Jacob Chapter 5
Jacob 5 Zenos's allegory of the tame and wild olive trees
Jacob 5:71-72 The Lord of the vineyard said: This is the last time that I shall nourish my vineyard; for the end is nigh at hand.
Jacob 5 is the longest and probably the most complex chapter in the Book of Mormon. Here Jacob records, onto his record, a lengthy quote taken from the brass plates (see commentary for 1 Nephi 5:16). This is the allegory of the olive tree which is an allegory concerned with the scattering and gathering of Israel. This allegory was written onto the brass plates by the prophet Zenos.
Zenos was an ancient Israelite prophet whose writings are not found in the biblical texts to which we have access. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, "I do not think I overstate the matter when I say that next to Isaiah himself . . . there was not a greater prophet in all Israel than Zenos. And our knowledge of his inspired writings is limited to the quotations and paraphrasing summaries found in the Book of Mormon" (The Joseph Smith Translation: The Restoration of Plain and Precious Things, editors Monte S. Nyman and Robert L. Millet, 17).
We actually know little about the prophet Zenos. He did obviously write his record before 600 BC. He perhaps lived in the northern kingdom of Israel some time before the Assyrian captivity of the ten tribes between 732 and 722 BC. Alternatively he may have lived in Judah before the major rift in Israel at the death of Solomon in 931 BC. He probably descended from ancient Joseph and thus he was a kinsman of the Nephites. Apparently he was eventually martyred for his beliefs (Helaman 8:19). Nephi quoted from Zenos (1 Nephi 19, 22), and Alma used his words in speaking to the Zoramites on the subjects of worship and prayer (Alma 33:3-11).
It would be appropriate to review the concepts of scattering and gathering of Israel before continuing your study of this chapter. For that review, please see the introductory comments for 1 Nephi 20.
A common literary form used by many of the prophets in ancient Israel is the metaphor. It is a literary device in which a comparison is drawn between two unlike or unrelated objects. For example, "the curtain of night descended" or "all the world's a stage" or "thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass" (1 Nephi 20:4). Even the word "stiffneckedness" is itself a metaphor.
Perhaps this is a good time to briefly mention the other figures of speech found in the Book of Mormon. Figures of speech are a non-literal means of expressing ideas through images or changes in standard word order. They help to bring abstract concepts to life and enrich expressions in memorable ways. Examples found in the Book of Mormon include:
1. We have already mentioned the metaphor which is comparing unlike objects or terms.
2. A simile is a comparison between two objects showing an aspect of similarity through the use of "like" or "as." For example, "And from this time forth did the Nephites gain no power over the Lamanites, but began to be swept off by them even as a dew before the sun" (Mormon 4:18). Or, the Nephites "are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her" (Mormon 5:18).
3. A personification is treating inanimate things as persons, such as, "And her gates shall lament and mourn" (2 Nephi 13:26).
4. An allegory is a form of extended metaphor in which the literal level refers to another level of meaning: "I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive-tree" (Jacob 5:3).
5. An allusion is an indirect reference to historical events: "Let us be strong like unto Moses; for he truly spake unto the waters of the Red Sea and they divided hither and thither, and our fathers came through, out of captivity, on dry ground" (1 Nephi 4:2).
6. A simile curse uses simile to warn and set limits: "Even as this scalp has fallen to the earth, which is the scalp of your chief, so shall ye fall to the earth except ye will deliver up your weapons of war and depart with a covenant of peace" (Alma 44:14).
7. Rhetorical figures of speech are a departure from the customary uses of language. These may be divided into:
a. Apostrophe is addressing someone not present: "Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God" (Alma 31:15).
b. Repetition is just what it says: "Yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord . . . yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever" (Alma 37:36).
c. Antithesis: "Inasmuch as they shall keep my commandments they shall prosper in the land. But . . . inasmuch as they will not keep my commandments they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord" (Alma 50:20).
d. Parallelism (including chiastic parallelism)-see the supplemental article, The Hebrew Language and the Book of Mormon.
e. Hyperbole is exaggeration: "O that I were an angel . . . that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth" (Alma 29:1-3).
f. A paradox is something apparently contradictory but true: "If they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them" (Ether 12:27).
g. Metonymy is the use of the name of one thing in place of something related: "That I might rid my garments of your sins" (Jacob 2:2).
h. Synecdoche (sin ek' da kee) is the use of part to signify the whole or the use of the whole to signify a part: "Many hearts died" (Jacob 2:35).
Why did the Lord choose the metaphor of an olive tree to dramatize the destiny of his chosen people? Consider these possibilities: An olive tree almost never dies. It may be pruned and worked with over many generations. Before the fruit is fully satisfactory to the keeper of the vineyard, it is often necessary to apply many cuttings and trimmings and graftings and replantings. So it has been with the house of Israel. The Lord's chosen people have often required chastening and pruning. The Lord, like the dedicated gardener, has refused to allow his chosen people to perish. He prunes and cuts and coaxes and grafts and pleads. Grafting is a common horticultural practice whereby a branch or bud of one plant is attached to and allowed to grow from the root stock of a compatible plant variety. This process allows the desired qualities (usually the fruit) of the top of one plant to grow from a plant with desirable root qualities.
The olive tree is an apt metaphor in other ways as well. It was certainly an integral part of ancient biblical culture. Olive oil was an important dietary commodity. In addition, it was burned for lighting, used as a solvent for various spices and incenses, and used in religious rites such as anointing the sick. Because of the olive tree's unique and admirable characteristics, it has long been a universal symbol of life, hope, and peace. It is tough and durable and lives long. It can readily be transplanted. With a little encouragement it survives in stony soil. It is evergreen, a beautiful sight offering shade and rest. Its fruit produces soothing oil. The olive leaf brought back by the dove of peace showed Noah that life could again exist on earth (Genesis 8:11).
The botanical features of Jacob 5 have long been of interest particularly to those interested in that scientific discipline. It is felt that the science of horticulture as it applied to olive trees was well established in ancient times. The botanical principles mentioned or implied in Jacob 5 have been generally held to be correct with some few exceptions ("Botanical Comparisons in the Allegory of the Olive Tree," in The Book of Mormon: Jacob Through Words of Mormon, To Learn With Joy, 87-102). In the commentary for this chapter some specifics of these principles will be mentioned. Joseph Smith likely had little or no knowledge of olive trees in New York in 1829, as they do not grow in the northeastern United States. As we consider the few botanical aspects of olive trees, you might repeatedly ask yourself, "Could Joseph Smith have written this from his own background, knowledge, and experience?"
Regarding the botanical aspects of Jacob 5, Brother Hugh Nibley has written:
Jacob's (or rather Zenos's) treatise on ancient olive culture (Jacob 5) is accurate in every detail: Olive trees do have to be pruned and cultivated diligently; the top branches are indeed the first to wither, and the new shoots do come right out of the trunk . . . the ancient way of strengthening the old trees (especially in Greece) was to graft in the shoots of the oleaster or wild olive; also, shoots from valuable old trees were transplanted to keep the stock alive after the parent tree should perish; to a surprising degree the olive prefers poor and rocky ground, whereas rich soil produces inferior fruit; too much grafting produces a nondescript and cluttered yield of fruit; the top branches if allowed to grow as in Spain or France, while producing a good shade tree, will indeed sap the strength of the tree and give a poor crop; fertilizing with dung is very important, in spite of the preference for rocky ground, and has been practiced since ancient times; the thing to be most guarded against is bitterness in the fruit. All these points, taken from a treatise on ancient olive culture, are duly, though quite casually, noted in Zenos's Parable of the Olive Tree (Since Cumorah, 238-39; see also Nibley, Prophetic Book of Mormon, 250).
