Gentile branches. In this sense, the mother tree does not have to be limited geographically to the confines of Jerusalem.
Jacob 5:22 the natural branches…the first…had brought forth much fruit
Here, Zenos describes the first branch which had been hidden up to the Lord long before. Unfortunately, we do not know who these people are. All we know about them is that they were taken to a poor spot of ground and that, around the time of Christ, they had brought forth much fruit. One of these first three branches probably represents the ten tribes which were taken north. Although they may be lost to our knowledge, they are not lost to the Lord, now I go unto the Father, and also to show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel, for they are not lost unto the Father, for he knoweth whither he hath taken them (3 Ne 17:4).
Jacob 5:23 another branch of the tree
This second scattered branch represents another group of people. The scriptures do not tell us who they are—only that they were taken to a spot of ground [which] was poorer than the first and that they also had brought forth much fruit. This underscores the truth that we do not know all the workings of the Lord. He has had righteous people hidden away on the earth. These people believed in Christ and may have been visited by the resurrected Lord. We don’t have their writings or history, and we won’t have them until all things shall be revealed unto the children of men which ever have been among the children of men (2 Ne 27:11).
Jacob 5:24 another branch…hath brought forth fruit
The identity of this third branch is also unknown, but the Lord has said, Know ye not that there are more nations than one?…and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth? (2 Ne 29:7).
Joseph Fielding Smith
“Now in that parable the olive tree is the House of Israel, as I have said. In its native land it began to die. So the Lord took branches like the Nephites, like the lost tribes, and like others that the Lord led off that we do not know anything about, to other parts of the earth. He planted them all over his vineyard, which is the world. No doubt he sent some of these branches into Japan, into Korea, into China. No question about it, because he sent them to all parts of the world.
“Time came when in these distant parts the trees began to decay, so the Lord sent out for the last time to gather the fruit into the harvest…
“Now there is your answer. That is the answer to these people who approach me with the question, what’s the use of going out among the Chinese, the Japanese, the Koreans, and the people of the Far East to preach the gospel to them? The answer: because they are branches of the tree, they are of the house of Israel. The Lord took the branches of the tree, grafted them into the wild olives, the Gentiles, and is bringing the Gentiles into the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“When you read that chapter through if you cannot say in your soul, ‘This is absolutely a revelation from God,’ then there is something wrong with you. That tells you of history. Are we going to preach the gospel in Korea, in Japan, in China? Yes, we are. Why? Because the blood of Israel is there. And the Lord did just what he said he would do with Abraham and his posterity. He scattered them over the whole face of the earth. So now the Gentiles are sanctified by the blood of Abraham” (Answers to Gospel Questions, vol. 4, pp. 204-7 as taken from the Book of Mormon Student Manual, 1981, p. 143)
Jacob 5:25 the last…have I planted in a good spot of ground
This fourth branch clearly refers to the descendants of Lehi. The part of the tree which produced tame fruit represents the righteous Nephites, and the part of the tree which produced wild fruit represents the Lamanites. Interestingly, the allegory teaches us that this group was the last to be scattered and the first to be gathered (v. 63).
Jacob 5:26,27 Let us prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it
The interchange between the Lord and the servant is instructive. The Lord suggests that the Lamanites be destroyed for their wickedness. The servant intervenes on their behalf, requesting of the Lord that more work be done to save the wicked part of the tree that perhaps it may bring forth good fruit. This is exactly what happened. In more than one place in the Book of Mormon, the Nephite prophets prayed on behalf of their Lamanite brethren. They prayed that the Lord would show mercy to them in the last days and bring them to a knowledge of the truth.
