The Book of Jacob
The Brother of Nephi
Jacob was the elder of two sons born to Sariah and Lehi in the wilderness (1 Nephi 18:7; 1 Nephi 18:19). He and his younger brother Joseph apparently were born some time during the eight years Lehi's family traveled in the wilderness between Jerusalem and the land Bountiful. It seems likely that Jacob and Joseph were born during the early part of the wilderness journey since they later were said to have a recollection of the hardships suffered in the wilderness (2 Nephi 2:1-2). Thus, when Jacob's family arrived in the promised land he was probably between three and seven years old. At the time Nephi delivered the plates into his hands in 544 BC, he was probably somewhere between fifty and fifty-four years of age.
What do we know about Jacob? We know him only by the material found in the Book of Mormon text. His own writings consist of thirteen pages in 2 Nephi (chapters 6- 10) and the eighteen pages of the book of Jacob. There are also some eleven additional references to him by other Book of Mormon prophets (1 Nephi 18:7; 1 Nephi 18:19; 2 Nephi 2:1-4; 2 Nephi 5:6; 2 Nephi 5:26; 2 Nephi 11:1; 2 Nephi 11:3; 2 Nephi 31:1; Enos 1:1-3; Alma 3:6; Words of Mormon 1:3). We read, for example, that his early childhood years were not easy. Because of the unrighteous behavior of his eldest brothers, Laman and Lemuel, he "suffered afflictions and much sorrow" (2 Nephi 2:1). His father Lehi, with prophetic insight, gave us a telling glance of Jacob's eternal character when he said, "thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain" (2 Nephi 2:2). He was undoubtedly named after Jacob, father of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Among the prophets who have lived upon the earth, Jacob may be considered among the greatest. He possessed a combination of gifts that made him so. These included spirituality, intellectual capacity, judgment, and literary ability including the capacity to speak plainly. He is responsible for some of the plainest doctrinal teachings found in the Book of Mormon. Examples include his discussion of the scattering and gathering of Israel (2 Nephi 6:8-15; 2 Nephi 9:1-2; 2 Nephi 10:1-22; Jacob 5); his explanation of the fall of Adam and the atonement of Christ (2 Nephi 9); and his warnings against the sins of materialism, pride, and unchastity (Jacob 2).
When Nephi was forced to flee from Lehi's family's original settlement in the New World-"the place of the fathers' first inheritance" (Alma 22:28)-Jacob chose to travel with him to the land of Nephi or the "place Nephi" (2 Nephi 5:5-8). A careful reading of 2 Nephi 5:6 suggests that Jacob and his younger brother Joseph were probably not married at this time. We know that Jacob did eventually marry and have a family including a righteous son Enos (Jacob 7:27; Enos 1:1-3).
Once in the land of Nephi, Jacob and his younger brother were ordained to the priesthood and given responsibilities to teach and lead the Nephites in ecclesiastical matters (2 Nephi 5:26). Nephi reported that Jacob was blessed to actually see the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Nephi 11:3).
John S. Tanner in his article, "Literary Reflections on Jacob and His Descendants" (The Book of Mormon: Jacob Through Words of Mormon, To Learn With Joy, 259-61) has contrasted the styles of Nephi and Jacob. Nephi is inclined to "delight" or "glory" in plainness (2 Nephi 31:3; 2 Nephi 31:33:6). He does not equivocate, rather he frankly rebukes or forgives his brothers (1 Nephi 7:21). Jacob, by contrast, is more timid, more reluctant to condemn, anxious lest he offend, vulnerable, intimate, humble, and tender. Jacob does not seem to have been hardened by his tribulations in the wilderness. Rather he was refined and rendered more sensitive to the sufferings of others (see, for example, Jacob 2:3; Jacob 2:6; Jacob 2:7; Jacob 2:9). In writing, he employed an intimate and unique vocabulary. Brother Tanner has pointed out that two-thirds of the use of the words "grieve" and "tender" in the Book of Mormon are attributed to Jacob, as are his solitary use of such intimately expressive words as "delicate," "contempt," "lonesome," "sobbings," "dread," and "wound," the latter used only in reference to emotions and not bodily injury.