Some have wondered at the use of the term "vineyard" for the place where olive trees are planted. Wouldn't "orchard" be more appropriate? It seems clear that the Hebrew word from which "vineyard" was translated means just that-a place where grapes are grown. It is also interesting to note, however, that the vineyard in biblical times was considered a garden where many other things were grown including corn (Deuteronomy 23:24-25), olive trees (Amos 4:9), fruit trees (Nehemiah 9:25), herbs (1 Kings 21:2), pomegranates (Song of Solomon 7:12), and fig trees (Luke 13:6-9) (John A. Tvedtnes,"Vineyard or Olive Orchard?" a FARMS reprint).
We read scripture to enhance our understanding of the Lord and his purposes. Unfortunately, in Jacob 5, there is danger of becoming lost in its metaphorical aspects. It is difficult to understand this chapter without help, yet it is vital that we do come to understand it. It is in our dispensation that many of the Lord's promises to his covenant people will be fulfilled.
Fundamental to understanding Zenos's allegory is learning the meaning of the individual specific metaphors it contains. The following interpretation is provided with the help of Monte S. Nyman's book An Ensign to All People, 21-36, and an article by Kent P. Jackson, "Nourished by the Good Word of God" found in Studies in Scripture, Volume Seven, 1 Nephi to Alma 29, 190-94. These meanings are:
1. natural or tame olive tree: the house of Israel, the Lord's covenant people
2. wild olive tree: the Gentiles or non-Israelites. Later in the parable, "wild branches" are apostate Israel or the influences of the world which caused their apostasy.
3. the vineyard: the world
4. the man, master, or lord of the vineyard: the Lord Jesus Christ. An alternate meaning for the lord of the vineyard is God the Father with the servant being Jesus Christ.
5. the servant: a prophet, or prophets
6. branches: various groups of people, both Israelite and non-Israelite, both righteous and unrighteous
7. grafting natural branches into the wild trees: branches of Israel scattered among the Gentiles
8. transplanting the branches: scattering of groups throughout the world or restoring them to their original position
9. grafting: the process of spiritual rebirth wherein one is connected to the healing influence of the roots of the tame olive tree; whereupon one acquires the same inclination to accept the truth as is possessed by those of the blood of Israel. See the meaning of the "roots of the tame olive tree" below.
10. pruning: The opposite of grafting-that is, the cutting off of evil individuals from spiritual instructions and influences.
11. grafting wild branches into the natural tree: the accepting of Gentiles by adoption into the house of Israel. After Christ's mortal ministry, this process occurred as Gentiles accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, were baptized, and entered his church.
12. the roots of the tame olive tree: the intrinsic goodness of those of the house of Israel-their natural inclination to accept the truth, which inclination was earned over time in the pre-existence. We will also learn of other meanings for roots in the commentary which follows.
13. decaying branches: wickedness and apostasy
14. digging, pruning, nourishing, fertilizing, and cultivating: the Lord's merciful efforts and those of his earthly servants (the prophets) to save his chosen people, the house of Israel
15. casting the branches into the fire: the judgment of God
16. fruit of the tree: the souls of men or their works
17. natural fruit: the lives or works of those of the house of Israel
18. wild fruit: unrighteous people and their evil works
19. young and tender branches: righteous subgroups of Israel who are willing to accept and live the gospel
Another interpretive note is important before we begin our study of Jacob 5. In an important way, this chapter concerns itself with the atonement. Not so much with the Savior's sufferings in Gethsemane and on the cross, but more with another part of his atonement-his additional efforts to help man achieve the overcoming of their spiritual death and to reunite with him, the so-called "at-one-ment." Please review the commentary in Jacob 4:12 for the phrase "why not speak of the atonement of Christ." To properly understand Jacob 5, it is important to understand the intensity of the divine desire behind the process of atonement. Here is the "mystery" of Jacob 5 spoken of in Jacob 4:18. At the deepest level of meaning, the olive tree is symbolic of the Savior himself and his work is to gather mankind to himself. While the Lord Jesus is the agent of this gathering, the medium of the at-one-ment is the Holy Ghost (M. Catherine Thomas, "Jacob's Allegory: The Mystery of Christ," a FARMS reprint).
It is interesting to note the close correlation between the tree of life in Nephi's vision (1 Nephi 11-15) and the olive tree in Jacob 5. Both are ultimately symbolic of the Lord himself. The olive tree and the tree of life in Nephi's vision are the same tree, and the merging of the two trees enhances the message of at-one-ment between man and Christ. Nephi taught that the covenant people will receive "nourishment from the true vine" when they are grafted "into the true olive-tree" (1 Nephi 15:15-16). Jacob 5 concerns itself with the reuniting of each individual (Israelite and Gentile) with Christ. We will read repeatedly the phrase "preserve them unto myself." We will also read of the ceaseless activity of "nourishing," "digging," and "pruning" as the Lord seeks to bring men into his presence.
One of the vital insights we may draw from Jacob 5 is that the atonement operates at every level of man's existence. "It urges people to gather geographically into Zions. It promotes generosity and consecration of goods. It prompts people to resonate emotionally and to synergize spiritually. The Lord says, 'I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine' (D&C 38:27)" (Ibid.).
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it is important to emphasize the most essential point Jacob had in mind when he included this allegory in his writings: God loves the house of Israel and looks after his chosen people no matter where they are scattered. We have mentioned previously that one of Jacob's favorite themes, perhaps from his own experience living in exile, was the preservation of scattered Israel, the idea that God would never abandon his chosen people. He seemed to take special comfort in the promises made to that people. He obviously acknowledged that he and his people were among those of scattered Israel. It has been suggested that Jacob 5 ought to take its place beside the parable of the prodigal son, as both are poignant reminders of God's love and long suffering.
Now, keeping the above metaphors and symbolisms in mind, let us attempt to interpret the allegory.
1 Behold, my brethren, do ye not remember to have read the words of the prophet Zenos, which he spake unto the house of Israel, saying:
verse 1 The first person in this verse is the prophet Jacob. Beginning in verse 2, however, the prophet Zenos becomes the first person. The parable actually begins with verse 2.
"do ye not remember to have read the words of the prophet Zenos" Today this might be rendered, "do you not remember reading the words of the prophet Zenos?" Obviously this allegory of Zenos's was available to the Nephites and is something with which they should already have been familiar.
2 Hearken, O ye house of Israel, and hear the words of me, a prophet of the Lord.
3 For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive-tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.
verse 3 The "tame olive tree" is the house of Israel. The "man" is the master of the vineyard, Jesus Christ. The man "nourished" his covenant people Israel by making all of the blessings of his gospel available to them. This was done "in his vineyard" which is the world.
"it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay" After its beginning with father Abraham in about 2000 BC, the house of Israel began to fall into apostasy. After entering the promised land of Palestine (about 1220 BC) many of the Israelites eventually fell into apostasy. The period of time referred to is likely that between the foundation of the house of Israel and about 1000 BC just before the Israelite prophets were dispatched to the earth. Some have suggested that this period of apostasy might have occurred while Israel was detained in Egypt or even while they were wandering in the wilderness. A word of warning is appropriate here. It may not always be possible to apply Zenos's allegory to one specific time period. Some verses might even have a general application to the house of Israel in future dispensations. An attempt will be made, however, in this commentary to provide plausible temporal correlates.
The botanical concept of the "tame" or domesticated olive tree is a sound one. Though the olive tree is an ancient plant, it has changed little through time. The species which produces fruit eaten by man has two botanical varieties; one is cultivated or domestic (tame), and the other is wild. Both of these forms were present in ancient times. From examination of archaeological records, it is evident that domestication of the olive tree took a very long time. Domestication resulted from selection of desirable genetic characteristics, and these genetically variant plants were less hearty and relied more upon man for maximal production. In some instances, highly domesticated plants failed to survive if not tended and nurtured by men. On the other hand, non-domesticated (wild) plants are well-adapted genetically to survive without man's intervention. The extra care required for the domestic trees was worthwhile, since they produced better and more plentiful olives (Hess, 91).
verses 4-14 This is the period of nurturing extending from the beginning of the period of Israelite prophets about 1000 BC to the completion of the first great scattering of all Israel shortly after 600 BC.
