A Clue to Understanding Jacob 5

I was in Sunday School recently, and we were studying Jacob 5. The conversation began with how intimidating Jacob 5 – the Allegory of the Olive Tree/Vineyard – can be.

Olive Tree

Obviously, I’ve been there, too. I’m not going to pretend like I got it right away. Jacob 5 is a story. A long story. Perhaps the most intimidating part of it is that the chapter is 77 verses long. Maybe we’d be less frightened if Jacob 5 was 15 verses.

No matter the reason, it seems like a lot of people feel a bit of anxiety when reading this chapter. What is it about? Why does Jacob include this chapter – this gigantic chapter – in his record? We know that it was difficult for them to etch into the plates, so why did Jacob make the effort to include this in his record? Why is it so important for us to know this allegory? What is an allegory?!

The questions are endless.

Today, I was reading in 1 Nephi 15 when I noticed some familiar complaints and a big clue…

And they said: Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.

And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?

And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.

Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?

Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.

Behold, I say unto you, that the house of Israel was compared unto an olive tree, by the Spirit of the Lord which was in our father; and behold are we not broken off from the house of Israel, and are we not a branch of the house of Israel?” – 1 Nephi 15:7-12

The Context

Here, in 1 Nephi 15, Nephi returned to the tent (after having a vision that taught the meaning of his fathers dream) of his father where his brothers were all disputing one with another.

Nephi was feeling weighed down and overcome by what he had seen in vision. And then, he goes to his father’s tent – most likely for some kind of support, and there his brothers are arguing.

Nephi asks them what’s up, and they say that they can’t understand what their father meant when he spoke about the olive tree. (See 1 Nephi 10:2-15, especially 14.)

Hmmm….an olive tree.

We know that Lehi had been studying the Brass Plates ever since Nephi and his brothers had obtained them and brought them to Lehi. I’m guessing that this study must have influenced what he spoke to his children about the House of Israel being compared to an Olive tree.

The Confusion of Nephi’s Brothers

So, Nephi’s brothers are confused and debating because they say that they can’t understand their father’s words: “concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.”

In other words, they don’t understand. They don’t get this analogy, this metaphor. And what does it matter?

This kind of sounds familiar. I’ve heard, and maybe have even been guilty of skipping Jacob 5. I’m not familiar with olive trees or olive groves. I don’t know how to dung or prune or graft new branches in a tree. I haven’t really disputed with others concerning Jacob 5, but I’ve been tempted to skip over it, and I know that I’m not the only one.

It seems so hard to understand.

The Clues to Understanding – Nephi’s Response to His Brothers (and Maybe to Us, too)

Clue One – Inquire of the Lord In response to his brother’s complaint, Nephi asks, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?”

Good question. And maybe we ought to ask ourselves that, when we say that Jacob 5 (or Isaiah, or anything spoken by the prophets anciently or currently) is “hard to understand,” – have we inquired of the Lord? Instead of complaining about it, are we opening our minds and hearts to understand by asking the Lord for guidance and help?

The brethren of Nephi answer that they haven’t asked because the Lord won’t tell them.

(This is crazy to me! How did they know what the Lord would or wouldn’t tell them? They haven’t even asked!!!!)

(And yet – as crazy as it sounds, I think that sometimes we might be guilty of this, too. We don’t ask, and then we still put the blame on God – because He hasn’t told us…Silly. But good to recognize.)

Clue Two – Be humble, Have a Soft Heart!
After hearing his brothers’ excuse on why they haven’t inquired of the Lord, Nephi asks a question that seems to be rhetorical in nature, but is worth considering:

“How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?” – 1 Nephi 15:10

Now, I don’t want to make assumptions about anyone, but these are good questions to ask, especially when we might be saying that some concept being taught by a prophet is “hard to understand,” and when we have followed this thought up with the admission that we haven’t prayed to understand it.

Having a soft heart is crucial to understanding. A soft heart is the fertile ground needed for a seed of faith. As we soften our hearts, then we will be able to understand. Nephi had this experience himself:

“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.” – 1 Nephi 2:16

When we allow our hearts to be softened, then we are able to believe the words of the prophets. This is what enables us to understand. (For more insight on this idea, see Mosiah 2:9.)

We need to have a soft heart. And why not? Really, what’s the risk? We run a much bigger risk when we have hard hearts? As Nephi asks, Why perish because of the hardness of our hearts? Again, it’s kind of silly. Just have a soft heart. Be believing. Ask the Lord. And perish not.