The book of Jacob consists of three main sections. These are:
1. Jacob 1-3. These chapters contain a long sermon by Jacob in which he warns against the sins of materialism, pride, and immorality. This section concludes with the words: "These plates are called the plates of Jacob, and they were made by the hand of Nephi. And I make an end of speaking these words" (Jacob 3:14).
2. Jacob 4-6. This segment includes the allegory of Zenos. Apparently Jacob intended that these writings would conclude his contribution to the small plates of Nephi. At the conclusion of chapter 6, Jacob delivers his farewell to his people until they meet at the "pleasing bar of God" (Jacob 6:13).
3. Jacob 7. This section was apparently an afterthought written "some years" (verse 1) later than were the first six chapters. It is Jacob's account of Sherem, the antichrist.
Chapter Outline of Jacob
A brief outline of the book of Jacob, worth committing to memory, is as follows:
Jacob 2 Jacob denounces pride and unchastity and denounces the unauthorized practice of plural marriage.
Jacob 5 Zenos's Allegory of the Tame and Wild Olive Trees.
Jacob 7 The antichrist Sherem
The words of his preaching unto his brethren. He confoundeth a man who seeketh to overthrow the doctrine of Christ. A few words concerning the history of the people of Nephi.
This headnote, superscription or colophon was not a late addition to the Book of Mormon but was part of The Book of Jacob on the small plates of Nephi.
Jacob Chapter 1
Jacob 1:8 Wherefore, we would to God that we could persuade all men not to rebel against God, to provoke him to anger, but that all men would believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world.
Jacob 1:19 And we did magnify our office unto the Lord . . . answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence.
Chapter 1 may be outlined as follows: Nephi's instructions regarding the small plates (verses 1-8); the appointment of the beloved Nephi's successor (verses 9-12); the segregation of the people into tribes (verses 13-14); the spiritual deterioration of Jacob's people (verses 15-16); the beginning of Jacob's temple sermon (verses 17-19); Jacob's temple sermon extends through Jacob 3:14.
verses 1-4 These verses contain the important commandment Nephi gave to his brother Jacob. It was this commandment, that was passed on to each of the authors of the small plates of Nephi, that imbued each of them with a binding obligation to write a "few . . . things" on "these plates," the small plates of Nephi. These "few . . . things" were to be those subjects the writers considered most precious. They were commanded not to emphasize the historical happenings. These authors of the small plates, other than Nephi and Jacob, included Enos, Jarom, Omni, Amaron, Chemish, Abinadom, and Amaleki.
1 For behold, it came to pass that fifty and five years had passed away from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem; wherefore, Nephi gave me, Jacob, a commandment concerning the small plates, upon which these things are engraven.
verse 1 Before Jacob, his older brother Nephi had been both the spiritual and secular leader of his people, the people of Nephi. Before Nephi's death, he separated the responsibilities of the church and spiritual leadership from those of the secular government. We learn in this verse that Nephi gave to Jacob the small plates of Nephi. Presumably Jacob was also appointed to succeed Nephi as the spiritual leader. Nephi conferred the responsibility of the civil government upon another man who would later become known among the people as "second Nephi" (see verse 11). Some have speculated that this secular leader may have been a son of the prophet Nephi.
"fifty and five years had passed away from the time that Lehi left Jerusalem" During the entire Book of Mormon period, the Nephites reckoned their dates by three different events (see 3 Nephi 2:5-8). These were:
1. Lehi's leaving Jerusalem (e.g., Jacob 1:1; Enos 1:25; Mosiah 6:4; Mosiah 29:46). This year was some time between the first year of the reign of Zedekiah (597 BC) and the final attack on Jerusalem by Babylon (586 BC). The year was most likely 587 BC (see the commentaries for 1 Nephi 7:14 and 1 Nephi 19:4). The Nephites continued to use this system to record more than five hundred years of Nephite history, from 1 Nephi through the book of Mosiah, up to the time that Mosiah instituted the reign of the judges.