‘And after I, Enos, had heard these words, my faith began to be unshaken in the Lord; and I prayed unto him with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites…
And now behold, this was the desire which I desired of him--that if it should so be, that my people, the Nephites, should fall into transgression, and by any means be destroyed, and the Lamanites should not be destroyed, that the Lord God would preserve a record of my people, the Nephites; even if it so be by the power of his holy arm, that it might be brought forth at some future day unto the Lamanites, that, perhaps, they might be brought unto salvation—‘ (Enos 1:11,13)
‘And behold, these things which we have desired concerning our brethren, yea, even their restoration to the knowledge of Christ, are according to the prayers of all the saints who have dwelt in the land.’ (Mormon 9:36)
The other interesting thing to note is that the prophets can, at times, stay the hand of the Lord, intervene for their people, and request the mercy of the Lord on their behalf. Such an exchange occurred between Moses and the Lord after the children of Israel rebelled in the wilderness of Sinai. The Lord was angry and wanted to destroy the people. Moses intervened as follows:
‘And the Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?
I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater nation and mightier than they.
And Moses said unto the Lord, Then the Egyptians shall hear it, (for thou broughtest up this people in thy might from among them;)…
And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great, according as thou hast spoken, saying,
The Lord is longsuffering, and of great mercy, forgiving iniquity and transgression, and by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.
Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.
And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word.’ (Num 14:11-20)
Jacob 5:29 And it came to pass that a long time had passed away
This is the second great intermission in the story. When the Lord and the servant return to the vineyard (over 1500 years later), everything has gone wrong. None of the trees are producing good fruit and it takes considerable work to get the vineyard back into shape. We can tell that the rest of the story has to do with the last days because of the word of the Lord to the servant, For behold, the time draweth near, and the end soon cometh.
Jacob 5:30 all sorts of fruit did cumber the tree
The first item inspected by the Lord and the servant is the mother tree. The record states that it was producing fruit but the fruit was of all different kinds, and apparently, none of it was any good. This is an accurate description of Christianity during the latter part of the Apostasy. The Reformation had produced a myriad of different churches all claiming the truth. They spread the word and converted many, producing a lot of fruit. Unfortunately, their works were not recognized by the Lord, for their hearts are far from me, and they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof (JS-Hist 1:19). They had a form of godliness, they were producing fruit, but the fruit did not taste good to the Lord.
Jacob 5:34 the roots…are alive…they are yet good
When the Lord looked upon the world in its apostate condition, he and the servant recognized the potential good that was there. Just as a real olive tree will put forth sprouts from living roots when the branches are dead, the spiritual potential of those roots just needed to be nourished. Good fruit could still be obtained. Some of the evidence that there was still life in the roots can be seen by the state of affairs by the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Bible was printed into many different languages. The name of Jesus Christ had been preached to millions of people. The Judeo-Christian tradition had made a strong influence in the ethical conduct of people and the laws of nations. Freedom was established as a virtuous political goal. Everything was in place for the restoration of the gospel. In summary, all was not lost, and the Lord would still be able to produce good fruit, but to do it he must graft in the scattered branches.
Jacob 5:38 the state of the natural branches in the nethermost part of the vineyard
The Lord and the servant find that all the branches that had been planted have become corrupted. It will be remembered that the only one of these four branches whose identity is known for sure is the fourth, or last one. Like the others, it had become corrupted. In other words, the Lamanites had long since turned from the Lord.
Jacob 5:40 the wild fruit of the last had overcome that part of the tree which brought forth good fruit
Obviously, this refers to the last battles between the Lamanites and the Nephites, when the former overcame and destroyed all who would not deny the Christ. And behold the Lamanites have hunted my people, the Nephites, down from city to city and from place to place, even until they are no more; and great has been their fall; yea, great and marvelous is the destruction of my people, the Nephites (Mormon 8:7).
Jacob 5:41 What could I have done more for my vineyard?
Jeffrey R. Holland
“There is much more here than simply the unraveling of convoluted Israelite history. Of greater significance in this allegory is the benevolent view of God that it provides. He is portrayed here as one who repeatedly, painstakingly, endlessly tries to save the work of His hands and in moments of greatest disappointment holds His head in His hands and weeps, ‘What could I have done more for my vineyard?’ (Jacob 5:41, 47, 49.) This allegory is a declaration of divine love, of God’s unceasing effort as a father laboring on behalf of His children. As one writer has noted, ‘Zenos’s allegory ought to take its place beside the parable of the prodigal son. Both stories make the Lord’s mercy so movingly memorable.’ (John S. Tanner, “Jacob and His Descendants as Authors,” in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, ed. John L. Sorenson and Melvin J. Thorne [Provo: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies; and Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], p. 61.)” (Heroes from the Book of Mormon, p. 37)
Boyd K. Packer
“How many bishops with disappointing results have felt to say those very words in their souls? ‘What could I have done more for my ward? Why wild fruit after all our work?’
