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:
Jacob's excursion into Zenos' allegory is specifically to answer a question he has posited: "Jacob 4:17 And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner?"
This allegory will be a description of the Lord's efforts with the children of Israel, and as a grand explanation of the efforts of the great husbandman, it will show how the ultimate reconciliation of the Jews will occur so that they may build upon the firm foundation of the Son of God.
In the context of this discourse, the allegory serves to deal with a question arising from the preaching of the coming Christ. Nephi and Jacob have preached of Christ, and preached of a crucified Christ. The Messianic expectation set by Isaiah would be of a triumphant Messiah (though the prophecies also refer to the mortal ministry of the savior, the major themes are eschatological). Jacob is here addressing what must have been a puzzling aspect of the prophecies of Christ. How might one reconcile a rejected and crucified Messiah with the triumphal Messiah? How can one who is rejected by Israel become the leader of Israel? Jacob presents the answer through scripture. His explanation is not from his own words, but based in scripture. It will also be typical of the way he and Nephi cite scripture, largely uncommented, and presented as self-evident.
Literary: Analogies such as Jacob quotes from Zenos are not uncommon in the scriptures. The metaphorical/allegorical use of agricultural practices is only to be expected for a people whose lives where much more intimately bound to the earth than are those of modern man. However, the use of such analogies from life to teach a truth go further than simply using the example from nature to teach a point. The significant use of these depends not solely upon the understanding of the processes of nature, but upon readily established symbolic associations.
There are three botanical species that figure into the symbolic representations in the Hebrew and early Christian scriptures, the grapevine, the olive tree, and the fig tree. Each of these is significant as a source of nourishment and economy in Israel, but even more importantly, participates in a symbolic complex that associates the nation of Israel with those plants, so that the plant becomes the symbol for Israel as a nation.
There are two important horticultural allegories in the Bible, the earlier of which is in Isaiah:
1 Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:
2 And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.
3 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard.
4 What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
5 And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down:
6 And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
We need not wonder whether or not the association between the vine and Israel is understood, as Isaiah makes it explicit. In this analogy, we have the vine, the vineyard, a master of the vineyard, a wild and natural fruit, and efforts of the master to improve the vine. Each of these elements show up in at least structural form in both the Zenos and Pauline olive tree allegories.
A significant difference in this analogy, however, is the final conclusion of the master of the vineyard. There comes a time when the master deems the vineyard unworthy of continued efforts. and so tears down the wall to destroy the vineyard. In Isaiah's writings there is an emphasis on the final Millennial events, and his analogy fits into that theme.
The most important horticultural allegory for establishing a context for Zenos allegory is found in Romans:
16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;
18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.
19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.
20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:
21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.
22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.
23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.
24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?
This allegory and that of Zenos (as cited by Jacob) are so clearly parallel that some type of connection if obvious. Understanding the possible connections between the two are essential from a polemical view, as one of the possibilities that must be explored is the modern copying of Paul's allegory into a modern Book of Mormon. If the Book of Mormon is true work (as we affirm it to be) then the allegory is ancient, and precedes Paul. Paul would be citing a known practice in the very least, and a known allegory in the most direct connection.
If, however the allegory of the olive tree were to be shown to originate with Paul, then the Book of Mormon usage would be greatly in question. Thus the understanding of Paul's allegory is an essential prelude to accepting and understanding the ancient allegory of Zenos in the Book of Mormon.
In Paul, the allegory has a very specific focus on the conceptual boundary between Jew and Gentile in the gospel. This single symbolic focus is much less complicated that Zenos' allegory which describes in symbolic fashion a larger number of events and peoples.
Paul's allegory depends upon three symbols, the root, and natural and wild branches. Where Isaiah's "wild fruit" was a symbol for evil works, Paul's use of the "wild" imagery is that of something foreign to the "natural" tree. The two uses differ in the symbolic sets they define. In Isaiah the natural/wild pair is used to stand for a conceptual pairing of good/evil. In Paul, however, the natural/wild pairing stands for Israel/Gentile, with no imprecation on the Gentile half of the pairing, indeed it will be the Gentile half that proves beneficial in the allegory. This essential difference in the nature of the allegories suggests that while horticultural allegories might be a acceptable mode of instruction Paul's allegory does not directly link to Isaiah as a source.
The removal of Isaiah as a source for Paul removes the clear antecedent that could have explained both Paul and Zenos (perhaps). The antiquity of the olive tree allegory prior to Paul depends upon the controversy over the accuracy of the practices described.
For a number of years, the standard interpretation of Paul has been rather unfavorable, such as this passage from the Interpreter's Bible commentary on Romans:
"At more than one point his ignorance of husbandry is disclosed: branches from a wild olive tree would not be grafted on a cultivated olive stock (if anything, the reverse would be done), and if they were, the grafted branches would not bear the fruit of the cultivated tree. (Acts Romans. The Interpreter's Bible.New York, Abingdon Press. 1954. 9:571)
This is an absolutely critical point, for it suggests that the essence of the Pauline allegory is based upon a misunderstanding of olive tree husbandry, and the entire allegory depends upon an error in reporting such practices. If that is the case, Zenos' earlier use of the same symbolism of grafting on wild branches would be suspect, as the longevity of an allegory with incorrect allusions would also be suspect, and the perpetuation of the error would point to a modern copying of Paul rather than an ancient practice with sufficient known understanding to ring true to the hearers of the allegory.