4 And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard went forth, and he saw that his olive-tree began to decay; and he said: I will prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it, that perhaps it may shoot forth young and tender branches, and it perish not.
verse 4 "And it came to pass" This phrase is found frequently in Jacob 5. It seems to be used here by Zenos as a constant reminder of the passage of time.
"The master . . . saw that his olive-tree began to decay" Apostasy occurred among the Israelites.
"I will prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it" I will send my prophets to preach, teach and warn.
"It may shoot forth young and tender branches, and it perish not" Some subgroups of Israel may repent and prove to be the salvation of all Israel.
5 And it came to pass that he pruned it, and digged about it, and nourished it according to his word.
verses 4-5 The earliest of the prophets sent to warn Israel was Samuel who preached in the eleventh century BC. He was followed by the likes of Elijah, Elisha, and Jeremiah.
We cannot pass the concept of "pruning" without recalling Hugh B. Brown's little parable of the currant bush. As we are pruned in life by the divine will, we often suffer pain as we are usually subjected to refining influences which we would elect to avoid if given our choice. Hugh B. Brown wrote:
Do not cry . . . what I have done to you was necessary . . . you were not intended for what you sought to be . . . if I had allowed you to continue . . . you would have failed in the purpose for which I planted you and my plans for you would have been defeated. You must not weep; some day when you are richly laden with experience you will say, "He was a wise gardener. He knew the purpose of my earth life . . .. I thank him now for what I thought was cruel. Help me, dear God, to endure the pruning, and to grow as you would have me grow; to take my allotted place in life and ever more to say, Thy will not mine be done" ("The Gardener and the Currant Bush" in Eternal Quest, 243).
The pruning of olive trees maintains the proper amount of foliage and permits sufficient light to strike the branches, thus maximizing fruit production. Without pruning fruit production suffers, as the trees become too bushy. It is also well known that pruning encourages the development of "young and tender branches" (Hess, 93).
6 And it came to pass that after many days it began to put forth somewhat a little, young and tender branches; but behold, the main top thereof began to perish.
verse 6 Some Israelites accepted the prophets' warnings-the "young and tender branches"-but only a few. And those accepted the warnings only "somewhat a little."
"the main top thereof began to perish" The teachers, rulers, and priests did not accept the prophets. Two rulers who became infamous apostates were Jeroboam and Manasseh. Jeroboam was the military leader under King Solomon who broke with Judah and became the first king of the northern Kingdom of Israel. He introduced idol worship to his people. Manasseh was a king of the southern kingdom under whose evil leadership the spiritual state of Judah declined to new lows.
verses 7-10 Here the lord of the vineyard outlines a plan for saving the tame olive tree, consisting of three steps: (1) destroying the apostate parts of Israel-mainly the upper classes, (2) grafting non-Israelites into Israel, and (3) relocating the righteous subgroups of Israel away from Jerusalem so they might survive elsewhere.
7 And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard saw it, and he said unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, go and pluck the branches from a wild olive-tree, and bring them hither unto me; and we will pluck off those main branches which are beginning to wither away, and we will cast them into the fire that they may be burned.
verse 7 "the master of the vineyard saw it" The Lord saw the apostasy of Israel, so he gave instructions to his "servant" or prophet.
"It grieveth me that I should lose this tree" This phrase is repeated eight times in Zenos's allegory. It is a poignant celebration of the Lord's long-suffering love.
"go and pluck the branches from a wild olive-tree, and bring them hither unto me" These Gentiles will be discussed in the commentary for verse 9.
"we will pluck off those main branches which are beginning to wither away, and we will cast them into the fire that they may be burned" In order to preserve the righteous element of Israel ("this tree"), the Lord allowed Gentile nations to purge Israel. The northern kingdom, the kingdom of Israel, was destroyed and scattered by the Assyrians between 734 and 720 BC. The Babylonians routed the southern kingdom, the kingdom of Judah, between 605 and 586 BC. And the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and killed, captured, or scattered all of Israel in AD 70. The Lord thus allowed the great Gentile nations (Assyria, Babylonia, and Rome)-the branches from a wild olive tree-to mete out his judgment upon Israel.
As in the days of Zenos, it is not only possible but even standard practice to graft branches from one olive tree to another. Archaeological records show that this practice goes back to very ancient times (Hess, 89).
This verse implies that the Lord's servants, the prophets, had some role in encouraging the Gentile destruction of parts of Israel. It is more likely that they simply warned Israel, and when their warnings went unheeded, they pronounced the judgments of God upon Israel ("cast them into the fire that they may be burned").
It is well known that an untended olive vineyard can decay as limbs become infested with parasitic and saprophytic microorganisms and insects. Thus the burning of infested limbs is desirable to prevent the spread of pestilence. Burning also keeps the ground open and unencumbered (Hess, 92).
8 And behold, saith the Lord of the vineyard, I take away many of these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will; and it mattereth not that if it so be that the root of this tree will perish, I may preserve the fruit thereof unto myself; wherefore, I will take these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will.
verses 8, 13-14 "I take away many of these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will" The leading away of the family of Lehi fits nicely into this category, and there may have been other righteous groups as well. We obviously know nothing of the latter, however. Perhaps even a righteous remnant of the scattered ten tribes was led away and preserved.
If the foliage of an otherwise healthy olive tree is removed or even reduced, the roots may perish. In contrast when branches are grafted, the new foliage can carry on photosynthesis and supply the necessary carbohydrates to nourish the roots (Hess, 94).
"I will graft them" Grafting is the process of allowing a spiritual rebirth by moving righteous Israelites to a safer location where they can live the law of Moses
"if it so be that the root of this tree will perish" The metaphor of the "root" or "roots" in Zenos's allegory is used with various meanings. Here its meaning seems to be the established hierarchy or aristocracy of Israel-the teachers, rulers, and priests. Though these should perish spiritually, the Lord will preserve unto himself those willing to live the law of Moses by relocating them.
verses 9-12 The Lord instructs his prophets to accept righteous Gentiles into the house of Israel by adoption, in place of those unrighteous elements that have been plucked off from the metaphorical olive tree and then burned. This "burning" may refer to the specific destruction of parts of Israel mentioned in the commentary for verse 7.
Gentiles will eventually be combined with remnants of Israel to form the early Christian church (from about AD 30 to AD 100).
9 Take thou the branches of the wild olive-tree, and graft them in, in the stead thereof; and these which I have plucked off I will cast into the fire and burn them, that they may not cumber the ground of my vineyard.
verse 9 The word "cumber" here means the same as encumber-to interfere with, obstruct. One of the definitions of cumber in Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language is, "To trouble; to be troublesome to; to cause trouble or obstruction in, as anything useless" (see an alternate meaning for the word cumber in the commentary for Jacob 5:39).
10 And it came to pass that the servant of the Lord of the vineyard did according to the word of the Lord of the vineyard, and grafted in the branches of the wild olive-tree.
verses 9-10 "Take thou the branches of the wild olive-tree, and graft them in" After the destruction of the northern kingdom, Assyria moved some Assyrians into Palestine in place of the deported northern kingdom. These intermarried with the Israelites left behind by the Assyrians. Also some of the Jews intermarried with their Babylonian captors. Some of the descendants of these mixed-racial marriages were likely those who would accept the gospel after the Lord's ascension.
11 And the Lord of the vineyard caused that it should be digged about, and pruned, and nourished, saying unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, that perhaps I might preserve the roots thereof that they perish not, that I might preserve them unto myself, I have done this thing.