2. The commencement of the reign of the judges which was about 91 BC-sometimes alternatively referred to as the year Mosiah died (Mosiah 29:44-46). This practice will begin in Mosiah 29 and will be used for about one hundred years, in the books of Alma and Helaman and in the beginning of 3 Nephi (Mosiah 29:44; Alma 1:1; 3 Nephi 1:1; 3 Nephi 1:26; 2:5-8).
3. The year that the signs of Christ's birth was given (3 Nephi 1:15; 2:7-8). This system will be used from 3 Nephi through the book of Moroni. It was in the 385th year after the birth of Jesus that Mormon led his people in battle at Cumorah (Mormon 6:5), and it was after the 420th year that Moroni closed the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:1).
2 And he gave me, Jacob, a commandment that I should write upon these plates a few of the things which I consider to be most precious; that I should not touch, save it were lightly, concerning the history of this people which are called the people of Nephi.
verse 2 Because of this verse, the small plates of Nephi are said to contain only a "light touch" of history.
"this people . . . the people of Nephi" This phrase refers to those individuals who followed Nephi from the coastal "land of their fathers' first inheritance" to the land of Nephi and to their descendants (see 2 Nephi 5).
3 For he said that the history of his people should be engraven upon his other plates, and that I should preserve these plates and hand them down unto my seed, from generation to generation.
verse 3 Make certain that you understand and remember clearly the difference between the small plates of Nephi and the large plates of Nephi. If you need a review, please read again the supplemental article, Those Confusing Book of Mormon Plates.
"his other plates" These are the so-called large plates of Nephi, those plates that contained more of a historical record of the people. The large plates were, later abridged by the prophet Mormon, and that record came into the hands of the prophet Joseph in the form of a set of plates we now refer to as the plates of Mormon.
"these plates" This phrase refers to the small plates of Nephi. These were delivered into the hands of Joseph Smith in exactly the form in which they were recorded. We are now reading the translation of these unabridged plates. The translation of these small plates comprises the first twenty-five percent of the Book of Mormon-1 Nephi through Omni, including the Words of Mormon-and it contains more of a spiritual, rather than historical, emphasis.
4 And if there were preaching which was sacred, or revelation which was great, or prophesying, that I should engraven the heads of them upon these plates, and touch upon them as much as it were possible, for Christ's sake, and for the sake of our people.
verse 4 "the heads of them" This expression refers to the chief or most precious topics or themes of the "preachings," revelations," and "prophesyings" of the authors of the small plates of Nephi (John A. Tvedtnes, "The Hebrew Background of the Book of Mormon" in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, 90).
"for Christ's sake, and for the sake of our people" In what sense is this collection of scripture preserved "for Christ's sake"? Since it is the work of Christ "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39), then Christ's purposes are furthered by man's learning the eternal principles found herein.
5 For because of faith and great anxiety, it truly had been made manifest unto us concerning our people, what things should happen unto them.
verse 5 The plural pronouns "us" and "our" in this verse and in the following verses refer to Jacob and his brother Nephi.
"because of faith and great anxiety" Because of their great faith and because of the concern Nephi and his brother Jacob had for their people, these two prophets were favored with revelation concerning the fate of their people. Here is another reminder that receiving revelation is not a passive activity. To be effective a prophet must passionately and actively seek the favor and direction of the Lord.
6 And we also had many revelations, and the spirit of much prophecy; wherefore, we knew of Christ and his kingdom, which should come.
verse 6 "the spirit of much prophecy" The phrase "spirit of prophecy" refers to a susceptibility to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, which susceptibility is earned by righteous obedience to gospel principles. It is not possible to have and maintain a durable testimony of Jesus Christ without ministrations, actually revelations, from the Lord through the Holy Ghost.
7 Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness.
verse 7 "enter into his rest" For a discussion of the "rest" of the Lord, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 21:10.
