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Autor: anton 01 September 2010
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Branching Across the Continents
According to the prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, â€œThe parable of Zenos, recorded by Jacob in chapter five in his book, is one of the greatest parables ever recordedâ€ (Smith 4:141). In language that rivals the best literature, Zenosâ€™ allegory of the olive tree powerfully conveys the history of the house of Israel over a time span of thousands of years using symbolism that no man could have written. In addition to containing the historical value of the scattering and the gathering of Israel, the allegory also includes doctrine on the apostasy and the millennium.
The allegory of the olive tree forms the centerpiece of a farewell speech given by Jacob to the Nephites late in his life. As with other dissertations of past prophets, Jacob addresses his people with his final words of wisdom pertaining to the exaltation. As part of his speech, Jacob illustrates reconciliation to God through Christ with the specific example of the Jews who are the forefathers of the Lehites. Jacob describes the Jews as â€œa stiff-necked peopleâ€ who â€œdespised the words of plainness, killed the prophets,â€ and â€œwill reject the stone upon which they might have safe foundationâ€ (Jacob 4:14-5).
The question at hand is, â€œHow can the Jews be reconciled to God through Christ after rejecting the Savior?". In answer to this question, Jacob offered to the Nephites Zenosâ€™ allegory of the olive tree (Hoskisson 73-74).
The time span represented in the allegory starts with the first cultivation of the tame olive tree and continues to the destruction of the vineyard, or, in other words, it begins with the founding of the house of Israel and goes to the end of the world. In verse 3 of Jacob 5 we learn that the tree which represents the covenant people already â€œwaxed old and began to decayâ€ which suggests that the house of Israel has already begun to go astray. It is important to realize that because the Jews were righteous and willing to enter in to the covenant, they became the people of the Lord (Clark 62). However, what is the Lord to do when his children are not profitable? The allegory suggests that Heâ€™d do what the lord of the vineyard would do for his olive tree: prune, dig, and nourish it in hope that it does not perish (vs. 6). Beginning with early prophets such as Moses, Samuel, Elijah, and Isaiah, the Lord attempted to reclaim the house of Israel from apostasy. Despite all this effort the Lord received little success for the tree sprouted only a few â€œyoung and tender branchesâ€ and the â€œmain topâ€ began to perish (vs. 6) suggesting the ruling class was corrupt while the rest of the tree continued to deteriorate (Hoskisson 77-78).
In desperation to save the tree and still bring in fruit unto himself, the lord of the vineyard planted the few young and tender branches in the nethermost part of the vineyard and grafted into the mother tree wild branches and continued to nourish it. Now with parts of Israel scattered over much of the earth and with the merging of Gentiles into Jewish culture, perhaps the tree could be spared. These scatterings are not random events. There are reasons for them. The righteous has to be protected from those who have fallen away, and there is need to preserve and add to the scriptures. The Lord also makes the scattering into a useful purpose. Through the scattering, the covenant blood has been mingled with most nations, tongues and people. Whether by blood or by adoption, all may now lay claim to the promises made to Abraham and to all of Israelâ€™s posterity (Heap 279-280).
After the nurturing of Israel and the scattering of the young, tender branches, the Lord allows â€œa long timeâ€ to pass before inspecting the vineyard again (Jacob 5:15). Upon returning he discovers the grafted wild branches have produced â€œtame fruitâ€ (vs. 18). It is apparent that this new era is the time around the mortal ministry of Christ for the Gentiles are being taught. The fruit of the tender branches suggests that this is the correct time period also. A branch planted in â€œa good spot of ground; yea, even that which was choice unto [the Lord] above all other parts of the land of [his] vineyardâ€ (vs.43), produced at this time part good and part evil branches (Hoskisson 82). The Nephites understood this to refer to them through the revelations of Lehi. Lehi was instructed that â€œthe Lord God has covenanted this land (the Americas)â€ to him, and it is â€œa land which is choice above all other landsâ€, â€œa land of promiseâ€ and â€œa land for inheritance of [his] seedâ€ (2 Nephi 1:5). This plot of land was dedicated for the righteous, and from this we can see the good branch to be the Nephites and the bad branch to be the Lamanites before they entirely destroyed the Nephites. This time, instead of plucking the bad branches, the Lamanites were nourished in hope that they too might bring forth good fruit.