Baxter and Ziesler note the work of Sir William Ramsey in finding a virtual contemporary of Paul discussing the very idea of grafting wild branches onto an olive tree. That contemporary was named Columella:
"Columella writes a good deal about grafting, in De rustica 5.11.1-15 and De arboribus 26-27 (although a good deal of the material in the two works overlaps, even to the point of being straight repetition). He includes a considerable amount also about oleiculture, in De rustica from 5.9.16. He certainly thinks he knows what he is talking about, and it is interesting that in 5.9.16, almost in passing, he says that well-established trees that are failing to produce proper crops can be rejuvenated and made more productive if they are ingrafted with shoots from the wild olive". (Baxter, A.G., and J. A. Ziesler. "Paul and Arboriculture: Romans 11.17-24." In: Journal for the Study of the New Testament. 1985, 24:26).
Baxter and Ziesler conclude: "What Paul describes is therefore a perfectly possible process that would be undertaken to rejuvenate a tree." They further note a similar practice in modern Israel and in the Mediterranean. (Baxter, A.G., and J. A. Ziesler. "Paul and Arboriculture: Romans 11.17-24." In: Journal for the Study of the New Testament. 1985, 24:27.) Further confirmation comes from Hess, Fairbanks, Welch, and Driggs who also conclude that this is acceptable means of revitalizing the root of a tree (Hess, Wilford M., Daniel J. Fairbanks, John W. Welch, and Jonathan K. Driggs "Botanical Aspects of Olive Culture Relevant to Jacob 5" In: The Allegory of the Olive Tree." FARMS, Provo. p. 507).
With evidence that Paul is citing a legitimate practice, not only can we dismiss the suggestion that the Book of Mormon account must necessarily flow from Paul's allegory, but we may also suggest another solution to one of the reasons that Paul's allegory was questioned in the first place. It was noted by several modern commentators that Paul was a man of the city, and therefore would be unlikely to understand the intricacies of oleiculture (see, for instance,. Acts Romans. The Interpreter's Bible. New York, Abingdon Press. 1954. 9:571 and Baxter and Ziesler p. 25.)
While it is important to understand that there is a valid basis for the allegory, we must now answer the question of Paul's knowledge from a different perspective. His presumed ignorance of olive culture must be answered in reverse. If he did know of this rather unusual practice, how did such a citizen of the city know of the practice? Baxter and Ziesler simply restate Ramsay's assumption that the importance of olive culture created a de facto knowledge base of the means of caring for the trees (Baxter and Ziesler p. 26). While the importance of the olive is unquestioned, it is highly questionable that the importance of the products of the tree equate to a widespread understanding of the care of the tree, particularly argued against by the relative scarcity of ancient or modern writers understanding the legitimacy of the grafting in of wild branches, even though it was clearly attested anciently, and the olive culture has continued unabated into modern times.
The justification of Paul was sufficient response in and of itself, and the issue of the source of Paul's knowledge became a very secondary point. Into this space in the academic discussion, Zenos comes as an answer rather than as a copy. As a work that preceded Paul, and clearly understands the complexities of oleiculture, Zenos may have been either the ultimate source, or a parallel tapping of an oral source for a similar image. Paul would not, then, have been creating the allegory, but simply repeating an image that was known from alternate sources, sources that either trace to Zenos, or which preceded even Zenos as part of an oral understanding and imagery.
2 Hearken, O ye house of Israel, and hear the words of me, a prophet of the Lord.
Although it is an awkward grammatical construction, this is Zenos' introduction to his allegory. Although he does not declare his name here we have it from Jacob. We must assume that there was enough more of Zenos that he was not required to reintroduce himself at the beginning of this allegory. What he does do is to declare that he is speaking in the capacity of a prophet. In this abbreviated declaration he is rather like Isaiah, who does not repeat the personal introductions, but will reassert his prophetic calling as a seal upon the text that follows (see Isaiah 1:1, 2:1, Isaiah 13:1, Isaiah 38:1).
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.
Textual: This is the beginning of the citation of Zenos. It may be presumed that these are Zenos' words, not Jacob's.
Literary: As we saw with Isaiah (Isaiah 5:7), the connection between Israel and the olive tree is made explicit in the beginning of Zenos' allegory. The essential elements of the allegory are also presented in this introduction. First, it is the Lord who introduces the allegory. this not only establishes the ultimate authority of the description, but clearly establishes the Lord as one of the characters of the allegory. The Lord is the "man" who nourished the tree.
Israel is the tree. It is fitting that Israel be designated as an olive tree not only because it makes the analogy work but because this was a traditional connection to Israel, with overtones of the Tree of Life. (Widengren, Geo. The King and the Tree of Life in Ancient Near Easter Religion. Uppsala: A.-B Lundequistaska Bokhandeln. 1951, p. 38; Ginzberg, Louis. The Legends of the Jews. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America. 1909, 1:93; 5:119).
It is because Israel is the tree that the appearance of the man who cares for it becomes so clearly the Lord. All of Israel understood their special covenant with the Lord, so that the caretaker could be no other. The connection between the covenant of the Lord and Israel is an essential element of the allegory. Without the basis of the covenantal relationship between the Lord and his people, the efforts for the salvation of the tree loose their power.