"the provocation in the days of temptation" Jacob here refers to the incident described in Numbers 13-14 in which the Lord was provoked to anger by the rebelliousness and spiritual blindness of the Israelites in the wilderness, and he forbade the adult males from entering the promised land. In an analogous way, it is possible that each of us, through disobedience might be forbidden to enter the Lord's eternal rest (cf. Hebrews 3:8).
The story of the provocation in the days of temptation in the wilderness is well told by the author Pearl S. Buck in her book The Story Bible, Volume One, the Old Testament. I will reproduce part of that story here out of my love, born in my youth, for the story:
The cloud over the tabernacle rose up and drifted through the wilderness to a place very close to the southern border of Canaan. Here at Kadesh, as the site was called, the children of Israel stopped to water their cattle and make plans for their final march. While they pitched their tents and settled into camp, Moses sought counsel from the Lord. "Send out men to search the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel," said the Lord. "Choose one man from every tribe, each one a ruler among his people." So Moses by the commandment of the Lord chose twelve men, all of them headmen of the various tribes, and instructed them to spy out the land of Canaan to see what lay ahead. Joshua, of the tribe of Ephraim and already Moses's chief military leader, was to lead the scouting expedition; and Caleb, a valiant young captain of the tribe of Judah, would act as his second-in-command. "Go up into the mountains of the south," said Moses, "and see what the land is like. Find out what kind of people live there; whether they are weak or strong, or few or many. Make note of the cities that they live in, whether they are tents or strongholds. See if the land itself is good or bad, rich or poor; and whether it has wood or not. Go now, and be of good courage. Bring back some of the fruit of the land so that we all may see." This was the time for the first ripe grapes, and therefore there should be no difficulty in bringing back some sample of the riches of Canaan. So the twelve spies went on their way. From the heights of Hebron, once so well-known to Abraham, they viewed the valleys below. There, they saw, were small, pleasant villages and great walled cities, and fields that were carpets of fresh young corn.
The spies went down from the mountains and went carefully through the land. The soil was rich and prosperous, and trees grew up the slopes toward the hilltops. Sheep grazed in green, well-watered pastures; people lived in well-fortified towns. And those people looked very strong and vigorous, especially those of the tribe of Anak. Joshua led his scouts through the land for forty days, until they had seen hills, plains, valleys, and the coast, and they knew they had indeed come upon a fertile land. They also knew that it was already occupied by various tribes, each of which no doubt intended to keep occupying it. They went on, and they came to a gently flowing brook with lush vineyards on either side. From a great vine they cut a branch bearing one huge cluster of grapes, and so marvelous was this cluster that two men had to carry it between them hung upon a staff. The place they called Eshcol, meaning "cluster," because of the grapes they had found. They found ripe pomegranates, too, and figs; and saw all manner of flocks and herds and fruits of the field. Many of the fruits and crops were the same as they had known in Egypt, and there were even some that they had never seen before.
After the forty days they returned to their camp at Kadesh in the Wilderness of Paran, taking with them the huge cluster of grapes, the pomegranates, the figs, and many a tale of the wonders they had seen. They reported at once to Moses and to Aaron, and all the children of Israel crowded around to listen. "We went into the land to which you sent us," Joshua began. "It surely is flowing with milk and honey, and this is the fruit of it." He showed the people what his spies had brought back, and they delighted in the sight. "But the people are strong who live in that land," said another of the spies, "and the cities are walled and very great. And moreover, we saw the children of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the south, and the Hittites and other strong tribes live in the mountains, and the Canaanites live by the sea. Altogether there are many powerful and warlike people in that land." Nine other spies nodded agreement as he spoke, and added their own words of alarm about the dangers of the land.
