Jacob Chapter 4
Jacob 4:4 All the holy prophets knew of Christ.
Jacob 4:10 Seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand.
Jacob 4:13 The Spirit speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be.
Jacob 4 is a rich doctrinal chapter. It contains doctrines that were revolutionary at the time of the publication of the Book of Mormon. These include: (1) the fact that all true prophets back to the time of Adam knew of and prophesied of the birth of Christ; (2) the doctrine that the redemptive effects of Christ's atonement extend back to the days of Adam; (3) the announcement that the prophets worshiped God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ; (4) the important concept that the law of Moses including its rituals were symbolic of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice, just as was the story of Abraham's offering of Isaac as a sacrifice; (5) a warning to religious zealots not to look beyond the mark as did the Jews at the time of Christ; and (6) the concept that the Jews will one day acknowledge Christ as the Messiah.
verses 1-3 A careful study of these verses leads to an interesting conclusion. As we read through the Book of Mormon we may intuitively conclude that what a prophet engraved upon the plates was all the writing he did. These verses suggest that Jacob, and likely all of the other Book of Mormon prophets, also wrote on other materials, probably leather or paper. We might logically conclude that what a prophet finally engraved, with "difficulty," upon the plates was a well-edited final version of his writings.
1 Now behold, it came to pass that I, Jacob, having ministered much unto my people in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates) and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain;
verse 1 "we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain" Jacob's use of "we" here and in the verses which follow refers to himself and his brother Nephi. Note his reference to himself and his brother in the previous verse: "These plates are called the plates of Jacob, and they were made by the hand of Nephi." See also verse 4 of this chapter.
2 But whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away; but we can write a few words upon plates, which will give our children, and also our beloved brethren, a small degree of knowledge concerning us, or concerning their fathers-
3 Now in this thing we do rejoice; and we labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts, and look upon them that they may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents.
verse 3 "that they may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents" Part of the magic of delving into our own family histories is to learn that our ancestors were much like we are today. They were real people who had concerns and feelings of hope and fear similar to our own. Without effort on our part to learn of them we may regard them with little feeling. They may seem to be parents or ancestors who didn't know us and had little regard for us. Once we do come to know them, however, we realize they were concerned for us and certainly will love us as family once we are reunited with them.
"concerning their first parents" Some may interpret this phrase as a reference to Adam and Eve. However, the context suggests that Jacob is referring to Lehi and Ishmael and their families who migrated to the New World.
4 For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us.
verse 4 "for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ" Jacob and his brother Nephi have written the materials on the small plates so their "beloved brethren and [their] children" (their descendants) will know that they knew of Christ.
Make certain that you do not take this verse for granted! It is almost a revolutionary verse, yet it has become a fundamental gospel principle. Generally speaking, biblical scholars today do not believe that it was possible for an Old Testament prophet to receive any specific revealed information about an event which was to occur hundreds of years in the future. The word Christ is not even mentioned in modern translations of the Old Testament. Secular scholars feel that the prophets and people of the Old Testament did not even know of Christ, and certainly the Old Testament in its present form is not clear on this topic. This and other verses in the Book of Mormon, however, teach that the prophets did know-"all the holy prophets" knew of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament prophets had revealed to them specific information about the coming of the Savior centuries hence, and they taught these glorious truths to their people (see also Moses 6:51-68; Moses 7:55; Moses 8:24; JST, Genesis 15:11-12; Jacob 7:11; Mosiah 13:33; 3 Nephi 20:24; Helaman 8:17-19; John 8:56; Acts 3:21; Acts 10:43).
For a summary of the Book of Mormon passages that contain specific prophetic information about the future birth, life, ministry, and crucifixion of the Savior see the commentary for Mosiah 15:5-7.
Keep in mind that when Jesus Christ walked the earth and taught the gospel, and when Peter and Paul went out preaching, they used the scriptures which at that time consisted of only the Old Testament. They obviously had no New Testament from which to teach. The Apostle John quotes Jesus as saying, relative to the scriptures of his day, "They are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). Jesus, in teaching the disciples on the road to Emmaus following his resurrection, said to them, "Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:25-27). The version of the Old Testament to which we have access today is not the same as they used. Many "plain and precious things" have been removed from our present-day Bible.