Paul Hoskisson has analyzed Jacob's allegory in detail, and notes that there are two possibilities for the identification of the caretaker of the orchard, particularly in relation to the servant who is sent to effect the changes. One interpretation is that the master of the vineyard is Christ and the servant is a collective image of prophets. The second possibility, which Hoskisson favors, is that the master is the Father, and the servant the son. (Hoskisson, Paul. "The Allegory of the Olive Tree in Jacob." In: The Allegory of the Olive Tree, FARMS, p. 71). As noted, I agree with his reading, but for perhaps a much different reason. Hoskisson reasons on the basis of theology:
" I think there is reason to propose that the Lord of the vineyard represents our Heavenly Father and that the servant is Christ. For example, like the Lord of the vineyard, the servant throughout the allegory seems to be a single person and therefore cannot easily be made over into multiple prophets. Moreover, the servant in Jacob 5 can be associated with the "righteous servant" of Isaiah 53, whom Abinadi explicitly identifies as Christ (Mosiah 15:5-7). In addition, the working relationship between the Lord of the vineyard and the servant in the allegory accurately reflects the relationship between the Father and the Son, in that Christ does not act alone, but in all things follows the instructions and example of the Father." (Hoskisson, p. 71).
This argument is compelling theologically, but one needed look nearly so far. As an Old World prophet, Zenos' sensibilities would have been in accord with the known understandings of God and Messiah. Under those more ancient sensibilities, neither the master nor the servant are clearly Messianic, and the Lord would be associated with Jehovah (without the fine points of LDS discussion of the identification of that name to a pre-moral Jesus). In Zenos' terms, concepts and Father and Son would be anachronistic. Therefore, the Lord, or Jehovah, becomes the identification of the master of the vineyard.
The question of the identification of the servant raises an important question about the nature of allegorical interpretation. How much of the allegory will fit into a precise "translation" into more identifiable people or events? Hoskisson is clearly an interpreter on the literal end of the scale, as he assigns rather specific time periods to various events in the allegory. While clearly applicable to the real world (else the allegory holds no meaning whatsoever) the absolute applicability of allegory is not required for instructional value, and indeed, virtually any allegory distorts "history" into "story." Pushed to precision, virtually all allegories fail to make a precise match to the events the symbolize. It is essential to understand that the creation of allegory provides some modicum of literary license to the creator, in that events and times may be generalized rather than clearly delineated. Indeed, even in Hoskisson's reading, single events in the allegory become assigned to multiple events in history, a process demonstrating the inability of a one-to-one reading of the story (Hoskisson, p. 76 where the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities are part of the scattering process).
This inherent imprecision in the assignment of "values" to allegorical elements is the reason that there is no clear identification of the servant. The servant is used as a literary device for providing the action of the story, in keeping with the idea that the master of the vineyard would not be the one who actually worked the vineyard. Both the actions, and at times the pleadings of the servant will be best seen as literary devices than symbolic of any relationship between Jehovah and either Jesus Christ or a symbolic representation of prophets.
The last element we see is that the tree "waxed old." This is not only a literary description of the long time that the Lord had watched over Israel, but it is an important predecessor to the next phrase, that it "began to decay.." In the context of the natural world, this is a known result of age. By placing the tree in this state, the Lord both declares the essential righteousness of the beginning of the tree (a given, since the Lord planted it) but now places Israel in a state of apostasy, described as decay. The allegory will spend little time worrying about the causes of the apostasy (though it will be discussed at the end of the allegory), and much more on the efforts of the Lord to save the tree.
This allegory is therefore not a specific call to repentance, but the assumption that the apostate state will occur, as "naturally" as decay to an aged tree. The apostasy is a foregone event, not one that will be changed through repentance. The function of this allegory is not to forestall, but to predict in a way so as to reveal the hand of the Lord in the story of the recovery from the apostasy.
Historical: One of the questions about the olive tree is what it might be doing in a vineyard, as indicated in this verse. John Tvedtnes has examined the terminology of the ancient near east and found that vineyard was not only a term for the vineyard, but for the entire planting area which might also include other trees. For instance: "The Encyclopedia Miqráit notes that "The Egyptian k3mu could be used for both a vineyard of vines and a plantation of mixed fruit trees. . . . The scribe Any counted twelve vines that he planted in his garden, and alongside them 100 fig trees, 170 date palms, and the like." (Tvedtnes, John. "Vineyard or Olive Orchard?" In: The Allegory of the Olive Tree. FARMS, p. 481).
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.
5 And it came to pass that he pruned it, and digged about it, and nourished it according to his word.
The story now begins with the essence of the plot. The Lord sees the decay of Israel. The response is not anger, nor an impulse to destroy, but rather a care to salvage. The pruning, digging, and nourishing are attempts one would make to cut back the decayed wood so that the remaining life tree's life force is concentrated in the support of the "good" tree rather than the old decayed part.
Assigning a more comprehensible value to this image requires us to find something in the relationship of God to man that provides this nourishing, digging, and pruning. It would seem that this is descriptive of the efforts of the Lord to send prophets with messages of comfort or calls to repentance, to either nourish our prune us, as we require.
The repentance process, if followed, prunes off the "decayed" part of Israel because it turns to the Lord, and is no longer "decayed." The word of God to the prophets also nourishes those who are obeying God. In this action of sending prophets to Israel, the Lord accomplished that which a gardener would in the process of pruning and fertilizing.
