Book of Mormon Lesson 12 (Jacob 5–7)
March 16–22

The Prophet Zenos

Elder Bruce R. McConkie called Zenos “one of the greatest prophets in Israel.”1

George Reynolds said, “Zenos [was a] Hebrew prophet, often quoted by the Nephite servants of God. All we are told of his personal history is that he was slain because he testified boldly of what God revealed to him. That he was a man greatly blessed of the Lord with the spirit of prophecy is shown by that wonderful and almost incomparable parable of the vineyard given at length by Jacob (Jacob 5). His prophecies are also quoted by Nephi (I Nephi 19:10, 12, 16), Alma (Alma 33:3, 13, 15), Amulek (Alma 34:7), Samuel, the Lamanite (Helaman 15:11), and Mormon (III Nephi 10:16).”2

The Allegory of the Olive Trees

Jacob 5 is the longest chapter in the Book of Mormon (77 verses) and consists in its entirety of the allegory of the olive trees taught by the prophet Zenos.

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “The parable of Zenos, recorded by Jacob in chapter five of his book, is one of the greatest parables ever recorded. This parable in and of itself stamps the Book of Mormon with convincing truth. No mortal man, without the inspiration of the Lord, could have written such a parable. . . .”3

Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet said:

“Why would Zenos choose an olive tree to typify Israel? What is the significance of an olive tree? No tree was more important to the economy and culture of the Middle East: it was a fruit whose meat, oil, and seed were all consumed, utilized, or traded. It was and is a tree known to all persons.

“The olive tree is a natural symbol or metaphor for Israel. It requires almost constant care before its fruit will have a texture and taste that is acceptable; continued pruning and digging and fertilization are essential before proper growth and fruitage can take place. The olive tree lives for centuries and almost never dies. Many of the older olive trees, for example, in what is believed today to have been the Garden of Gethsemane, would probably have been roots in the days when Jesus and his Apostles walked and talked and prayed there almost two thousand years ago.”4

Allegory: An allegory is a literary device in which one object or event is used to describe or represent another. One cannot use an allegory well without also knowing well the elements of the comparison.

The allegory of the olive trees shows a remarkable understanding of the nature of these trees and how to care for them. Zenos apparently had that knowledge. It is certain that Joseph Smith, a young and illiterate farm boy of 24 years of age, did not.

The Olive Tree: Zenos uses the allegory of the olive trees to summarize Israel’s history and foretell its destiny:
— It can produce much fruit, but requires constant nourishment to survive.
— It must be carefully pruned to be fruitful and productive.
— For a wild olive tree to become tame and productive, its main stem must be cut back completely, and a branch from a tame olive tree must be grafted in.
— As a tree grows old and begins to die, its roots send up new shoots, which, if grafted and pruned, will mature to full-grown olive trees.
— Thus, it can produce fruit for centuries. Some trees now growing in Israel have been producing abundantly for over 400 years.

● The Symbolism of Zenos’ Allegory:

Symbol                                Meaning
Vineyard                             The world.
Master of the vineyard       Jesus Christ.
Tame olive tree                   The house of Israel, the Lord’s covenant people.
Wild olive tree                    Gentiles (people not born into the house of Israel).
Branches                             Groups of people.
Servants                              Prophets and others called to serve.
Fruit                                     The lives or works of people.

PHASES OF ZENOS’ ALLEGORY

Phase 1: the Apostasy and Scattering of Israel

Apostasy of Israel: (Jacob 5:3–4). The master of the vineyard finds that his tame olive tree is beginning to decay.

Gentiles are admitted to the Kingdom: (Jacob 5:4–14). The master of the vineyard grafts in some wild branches:
— Reasons for admitting the Gentiles(vv. 11, 18).
— The gospel was first taken to the Gentiles by Peter and the Apostles(Acts 10).

The scattering of Israel: (vv. 8, 13–14; 1 Nephi 10:12–13; 2:19–20). The tame branches are taken into distant parts of the vineyard Several groups were scattered in this way.
— Reasons why Israel was scattered (1 Nephi 22:3–4; Amos 9:8–9).

Phase 2: Mixed Results Throughout the World

Gentiles invigorate the Church: (Jacob 5:15–18). When the master visited the vineyard for the second time, he found that the wild branches that were grafted into the tame tree were bearing good fruit.

Scattered Israel has mixed results: (Jacob 5:19–25). When the master visited the natural (tame) branches he had planted in various places around the vineyard:
— The branches planted in poor ground brought forth good fruit.
— The branches planted in good ground yielded both good and wild fruit.
— What might this suggest about the effect of prosperity on faith?

Phase 3: Worldwide Apostasy

Worldwide apostasy of Israel: (Jacob 5:29–32; 37–42). When the master visited the vineyard the third time, he found many kinds of corrupt fruit. vv. 32, 37, 39, 40, 42The causes of the apostasy.

The Master’s sorrow: (Jacob 5:47). What does the master’s response to his corrupted vineyard tell us about the Lord’s feelings for His people?

Phase 4: The Restoration of Israel and the Church

Note the Master’s love for God’s children:
— “I will prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it, that (Jacob 5:4). . . it perish not”.
— “It grieveth me that I should lose this tree” (Jacob 5:7).
— “What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto mine own self?” (Jacob 5:33).
— “I may have joy again in the fruit of my vineyard” (Jacob 5:60).

The restoration of the Church and the gathering of Israel: (Jacob 5:49–54, 58, 62–64). The master decides to nourish and prune the vineyard once more and graft some of the transplanted branches back into the original tree.