"a hope of his glory" This phrase suggests more than the fact of the prophets' knowing beforehand of his coming into mortality. It suggests that the prophets had a hope of partaking of the same glory as Christ-that is, they had a hope of exaltation (see also Moroni 9:25). This same idea will be expressed somewhat differently in verse 11 of this chapter: "a good hope of glory in him." See also the commentary for Jacob 4:6.
5 Behold, they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name, and also we worship the Father in his name. And for this intent we keep the law of Moses, it pointing our souls to him; and for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness, even as it was accounted unto Abraham in the wilderness to be obedient unto the commands of God in offering up his son Isaac, which is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son.
verse 5 Note how clearly this verse differentiates between God the Father and God the Son. Some have suggested that the Book of Mormon is trinitarian in nature-that it teaches of only one God. These critics have not carefully read the Book of Mormon text.
"they believed in Christ and worshiped the Father in his name" The "they" in this phrase refers back to the phrase "all the holy prophets" in verse 4. Just as we today worship the Father in the name of the Son, so did all the ancient prophets. This is the order of heaven (see also Moses 1: 17; 5:8; 8:24).
"it pointing our souls to him" This is a remarkable verse. "It" refers to the law of Moses. Jacob here gives us vital information about the relationship between the law of Moses and Jesus Christ, and also about the story of the Lord's command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22. The purpose of the law of Moses was to point to the coming of Christ (see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 3, chapter 16, The Law of Moses). Genesis 22 tells the story of Abraham's being "tempted" or tested by the Lord when Abraham was commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac. The whole story, we are taught by Jacob, is a similitude or type of God the Father's offering his son Jesus Christ as a sacrifice. Thus in this story, which we now see as metaphorical, Abraham corresponds to God the Father and Isaac is likened to Jesus Christ.
Let us now look briefly at this story in Genesis 22:1-18 with this new insight: Isaac had a miraculous birth. Recall that God had to intervene since Isaac's mother Sarah was barren. Notice that in these verses in Genesis, Isaac is referred to as Abraham's only son (see verses 2, 12, and 16). We know of course that Isaac wasn't, in actual fact, Abraham's only son since Ishmael had previously been born to Abraham and Hagar. Isaac was, however the only son in the patriarchal or covenant line. Isaac is referred to in verse 2 as the son "whom thou lovest," the beloved son. Notice in verse 8 that "God will provide himself a lamb." The wood to be used in the sacrificial procedure was carried on the backs of both Isaac and Jesus Christ (the patibulum or horizontal cross piece-see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 2, chapter 14, Crucifixion). The location of Isaac's near sacrifice was on one of the hills of the region called Moriah. Jesus was sacrificed on another of the hills in the region of Moriah, the hill Golgotha. Both Isaac and Jesus were in their early thirties when these analogous events occurred. Thus we should regard this wonderful story in Genesis as a witness of Jesus Christ. The sacrificial rituals of the law of Moses wherein the "unspotted lamb" was sacrificed by the Levite priests is similarly analogous with Christ's own sacrifice (see the commentary for 2 Nephi 11:4). Yet, it is remarkable how few can see and understand this concept which seems so obvious to us.
"for this cause it is sanctified unto us for righteousness" "It" here refers to the law of Moses. In Old Testament times, those who lived in faithful conformity to the law of Moses could be sanctified-brought to a testimony of Jesus Christ-and prepared to receive a celestial reward.
6 Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.
verse 6 "we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken" Jacob seems to intend a unique and rich meaning when he speaks of "obtaining a hope in Christ" (see also the commentary for Jacob 2:19). He seems to intend more than simply possessing hope in a secular sense. He is referring to our ability to obtain the assurance that we have reached a particular spiritual level or special relationship with the Lord. The process by which this special spiritual plateau is reached is mentioned in this verse. It consists of diligently searching the scriptures and of seeking and striving for a witness of the Spirit. For a discussion of the gift of hope, see "Two Little-Appreciated Gifts of the Spirit" in Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 10, Deliberate Faith and Revealed Faith. See also "The Fruits of Faith" in volume 1, chapter 11, Other Notes on Faith.