It is also important to understand that this is the logical first step in re-establishing a tree. It is a step that can have effect, and is less invasive or drastic than those efforts that will follow. Along with the specifics of the historical reading of this allegory, the spiritual reading is the care in which the Lord will nurture all of his children, and that he will call us gently to repentance before giving his children more drastic witnesses of their need to repent.
Literary: A final note is the mild emphasis in verses 4 an 5 on the promise/fulfillment set. In verse 4 we have the "word" of the Lord, the declaration of intent. In verse 5 we have the accomplishment of that intent. The explicit paralleling of intent/fulfillment highlights the trustworthiness of the Lord. What the Lord says through his prophets will come to pass, just as this master of the vineyard promises, and then fulfils that promise.
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.
This verse presents three events. The first is the passage of time. We must always remember that the Lord is infinitely patient with his children. In the most obvious case for the Latter Day Saints, his patience to effect a restoration after the loss of the priesthood took nearly 1800 years. Just as the master of the vineyard makes an effort for the salvation of the tree, and waits to see its effects, so the Lord works with his children, providing such prophets and warnings for them, and allowing them time to see if they will listen to the warning word that was sent.
The second event is the growth of new branches. This process is precisely what was hoped for, that the efforts on the tree would renew the life in it. This happens, but not to the degree that master hopes. There are those who do listen to the prophets when they are sent, but the net result is that only "somewhat" and a "a little" does Israel repent.
The third event describes the effect of the prophets on the bulk of Israel. This is the "main top" of the tree. In this analogy, this would refer to the leadership of Israel, those who maintain the status quo. while individuals, or those peripheral to the leadership might repent, the allegory is that the leadership continues in its "decay," or removal from the true way of the Lord. This is very parallel to Isaiah's condemnation of the leadership of Israel while indicating that there would be a remnant who would remain true. (Isaiah 2-5 describe the evils of the leadership, and Isaiah 10:22 discusses the righteous remnant of Israel).
Symbolic: As the allegory develops, there is an increasing distinction made in the "tree" of Israel. The "tree" may be Israel, but the trunk of the tree is never the focus of the allegory. Action occurs at the branches, or to and for the root of the tree. While the trunk remains, it is a non-entity in the allegory, save that it carries the imagery of the collective definition of "Israel."
To this point, we are introduced to the "tree" and to the branches. The branches at this point are established parts of the tree, or new (young and tender). On the level of the branches the allegory begins to relate to specific elements of Israel. The actual people who are Israel become represented by the branches, though not as individuals. Thus the new branches will be the type of people who return to God through the efforts of the prophets, and the established branches, the "tops" are those who are the established hierarchy. The trunk is only the conceptual collective image that holds together the divergent types of branches, which is the locus of the brunt of the symbolic action in the allegory.
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.
The allegory very specifically requires the removal and destruction of "main branches" of the tree. Translating image to history, the main event of this part of the allegory is the destruction of the established power structure of Israel. Two parts of the event are listed, the destruction of the "main branches" and the grafting in of "wild branches." These are events that can be correlated to historical events, but not events which will fit precisely into the timetable of the allegory. Allegories, however, as part of a symbolic explanation need not parallel every historical event. It is sufficient that we may recognize the event, and it is not required by the literary form that all elements of the allegory fit the historical situation precisely.
The "destruction" of Israel occurs in three places that have relevance to this allegory. The first is the Assyrian destruction and the loss of the ten tribes in the 722-721 BC the second is the Babylonian destruction of 586 BC, and the third is the destruction of Jerusalem in 62 AD. The destruction of the main branches is suggestive of the first dispersal rather than the second, as the Assyrians did not only kill many but effectively "destroyed" the remainder by their permanent removal from Israel. In the
Babylonian conquest, the people were carried away, but returned, and our history is one of that very people, so they do not fit the allegory at this point. The destruction by the Romans fits as a category, but the removal in time suggests that it is not imagined by this part of the allegory.
The "grafting" of the wild branches might refer to an intermarriage with the Babylonians who might have entered Judah after the conquest, but there is no evidence of the importation of foreign populations into Jerusalem after the leadership had been removed (Gottwald, Norman K. The Hebrew Bible . Fortress Press, 1985., p. 424). Hoskisson suggests intermarriages for both the Babylonian and Assyrian destructions (Hoskisson, p. 78).
The ultimate assignment of the historical event to the grafting depends more on the nature of the allegory than of history. While intermarriage does bring in new blood, the effect of the new blood is to invigorate the root of the tree (the identification of which will be discussed after the next verse). The grafting image is therefore to suppose a positive addition to the tree, and it is hard to imagine a scenario where the intermixing of cultures with gentiles would have been considered beneficial to covenantal Israel (Hoskisson uses the cultural melding as an indication of the grafting process, see Hoskisson, p. 79).
The clearest reference for grafting is to the adoption of the gentiles into the Abrahamic covenant as described in Paul's use of the olive tree allegory. The events following this verse in the allegory suggest that this latter interpretation is the one that is being used.
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.
In this verse some of the new branches have been taken away for reservation in other locations. Returning to historical situations, a removal of people from Jerusalem occurred during both the Assyrian and the Babylonian conquests. The Lehites are very clearly one of these branches (as will become plain shortly). In the general interpretation of the first care of the tree being the sending of the prophets, the young and tender branches would have been those that believed.