12 Wherefore, go thy way; watch the tree, and nourish it, according to my words.
verses 11-12 The Lord reminds his prophets to watch after Israel. The lord of the vineyard expresses his hope that some of the Israelites will remain true to the potential spiritual receptivity they earned in the pre-existence.
verses 13-14 These verses refer to the fact that Israel will be scattered to the four corners of the earth, and they raise an interesting question. We have previously concluded that the scattering of the Lord's chosen people occurs because of apostasy, and we have assumed that the scattering occurs as a form of punishment for disobedience. Apparently, however, a people is occasionally scattered to isolate them from a wicked governing hierarchy and thus preserve their spiritual integrity.
13 And these will I place in the nethermost part of my vineyard, whithersoever I will, it mattereth not unto thee; and I do it that I may preserve unto myself the natural branches of the tree; and also, that I may lay up fruit thereof against the season, unto myself; for it grieveth me that I should lose this tree and the fruit thereof.
verse 13 "And these will I place in the nethermost part of my vineyard" This phrase refers to the "young and tender branches" in verse 8. Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines nethermost as, "lowest." These are the few remaining righteous Israelites whom the lord of the vineyard is scattering in order to preserve their righteousness.
"that I may lay up fruit thereof against the season, unto myself" This phrase conveys the idea that the Lord knows that "winter" is coming and he must place in storage a supply of food. The Lord acknowledges the coming universal apostasy, and he wants to "lay up" as many souls of men unto himself before the coming dry spell.
"for it grieveth me that I should lose this tree and the fruit thereof" The lord of the vineyard has resigned himself to the loss of the people of the main body of Israel.
14 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard went his way, and hid the natural branches of the tame olive-tree in the nethermost parts of the vineyard, some in one and some in another, according to his will and pleasure.
verse 14 "hid the natural branches of the tame olive-tree in the nethermost parts of the vineyard" In a manner of speaking the Lehites were "hid" or hidden from the rest of the world.
verses 15-28 These verses cover the period of time from the Savior's birth to about AD 100 when the priesthood was taken from the earth and revelation ceased.
15 And it came to pass that a long time passed away, and the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Come, let us go down into the vineyard, that we may labor in the vineyard.
verse 15 "a long time passed away" A few centuries have passed.
verses 16-18 The early Christian church flourished in righteousness partly because of the adoption of Gentiles into the house of Israel through baptism into the church. Many faithful saints brought forth righteous works between AD 30 and AD 100. Doubtless many of these Gentiles were the descendants of the former intermarriages between Israelites and their conquerors, the Assyrians and Babylonians.
16 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard, and also the servant, went down into the vineyard to labor. And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: Behold, look here; behold the tree.
17 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard looked and beheld the tree in the which the wild olive branches had been grafted; and it had sprung forth and begun to bear fruit. And he beheld that it was good; and the fruit thereof was like unto the natural fruit.
verse 17 "the fruit thereof was like unto the natural fruit" The spiritual quality of the people, especially those Gentiles who had been adopted into the house of Israel-their lives and works-was equal to that of the Lord's chosen.
Botanists have struggled with one aspect of Zenos's allegory-the idea that a wild or non-domesticated branch which is grafted into a domesticated or tame tree might bear tame fruit. It is known that a wild olive branch grafted onto a tame tree will remain wild and will produce only wild or small-seeded, bitter fruit of low quality. That branch will never have the genetic potential of the branches from domesticated trees. It is likely that Zenos had in mind another true botanical principle-that a wild plant properly tended will produce better fruit than a domestic plant which is neglected (Hess, 94-95).
18 And he said unto the servant: Behold, the branches of the wild tree have taken hold of the moisture of the root thereof, that the root thereof hath brought forth much strength; and because of the much strength of the root thereof the wild branches have brought forth tame fruit. Now, if we had not grafted in these branches, the tree thereof would have perished. And now, behold, I shall lay up much fruit, which the tree thereof hath brought forth; and the fruit thereof I shall lay up against the season, unto mine own self.
verse 18 "the branches of the wild tree have taken hold of the moisture of the root thereof" The branches of the wild tree have taken hold of the moisture of the root of the tame olive-tree. In other words the Gentiles have developed a true proclivity for righteousness as is possessed by those of the house of Israel.
"the wild branches have brought forth tame fruit" The Gentiles have become righteous and have manifest good works.
Without the conversion and adoption of Gentiles into the house of Israel, Israel would have spiritually perished.
"and the fruit thereof I shall lay up against the season, unto mine own self" Perhaps this is a prophecy of the great apostasy of the early Christian church which is to come.
verses 19-28 The Lord goes forth to inspect the "fruits" of the scattered remnants of Israel. At least three groups were identified and found to be bearing good fruit. It is difficult to know the identity of the first two groups. Perhaps they are existing groups from the northern kingdom and from the scattered Jews. The third group seems to be the Lehites.
19 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Come, let us go to the nethermost part of the vineyard, and behold if the natural branches of the tree have not brought forth much fruit also, that I may lay up of the fruit thereof against the season, unto mine own self.
verse 19 "that I may lay up of the fruit thereof against the season" Again, a prophecy suggesting the coming major apostasy.
20 And it came to pass that they went forth whither the master had hid the natural branches of the tree, and he said unto the servant: Behold these; and he beheld the first that it had brought forth much fruit; and he beheld also that it was good. And he said unto the servant: Take of the fruit thereof, and lay it up against the season, that I may preserve it unto mine own self; for behold, said he, this long time have I nourished it, and it hath brought forth much fruit.
21 And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: How comest thou hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot in all the land of thy vineyard.
22 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto him: Counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor spot of ground; wherefore, I said unto thee, I have nourished it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit.
23 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Look hither; behold I have planted another branch of the tree also; and thou knowest that this spot of ground was poorer than the first. But, behold the tree. I have nourished it this long time, and it hath brought forth much fruit; therefore, gather it, and lay it up against the season, that I may preserve it unto mine own self.
verses 21-23 We can only speculate as to the identity of the two righteous branches of Israel planted on "poor" land. Perhaps these were a few from among the ten tribes, taken captive into Assyria, and also a few from among the Jews who had languished in Babylon.
24 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said again unto his servant: Look hither, and behold another branch also, which I have planted; behold that I have nourished it also, and it hath brought forth fruit.
25 And he said unto the servant: Look hither and behold the last. Behold, this have I planted in a good spot of ground; and I have nourished it this long time, and only a part of the tree hath brought forth tame fruit, and the other part of the tree hath brought forth wild fruit; behold, I have nourished this tree like unto the others.
verse 25 This third natural branch planted in "a good spot of ground" is likely Lehi's descendants in the western hemisphere. Among them were both faithful and unfaithful individuals. Only part of this tree has brought forth good works. This is likely a reference to the believers (generally the Nephites) and the non-believers (the Lamanites) among the Lehites.
26 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Pluck off the branches that have not brought forth good fruit, and cast them into the fire.
27 But behold, the servant said unto him: Let us prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it a little longer, that perhaps it may bring forth good fruit unto thee, that thou canst lay it up against the season.
verses 26-27 Prophets were sent to Lehi's descendants to persuade them to repent. There were perhaps times when the Lord would have destroyed the non-believers among the Lehites had it not been for the prophets who served as mediators for their people before the throne of God. This is a vital function of prophets (see also JST, Exodus 32:9-11; Exodus 32:14; Exodus 32:30-33).
28 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard and the servant of the Lord of the vineyard did nourish all the fruit of the vineyard.
verse 28 The Lord agrees to stay his hand and not destroy the unrighteous among the descendants of Lehi. Instead the Lord and his prophets patiently continue to minister to both the believers and non-believers.
verses 29-49 These verses are concerned with the period of time near the end of the dark ages, that period of great apostasy, but before the restoration of the gospel in 1830.