"we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea" Those who achieve this lofty level in their spiritual progress will have the power to perform miracles.
Here is a reminder that the plants and the so-called inanimate things of the earth all contain intelligences and spirits and have the right to choose (agency) and the ability to hear, understand, and obey.
7 Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.
verse 7 It would seem to be the very nature of mortality that during this earthly experience, each of us will be humbled and caused to realize our weakness before God. The Savior will later say to Moroni, "If men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble" (Ether 12:27).
"it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men" The concepts of grace and the condescension of God have been discussed previously. The condescension of God is a sacred and profound concept which we should know and hold dear. It is discussed in the commentary for 1 Nephi 11:16. Grace refers to that love extended to us by the Savior evidenced by his willingness to offer us our exaltation even though we have not merited that exaltation by any act of our own. We are absolutely powerless to save ourselves and are utterly dependent on this grace. To Moroni, the Savior also said, "My grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them" (Ether 12:27).
"that we have power to do these things" One tends to see "the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea" as the antecedent for "these things." Actually the exaltation of man is a better antecedent for "these things," as that which comes by virtue of the Lord's "grace" and "his great condescensions" is salvation or exaltation.
8 Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.
verse 8 "mysteries of him" For a discussion of the two definitions of the concept of the "mysteries of God" see the commentary for 1 Nephi 1:1. It should be emphasized that the sophistication of man is miniscule compared to the works and mysteries of God. There are many mysteries or unknowns concerning the laws of God that will remain so-they will remain mysteries-during our mortal experience. Apparently there are points of doctrine for which we will have to await an explanation until a later stage in our progression. Those worldly sophisticates who consider a faith in God as unsophisticated and naive will certainly appear ridiculous and foolish when the veil is removed, and we are all granted an eternal perspective.
"no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him" This is a profound truth which is discussed in the commentary for 2 Nephi 9:28. Spiritual truths cannot be learned through the natural senses, rather they may only be learned spirit to spirit, by revelation from the Holy Ghost. It is impossible to be exalted in the celestial kingdom without learning some spiritual truths. One cannot truly know that Jesus is the Christ, for example, except one has this knowledge revealed by the Holy Ghost. Spiritual truths are revealed only to those who strive and seek to obey the commandments of God, whereas secular truths can be learned without regard to moral status. The Apostle Paul taught that it is impossible for the natural man to know spiritual truths: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).
There is another important concept that is pertinent here. What does it really mean to "learn" spiritual truths? Does it mean simply to come to a mental comprehension and a willingness to give intellectual assent? For example, when we learn the doctrine of the Godhead, do we merely understand clearly that God the Father and God the Son are separate beings with tangible bodies of flesh and bone and that the Spirit of God is yet a third being with a body of spirit matter? Obviously, the concept of learning spiritual truths is richer than that. When we learn spiritual truths, they are witnessed to our heart by the Spirit of God. A basic change is wrought in us when we receive truths by personal revelation. We become different people-more spiritually refined, indeed, more like God. For us, Jesus Christ is the source of all spiritual truth, and when we learn any spiritual truth, we take upon ourselves an increment of his attributes. We become more like him.