“It was the servant-it always is the servant-who said: ‘Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard-have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves.’ (Jacob 5:48.)” (The Things of the Soul, p. 164)
Jacob 5:44 I also cut down that which cumbered this spot of ground
What did the Lord cut down in order to make room for the Nephites and Lamanites? The Jaredites! It will be remembered that the Nephites had no contact at all with the Jaredites. The Mulekites did have contact with the last of the Jaredites, Coriantumr. He lived with them for nine months. See Omni 1:21.
Jacob 5:48 the branches…grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves
“The learning, pride, and precepts of men standing in opposition to the revelations of God cause apostasy. There is an immense difference between inquiring after religion with ‘all the powers of both reason and sophistry’ (Joseph Smith History 1:9), and humbly calling upon our Father in Heaven for light and truth as did Joseph. Men in a state of apostasy set themselves up for a light unto the world instead of holding up the Savior's light. ‘Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up,’ Christ taught the Nephites (3 Nephi 18:24).
“The Book of Mormon bears a multiple witness that this aspect of Gentile society is the principle cause of apostasy. In the allegory of the tame and wild olive tree, Zenos explains apostasy with the following words:
‘Who is it that has corrupted my vineyard? And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard-have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves. Behold, I say, is not this the cause that the trees of thy vineyard have become corrupted?’ (Jacob 5:47-48; emphasis added).
“Ironically the ‘stumbling block’ of the Gentiles is their own learning of which they are so proud. This learning replaces the plain and precious truths, causing them to stumble.” (Book of Mormon Symposium Series, edited by PR Cheesman, MS Nyman, and CD Tate, Jr., 1988, p. 279-280)
Jacob 5:49-51 Let us go to and hew down the trees of the vineyard…Spare it a little longer
Apparently, the world in its apostate condition was wicked enough to warrant destruction by Almighty God. To have destroyed the earth at this time, however, would have been contrary to the plan of God. He makes the suggestion to the servant that the vineyard should be destroyed, but it is doubtful that these were his real intentions. Note how quickly he responds with, Yea I will spare it a little longer, for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard. The Lord may have been allowing his servant the opportunity to make a plea for his people. He is also demonstrating that the vineyard at that time was completely worthless to him. This is similar to what happened in Jacob 5:26-27 and Numbers 14:11-20.
Jacob 5:54 the roots of the natural branches…are yet alive
This part of the story can be confusing. What happens here is that the Lord looks to the natural branches which have now grown into trees. He sees that they (scattered Israel) have become corrupted but recognizes the spiritual potential of these peoples. This response occurs because of the natural tendency of those of scattered Israel to believe:
“To the missionaries of the latter days the Lord has said: ‘Ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect,’ for, the Lord explained, ‘mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts’ (D&C 29:7). For theirs was a ‘believing blood.’ ‘What then is believing blood? It is the blood that flows in the veins of those who are the literal seed of Abraham-not that the blood itself believes, but that those born in that lineage have both the right and a special spiritual capacity to recognize, receive, and believe the truth. The term is simply a beautiful, a poetic, and a symbolic way of referring to the seed of Abraham to whom the promises were made. It identifies those who developed in pre-existence the talent to recognize the truth and to desire righteousness.’ (New Witness, pp. 38-39)” (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 2, p. 61)
The Lord has made promises to the ancient prophets that the house of Israel will be redeemed in the last days. The Lord does this by grafting. He takes the wild branches of the mother tree and grafts them into these scattered natural trees. The interpretation of this is found in the next section.