Clue Three – Ask in Faith
As you can see, these three clues are very closely related. We need to ask; we need to be humble enough to ask; and we need to ask!

Nephi reminds himself of the pattern that the Lord so often beckons each of us to follow:

  1. Harden not Your Hearts
  2. Ask God in Faith
  3. Believe that Ye Shall Receive
  4. Diligently Keep the Commandments

…then…

  • Surely these things will be made known unto you.

Had Nephi’s brothers followed this pattern, then they wouldn’t have been disputing in their father’s tent. They would have had peace and understanding. They would have known what was important for them to know. They would have been able to be taught by the Spirit.

The Meaning of The Olive Tree Comparison

In 1 Nephi 15:12-20 Nephi briefly explains the comparison between the Olive Tree and the House of Israel. I actually won’t get into it here because you can read it yourself.

The important things to note are:

  1. Nephi understood this comparison
  2. We can also understand this comparison.

Jacob 5 doesn’t have to be “hard” to understand. None of the scriptures have to be “hard” to understand. Sure, we may not understand everything inside and out, but when we follow the clues that Nephi teaches here, we will understand exactly what we need to know. We will be filled with peace. We won’t be tempted to dispute with others or complain in Sunday School about how long or difficult a passage seems. We won’t be tempted to gloss them over. Instead, we will be able to have a positive experience with the scriptures, with God’s Spirit, and with a way to apply these things in our lives.

***
What helps you to understand the scriptures, especially “difficult” ones like Jacob 5 or Isaiah?

Questions for today’s “Anti-Christs”

It seems like there has been a lot of talk lately about religion vs. secularism. It all seemed to come to a head when Elder Oaks gave his talk on Religious Freedom. – or at least, that’s when I started really thinking about protecting religion. Yesterday, I read an article over at Mormon Times, and then today, I read an article by Michael Otterson here.

Religious Freedom has been on my mind.

I’ve also noticed how, at times, I think about the ideas of atheism. I do not tend to close my life off from opposing viewpoints. I listen to NPR. I read Russian Literature. I’m not shrouding myself under the cover of Glenn Beck and other zealots. I’m trying to be well-rounded, and religious.

But sometimes it’s hard to feel strong…And that’s why I LOVE the scriptures.

In Jacob 7, we are introduced to Sherem. He is the first “Anti-Christ” mentioned in the Book of Mormon. Sherem was preaching to the people – declaring that there would be no Christ. He was flattering them with the sole purpose of overthrowing their doctrine. (see Jacob 7:1-2).

Currently, we deal with similar pressure. Secularism is the latest religious fad. In the quest to justify and prove secularism, we find that secularists feel that they must simultaneously debunk religion – and especially Christianity. And the worst part is, I find myself wavering a little in the middle of this “debunking.” I often find myself wondering how I REALLY know that Jesus is the Christ. I find myself questioning if my faith and testimony is true, or if it is just something I decide to believe as a defense mechanism.

I don’t like it when I begin doubting because I have received testimony. I know that such doubts display only ingratitude and an unwillingness to remember the ways that the Lord has blessed me. Additionally, doubt is really me allowing myself to blind myself to the current testimonies that I have in my life – that all witness of Christ’s love for me and all of His children. I realize that the doubts I face aren’t doubts as much as they are concerns on how I address my faith and the right to protect it to those who do not share it.(*)

Well, while I was reading the scripture in Jacob, I found that it referenced to the following:

“And it came to pass that the high priest said unto him [Korihor]: Why do ye go about perverting the ways of the Lord? Why do ye teach this people that there shall be no Christ, to interrupt their rejoicings? Why do ye speak against all the prophecies of the holy prophets?” – (Alma 30:22).

These questions, asked by the high priest of the land of Gideon to Korihor, ought to be asked now.