— This final nourishing, pruning, and grafting represents the Restoration of the gospel and the gathering of scattered Israel (1 Nephi 10:14; 2 Nephi 19:14; D&C 33:3–6).

— President Spencer W. Kimball said, “The gathering of Israel consists of joining the true Church and coming to a knowledge of the true God. . . . Any person, therefore, who has accepted the restored gospel, and who now seeks to worship the Lord in his own tongue and with the Saints in the nations where he lives, has complied with the law of the gathering of Israel and is heir to all of the blessings promised the Saints in these last days. . . . And so the gathering is taking place. Korea is the gathering place for Koreans, Australia for Australians, Brazil for Brazilians, England for the English.”5

New prophets and Apostles: (Jacob 5:61, 70; D&C 133:8). The master appoints “other servants” in his vineyard.

Final success: (Jacob 5:71–75). Although these servants are few, they are successful in redeeming the vineyard. How can we help in this final nourishing, pruning, and grafting in the Lord’s vineyard?

JACOB’S FINAL TEACHINGS AND TESTIMONY

Repent and Follow Christ

● Jacob relates Zenos’ prophesies to the latter days (Jacob 6:1–2). Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Today Latter-day Saints are going to all parts of the world as servants in the vineyard to gather this fruit and lay it in store for the time of the coming of the Master.”6

● Jacob encourages his people (and all Israel) to repent and be saved (Jacob 6:3–10).

● The responsibilities of those who “have been nourished by the good word of God (Jacob 6:11–13; Moroni 6:3–4).”

Sherem the Anti-christ

Characteristics of Sherem:
—He was the first of the several anti-Christs in the Book of Mormon.
—He was an avowed agnostic.
—He was a learned man and a master at the tricks of rhetoric and persuasive speech.
—He had “a perfect knowledge of the language of the people” and used it “according to the power of the devil.” (Jacob 7:4)
—He approached Jacob with sanctimonious piety and feigned distress.

Sherem’s False Teachings: (Jacob 7:1–7).

—He chastised the prophet, saying those things “Brother Jacob” taught were shocking to religious sensibility and were a perversion of the right way of God.

—He criticized Jacob for claiming to know the future and prophesying of the coming of Christ. This, insisted Sherem, was nonsense, for no one could know such things.

—You can only believe things for which you have evidence.

—He demanded a sign.

Jacob’s powerful personal witness: (Jacob 7:8–12). He confounded Sherem with a series of questions:

(1) “Deniest thou the Christ who shall come? And he [Sherem] said: If there should be a Christ, I would not deny him; but I know that there is no Christ, neither has been, nor ever will be” (v. 9).

(2) “Believest thou the scriptures? And he [Sherem] said, Yea” (v. 10). Then you do not understand them, says Jacob, “for they truly testify of Christ. Behold, I say unto you that none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ” (v. 11).

(3) Lastly, Jacob offered his own unassailable witness: “And this is not all—it has been made manifest unto me, for I have heard and seen; and it also has been made manifest unto me by the power of the Holy Ghost” (v. 12).

Sherem’s response: “Show me a sign” (Jacob 7:13).

— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “Because signs—miracles, gifts of the Spirit—always follow belief in the true gospel, it is inevitable that nonbelievers who are in open rebellion against the truth (subject as they are to the . . . promptings of Satan) should attempt to disprove the Lord’s work by taunting his ministers with the challenge: Show us a sign. . . . Actually, sign-seeking . . . is an evidence of supreme and gross wickedness on their part. ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign’ . . . Even among the Saints there occasionally are those spiritually weak persons who seek signs. . . .”7

— “[Signs may] have the effect of strengthening the faith of those who are already spiritually inclined, but their chief purpose is not to convert people to the truth, but to reward and bless those already converted.”8

— The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “[This principle] is eternal, undeviating, and firm as the pillars of heaven: for whenever you see a man seeking after a sign, you may set it down that he is an adulterous man.”9

Jacob’s response and Sherem’s demise (Jacob 7:14–22).

“Brethren, Adieu” (Jacob 7:27).

● Jacob knew that he must soon die and gave the small plates to his son Enos, with the same charge his brother Nephi had given him. To the reader he bid farewell, saying, “Brethren, adieu.”

● Daniel H. Ludlow said, “Some anti-LDS critics of the Book of Mormon have raised the question as to how Jacob could possibly have used such a word as adieu when this word clearly comes from the French language, which was not developed until hundreds of years after the time of Jacob. Such critics evidently overlook the fact that the Book of Mormon is translation literature, and Joseph Smith felt free in his translation to use any words familiar to himself and his readers that would best convey the meaning of the original author. It is interesting to note that there is a Hebrew word Lehitra’ot, which has essentially the same meaning in Hebrew as the word adieu has in French. Both of these words are much more than a simple farewell; they include the idea of a blessing. Would it be unreasonable to remind these critics that none of the words contained in the English translation of the book of Jacob were used by Jacob himself? These words all come from the English language, which did not come into existence until long after Jacob’s time!”10

Notes:

1. A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [1986], 558.
2. Quoted in Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 4:139.
3. Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:141.
4. George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 4 vols. [1987–1992], 2:48–49.
5. The Teachings of President Spencer W. Kimball [1984], 439–440.
6. Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:142.
7. Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. [1966], 714–715.
8. Mormon Doctrine, 713.
9. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 157, 278.
10. A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon [1976], 163.

 

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