Using Lehi's family as a possible model, a prophet comes among the people and calls them to repentance. The main body of Israel does not change its ways (the tops of the tree) and the believing body is called of God to leave and settle in a new place. This is the story of Lehi, and is also the story of the community who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. They also saw themselves as reformers of Israel, and removed from the main body to be able to preserve their beliefs (Damascus Document A 1:11-13, in: Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Wise Abegg, & Cook. Harper San Francisco. 1996, p.52). The conception of a prophet calling a people out of Israel to preserve the "true" belief is therefore no surprise to ancient Israel.
Symbolic: The second important image to appear here is the root. To what does that refer? In the Pauline allegory, there has been some diversity of opinion over the meaning of the root, with a perhaps more prevalent reading as the patriarchs, or specifically Abraham (see, for instance, Fitzmyer, Joseph A. S.J. Romans. The Anchor Bible. Doubleday, New York. 1992, p. 609-610). In Zenos' allegory this definition may still hold, but there is yet a tighter connection with the "trunk" or the main body of Israel, as the root remains with the tree while young branches will preserve the "essence" of the root while physically separated from it. Perhaps more than the patriarchs, Zenos' allegory uses the root as the Abrahamic covenant itself.
In this reading of the symbology, the original covenant between God and his people is what is being preserved. Clearly that initial covenant was "good," and worthy of preservation. In this context, the grafting in of branches becomes an even more powerful image.
Grafting is the physical process of inserting a foreign botanical material into the main tree. The "wild" branches are very literally from a different tree. They were not part of the original root, yet their grafting brings them into contact with the nourishment of the root, and the same generative power that the root carries to the natural branches is carried to the grafted branches.
As a symbol for the covenant between God and his people, the grafting is the insertion of non-lineal people into the covenant of uniqueness with God. While not children of Abraham by birth, they become children of Abraham by adoption, and as adopted heirs receive fully of the benefits of the covenant. This reading reinforces the gentile Christian church as the beneficial grafting of the "wild" branches (and precisely parallels Paul) and precludes the Assyrian and Babylonian intermarriages as an explanation for the grafting, as they were not adopted into the covenant.
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.
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.
With the association of the wild branches with the Christian gentiles, the idea that they were set in place of the "main top" branches that were cut off is perhaps significant. Verse 9 places the wild olive branches in the stead of the main top branches that were cut off. Returning to the association of this "main top," which was the leadership of Israel, we have the gentiles being not only grafted in, but grafted in to a position of leadership. This in-grafting would then foresee the shift in the emphasis of the covenant from the lineage of Abraham to the care of the adopted Christian bearers of that covenant. The covenant is now in the care of the adoptees, not the original inheritors.
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.
The action of these verses once again suggests the care and patience of the Lord. An action is take to preserve the tree (or more properly, the "roots thereof") and then the Lord allows time to watch the effect of the action. After the initial major action, there is more digging and pruning and nourishing. Thus the Lord may take major actions, but will also then return to a time when our agency becomes the foremost dictator of action, and the Lord awaits to see the fruit that we will produce on the foundation he has provided.
Note the allegorical distinction between tree and roots. Once again the trunk is a collective designator, but the critical element is the root. The Lord of the vineyard is not taking care to preserve the tree, but the root. For the Lord, it is his covenantal relationship that is the important aspect of his relationship to man, not the particular race of men who become attached to the collective designation as "tree," or "Israel." Whether literal or adoptive, Israel is the covenant people, and it is that covenant relationship that is being preserved.
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.
The antecedent for this verse is the young and tender branches mentioned in verse 8. The allegorical action is to take the branches of the tree and use them to plant trees in other locations.
Botanical: One of the interesting aspects of the allegory from an naturalistic viewpoint is the planting of branches. Hess et. al. note:
"The olive is one of the few fruit trees that can be propagated by taking a branch of a tree and burying it in the ground. This is apparently what Zenos had in mind when he indicates that the Lord of the vineyard took branches and "planted" them, saying that the natural branches were "hid" in the ground (Jacob 5:14). Hillhouse states that the olive is extremely tenacious. When the trunk has perished by frost or by fire it forms new sprouts. If a bit of the bark, with a thin layer of wood, is buried in the earth, it becomes a perfect plant. All of the branches and even the trunk can be removed and the tree may still live (see question 19). Olive shoots can be cut off, placed in soil, and indeed they will root." (Hess, Wilford M., Daniel J. Fairbanks, John W. Welch, and Jonathan K. Driggs "Botanical Aspects of Olive Culture Relevant to Jacob 5" In: The Allegory of the Olive Tree. FARMS, Provo. p. 530).
Symbolic: The nature of the young and tender branches was that they grew in response to the less drastic original measures of the master of the vineyard. As was noted, they represent those who heard and headed the words of the prophets. The history of Israel has many examples of divisions in the religious understandings of the collective people, a process that is much better understood with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the subsequent scholarship that has attempted to clarify the nature of the historical people who preserved them. As was noted above, both that community and the Lehites are examples of peoples called out of Israel. The Book of Mormon also preserves the story of the Jaredites, who also fit the "called out of Israel" model.