  1. Why pervert the ways of the Lord?
    • Great question. What purpose is there in perverting the ways of the Lord? Why should we think that adopting wickedness of any type will lead to any kind of happiness or progress? The Lord’s ways are good. They work. Family is good. Kindness is good. Service is good. Charity, faith, and hope are all good. These qualities, or ways of the Lord, do nothing to reduce our society. In fact, they build it up. So why on earth should we pervert the ways of the Lord? We know that His ways work! We have thousands of years of history to back it up, too. Regardless of whether civilizations believed in God, when they were righteous, they were blessed. When they allowed their societies to be consumed in wickedness, their societies failed. So the question stands: Why pervert the ways of the Lord?
  2. Why teach the people that there is no Christ and interrupt their rejoicing?
    • This question really gets me. Why would we interrupt the happiness and joy people are experiencing because of the message of the True and Living Christ? Christ offers us hope and happiness. When we truly grasp His gospel, our hearts are full of charity and gratitude. We rejoice. Why would we interrupt this GREAT thing?! And what is offered instead? Doubt, Discouragement, and, ultimately, Misery. I see no purpose in this. It makes no sense. Based on the outcomes of faith, I’d have to say that the advantage is with Christianity.

      I know that there are many people who might site examples where religion was the cause of terrible injustices. I know that there were infractions caused in the name of Christianity. I would have to say, however, that they were not backed by Christ. Think of a modern-day parallel. There are current terrorists who commit horrible crimes in the name of “Allah,” yet many Muslims emphatically explain that such perpetrators are extremists. These jihadists do NOT represent the religion of Islam which actually preaches peace. It is the same with Christianity. We cannot control the actions of all believers, but we can trust the core message. Christ preaches Love. He preaches meekness, kindness, patience, charity, and peace. He teaches that we love our enemies and turn the other cheek. And in return, he offers us happiness and hope.

      So the question remains…Why interrupt these rejoicings and preach that there is no Christ? It makes no sense.

  3. Why speak against the prophecies of the Prophets?
    • Another great question? Why speak against the prophecies of the Prophets? Often it is asked, what evidence does a believer have to prove that these prophecies are true? We could also ask, what evidence is there that the prophecies are not true? The fact is: in order to understand things of a spiritual nature, we need to have the Spirit. The Spirit bears witness when a prophecy is true. Likewise, he will NOT bear witness to false prophets. Everyone does not need to believe in the gospel – our faith is a personal choice. But the attacks on faith are spiritual; therefore, they need to be based on Spiritual experiences. Otherwise, the argument is ridiculous. . Oh…and besides that, there are grave consequences for the mistreatment of the servants of God.

We, the people of faith, can believe, and can stand strong in our beliefs. We will have to continue to nurture our faith as those around us will question what we believe. And it’s okay. We are all free to choose as we like. I’m not the kind of person to make a “call of action.” I don’t think that it is worthwhile to fight with others. I don’t think that we need to be offensive. I believe we should be Christ-like. We must resolve to understand what it is that we believe, and then continually show that we understand the laws of the gospel by loving Christ and by loving all of His Children (our spiritual siblings).

oh…and I have to say, I rarely meet people who put me down for my religion. Thankfully, most people I meet are friendly, kind, and loving. Additionally, most people I meet are not secularists or atheists. They seem to have some kind of spirituality – even if they don’t regularly attend church. So, is all of this religion talk mostly political? I’m not sure, but I do think that it always helps to know where we stand.

*(Content added 11-24-2009) I really want it to be understood that these questions do not answer why I believe in Christ. Instead, I guess it is more or less questions on, “Why not believe?” They were questions given to Korihor when he was trying to specifically destroy the church and the faith of its followers.

I remember listening to an interview on Fresh Air with Bill Mahr. He had just made his anti religion movie. A big part of it was to convince people that they were basically idiots for believing in any kind of religion. While listening, I kind of wondered how I would have responded to him if I had been one of the random people interviewed on this movie. Obviously, there’s no way I’d convince Him of my testimony. It would be impossible as testimony is only conveyed through the spirit. And that is why I love these questions – because instead of trying to convert, they are simply defending religion.

Choosing a Higher Standard of Living

I’ve been studying a lot of Jacob lately. Most recently, I’ve been reading the reminders and warnings that Jacob gives to the people: “And according to the power of justice, for justice cannot be denied, ye must go away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment. – (Jacob 6:10.)

It kind of sounds scary.

In today’s study, I followed a cross-reference to the Doctrine and Covenants: “Ye call upon my name for revelations, and I give them unto you; and inasmuch as ye keep not my sayings, which I give unto you, ye become transgressors; and justice and judgment are the penalty which is affixed unto my law.” – (D&C 82:4).

Sounds even scarier.

I mean, when I read this, I kind of thought, does this ever make anyone stop studying? Does knowing the gospel make me wish I didn’t know it – for fear of transgression and punishment. Fair enough…in a way. But then I realized, NO! Not really fair enough. Sure, it’s a temptation to think that living without the law – and therefore “free” to transgress would be better than to have the law and then, therefore, subject to penalization when I commit sin.