Jacob 5:55 they took from the natural tree which had become wild, and grafted in unto the natural trees
To make it clear what is taking place here, we should explain that the branches of the mother tree are taken and grafted into the trees that the Lord had earlier planted in the nethermost parts of the vineyard. What does this mean? It does not refer to adopting the Gentiles into the house of Israel because neither the branches nor the tree that they are grafted into are producing good fruit. This is not a spiritual grafting but a geographic transplantation.
In order to understand what this means, let’s look at the relationship between the mother tree and the fourth of these transplanted natural branches—the Lamanite descendants. At the time of the end of the Apostasy, the Gentile nations of Europe were coming to America in great numbers. At first, they persecuted and afflicted the natives, but, at last, they established programs to give them land and preserve them, that I may preserve the roots also unto mine own self, that when they shall be sufficiently strong perhaps they may bring forth good fruit unto me (v. 54). More importantly, the Gentiles established a free nation which would be the site of the Restoration. The Restoration would then bring to pass a marvelous work and a wonder to help scattered Israel return to the Lord. Therefore, the branches of the natural tree which had become wild represent the Gentile nations of Christianity. Their grafting in unto the natural trees represents the great immigration movement of these people into the United States, Central and South America, and other nations where the Lord has hid the natural branches. Their presence among those of scattered Israel helps to preserve them until the day when they are ready to bring forth good fruit.
Jacob 5:56 they also took of the natural trees which had become wild, and grafted into their mother tree
Clearly, this refers to the gathering of Israel. Again, the chronology of events is important. Israel cannot be gathered until after the Restoration. Nephi makes it clear in his vision of the history of the world that the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and other latter-day scriptures must precede the gathering of Israel. He explains that these records were to go to the remnant of the seed of my brethren, and also the Jews who were scattered upon all the face of the earth, that the records of the prophets and of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are true (1 Ne 13:39). The marvelous work and a wonder spoken of in the scriptures refers to this phenomenon—the kingdom of God spreading all over the earth to gather scattered Israel.
We should examine the gathering of Israel in both spiritual and literal terms. The spiritual gathering of Israel refers to those of scattered Israel recognizing the truth and converting to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every time one with Israelite blood is baptized and confirmed, they are effectively grafted back into the mother tree. One might ask, “how can you say that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the mother tree?” Well, in the beginning of the allegory, the tame olive tree represented the House of Israel. As the story proceeded it was apparent that the mother tree represented early Christianity. Those that were righteously following the Savior were acknowledged as producing good fruit. Later, the mother tree was Apostate Christianity. After the Restoration, which occurred among the Gentiles, the mother tree is represented by the church and kingdom of God on the earth. Therefore, the mother tree is “spiritually” not geographically “the house of Israel.” All those baptized and confirmed into the Church are of the house of Israel, either by adoption or by birthright.
The literal gathering of Israel refers to scattered Israel returning to the lands of their inheritance. This is not the main focus of the allegory because those Jews and Israelites who are gathered back to Jerusalem prior to the Second Coming will not turn to Christ before he comes again. They will be the ones saying, ‘What are these wounds in thine hands and in thy feet?’ (DC 45:51).
Jacob 5:57 Pluck…the wild branches…which are most bitter
The wild branches which are most bitter are destroyed. When does this happen? It already has happened in great measure. The Lord has revealed that the wicked of the last days will be destroyed by wars, pestilence, earthquake, etc. He also revealed that the wars among the Gentile nations would begin with the Civil War and continue from that time forth as a judgment:
‘And the time will come that war will be poured out upon all nations, beginning at this place.
For behold, the Southern States shall be divided against the Northern States, and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations…
And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed the inhabitants of the earth shall mourn; and with famine, and plague, and earthquake, and the thunder of heaven, and the fierce and vivid lightning also, shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations’ (DC 87:1-2,6).