In this part of the allegory, some of these groups are called out of Israel and sent into the world. The master tells the servant that they are sent: "whithersoever I will, it mattereth not unto thee." We understand from this that while we may know of some of these peoples, there may yet be others of whom we are not aware. Our current historical ability to list the Lehites, Jaredites, and the people of the Scrolls as types of these scattered branches suggests that they may have occurred at multiple times and in multiple locations. We will see as the allegory develops that we are certainly missing the historical reference from some of the "young and tender" branches.
Polemic: The idea of planting branches works for the allegory of the olive tree, but does not work for many other botanical species. It seems rather unusual that a modern creation would include this rather odd element which fits only into the culture of the olive, with which Joseph should not have been familiar.
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.
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.
Literary: The structure of the allegory creates multiple sets of promise/fulfillment pairs. Actions are declared, and then we see them fulfilled. The repetition of the elements serves not only to move the story, but to emphasize the faithfulness of the Lord's promise/fulfillment. That is, through the repeated examples of fulfilled promises, we may learn to expect that the Lord will continue to fulfill promises he makes to (and with) us.
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.
The servant and the master return from planting the "young and tender" branches in various places and witness the progress of the original tree. The passage of time here is once again indicative of the patient process of the Lord with his children.
In this part of the allegory, the grafting of the wild branches has had the desired result, the added vigor of the wild branches has invigorated the tree, and there is good fruit again.
Symbolic: The fruit of a tree is a frequent metaphor which we have seen in Lehi's dream, and which flows through several New Testament examples. As the ultimate product of the tree, it is the fruit which is the reason for the planting. In that context, the good fruit is the ability of the people represented by the branches to fulfill their God-desired destiny. Through the good tree, they become good fruit, righteous souls for God.
Botanical: The specifics of this verse require some scientific explanation. While there may be some improvement in the fruit, a complete change is not genetically possible. As Hess, et al note:
"�a wild olive graft does not genetically become tame. Each cell of any branch will remain genetically the same as the parent tree from which it was cut. Cultural practices involving increased nutrition, proper pruning, irrigation, and so forth, will not cause wild fruit to attain the same size and desirable characteristics as tame fruit, but some improvement might be shown.
On one occasion Zenos states that the wild branches began to produce good fruit. But the Lord of the vineyard attributes this solely to the strength of the roots, not to any constitutional change: "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" (Jacob 5:18). Later the Lord will remember that because of the strength of the roots, "they have hitherto brought forth, from the wild branches, good fruit" (Jacob 5:36). Not only do the servant and Lord of the vineyard seem somewhat surprised that the wild branches have borne fruit that is "like unto the natural fruit" (Jacob 5:17), but this singular event did not last long. In time the wild branches completely overran the roots and the tree became worthless (Jacob 5:37)." (Hess, Wilford M., Daniel J. Fairbanks, John W. Welch, and Jonathan K. Driggs "Botanical Aspects of Olive Culture Relevant to Jacob 5" In: The Allegory of the Olive Tree. FARMS, Provo. p. 511).
The allegory is more interested in the symbolic aspects of the story than the botanical, but the botanical aspects are not impossible, but rather used with some judicious poetic license. As has already been noted, allegories teach because they can relate one set of concepts to another more familiar set, but an absolute point by point contiguity is not requisite.
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.
The botanical imagery is that of a successful surgery. A drastic step was taken to save the tree, as step without which "the tree thereof would have perished." In more historical terms, the Lord is indicating that adoption of the gentiles into the Abrahamic covenant was an essential part of the preservation of the promises of the covenant. At this point in the allegory, all is well. As Hoskisson rightly notes, this must refer to the time of Jesus and the decades immediately following (Hoskisson, p. 81).
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.
With the dispersal of the branches, the next phase of the allegory has the master and servant shifting locations to examine the results of their efforts. In this case, the focus removes from the location of the main root/trunk, and centers on the distant locations where the natural branches were taken to. These are the "nethermost" parts of the vineyard, implying that there is a great distance between these newly planted natural branches and the efforts to save the main tree itself. Once again, there is the image of the passing of time. While not stated, the botanical necessity of allowing for growth underlies the need for time to pass.
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.
This is the first of three locations in the nethermost parts of the vineyard. This and the next will be described as poor ground, and the last as good ground. Even with our modern perspective, only the third location can be identified. Both this and the next location do not give us enough information to make a historical connection between the description and a known group that was sent from Israel. While it is no help in identifying these other groups, the resurrected Savior did confirm that they exist. When Jesus comes to the Nephites at Bountiful he confirms that they are one of these special groups. He also confirms that there were others:
3 NE. 15:20-16:3
20 And verily, I say unto you again that the other tribes hath the Father separated from them; and it is because of their iniquity that they know not of them.
21 And verily I say unto you, that ye are they of whom I said: Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
22 And they understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles; for they understood not that the Gentiles should be converted through their preaching.
23 And they understood me not that I said they shall hear my voice; and they understood me not that the Gentiles should not at any time hear my voice�that I should not manifest myself unto them save it were by the Holy Ghost.
24 But behold, ye have both heard my voice, and seen me; and ye are my sheep, and ye are numbered among those whom the Father hath given me.
16:1 And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister.
2 For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice; neither have I at any time manifested myself unto them.
3 But I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them, and that they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd; therefore I go to show myself unto them.
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.
Literary: While the two branches planted in poor soil refer to specific populations that remain unknown to us, even without a historical identification, the function of these two branches in the allegory is to set up a contrast between the fruitful branches in the poor soil and the next branch that will be planted in good ground, but with ambivalent results.