"despise not the revelations of God" This phrase utilizes an interesting figure of speech that is characteristic of biblical writings called "antenantiosis" ("FARMS Update," July 1991, number 77). Jacob could have said, "Esteem highly the revelations of God." Instead he made the statement as a negated opposite. This is antenantiosis. In this figure of speech "an expression is stated in terms of its negated opposite. The result is to [emphasize] the positive to a very high degree." Here Jacob "is not merely saying not to despise the revelations; he is actually urging the righteous to hold the revelations of God in the highest esteem!" Other examples include the promise, "if ye do this, and endure to the end, ye will in nowise be cast out" (Mormon 9:29). Moroni is actually promising that the faithful who endure will be blessed beyond measure. When Mosiah says, "It is not expedient that such abominations should come upon you" (Mosiah 29:24), he is not merely saying that the people should not commit or allow such abominations, he is forcefully admonishing the people to prevent them. When Amulek warns that "he [the devil] rewardeth you no good thing" (Alma 34:39), he does not mean just the lack of a good reward, but the surety of tremendously evil results-torment, captivity, and damnation. Other Book of Mormon uses of antenantiosis appear in Mosiah 2:9; Mosiah 2:19:17; Alma 12:14; Alma 30:21; Alma 34:39; Alma 46:30; Alma 50:27; and 3 Nephi 5:1; 3 Nephi 6:18; 3 Nephi 7:18.
9 For behold, by the power of his word man came upon the face of the earth, which earth was created by the power of his word. Wherefore, if God being able to speak and the world was, and to speak and man was created, O then, why not able to command the earth, or the workmanship of his hands upon the face of it, according to his will and pleasure?
verse 9 This verse may be summarized by saying, "When the very Creator of man and of earth speaks, we are well-advised to listen."
Did Jacob believe that the creator of the earth was the Father or the Son? It is clear that the pronoun "his" in the expression "his word" refers to "the Lord" in the previous verse. We will learn in verses 10 and 11 below that "the Lord" is the Father. Thus it would appear that "the Lord" is described as being the creator of the earth. Today we understand that the creator of the earth and the Lord God of the Old Testament were both Jesus Christ himself. Did the prophet Jacob clearly understand this? It is clear that Jacob understood the godhood and the relationship between the Father and the Son as evidenced by verse 5 of this chapter. Yet this verse leads us to believe that in Jacob's mind "the Lord" or the Father was the Creator.
10 Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.
verse 10 A powerful verse, well worth remembering.
11 Wherefore, beloved brethren, be reconciled unto him through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, and ye may obtain a resurrection, according to the power of the resurrection which is in Christ, and be presented as the first-fruits of Christ unto God, having faith, and obtained a good hope of glory in him before he manifesteth himself in the flesh.
verse 11 It is fascinating to learn of the very specific doctrines Jacob knew and was able to teach the Nephites concerning the atonement and resurrection even centuries before Christ's mortal ministry.
"be reconciled unto him" For a review of the concept of justification or reconciliation see Ye Shall Know of the Doctrine, volume 1, chapter 17, Justification and Sanctification. To be reconciled means to be restored to favor. Every man loses favor with God by committing sin. A man is said to be "reconciled to God" or "justified" when all penalties are removed, and he is brought into perfect harmony with God to the point where he can be exalted. The following statement is absolute: No man can be exalted in the celestial kingdom without being reconciled to God.
"the power of the resurrection which is in Christ" Jesus possesses the "power of the resurrection" at least in part because of his ordeal in Gethsemane and on the cross.
"and be presented as the first-fruits of Christ unto God" For a discussion of the concept of first-fruits and its variations, see the commentary for 2 Nephi 2:9. In this instance, the "first-fruits of Christ," of course, are those who are resurrected with celestial bodies who will inherit that degree of glory. Here, this resurrection is referred to simply as "resurrection." Today we refer to this resurrection as the "first resurrection." It was a custom in ancient Israel for the head of the family to go into the field before harvest time and mark the best of the fruit crop even before it was ripe. These were the "first fruits." This portion was then dedicated or set apart to be later offered to the Lord at the temple.
This verse might read a little better if the word "having" were inserted between "and" and "obtained."
The concept of "a good hope of glory in him" seems be the same as that of "obtaining a hope in Christ" discussed in the commentary for Jacob 2:19, Jacob 4:4, and Jacob 4:6.