29 And it came to pass that a long time had passed away, and the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Come, let us go down into the vineyard, that we may labor again in the vineyard. For behold, the time draweth near, and the end soon cometh; wherefore, I must lay up fruit against the season, unto mine own self.
verse 29 "a long time had passed away" The priesthood was taken from the earth and revelation ceased about AD 100. Spiritual darkness prevailed. This period of the so-called dark ages was to last until the sixteenth century when spiritual light again began to pour forth upon the earth. It seems certain that the Lord inspired the great leaders of the reformation such as Martin Luther, Huldreich Zwingli, John Calvin, and John Knox. In some mysterious way the reformation prepared the earth for the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ which began in AD 1820 with Joseph Smith's first vision. This verse probably refers to a time prior to Joseph Smith's ministry when the Lord and his prophet servant, as they inspected the fruit of the vineyard, found "none of it which is good" (verse 32).
"For behold, the time draweth near, and the end soon cometh" Reference is made to the time of the Lord's second coming in glory and the destruction of the wicked-the "end of the world."
"I must lay up fruit against the season, unto mine own self." This refers to the Lord's searching for and nurturing righteous individuals. Hopefully The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will prove to be the Lord's most significant resource as he seeks to "lay up fruit [to himself] against the season." The season "against" which he is seeking to lay up fruit is the period of destruction of the wicked just prior to his second coming.
verses 30-32 The Lord and his prophet servant find virtual complete apostasy. The house of Israel is in near total disarray.
30 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard and the servant went down into the vineyard; and they came to the tree whose natural branches had been broken off, and the wild branches had been grafted in; and behold all sorts of fruit did cumber the tree.
verse 30 As the Lord and his servant came to inspect the spiritual status of Israel, the Lord's chosen people, what did they find?
"they came to the tree whose natural branches had been broken off" The people of Israel were scattered to the corners of the earth.
"wild branches had been grafted in; and behold all sorts of fruit did cumber the tree" The "wild branches" and various "fruit" here seems less likely to refer to non-Israelites who have been adopted into the house of Israel because during this period there is no cohesive righteous body of Israel extant. It is more likely that this phrase refers to the extraneous and apostate doctrinal ideas, philosophies, and means of worship that "cumber the tree." One of the definitions of cumber in Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language is, "to load, or crowd."
31 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard did taste of the fruit, every sort according to its number. And the Lord of the vineyard said: Behold, this long time have we nourished this tree, and I have laid up unto myself against the season much fruit.
verse 31 This verse implies that the lord of the vineyard was patient and long-suffering as he examined the apostate souls and their doctrines. It is interesting to ponder the patience, persistence, and forbearance with which the Lord has nurtured intransigent Israel since the days of father Jacob. Perhaps those of us who are having to nurture a wayward and rebellious child should take note.
"I have laid up unto myself against the season much fruit" In effect he says, "It's a good thing I have many righteous souls with me already because I don't find many here."
32 But behold, this time it hath brought forth much fruit, and there is none of it which is good. And behold, there are all kinds of bad fruit; and it profiteth me nothing, notwithstanding all our labor; and now it grieveth me that I should lose this tree.
verse 32 "there is none of it which is good" We should certainly recognize and acknowledge the righteous individuals and worthwhile teachings found in most of the world's churches. At the time of the restoration of the gospel, the churches near Joseph Smith's home taught many sound Christian principles. Yet as institutions they find themselves condemned in this verse. Here, all churches save for the Lord's authorized church, are referred to as "bad fruit" which "profiteth [the Lord] nothing."
"and now it grieveth me that I should lose this tree" Here is a hint that the Lord gave some thought to completely destroying his chosen people.
33 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto mine own self?
verse 33 Certainly this is a rhetorical question. The Lord intends that the gospel be restored in its fulness.
34 And the servant said unto his master: Behold, because thou didst graft in the branches of the wild olive-tree they have nourished the roots, that they are alive and they have not perished; wherefore thou beholdest that they are yet good.
verse 34 The servant makes the observation that the roots of the tree are still potentially salvageable, though in a dilapidated condition. There are still people with the blood of Israel on the earth who have a particular proclivity for believing eternal truths. In the commentary for verses 17 and 18 above, it was pointed out that in one period of the church's existence, probably between AD 30 and AD 100, the church was saved from extinction by an infusion of strength from the Gentile world. This infusion came in the form of Gentiles' accepting the gospel and joining the church-grafting in the branches of the wild olive-tree.
35 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: The tree profiteth me nothing, and the roots thereof profit me nothing so long as it shall bring forth evil fruit.
verse 35 A person's inheritance or his spiritual inclinations at birth mean little if there is no associated righteous performance. The apostle Paul warned, "For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel" (Romans 9:6).
36 Nevertheless, I know that the roots are good, and for mine own purpose I have preserved them; and because of their much strength they have hitherto brought forth, from the wild branches, good fruit.
verse 36 "the roots are good" The "roots" are symbolic of Israel's intrinsic inclination for obedience and acceptance of truth. Those born into the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are those who earned, during their preexistent lives, the gift and capacity to yearn for eternal things and to recognize truth. Tragically, many Israelites prove disloyal to their royal ancestry.
"because of their much strength they have hitherto brought forth . . . good fruit" The natural heavenly endowment that Israelites possess often has manifest itself in the world's history. To illustrate, we might point to a few specific events such as the great reformation, the colonization of America, the establishing of the constitution of the United States of America, and the willingness and spirit to fight for freedom in the Revolutionary War and in other wars.
37 But behold, the wild branches have grown and have overrun the roots thereof; and because that the wild branches have overcome the roots thereof it hath brought forth much evil fruit; and because that it hath brought forth so much evil fruit thou beholdest that it beginneth to perish; and it will soon become ripened, that it may be cast into the fire, except we should do something for it to preserve it.
verse 37 The influences of the Gentile world have not always been supportive of the gospel message and cause. Humanistic philosophies have at times overwhelmed the Church of God and driven it "into the wilderness" (D&C 86:3).
The pronoun "it" in this verse refers to "the tree" in verse 35-in other words to Israel.
It is well known among those who grow olive trees that when good branches are allowed to become too thick, the developing fruit will be of poor quality. The amount of root needs to be balanced with the amount of foliage (Hess, 93).
verses 38-40 The lord of the vineyard and his servant will now inspect those three young and tender branches that the Lord had hidden in the nethermost part of his vineyard (see verses 13-14).
38 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Let us go down into the nethermost parts of the vineyard, and behold if the natural branches have also brought forth evil fruit.
39 And it came to pass that they went down into the nethermost parts of the vineyard. And it came to pass that they beheld that the fruit of the natural branches had become corrupt also; yea, the first and the second and also the last; and they had all become corrupt.
verses 38-39 All three branches of Israel planted in or scattered to the "nethermost parts" of the vineyard were found by the Lord to be corrupt. What peoples comprise these groups? We have previously speculated that those in the first two groups are a few among the ten lost tribes and among the scattered Jews. The third or "last" group seems to be the Lehites.
40 And the wild fruit of the last had overcome that part of the tree which brought forth good fruit, even that the branch had withered away and died.
verse 40 The unrighteous influences among Lehi's descendants had destroyed all righteousness (between AD 200 and AD 421).
verses 41-47 The lord of the vineyard realizes that the apostasy is complete and universal. Between AD 421 and AD 1820, there was complete and worldwide apostasy. Thus we know that all of scattered Israel, including the lost ten tribes, had apostatized from the truth. These verses form a section that might be referred to as the Lord's dismay or the Lord's quandary. He asks, "What could I have done more?"
41 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?
verse 41 This verse is a remarkable witness of God's love.