Again â€œa long timeâ€ (Jacob 5:29) passed, and the lord of the vineyard returns marking the beginning of a new era, one marking the Great Apostasy. The mother tree was found to have â€œbrought forth much fruit, but there is none of it which is good. And behold there are all kinds of bad fruitâ€ (Jacob 5:32). This is exactly the situation in the Old World after the priesthood was taken off the earth. The last tree is also found to be worthless. â€œThe wild fruit of the last had overcome that part of the tree witch brought forth good fruit, even that the branch had withered away and diedâ€ (vs. 40), thus completing a world-wide apostasy (Hoskisson 83). Yet, the roots remain good.
It is at this point that the Lord pronounces a total destruction of the trees in his vineyard. After all, the Lord has done everything possible to save his vineyard. It is the fact that the roots, which represent scriptural heritage, remain resourceful that causes the vineyard to be saved: â€œIs it not the loftiness of thy vineyardâ€”have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? Behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselvesâ€ (Jacob 5:48). Despite this apostasy the Lordâ€™s servant counsels him to spare the world for a little time, and the Lord accepts the advice. This leads to the next era of time, the Gathering of Israel (Hoskisson 83).
The gathering is deliberately slow and more involved compared to the previous care given. This is for â€œthe end draweth nighâ€ (Jacob 5:47) and there are yet covenants to be fulfilled. From the transplanted tame trees that had become wild, natural branches would be cut and grafted into the mother tree. Likewise, wild branches from the mother tree would be grafted into the transplanted tame trees. As these branches gain strength, yet still continue to produce wild fruit, they will eventually be pruned out of the vineyard until all is pure (Hoskisson 84). Like the parable to the wheat and the tares, the plucking process must be done gradually to protect the strength of the whole tree or the casting out of the wicked will harm the weak sprouts.
The posterity of Laman and Lemuel receive the promise that they too will be given the chance to be grafted into house of Israel in the last days. The Lord will preserve them until a time after they have â€œdwindled in unbeliefâ€ for many years; after which, the gospel of the Messiah will come unto them through the Gentiles. At that time they shall know that they â€œare of the house of Israel and that they are a covenant people of the Lord.â€ They shall also â€œcome to the knowledge of their forefathers, and also of their Redeemerâ€ and finally be restored (1 Nephi 15: 13-14). In a similar manner the Jews will be restored, but not until the end. As Jacob 5:63 explains, the Lord commands â€œbegin at the last that they may be first and that the first may be lastâ€¦that all may be nourished once again for the last time, then ye prepare the way for them, that they may growâ€. It is plain to see that he who scattered Israel will gather them (Reynolds 31).
The end of the gathering marks the beginning of the Millennium reign. During this period the allegory simply states that the Lord will â€œfor a long timeâ€¦lay up the fruit of [his] vineyard unto [his] own selfâ€ (Jacob 5:76). There now does not exist any corruption, and the Lord will enjoy the fruits of his labor until the tree begins to degenerate again. At this time the Lord will take the good fruit unto himself, and the bad shall be destroyed along with the rest of the world the Lord created (Hoskisson 86).
The allegory of the olive tree can not fully be understood or enjoyed without exploring the symbolism of the olive. It is found through out the scriptures, but the characteristics of the tree are most relevant to the meaning of the allegory. The tree requires much time and care to cultivate, nearly fifteen years. However, once fully matured, an olive tree continues producing fruit for hundreds of years. Even when it does begin to die, the roots produce new shoots that can be cultivated into new trees. This is also true when the tree is cut down. This is a great comparison to Israel for each time it is destroyed, a new sprout comes up from the root (Madsen 142). The tree in this way represents immortality and shows the potential of each spout. From an eternal perspective, each tree has the potential to begin a new posterity of countless trees that continue to grow into the eternities. They are all different trees with many branches, but all ties back into the main root of the mother tree. This is the oneness that Jacob so, very well portrayed in his farewell speech, and is the lesson to his people, how to gain oneness through the atonement of Christ.
Clark, Jennifer. The Lord Will Redeem His People: â€œAdoptiveâ€ Covenant and
Redemption in the Hebrew Bible and the Book of Mormon. Utah: Brigham Young UP, 1993.
Heap, Norman L, and Virginia T. Heap. The Gathering: :Perfection and Redemption of
Israel. North Carolina: Family History Publications, 1999.
Hoskisson, Paul A. â€œThe Allegory of the Olive Tree in Jacob.â€ The Allegory of the
Olive Tree. Ed. Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch. Utah: Deseret, 1994. 71-104.
Madsen, Truman G. â€œThe Olive Press.â€ Speeches. Ed Cynthia M. Gardner. Utah:
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Olive Tree. Ed. Stephen D. Ricks and John W. Welch. Utah: Deseret, 1994. 21-49.
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