Their listeners murmured unhappily. Caleb silenced them and turned to Moses. "It is a good land, well worth having. Let us go up at once and take possession," he said boldly. "We are well able to overcome it." But all the other spies who had been with him, except Joshua, shook their heads in gloom and said: "No, we cannot go against those people. They are much stronger than we. We shall have no chance at all." And the spies gave an evil report to the children of Israel about the lovely land which they had searched. The more they talked, the less they said about its riches and the more they said about its dangers. What they had seen, they exaggerated; and what they had not seen, they imagined. "There are giants in that land!" they said. "All the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature, but especially the sons of Anak who are descended from the giants. Beside them we were no more than grasshoppers; and to them we were no more than grasshoppers that they could easily crush beneath their feet." The children of Israel were terrified, and deeply disappointed. All this way through the wilderness, only to come to a land they dare not enter! There was weeping in the camp that night; and a murmuring against Moses and Aaron. "Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt!" they cried out to their leaders. "Or that we had died in the wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land? Are we to fall by the sword of these giants in Canaan, and have our wives and children taken as prisoners? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?"
The suggestion caught fire and ran through the camp. They said to one another, "Let us choose a captain for ourselves, and let us return to Egypt. Moses shall not lead us any longer, for see where he has brought us." The sounds of their rebellion came to their leaders' ears. Both Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in front of all the people, praying God that the children of Israel should overcome their cowardice. And to the people themselves Moses cried out: "Why can you not obey and trust the God who has helped you so many times before when you have thought that all was lost?" Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes in great dismay. Out of all the twelve spies, they were the only two who tried to reason with the people; for they were brave men, and they had faith in God. "It is a good land, and a fertile one!" they said. "It truly flows with milk and honey. Why do you have doubts when you know that if the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us there and give it to us? It is promised to us! Only you must not rebel against the Lord, not be afraid of the people of this land. We can crush them easily, for they have no defense when the Lord is with us. Fear them not!"
But the Israelites were too afraid to listen to words of reason, and their fear showed itself in anger against Caleb and Joshua. They reached for stones to fling at them, and would have stoned not only the two brave spies but Moses and Aaron as well if a strange and wonderful distraction had not suddenly occurred. The glory of the Lord appeared in the form of a brightly glowing light from the tabernacle, in front of all the children of Israel. And the voice of the Lord came from the brightness. "Moses! How long will these people provoke and disobey me? How long will it be before they believe in me, after all the signs I have shown them? I will send a plague to wipe them out; I will disinherit them. Of you, and you alone, shall I make a great and mighty nation." But Moses pleaded for them, as he had done countless times before. "Do not destroy them, Lord, I beg you; not after having brought them all this way and becoming famed as the Lord who leads by cloud and fire and talks to his people face to face. If you should kill them here, then the nations which have heard of your fame will say that you were not able to bring your people into the land you promised them, and that you therefore destroyed them in the wilderness. You are long-suffering, O Lord, and of great mercy. Pardon, I pray you, the wickedness of the people in accordance with the greatness of your mercy, as you have forgiven them since leaving Egypt even until now." The Lord listened, and relented; but not altogether. "I will pardon them, as you ask," he said. "They shall not be destroyed, nor will I disinherit them. But because all these men, who have seen my glory and my miracles which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, have not listened to my voice and have tempted me now ten times, they shall none of them see the land which I promised to their fathers. Tell them this: 'Not one of you who is twenty years or older, and has murmured against me, shall ever go into that land. Only Joshua and Caleb, who have been faithful to me, shall be allowed to live in Canaan. And the little ones, whom you feared would be made prisoners, shall grow up to inherit the land which you have despised. But as for the rest of you, you shall stay in the wilderness and wander there until you die. And your children shall wander in the wilderness for forty years, one year for each of the days in which you searched the land, until they are grown and you are gone.'"
8 Wherefore, we would to God that we could persuade all men not to rebel against God, to provoke him to anger, but that all men would believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world; wherefore, I, Jacob, take it upon me to fulfil the commandment of my brother Nephi.
verse 8 "we would to God" This phrase implies a fervent wish and might be alternatively translated, "we desire, as God is our witness."