42 Behold, I knew that all the fruit of the vineyard, save it were these, had become corrupted. And now these which have once brought forth good fruit have also become corrupted; and now all the trees of my vineyard are good for nothing save it be to be hewn down and cast into the fire.
verse 42 "These" refers to the "natural branches" of scattered Israelites in verses 38 and 39.
In their current state of apostasy all Israel is good for nothing save it be subjecting them to the judgments of God.
43 And behold this last, whose branch hath withered away, I did plant in a good spot of ground; yea, even that which was choice unto me above all other parts of the land of my vineyard.
verse 43 Lehi's descendants were separated from the rest of the world and "planted" in a chosen land, choice above all others.
44 And thou beheldest that I also cut down that which cumbered this spot of ground, that I might plant this tree in the stead thereof.
verse 44 "that which cumbered this spot of ground" This phrase may refer to the Jaredites who were "cut down" so that "this tree" (Lehi's descendants) might be planted.
45 And thou beheldest that a part thereof brought forth good fruit, and a part thereof brought forth wild fruit; and because I plucked not the branches thereof and cast them into the fire, behold, they have overcome the good branch that it hath withered away.
verse 45 The Lehites brought forth both righteous and unrighteous works. Because the Lord did not destroy the unrighteous influences among the Lehites, evil finally overcame righteousness, and the entire nation was overcome by sin (AD 200 to AD 421).
46 And now, behold, notwithstanding all the care which we have taken of my vineyard, the trees thereof have become corrupted, that they bring forth no good fruit; and these I had hoped to preserve, to have laid up fruit thereof against the season, unto mine own self. But, behold, they have become like unto the wild olive-tree, and they are of no worth but to be hewn down and cast into the fire; and it grieveth me that I should lose them.
verse 46 In spite of the Lord's efforts, evil influences prevailed and complete apostasy has resulted (AD 421 to AD 1820).
"and these I had hoped to preserve" One editorial note of some interest is that this phrase in the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon was rendered, "and these I had hope to preserve." In his editing for the second edition of the Book of Mormon (1837, Kirtland), Joseph Smith made this change. In doing so he reinterpreted the original main verb had and the direct object noun hope as a past perfect verb phrase (had hoped). In doing so he created an exception to the pattern found consistently throughout the rest of the Book of Mormon text. Elsewhere in the book there are seventeen examples of the main verb have taking the noun hope as a direct object. See, for example, Jacob 7:5 and Mormon 6:4.
47 But what could I have done more in my vineyard? Have I slackened mine hand, that I have not nourished it? Nay, I have nourished it, and I have digged about it, and I have pruned it, and I have dunged it; and I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long, and the end draweth nigh. And it grieveth me that I should hew down all the trees of my vineyard, and cast them into the fire that they should be burned. Who is it that has corrupted my vineyard?
verse 47 There is no part of the vineyard (the earth) where the nourishing influence of the Lord is not felt. He is a just and impartial God. The Lord concludes this verse by asking, "What influences are responsible for this universal apostasy"? The servant will answer in the following verse.
It is still common practice to use dung, including human dung, to fertilize olive trees, although commercial fertilizers are becoming more common in industrialized nations (Hess, 92).
48 And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard-have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves. Behold, I say, is not this the cause that the trees of thy vineyard have become corrupted?
verse 48 Here the servant senses that the master is sufficiently distressed that he is about to decide to destroy the entire vineyard, roots and all. This implies a destruction of the whole earth. In an attempt to get the master to change his mind, the servant suggests that the roots are still good-the blood of Israel still maintains its propensity for righteousness. But the "loftiness" of the vineyard, that is its pride or worldliness, has overcome the tendency for good. The meaning of the word "loftiness" is further evidenced in 2 Nephi 12:11: "And it shall come to pass that the lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down." This pride or loftiness with its intellectualism has the tendency to gain momentum in and of itself, thus threatening to overcome the roots or fundamental truths in the church. The servant emphasizes that a good potential remains, and he implies that the situation may be remedied. The roots of Israel represent the proclivity for righteousness referred to in the commentary on the phrase "the roots are good" in verse 36. The branches represent the responses of individual Israelites to the mortal experience including the temptations of the world. Those born into the lineage of Abraham did not come by this privilege by chance. They earned their royal heritage by their performance in the premortal world. Yet tragically in mortality this hard-won proclivity for eternal truths can be overcome by other mortal influences. When the branches become corrupt, they may overwhelm the native inclination for goodness-the roots. This causes the entire tree to become corrupt.
In mortality it is possible for any man to forsake his spiritual gifts and lose them even though they may represent centuries of striving and obedience in the preexistence. All he has to do is become preoccupied with the pulls of the world such as a desire for popularity, material possessions, power, and an over-reliance on self.
verses 49-54 In these verses the Lord is initially inclined to give up on the vineyard and completely destroy it, even its roots. At the bidding of the servant, however, the Lord makes a decision to "spare it a little longer."
49 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Let us go to and hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire, that they shall not cumber the ground of my vineyard, for I have done all. What could I have done more for my vineyard?
verse 49 This is not the first time God had threatened to destroy all the inhabitants of the earth (see Genesis 6:7) or all his chosen people (see Exodus 32:9-11).
50 But, behold, the servant said unto the Lord of the vineyard: Spare it a little longer.
verses 51-74 These verses describe the final gathering of Israel in our dispensation beginning in 1830.
51 And the Lord said: Yea, I will spare it a little longer, for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard.
verses 49-51 Here again we see the influence of the prophet's pleading for his people and causing the Lord to stay his hand. The Lord decides that the time of complete destruction of the wicked is not yet. As in the parable of the wheat and the tares, the Lord determines not to destroy the world yet, lest chances for future righteousness be destroyed with the wicked (see D&C 86:4-7). One is reminded here of the incident in Genesis 18:23-32 wherein Abraham pleads with the Lord to spare Sodom and Gomorrah.
52 Wherefore, let us take of the branches of these which I have planted in the nethermost parts of my vineyard, and let us graft them into the tree from whence they came; and let us pluck from the tree those branches whose fruit is most bitter, and graft in the natural branches of the tree in the stead thereof.
verse 52 "let us take of the branches of these which I have planted in the nethermost parts of my vineyard, and let us graft them into the tree from whence they came" Once the Lord decides to spare the earth a little longer, he determines what must be done. Scattered Israel ("the branches of these which I have planted in the nethermost parts of my vineyard") must be gathered ("let us graft them into the tree from whence they came"). The scattered remnants of Israel from throughout the world will be gathered into the Lord's latter-day Church in this final dispensation (AD 1830 to the onset of the Millennium). During this period the Church will be maintained in a righteous state, purged of all evil influences and constantly infused with righteous obedient Israelites ("let us pluck from the tree those branches whose fruit is most bitter, and graft in the natural branches of the tree in the stead thereof.")
53 And this will I do that the tree may not perish, that, perhaps, I may preserve unto myself the roots thereof for mine own purpose.
verse 53 The word "perhaps" here should give us pause. We cannot merely assume that the Church today will succeed in its latter-day mission of gathering Israel. We must strive mightily.
"mine own purposes" We should be reminded that the purposes of God include more than gathering his chosen people Israel. The latter-day gathering will establish the mechanism whereby all mankind may be gathered in to the house of Israel some by adoption, and then nourished spiritually so that they might be gathered to him in the celestial kingdom.
54 And, behold, the roots of the natural branches of the tree which I planted whithersoever I would are yet alive; wherefore, that I may preserve them also for mine own purpose, I will take of the branches of this tree, and I will graft them in unto them. Yea, I will graft in unto them the branches of their mother tree, that I may preserve the roots also unto mine own self, that when they shall be sufficiently strong perhaps they may bring forth good fruit unto me, and I may yet have glory in the fruit of my vineyard.
verse 54 "the roots of the natural branches of the tree which I planted whithersoever I would are yet alive" The Lord affirms that wherever scattered Israelites are found, their propensity to receive eternal truths is still alive.