It seems kind of romantic – to think that life is better without the gospel. Like I could be living some kind of fun, fast-paced, sex-in-the-city kind of life. It seems romantic, but it isn’t true.

I compare that nonsense-dream to my reality. Life is hard at time. Sometimes sacrifices must be made in order for me to keep the commitments I’ve made with Heavenly Father. As I’ve received more knowledge, yes, I’ve felt the burden of more responsibility. Yes, I’m required to have a higher standard….and…

As I have aspired to a higher standard of living, I also have been blessed with a higher standard of living.

My life is better because of the knowledge that the Lord has given me, and because of the obedience he requires.

Jesus told his disciples, “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10). I know that this has been true for me. I’m so grateful that I have been able to come to know the Lord’s laws. I’m grateful for the added measure of responsibility. I can testify that as I have submitted myself to the will of the Lord, and as I have kept the commandments as best as I can, I have been abundantly blessed.

(I want to know more!)

Loving the Law

Today, I studied Jacob 6:4. It reads:

“And how merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long; and they are stiffnecked and a gainsaying people; but as many as will not harden their hearts shall be saved in the kingdom of God.”.

This scripture is pretty straightforward, and we all know that Ancient Israel was always having trouble – they would get wicked – even as the Lord plead with them to simply obey the commandments. He would remind them, “…my hand is stretched out still.”

golden-calf

Jacob 6:4, actually refers back to Nehemiah 9:18-26. I’m not going to include the whole block here, but I’ll paraphrase. Nehemiah recounts how, even after the Children of Israel provoked the Lord in the wilderness (with the golden calf…silly children), The Lord still guided them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; he still fed them manna from heaven; he still caused that their clothes would not wear out, nor their feet swell during their arduous journey; he brought them into Israel and defeated their enemies; he blessed them abundantly – with children and many other resources to live a comfortable life, “Nevertheless, they were disobedient, and they rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations.”

Okay – the thing that gets me here is: they cast thy law behind their backs. Earlier this morning, I was specifically thinking of how grateful I am for the laws of the Gospel. Being a Mormon means rules. (I had a friend who would wear a shirt that read: “I can’t, I’m Mormon.”). And here’s the real thing: The Laws of God are good for us. They offer us protection, guidance, and peace. They are given to us so that we can feel happiness. The Lord gave us laws because he loves us – not because he wants to “control” us. In fact, when we keep the laws, we will actually learn how to control ourselves. His laws are one of his greatest expressions of love to us.

…Also – we are to ultimately become like God. We have the potential to live with Him as He Lives. How can we do this if we haven’t learned to keep the laws that govern our Heavens? Just as a good parent teaches his/her children responsibility in this life – so they can become a happy and well-adjusted adult; God teaches us to be responsible by giving us laws – so we can be happy (and well adjusted) in the eternities.

Okay, those are my thoughts today. I’m grateful for the Laws of the gospel. I’m so happy that I know them. Now, I just need to remember all of this when I’m having trouble keeping them…

Bearing Good Fruit – The Need for Jesus Christ

As I’ve been studying Jacob 5, I’ve been learning the importance of bearing good fruit.  The Allegory is so much more than a story about the tribes of Israel.  It is instruction to us – that we are expected to bear good fruit.

The first obvious question is: What it good fruit?  Alma explains that it is the works of righteousness. (See Alma 5:36).  He also teaches, in order to abound in good works (which is also good fruit), then we must, “be humble, and submissive, and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.  And see that ye have faith, hope and charity, and then ye will abound in good works.” (Alma 5:23-24). The necessity of good fruit is apparent, and what good fruit actually is does not need much discussion. (So I won’t anymore…You can if you’d like – because I do like discussing this kind of stuff!)

The second, perhaps less obvious question is, How do we bear good fruit? I suppose that there are a few way to answer this – through dedication; hard work; discipline, etc. However, I feel that at the core of producing good fruit is our need to be completely connected to Christ. In the New Testament the Savior teaches:

“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…
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
“If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:1-6).

Christ explains that in order to be fruitful, the branch must reside in the vine. When we think of plants, we know this to be true. A branch, in and of itself, cannot be fruitful. It must be rooted to the vine. We, as branches, cannot independently produce good fruit; we must\ be rooted to the true vine: Jesus Christ.