"view his death, and suffer his cross" To "view" Christ's death is to accept and learn of his atoning sacrifice, and to "suffer his cross" means to determine to righteously endure the temptations and vicissitudes of mortality. It was the Lord's intent that his atoning sacrifice would "bring all men unto him." This could only occur if the people would learn about and ponder his atonement. Then in a sense of gratitude, "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" the people would come to Christ.
To "bear the shame of the world" is to endure the inevitable ridicule of worldly people while clinging to eternal principles of truth.
"to fulfil the commandment of my brother Nephi" This commandment is found in verses 1 through 4 of this chapter.
9 Now Nephi began to be old, and he saw that he must soon die; wherefore, he anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people now, according to the reigns of the kings.
verse 9 "he anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people" In Hebrew culture, a man was not elected nor was he simply unceremoniously designated to be king. Rather he was anointed in a ritual that symbolized the outpouring of the Spirit, and in which the king covenanted to lead his people in righteousness (Stephen D. Ricks, "The Coronation of Kings," a FARMS reprint, July 1989).
"he anointed a man to be a king and a ruler over his people now, according to the reigns of the kings" We will read in the commentary for verses 13 and 14 of this chapter that all of the Book of Mormon peoples at this time in their history could be classified by a few different systems of labeling. This particular phrase seems to define the Nephites as those who were reigned over at the moment ("now") by Nephi.
One subtle point worth noting is that here in the first chapter of the book of Jacob, especially in Jacob 1:11, Jacob provides us with a description of the "reigns of the kings" over his people. We may thus assume that after Jacob was given the small plates of Nephi, he did not start writing immediately. He had been commanded to write upon these plates only those things that were "most precious." This commandment required that Jacob wait for a while before writing upon the plates, since it required the advantage of a backward glance in order to make comparisons and judgments regarding what was most precious and therefore should be written.
10 The people having loved Nephi exceedingly, he having been a great protector for them, having wielded the sword of Laban in their defence, and having labored in all his days for their welfare-
verse 10 "having wielded the sword of Laban in their defence" We may presume, though we are without a specific account, that Nephi personally participated in battles against the Lamanites. Perhaps we might be able to read an account of these battles if we had access to those 116 pages of manuscript that were lost by Martin Harris. The sword of Laban was more than just another weapon. It apparently became an important symbol to the Nephite nation. It was symbolic of the arm or power of the Lord. It implied a promise that the Lord would strengthen and bless the Nephites as he had their fathers. The significance of this symbol still lingers even today.
Brigham Young related an interesting account of Joseph and Oliver's returning the Book of Mormon plates to the Hill Cumorah. Brigham attributes this account to Oliver Cowdery. It does not fit with the anatomy of the New York Hill Cumorah, and it is difficult to know whether or not Oliver was reporting a literal experience. "They laid the plates on a table; it was a large table that stood in the room. Under this table there was a pile of plates as much as two feet high, and there were altogether in this room more plates than probably many wagon loads; they were piled up in the corners and along the walls. The first time they went there the sword of Laban hung upon the wall; but when they went again it had been taken down and laid upon the table across the gold plates; it was unsheathed and on it was written these words: 'This sword will never be sheathed again until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ'" (JD, 19:38).
The battles referred to in this verse and in verse 14 occurred in the land of Nephi and were likely initiated by the Lamanites who resented and hated the Nephites and desired to destroy their records and traditions. Ultimately the Lamanites will prevail in these battles and force the Nephites to leave the land of Nephi in about 210 BC.
A preferred spelling of "defence" today, at least in the United States, is defense.
11 Wherefore, the people were desirous to retain in remembrance his name. And whoso should reign in his stead were called by the people, second Nephi, third Nephi, and so forth, according to the reigns of the kings; and thus they were called by the people, let them be of whatever name they would.
verse 11 "let them be of whatever name they would" Regardless of their given name, once they assumed the office of king they were given the title and called "Nephi." It is interesting to note that in many ancient cultures including Israel, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, a king received a new name or throne name when he was crowned king. Perhaps this new name was given to the king as part of his coronation rite (Stephen D. Ricks, "King, Coronation, and Covenant in Mosiah 1-6" in Rediscovering the Book of Mormon, 214-15).