This interesting verse teaches yet another principle. Israel will not all be physically gathered to one place. The Lord will arrange for missionaries to come out from the central gathering of Israel to strengthen the outlying remnants, and the latter will flourish where they are. Note that he says, "I will take of the branches of this tree [the central gathering], and I will graft them [the nurturing influences of the center of gathering] in unto them [the outlying remnants of Israel]." This will hopefully result in strengthening of the outlying branches and eventually bring to pass the exaltation and eternal life of souls-"glory in the fruit of my vineyard."
In this latter day, the "mother tree" is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church will have self-sufficient branches throughout the world.
55 And it came to pass that they took from the natural tree which had become wild, and grafted in unto the natural trees, which also had become wild.
verse 55 "They" are the servants of the Lord. The "natural tree which had become wild" is the central church which had formerly been apostate but is now newly restored. The "natural trees, which also had become wild" are the outlying remnants of Israel which had also recently been apostate.
56 And they also took of the natural trees which had become wild, and grafted into their mother tree.
verses 55-56 During the final gathering of Israel there will pass infusions of spiritual strength and the message of the gospel both from the central gathering to outlying remnants of Israel (verse 55), and from the outlying remnants back to the central gathering place (verse 56). These influences will be communicated via the Lord's servants, his missionaries and priesthood leaders.
verses 57-59 These verses refer to our own dispensation. During this period, the Lord will be long suffering. Only the "most bitter," the most wicked, are to be expelled from the Lord's latter-day Church. These are the individuals whose sins are so egregious that they must be expelled to protect the righteous.
These verses refer to the principle the Lord taught in his parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30; Matthew 13:36-43; D&C 86). Let us briefly review this principle. A tare is a noxious weed, known today as darnel. It could be sown in a wheat field by an enemy of the farmer and prove to be most troublesome because it cannot be distinguished from the wheat among which it is growing until it ripens and its seed turns yellow. Hence, the farmer must allow both the wheat and the tares to grow together until the harvest. After harvesting farmers assigned their wives and children the tedious task of pulling out the tare kernels one by one from the good grain. If tares are ground into meal, they spoil the flour and may cause dizziness or nausea when eaten. The bundled tares are burned or fed to the chickens. The application of this principle to the final dispensation is obvious. The Lord will be long-suffering and will allow the wicked to exist among the righteous until the final cleansing of the earth prior to the Lord's second coming. This he will do to avoid destruction of some righteous during a wholesale destruction of the wicked.
57 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Pluck not the wild branches from the trees, save it be those which are most bitter; and in them ye shall graft according to that which I have said.
verse 57 "and in them ye shall graft according to that which I have said" In place of the pruned wild branches, the servants of the Lord are commanded to "graft in the natural branches of the tree in the stead thereof" (verse 52). In other words infuse spiritual strength into the mother church by continuing to gather repentant scattered Israel.
58 And we will nourish again the trees of the vineyard, and we will trim up the branches thereof; and we will pluck from the trees those branches which are ripened, that must perish, and cast them into the fire.
verse 58 "we will nourish again the trees of the vineyard" We will give Israel one more chance.
"those branches which are ripened" These are individuals who have ripened in iniquity.
59 And this I do that, perhaps, the roots thereof may take strength because of their goodness; and because of the change of the branches, that the good may overcome the evil.
verse 59 "And this I do that, perhaps, the roots thereof may take strength because of their goodness" The Lord prunes the wild branches and adds natural branches hoping to strengthen his Church by "their goodness." Reference has been made previously (see the commentary for verse 48) to the natural goodness of those who carry the blood of Israel in their veins. They have an affinity for spiritual truths which was earned by diligence in the preexistence. This affinity, however, may be overcome or lost because of the distractions of worldly influences.
Paul Y. Hoskisson has observed:
The allegory makes it clear that the grafting and pruning process, the gathering of Israel and the trying of the nations of the earth, will continue simultaneously until the Millennium. This means that as the Saints accept and assimilate additional nourishment from their scriptural sources, the Lord will require a higher level of performance. Thus the allegory foresees in the grafting and pruning process a reversal of what President Benson has called the Samuel principle. According to this principle, "within certain bounds [God] grants unto men according to their desires." The principle received its name from the story in 1 Samuel 8 where the people of Israel demanded, contrary to the wishes of God and his prophet Samuel, that God give them a king. God granted them their desire to their own eventual sorrow.
The reverse of the Samuel principle during the Restoration can be illustrated by the Word of Wisdom. As the Saints assimilated and lived the Word of Wisdom, God saw fit to require a more strict application of it, until today it is often used as a measure of a member's commitment to the kingdom (The Allegory of the Olive Tree, edited by Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch, 90-91).
verses 60-62 These verses, which refer to the missionary effort of this final dispensation, are reminiscent of the Lord's call to arms issued to latter-day missionaries and found in D&C 4:4 and D&C 33: "For behold the field is white already to harvest; and it is the eleventh hour, and the last time that I shall call laborers into my vineyard" (D&C 33:3). The missionary program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the final major effort of the Lord to gather Israel.
It should be emphasized that Ephraim is the birthright tribe (Jeremiah 31:9) and is responsible for redeeming the three branches which were planted in the nethermost parts of the vineyard-the Lehites, the Jews, and the ten lost tribes, as well as all others who qualify themselves for adoption into the house of Israel. In other words, the present-day Church of Jesus Christ is responsible for bearing the message of the restoration of the gospel to the entire world and for gathering scattered Israel.
60 And because that I have preserved the natural branches and the roots thereof, and that I have grafted in the natural branches again into their mother tree, and have preserved the roots of their mother tree, that, perhaps, the trees of my vineyard may bring forth again good fruit and that I may have joy again in the fruit of my vineyard, and, perhaps, that I may rejoice exceedingly that I have preserved the roots and the branches of the first fruit-
verse 60 "I have preserved the roots and the branches of the first fruit" The concept of "first fruits" has been commented upon previously. These are those who will be resurrected with celestial bodies who will inherit that degree of glory. 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-that showing the most promise. These were the "first fruits." This portion was then dedicated or set apart to be later offered as a sacrifice to the Lord at the temple.
61 Wherefore, go to, and call servants, that we may labor diligently with our might in the vineyard, that we may prepare the way, that I may bring forth again the natural fruit, which natural fruit is good and the most precious above all other fruit.
verse 61 The Lord instructs the servant, his prophet, to call other servants-missionaries-to assist in the final gathering of Israel.
The Lord's exhortation "go to" means, in the common vernacular, "Go get 'em."
"that we may prepare the way" The earth is being groomed for the Lord's second coming. The Lord said to Joseph Smith: "I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be a messenger before my face to prepare the way before me" (D&C 45:9).
What is this "natural fruit" which is "the most precious above all other fruit"? These are the potentially retrievable souls that may be gathered to Christ and eventually exalted by his atoning power.
62 Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our might this last time, for behold the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard.
63 Graft in the branches; begin at the last that they may be first, and that the first may be last, and dig about the trees, both old and young, the first and the last; and the last and the first, that all may be nourished once again for the last time.
verse 63 "begin at the last that they may be first" The last group scattered, the Lehites, will be the first to be grafted back. The second group to be grafted back will be the ten lost tribes, and the last branch will be the Jews.