Jacob 5:61,70 call servants that we may labor diligently with our might
The servants of the last days are called to perform a mighty work. As verse 62 declares the work must accelerate this last time, for behold the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard. The time period spoken of here is today, the dispensation of the fullness of times when the righteous are to call the wicked to repentance. Now behold a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men. Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day (DC 4:1-2). To Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, the Lord said, thou art called to prune my vineyard with a mighty pruning, yea, even for the last time; yea, and also all those whom thou hast ordained (DC 24:29). The Doctrine and Covenants is full of scriptures calling the world to repentance. Say nothing but repentance unto this generation (DC 11:9), and all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ (DC 20:29), are common themes. This is the message that will bring forth again the natural fruit, which natural fruit is good and the most precious above all other fruit.
Nephi saw the servants of this dispensation in vision. He said, I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few…I beheld that the…saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small (1 Ne 14:12). This is just as it is described by the allegory, the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few (v. 70). And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things (1 Ne 16:29).
Jacob 5:63 Graft in the branches; begin at the last
The first branch to be grafted in to the mother tree is the last branch that was planted in the vineyard. The last branch is the Nephite/Lamanite branch. Therefore, they will be the first of scattered Israel to return to the Lord in the last days. The work has progressed at such a great rate among these peoples that we are witnessing the fulfillment of this prophecy today. This is just one of the aspects in which the phrase, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last,” applies.
Jacob 5:65 ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once
The wicked of the last days are not to be wiped out in one cataclysmic catastrophe. There will be wars, famine, plague, earthquake, thunder, lightning, etc. It is wisdom in God that the bad are not cleared away all at once. This is the same time period spoken of in the parable of the wheat and the tares:
‘But behold, in the last days even now while the Lord is beginning to bring forth the word, and the blade is springing up and is yet tender—
Behold, verily I say unto you, the angels are crying unto the Lord day and night, who are ready and waiting to be sent forth to reap down the fields;
But the Lord saith unto them, pluck not up the tares while the blade is yet tender (for verily your faith is weak), lest you destroy the wheat also (DC 86:4-6).
Jacob 5:68,73,74 thus will I bring them together again…and they shall be one
Once the grafting of the latter days takes place. There is no more division between which trees were mother trees or scattered trees. All are brought together as the spiritual house of Israel. Therefore, whether a Gentile adopted into the house of Israel or a member of the house of Israel who has been grafted in, all will be together. The vineyard is now ready to produce good fruit. Good fruit is the result, for the natural branches began to grow and thrive exceedingly…and they became one body; and the fruits were equal; and…the natural fruit…was most precious unto him.
Jacob 5:71 ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up
The reward of the servants is that they will have joy in the fruit of their labors. The Lord has said:
‘And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!’ (DC 18:15-16).
Jacob 5:74 they labored…until the bad had been cast away out of the vineyard
This describes the final destruction of the wicked prior to the Millenium. This is when the whore of all the earth is finally cast into the pit which she dug for the saints of God. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone (Rev 19:20).
Jacob 5:75 blessed art thou…because ye have been diligent…ye shall have joy with me
The faithful will hear the Lord say, ‘Well done thou good and faithful servant’ (Matt 25:21). Their reward is to have joy with the Lord. This can only take place if they can remain in his presence. This is exactly what will happen during the Millenium—the saints of God will assist the Lord in laying up the fruit of the vineyard.
Jacob 5:76 For behold, for a long time will I lay up of the fruit
Here is another “long time” in the allegory. This time the Lord stays with the servants of the vineyard. This long time will last 1000 years and refers to the Millenium. The efforts during the Millenium will be to lay up the fruit of the vineyard against the season, which speedily cometh. In other words, bad times are coming again and the Lord intends to strengthen his forces as much as possible while the destroyer is bound in the bottomless pit.
Jacob 5:77 evil fruit shall again come into my vineyard
After the Millenium, Satan is loosed for a season. He gathers his forces and has one last, great, and final conflict with the Lord:
‘And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: The number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.’ (Rev 20:7-10)
Jacob 5:77 my vineyard will I cause to be burned with fire
During the Millenium, the earth will exist in a terrestrial state. After Satan is finally cast out, the earth is ready to become celestialized. This is done with the purifying fire spoken of by Zenos. After the earth is burned with fire there will be a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away (Rev 21:1).