12 And it came to pass that Nephi died.
verse 12 Nephi was probably about seventy years old when he delivered the small plates to Jacob (see 1 Nephi 2:16). We cannot be sure how long it was between his delivering the plates and his death.
13 Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.
verse 13 It should be noted that throughout the Book of Mormon, the people are consistently divided into seven tribes (see also 3 Nephi 7:2; 4 Nephi 1:37-38; Mormon 1:8-9). Prior to his death, the prophet Lehi called his family together and first spoke to several of his sons collectively (2 Nephi 1:1-29). He then divided the family into seven groups and spoke to them individually. First, he spoke to Zoram (2 Nephi 1:30-32); second to Jacob (2 Nephi 2); third to Joseph (2 Nephi 3); fourth to the children of Laman (2 Nephi 4:3-7); fifth to the children of Lemuel (2 Nephi 4:8-9); sixth to the sons of Ishmael (2 Nephi 4:10), and seventh to Nephi and Sam together (2 Nephi 4:11). Thus, Lehi seemed to establish the precedent of these seven groups which will endure as distinct groups throughout the Book of Mormon record. It is interesting and notable that there are no "Samites" in the Book of Mormon. In a way, Lehi was acting here like Jacob of old. Both Jacob and Lehi pronounced their blessings to "all [their] household," who had gathered around them shortly before they died. The aim was to organize a household of God in a new land of promise. Both organized their posterity into tribal groups in the patriarchal tradition of ancient Israel. This placed Lehi in a patriarchal role, and indeed the Nephites remembered Lehi as "Father Lehi" just as the Israelites speak of Abraham as "Father Abraham."
The tendency for the people to be joined by strong family ties persists throughout the Book of Mormon. Different forms of government will come and go, but the family structure will persist. For example, in the dark days of political collapse just prior to Christ's advent, there still remained "much family," and the tribal structure took the place of the failed government (3 Nephi 7:2-4).
The division of the people into seven groups will remain an important feature of their culture. Alma will eventually establish "seven churches in the land of Zarahemla" (Mosiah 25:23). It is interesting to note that in Mesoamerican tradition there were "seven caves" or seven lineages from which the inhabitants of Mesoamerica were to have sprung (An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, John L. Sorenson, 313). It would be presumptuous, however to imagine a connection between these seven lineages and the Nephite/Lamanite tribes.
For a more thorough review of the various Book of Mormon peoples, see the supplemental article, Peoples of the Book of Mormon.
"Ishmaelites" These are the descendants of Ishmael. Just as the sons of Ishmael joined with Laman and Lemuel in rebellion (1 Nephi 7:6; 1 Nephi 7:18:9), so their descendants remained united with the Lamanites. They are only occasionally distinguished from the Lamanites (Jacob 1:13-14; Alma 43:13; Alma 43:47:35; Mormon 1:8-9).
14 But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings.
verse 14 Here Jacob points out that while the labels "Nephite" and "Lamanite" are the names of specific tribes, as pointed out in the commentary for verse 13, these same labels might also be used in a less specific way. In this latter sense all of the Book of Mormon people may be divided into two general groups: (1) the adherents of Nephi and his teachings-the Nephites, and (2) those who seek to destroy these Nephites-the Lamanites.
"the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings" One definition of "Nephite" consists in those people who were ruled by and gave allegiance to the "Nephis"-those kings who succeeded the prophet Nephi. Generally throughout the remainder of the Book of Mormon, this same sociopolitical definition of "Nephites" and "Lamanites" will hold true. A people's label will depend upon their political allegiance and not their ethnic origins.
15 And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.
verse 15 "under the reign of the second king" This probably refers to Nephi's successor, the king referred to as second Nephi.
The suggestion has been made by Daniel H. Ludlow that Nephi's political successor was perhaps Jacob (A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976, 156). This, however seems unlikely, as in this verse and in verse 9 above, Jacob refers to Nephi's royal political successor in the third person. We previously mentioned the suggestion that Nephi's successor may have been one of his sons. We are obviously not given to know just who he was.