12 And now, beloved, marvel not that I tell you these things; for why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him, as to attain to the knowledge of a resurrection and the world to come?
verse 12 "why not speak of the atonement of Christ" Here Jacob asks a question which is thought by many to introduce the sweeping prophecy contained in Jacob 5-Zenos's allegory of the tame and wild olive trees. In asking the question, "why not speak," Jacob seems to be asking, "Why should we not now consider in more detail the atonement of Jesus Christ?" In the allegory in Jacob 5, one of the central themes is the reuniting or the "at-one-ment" of scattered Israel. Here is a vital point regarding the concept of the atonement that we have not discussed previously. The concept of the atonement refers not only to the egregious sacrifice of suffering Christ was required to make in Gethsemane and on the cross, but also to the Savior's ongoing labors to bring his children back into oneness with him and with each other. The word atonement does not derive from Greek or Latin roots, but is pure English. It arose from the attempts of the earliest translators of the English versions of the Bible to find a word that described reconciliation with Christ-literally, at-one-ment. The Savior yearns for this state of oneness with his children (see also the great intercessory prayers in John 17 and in 3 Nephi 19). In an important way, the whole plan of salvation centers in our learning to be one with Christ as he is one with the Father.
"attain to a perfect knowledge of him" Jacob never defines exactly what he means by "a perfect knowledge" of Christ. In the context of this verse, it may well be that a perfect knowledge is acquired by seeing the Savior in vision. At the very least, it speaks of a special and intimate relationship with the Savior-a oneness that implies complete conversion. This intimate oneness is available to each of us as a gift of the Spirit. It results from our diligent and persistent obedience to the Lord's commands. It comes to us, when we demonstrate ourselves worthy, by personal revelation. We may refer to this special and intimate relationship as "a testimony of Jesus Christ."
Whatever the meaning of this phrase, it is clear in this verse that attaining "a perfect knowledge of him" leads also to one's acquiring a testimony of one's own eventual "resurrection and the world to come"-indeed, the gift of hope.
13 Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old.
verse 13 "he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men" Here Jacob, in order to teach an important principle, speaks hypothetically to all prophets who would prophesy in the name of the Lord. His point is that only when prophets speak by the influence of the Holy Ghost do they truly speak the truth and are they understood by those who also possess the Holy Ghost who is also called the Spirit of prophecy and the Spirit of truth.
"it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be" Who is "it"? "It" is the influence of the Spirit of God. And what is truth? Here Jacob plainly defines truth and tells us how we can learn it. He explains that truth is reality, learned through the Spirit. This is compatible with a definition of truth given by the Lord in latter-day scripture: "knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come" (D&C 93:24).
"these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls" "These things" are spiritual truths available to all mortals who seek them in righteousness.
Extensive and specific spiritual truths have been revealed to prophets since Adam. See the commentary for verse 4.
14 But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.
verse 14 "the Jews were a stiffnecked people" One interesting aspect of this verse is that it is written entirely in the past tense. Does Jacob have reference to the Jews before the time of Lehi's departure from Jerusalem? A careful consideration of the verse suggests that it refers to a time yet in the future from Jacob's day. The most important application of the verse seems, at least in part, to be the Jews' response to the Savior's mortal ministry, an event more than five centuries in Jacob's future! Is it appropriate then for the verse to be written in the past tense? It is appropriate. This is another example of "prophetic perfect" tense often found in prophetic writings. An event yet in the future is referred to as if it had already occurred.
"they despised the words of plainness" When declared outright, gospel truths sound uncomplicated and even simplistic. To people of worldly sophistication who lack the Spirit, they often seem embarrassingly simplistic, even silly and naive. The sophisticated Pharisaic and Sadducean Jews are just such an example of this worldly sophistication. They despised plainness, sought complexity, and hence God took away the plainness. Only those in tune with the Spirit see things in their true light-as they really are. Satan has always worked to corrupt our minds and lead us away "from the simplicity that is in Christ" (2 Corinthians 11:3).
"they . . . killed the prophets" There are a few scriptural examples of the Jews' killing the Lord's prophets, including the beheading of John the Baptist (Mark 6:25), the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:59), and the martyrdom of James the brother of John (Acts 12:2).
"sought for things that they could not understand" They spent their energies in speculative and theoretical matters rather than in learning and pondering fundamental spiritual truths.