There are many good things that people do – they may or may not be Christian. I don’t want to distract from that fact, but in order to produce good fruit, the kind of fruit that will keep us from being “hewn down and cast into the fire,” then we need to be rooted to Jesus Christ – through baptism and constant renewal of gospel covenants. Without our connection to the Savior, we slowly lose the nourishment we need, and, eventually, we wither away – becoming dead and fruitless. We need the Savior, and He has freely offered himself to us.

Bearing (fruit)

Spring Tree by Catania Larson

As I’ve been studying Jacob 5, a theme that keeps striking me is that of bearing good fruit.

First of all, I think that it is very obvious that we are to bear goodfruit. This concept seems to be simple to get. When we don’t bear good fruit, then we are hewn into the fire. (see Jacob 5:42; Matthew 3:10; 7:19-20.)

However, today, during my scripture study, I came across the following parable:

“A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.
Then he said unto the dresser of the vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
And he answering said unto him, Lord let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:
And if bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” (Luke 13:6-9).

We must bear good fruit. It is not enough to not bear bad fruit. We must be fruitful and productive. I guess this is like the difference between sins of omission and commission. It is obvious that those who commit sins will be judged. But how about when we omitkeeping certain commandments? I find this concept interesting – especially as I battle being productive (and not spending so much time doing worthless things like sitting around on facebook).

This concept brings to mind: “Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; Fior the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.” (D&C 58:27-28). I’ve heard this scripture so many times, and I think that I’ve always thought, If I’m engaged in a good cause, then I will not choose the wrong – I’ll be too busy doing something good ~~a la ~~ idle hands are the devil’s workshop. And while that’s true, there is so much more. I suppose it is possible for us to do nothing – as in we don’t have to be doing something good – or wicked. We could just be lazy. But when we do nothing, then we are not fruitful. We do not fulfill the measure of our creation, and the Lord looks at us, and wonders, “why am I cumbering the ground with this?”

I’m now resolving to do more – to serve, love, work, pray, study, and be the kind of woman who bears good fruit.

Bearing Good Fruit – Jacob 5

Lately, I’ve been studying Jacob 5.  I’m particularly impressed with the following verse:  “And it came to pass that the Lord of th vineyard wept, and said unto the servant:  What could I have done more for my vineyard?”  (Jacob 5:41).  This idea is repeated throughout the chapter – as we see the Lord of the vineyard working so hard.  He plants the vineyard, he nourishes them, he prunes, and fertilizes them.  He does this so that he, “may preserve again good fruit thereof…” (Jacob 5:33).

Lemons I’ve thought about these particular verses and how they apply to my own life.  The Lord has planted me in good soil.  I’m incredibly blessed.  I have received blessings that I have neither earned nor deserved.  Often, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the unfairness of the situation.  Why do I receive so many blessings.  Why are there so many people who haven’t had the same opportunities.  How is it that if I was born to a family that lived 15 minutes away from me, my life would be completely different.  I know that my life isn’t random, but I often feel amazed by the idea that I have been blessed in so many ways.

And now, I’m beginning to realize something.  Just as the Lord of the vineard planted some of his vines in areas that were poor or rich spots, the Lord has allowed people to come to this earth in all types of situations.  And, I feel like Heavenly Father would explain his reasoning in the same way the Lord of the vineyard explained to His servant: “Counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor spot of ground; wherefore, I said unto thee, I have noursihed it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit.”  (Jacob 5:22).  In other words, the Lord has planted each of us in places that will help to enable us to bring forth good fruit.  He knows us.  He knows our strengths and weaknesses.  He knows how best to provide for, prune, and nourish us.  Ultimately, he wants us to bring forth good fruit – fruit meet for repentance, so that we can come unto His Son, and through the Atonement receive eternal life.

I love to be reminded of the great love Heavenly Father has for me – and that this life – full of commandments, challenges, and difficulties – is a time for me to prepare to meet him.  Heavenly Father is concerned with our success, and our success brings him glory.   There is nothing more that he desires than to see us be happy – and he knows that happiness is only found when we fulfill the measure of our creation.  I hope to better take this message to heart.  I have been blessed.  I have been planted in rich soil.  I have had the opportunity to be nourished by good servants of God.  I have been given many talents and opportunities.  The Lord has done everything he can, and now it is up to me to bear good fruit.

  • "But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." - Luke 10:42.
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