"like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon" We learn from modern revelation that both David and his son Solomon had many wives and concubines, and that they were justified in doing so, since these marital partners were given them by the Lord (D&C 132:38-39). Yet, as this verse suggests, both David and Solomon were apparently guilty of some measure of abuse of this principle of polygamy. We are all familiar with the story of David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and with his arranging for Uriah's death in battle (2 Samuel 11).
This verse presents the student of the Book of Mormon with an interesting problem. It has been estimated that the Nephites, when they split with Laman and Lemuel perhaps some forty years previously, numbered about twenty-four (eleven adults and thirteen children). This group, as you will recall, included Nephi, Zoram, Sam, Jacob, Joseph, and their families, and also Nephi's "sisters." Using a reasonable figure for birth rates and factoring in deaths, the adult population at the time of Jacob 1 unlikely exceeded thirty-five males and thirty-five females. With such limited numbers as these, the preference of some of the Nephites for "many wives and concubines" would be puzzling and would seem to require a larger female population. Also who were the "concubines"? Concubines were usually women of a lower social order than the prevalent one who were kept and supported by a man in addition to his wives. Dr. John L. Sorenson has suggested that this verse provides some evidence that the Nephites must have combined with some other people on their arrival in the New World, likely some which were indigenous to the area ("When Lehi's party Arrived in the Land, Did They Find Others There?" in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, volume 1, number 1 [Fall 1992], 1-34). There are other evidences in the Book of Mormon text that the members of Lehi's party joined with and intermarried with other peoples whom Dr. Sorenson refers to as "others." We will mention them in context.
16 Yea, and they also began to search much gold and silver, and began to be lifted up somewhat in pride.
verse 16 "search much gold and silver" We will learn in Jacob 2:12 that many of the people began to "search for gold, and for silver." Presumably this means that they began to worship mammon (riches) rather than God.
17 Wherefore I, Jacob, gave unto them these words as I taught them in the temple, having first obtained mine errand from the Lord.
verse 17 "errand from the Lord" What charming terminology for a calling from the Lord! This is the only instance of the use of this phrase in the entire Book of Mormon. Jacob's "errand" apparently is to rebuke, warn, and teach the Nephites concerning pride and unchastity (Jacob 2-3), an errand given him through revelation (Jacob 2:11).
18 For I, Jacob, and my brother Joseph had been consecrated priests and teachers of this people, by the hand of Nephi.
19 And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.
verse 19 "we did magnify our office unto the Lord" Jacob and his brother Joseph "magnified" their callings in the priesthood. To magnify is to "make it great" or make it greatly effective, so that no one in our (Jacob and Joseph's) stewardship can shift responsibility for their sins from their own choices to our negligence. Conversely, failing to magnify our calling is to neglect one's duty, so that blame for the sins of others is due in part to one's own negligence (see Jacob 1:19). To magnify a calling or an office in the Church is to accept pro-actively all of the responsibilities of the calling and to perform the duties of the calling enthusiastically and completely.
Elder Delbert L. Stapley explained that "to magnify is to honor, to exalt and glorify, and cause to be held in greater esteem or respect. It also means to increase the importance of, to enlarge and make greater" ("Honoring the Priesthood," Improvement Era [May 1957] 60:423-25).
This verse implies a rather sobering admonition to missionaries: They must teach an individual the word of God with "all diligence" in order to avoid sharing the responsibility of that individual's sins. Jacob had stated previously, "The God of Israel did witness that I shook your iniquities from my soul, and that I stand with brightness before him, and am rid of your blood" (2 Nephi 9:44). This verse is also consistent with Ezekiel's teachings that a watchman who fails to sound the alarm will be held accountable for the destruction of his people (Ezekiel 3:17-21; Ezekiel 33:1-9). A similar and perhaps even more sobering warning was given to parents by the Lord (D&C 68:25).