On the level of allegory, the tension is set between the expectation that a poor circumstance yields a poor result and that a good circumstance will yield a good result. The examples become diametric opposites of the expectation. The historical connection will be apparent in the next example, but the moral lesson of the allegory comes through without any connection at all. The Lord is telling us that we may not use our circumstances as an excuse for our spiritual progress. We may not say to him that we could not believe because we were poor, or that our lives were difficult. We cannot say to him that we would have been faithful had we been comfortable. Indeed, there is a highlighting of the scriptural theme of the difficulty of producing spiritual fruits amidst the distractions of prosperity.
Botanical: "It might also seem odd that one of the trees planted in poor soil should produce good fruit. One of the branches was planted in "a poor spot of ground . . . poorer than the first" (Jacob 5:22-23). Nevertheless, this plant thrived. Although olives sometimes do well in poor soils because of their long maturing period and ability to tolerate considerable salinity, boron, etc., it is only with much attention to cultural practices that productive trees will grow on poor soil. When all of the important cultural factors are carefully optimized, olive trees will grow and produce a crop on poor soil. Accordingly, the unusual poorness of the soil in this part of the allegory draws attention to the extraordinary care and power of the Lord of the vineyard. The production of good fruit by the plant under these circumstances is attributable exclusively to the fact that the Lord had "nourished it this long time" (Jacob 5:23)." (Hess, Wilford M., Daniel J. Fairbanks, John W. Welch, and Jonathan K. Driggs "Botanical Aspects of Olive Culture Relevant to Jacob 5" In: The Allegory of the Olive Tree. FARMS, Provo Page 507)
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.
The most telling identifying clue for this branch is the split between the good and the bad fruit. Of course the Book of Mormon allows us to make that connection between the Lamanites and Nephites as the two divisions of this branch - a division which (in the best of times) produced a "tame" and a "wild" fruit. Reading this example as the Lehites also allows us to confirm the "good soil" part of the allegory. As was promised to Nephi, "1 Nephi 2:20 And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands." (this promise was also made with Lehi, see 2 Nephi 12:5).
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.
Perhaps these two verses provide the strongest indication that the Lord/servant relationship is a literary device rather than an attempt to accurately depict the relationship between either the Father and the Son, or the Son and the prophets. We have here the Lord seeing the branches that do not bring good fruit, and deciding to destroy them. This is a natural assumption from a botanical viewpoint. However, the servant pleads to make the attempt to save these branches.
Rather than indicate any type of disagreement, this is a literary structure that allows for the continuation of the wild branches when the more logical thing would have been their destruction. The allegory has roots in botany, but reality in history, and the way the Lord works with his children is never so capricious as to completely destroy them when they first disappoint Him.
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.
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.
In the allegory, the time that draws near is the time of the harvest. The allegorical time of the harvest is the last days, though once again these events that are moving toward that eschatological end will do so over a long period of time.
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.
The focus now returns to the main root/trunk of the tree. The natural branches that were broken of refers to the source of the branches that were most recently under discussion in the nethermost parts of the vineyard. Once again, the grafted wild branches would be the infusion of the gentiles into the covenant. The result is "all sorts of fruit." It is essential for the allegory that "all sorts" indicate the appearance of good fruit, but of somewhat differing appearances. In this phase, the allegory describes the rise of modern Christianity in all of its diversity, a diversity that scholars are now finding reaches back to even the earliest days of the establishment of the church in the world, but certainly proliferating most greatly after the reformation movement.
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.
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.
Literary: The literary expectation of the "all sorts" of fruit being good extends through verse 31, with the anti-climax occurring in 32. As a literate piece, this is a nice tension where the expectation of success is forcibly (and with somewhat dramatic sadness) reversed. The visually promising fruit is not as good as the promise. The Lord declares that "it profiteth me nothing." As a botanical reference, this would be a fruit incapable of producing salable oil. In a spiritual sense, the promise is there, but the various forms of godliness are incapable of the exaltation of the soul of man. While there may be other uses for such fruit, for the desired and ultimate goal, they "profit nothing."
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?
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.
The recurring theme of the allegory is the goodness of the roots. This is reiterated here. The covenant with God remains good, and remains in force. The root of our salvation is secure, it is our attempts to be fed by that covenant that have had mixed results in history.
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.
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.
This is the first time we have anything at all disparaging about the roots of the tree. Even in this case, it is not that the roots are not good (for the Lord explicitly reinforces the goodness of the roots in verse 36) but simply that they "profit nothing."
The Abrahamic covenant is good, as it the message of the gospel delivered to all of the ancient prophets. Nevertheless, at this point in time the fruit of the tree is not "profitable." In spiritual terms, the result of having the gospel among mankind is not producing power to salvation. There may be good, there may be fruit with suitable appearance, but the final goal of the Lord o the vineyard remains unfulfilled. These forms of the gospel do not have the power to exalt.
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.
The botanical description is that the wild branches have overrun the roots. The allegorical reference is to some aspect of the gentile grafting that has altered or perhaps diluted. the power of the root.
With the root being the covenant, the overrunning of the root is some force that has made that covenant so that it is of lesser effect among mankind. This was not the way the grafting had begun. Indeed, the initial grafting showed great promise. The historical reference is the apostasy. The image of overrunning the roots is an interesting one, as it may be a very apt description of the way the apostasy occurred.