64 Wherefore, dig about them, and prune them, and dung them once more, for the last time, for the end draweth nigh. And if it be so that these last grafts shall grow, and bring forth the natural fruit, then shall ye prepare the way for them, that they may grow.
verse 64 "if it be so that these last grafts shall grow . . . then shall ye prepare the way for them, that they may grow" This almost sounds like a warning to the Jews and other apostate Israelites. If they will accept the gospel, then they will be blessed with further light. The initial step is their responsibility.
verses 65-69 The servants will clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, but not all at once, so the roots will still have strength. They will maintain equal root and top growth enabling the roots to remain viable while the good branches overcome the bad. Thus, the branches of the natural tree will be grafted again into the natural tree, and the bad will be eventually and finally cast away into the fire.
65 And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.
66 For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.
verses 65-66 "as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit" Keep in mind that the Lord has been tolerating the presence in his latter-day Church of those peoples who may not be fully committed. Their presence has been tolerated so that the Church may continue to function and remain viable. The day is coming, however, when only the most committed will be allowed to stay, and the others will be "cleared away." "They" in verse 65 refers to those scattered Israelites which have been gathered in, including the Lehites, the Gentiles, and the Jews.
As these new grafts gain in strength so that they become spiritually mature and self-sustaining, then the less committed "dead wood" in the Church can be pruned without threatening the stability of the Church.
"Lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft" Here the term "roots" seems to refer to the lofty doctrinal truths in the church. These set a standard for the members. If the standard is too high for the new members then the fledgling members will fall away, and the integrity of the church may be threatened. Allowing old members to remain even though their living up to the doctrinal standard is less than ideal may mean stability for the church organization while the new members are growing into mature and self- sustaining leaders.
67 And the branches of the natural tree will I graft in again into the natural tree;
verse 67 Nonetheless, the previously apostate Israelite groups, the branches of the natural tree, such as the Jews and the ten tribes, will eventually be successfully grafted back into the mother tree.
68 And the branches of the natural tree will I graft into the natural branches of the tree; and thus will I bring them together again, that they shall bring forth the natural fruit, and they shall be one.
verse 68 The previously apostate Israelite groups will join with those previously apostate who have already been grafted in, and eventually all Israel "shall be one."
69 And the bad shall be cast away, yea, even out of all the land of my vineyard; for behold, only this once will I prune my vineyard.
verse 69 This verse may refer to that final destruction of the wicked which will precede the Lord's second coming. But keep in mind that "the bad" may also refer to the luke-warm members of the Church whose presence in the Church has been previously tolerated as an expediency.
70 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard sent his servant; and the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few.
verse 70 The Lord's "servant" here might be the prophet Joseph Smith. The "other servants" are the priesthood leaders and missionaries who will do the work of gathering. Their combined numbers will be relatively "few" compared to the masses who must be reached.
71 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto them: Go to, and labor in the vineyard, with your might. For behold, this is the last time that I shall nourish my vineyard; for the end is nigh at hand, and the season speedily cometh; and if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up unto myself against the time which will soon come.
verse 71 Here is the Lord's charge to the latter-day missionaries. The feeling is one of urgency, for "the end is nigh at hand." The Lord's exhortation to "go to" is explained in the commentary for verse 61.
"if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up unto myself" Here we have a coming together of a very ancient scripture with its modern-day counterpart: "And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!" (D&C 18:15-16).
72 And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.
verse 72 The fact that the Lord labors with his missionaries should be a fact of great comfort to all who labor. President Harold B. Lee, in closing a general conference of the Church, said: "There has come to me in these last few days a deepening and reassuring faith. I can't leave this conference without saying to you that I have a conviction that the Master hasn't been absent from us on these occasions. This is his Church. Where else would he rather be than right here at the headquarters of his Church? He isn't an absentee master; he is concerned about us. He wants us to follow where he leads" (CR, October 1972, 176).
verses 73-76 It is prophesied that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will prosper in righteousness, will establish Zion, and will be found worthy to stand in the Lord's presence when he comes again.
73 And there began to be the natural fruit again in the vineyard; and the natural branches began to grow and thrive exceedingly; and the wild branches began to be plucked off and to be cast away; and they did keep the root and the top thereof equal, according to the strength thereof.
verse 73 "they did keep the root and the top thereof equal" The growth of the church must be orderly. This orderly growth is required so that a large sudden infusion of one cultural group may not overcome the roots, that is-the basic integrity of the doctrine of the church.
74 And thus they labored, with all diligence, according to the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard, even until the bad had been cast away out of the vineyard, and the Lord had preserved unto himself that the trees had become again the natural fruit; and they became like unto one body; and the fruits were equal; and the Lord of the vineyard had preserved unto himself the natural fruit, which was most precious unto him from the beginning.
verse 74 "they became like unto one body" The previously divided and variously apostate groups of Israelites will begin to join together in the Lord's church. Also the Gentiles will be grafted into the "mother tree" and the whole will form "one body." Here, again, is the ultimate goal of the Savior-to see his people gathered to him and to each other; to enjoy the atonement or at-one-ment which awaits all who will accept him.
"and the fruits were equal" No longer are there tame and wild fruit.
"the natural fruit, which was most precious unto him from the beginning" Those in the house of Israel have been particularly precious to the Lord not only since the mortal existence of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but even from premortal times when they distinguished themselves by righteous conformity to the laws of God.
verses 75-76 This is the period of the Millennium.
75 And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them: Behold, for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will; and I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good, even like as it was in the beginning. And blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard.
verse 75 Now the great work of latter-day gathering is completed, and the Millennium is about to begin.
"blessed art thou . . . ye shall have joy with me" Great blessings await those who labor diligently in the kingdom.
76 For behold, for a long time will I lay up of the fruit of my vineyard unto mine own self against the season, which speedily cometh; and for the last time have I nourished my vineyard, and pruned it, and dug about it, and dunged it; wherefore I will lay up unto mine own self of the fruit, for a long time, according to that which I have spoken.
verse 76 "for a long time will I lay up of the fruit of my vineyard unto mine own self against the season" This "long time" likely refers to the Millennium.
"against the season, which speedily cometh" Here is already a reference to that ominous time at the end of the Millennium when Satan and his forces shall again be unleashed.
77 And when the time cometh that evil fruit shall again come into my vineyard, then will I cause the good and the bad to be gathered; and the good will I preserve unto myself, and the bad will I cast away into its own place. And then cometh the season and the end; and my vineyard will I cause to be burned with fire.
verse 77 This verse has reference to the end of the Millennium when Satan will again gain an influence in the hearts of men. The Lord will gather the good to himself, and Satan and his adherents will come up to do battle. This will obviously be an emotional event in the world's history.
John the Revelator wrote: "And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea" (Revelation 20:7-8). In modern revelation we read: "And then [Satan] shall be loosed for a little season, that he may gather together his armies. And Michael, the seventh angel, even the archangel, shall gather together his armies, even the hosts of heaven. And the devil shall gather together his armies; even the hosts of hell, and shall come up to battle against Michael and his armies. And then cometh the battle of the great God; and the devil and his armies shall be cast away into their own place, that they shall not have power over the saints any more at all" (D&C 88:111-114).
The wicked will be banished to their "own place" to suffer eternal condemnation, and, finally, the earth will be burned to prepare it for celestial glory. This is the final "end of the earth." The world's first "end" (the "end of the world") occurred when the telestial earth was purged to prepare it for it's the terrestrial phase, the Millennium. After each of the earth's "ends," the scriptures teach that "there shall be a new heaven and a new earth" (D&C 29:23).
Speaking of this final end of the earth, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: "There was a new earth and new heavens when the Millennium commenced. This is a second new heaven and new earth; it is the celestial earth and its heaven. The language in each instance is similar, but the meaning is different. In one instance the new earth is the paradisiacal [millennial] earth; in this case it is the celestial globe" (Millennial Messiah, 696).
The end of the world should not be confused with the end of the earth. The former occurs when Christ comes in his glory, the latter follows his millennial reign (JS-M 1:4, 55; D&C 29:22-23). The latter will occur as the earth is changed to a celestial sphere by the glory of God.