"blindness which came by looking beyond the mark" The word "mark" means target or main objective, something to aim at. The prophet would have understood this meaning of mark, as the word was generally used as "target" in nineteenth century English. Today, the word mark has evolved away from this meaning. Incidentally, the meaning of the word target has also evolved in the past. At the time of the translation of the King James Version of the Bible, the word target meant shield (see, for example, see 1 Samuel 17:6). Indeed Christ is the mark. Jesus said of himself, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).
The Jews were unique in their apostasy. They did not apostatize out of passivity and indifference. Rather, from a need for worldly intellectual gratification, they looked beyond the simplicity of the gospel of Jesus Christ and created a complex monster of apostate ritualistic man-made gospel rules. Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, "My fellow men, it matters so very much how we regard and view Jesus Christ. Some seek to substitute Caesars for Christ. Others are blinded because they are 'looking beyond the mark' when the mark is Christ" (CR, April 3, 1976).
Brother Daniel H. Ludlow taught:
In trying to explain why the Jewish people did not accept the Savior when he came, Jacob said it was because of the blindness of the Jews "which blindness came by looking beyond the mark." Although the meaning of this idiomatic expression is not absolutely clear, some Book of Mormon scholars have suggested that the Jewish people were "looking beyond the mark" insofar as they expected the Savior to do at his first coming those things which it was prophesied he should do at his second coming. Thus, when the Savior did not lead the Jewish people to victory over their enemies during his earthly existence, he was largely rejected by the Jews. Jacob, however, prophesies that in the last days the Jews will once again build upon the sure foundation of Jesus Christ (A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, 160).In trying to explain why the Jewish people did not accept the Savior when he came, Jacob said it was because of the blindness of the Jews "which blindness came by looking beyond the mark." Although the meaning of this idiomatic expression is not absolutely clear, some Book of Mormon scholars have suggested that the Jewish people were "looking beyond the mark" insofar as they expected the Savior to do at his first coming those things which it was prophesied he should do at his second coming. Thus, when the Savior did not lead the Jewish people to victory over their enemies during his earthly existence, he was largely rejected by the Jews. Jacob, however, prophesies that in the last days the Jews will once again build upon the sure foundation of Jesus Christ (A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, 160).
"God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it" Because the Jews rejected the light they were given, God has withdrawn the light and left them to flounder along in their contrived and complex apostate system of gospel laws. They deliberately sought to distance themselves from God and render him incomprehensible. They sought to create a God they could not understand. And therein they find stimulating intellectual excitement.
15 And now I, Jacob, am led on by the Spirit unto prophesying; for I perceive by the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation.
verse 15 "I, Jacob, am led on by the Spirit unto prophesying" Jacob is preparing to deliver the sweeping allegory written by Zenos which prophesies of the fate of the house of Israel. In these final verses of chapter 4, Jacob will begin to lay a foundation for this great allegory.
"The stone" in this and the following verse is Jesus Christ, "the only sure foundation upon which the Jews can build." Apparently there was a Jewish tradition that during the reconstruction of the temple under Solomon's direction, the builders mistakenly rejected an ideal cornerstone. Hence, we encounter the use, in the Old and New Testaments, of the analogy of Christ as the chief cornerstone.
16 But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build.
verse 16 Jesus himself will become the chief cornerstone of the house of Judah and reign as king of the Jews and king of all the earth.
17 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?
verse 17 Jacob now asks a question which also serves to introduce the chapter that follows, Jacob 5. He asks, "How is it possible that the Jews, after having rejected Christ during his mortal ministry, will ever become subject to him and look to him as their king?"
18 Behold, my beloved brethren, I will unfold this mystery unto you; if I do not, by any means, get shaken from my firmness in the Spirit, and stumble because of my over anxiety for you.
verse 18 What is this "mystery" which will be unfolded unto us? More about that in the following chapter.
Jacob knows that the doctrine he will now expound (in chapter 5) is vastly important, and he expresses some concern that he may not be able to do it justice.