There is no single point at which one may make a division between apostasy and doctrinal purity. Even in the very earliest days, the myriad of questions surrounding the way one might embrace the gospel o Jesus assures us that there was no single orthodoxy, a fact indelibly impressed by the apparent differences of opinion between Paul and the Jerusalem church.
As the young church struggled to understand how to handle new possibilities, not the least off which was the opening of the gospel to the gentiles, the possible answers to those questions were volunteered from multiple sources. While the apostles did attempt to maintain the purity of doctrine, simple distance required that local leaders have great autonomous authority, and they certainly dealt with continual issues in the absence of one of the 12 apostles.
When any of us attempts to resolve a question, we do so with the best information and training available to us. In an intellectually Hellenized world, it was inevitable that the accepted modes of discourse and philosophy of the Hellenic world would infuse the decision making process of the early Christians as they attempted to answer new questions never touched upon by Jesus.
The mixing in of Hellenistic ideas. as well as information from other sources, became the pervasive mode of answering issues, rather than the appeal to revelation that Peter used when confronted with Cornelius. The weight of the intellectual world overran the purity of the roots when the logic of the world was subtly brought in to the realm of gospel teaching.
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.
In this trip to the nethermost parts of the orchard the branches in the poor, and poorer, soil have been disregarded. This visit is to the branches that had manifest two aspects, tame and wild. This is a return to the Nephites and Lamanites. The result of the examination is that all of the branches have become corrupt The promise of the good branches was not fulfilled.
This part of the allegory deals with the fall of the Nephites from the Grace of God (in that they were not longer under his protective care). The end of the Book of Mormon has the Nephites in greater sin that the Lamanites. This is the time period alluded to in this allegorical visit.
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.
In this verse the historical event to which the allegorical overrunning refers is a literal, a military, overrunning. At the end of the Book of Mormon the people o Nephi are under serious attack. The attack by the Lamanites will be sufficient to destroy the Nephites, the analog of the branch that withered and died.
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?
This lament is surely appropriate here. The repetition itself is a literary device, but it surely must reflect some of the feelings of the Lord whose infinite patience must be sorely tried by his children on earth.
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.
The efforts of the Lord have been tremendous, yet the result is universally disastrous. All of the branches that are discussed are now yielding unfit fruit. Only the two unmentioned branches in the poor and poorer soil might be profitable but we do not see them. From a literary standpoint, they may ,be assumed to be overrun just as the others, though there is no historical way to prove or disprove the literary assumption.
The narrative now moves to an important crisis. the efforts of the Lord have appeared to fail, and the various trees are ripe only for destruction. Once again, we need not presume that the Lord seriously considers the early termination of his children on earth. This crisis strengthens the story without necessarily implying that these are the actual feelings of our Father (the sorrow certainly is, but the desire for destruction would not be).
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.
This is a specific reference to the Lehites, who are represented by the branches planted in the choice land. Even in such choice circumstances and with the promise of profitable fruit at one time, the final result is the destruction of the good by the wild.
The symbolism is perhaps stronger than the historical case and it would be a mistake to read this allegory as a condemnation of the Lamanites as bad. The result of Lehite history is that the gospel did not continue, and that is the only reference here.
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.
This is a most fascinating verse because it so clearly comes as part of a discussion of the Lehites. The specific reference in the allegory is to the Lord clearing ground for the transplanted branches. Botanically, this certainly refers to the removal from the area of the plants that would compete with the branches for nourishment.
Translated into history from the veiled terms of allegory, this is the only absolute reference to a population existing in the New World prior to thee arrival of the Lehites. Just as Israel entered its promised land, and needed to "unencumber" their ground, so is it implied that the Lord has done the same for the Lehites. Of course we have no indication of how this clearing occurred, but every other part of the allegory of the Lehite "branch" has had reference to a discernible historical fact, there is no reason to presume that this particular reference does not, particularly since there is no literary argument that requires this verse above and beyond the reporting of the fate of the Lehite branch.
The irony is that the clear statement that others would be in the land when the Lehites arrived (and would be "cleared" so as to make place for the Lehites) comes in ancient prophecy rather than current records. Zenos tells us, but Nephi does not (explicitly).
Another possible reading of this verse is that all previous peoples will have died out, and that the reference is to the Jaredites. However, the Jaredites lasted until after the landing of the Lehites, and therefore were not "cleared" from the land for the "planting" of that branch of the house of Israel.
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.
We do not see the reaction of the servant to this lament (and perhaps this is the best indication that the servant has a literary function, and does not represent a real person). The Lord specifically notes that the destruction of the promising fruit was related to the decision not to destroy the wild fruit - which was the solution encouraged by the servant! The servant's actions have directly led to the destruction of some of the good fruit! (see verses 26 and 27).
It is perhaps instructive that this obvious mistake by the servant is not commented upon. The servant's suggestion was made in earnest, and accepted in hope. That it did not come to fruition does not become the basis for blame of the servant.
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.
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?
Literary: This is a formal lament. The Lord of the vineyard repeats the information that the efforts to salvage his tree have not succeeded. He catalogs his efforts. All of this background serves to give focus to the poignant question at the end, how has this occurred? In spite of the best efforts of the Lord of the vineyard, the tree appears to be lost. No blame for lack of care or trying can be laid at the door of the Lord. Who then is to blame?
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?
Symbolic: Understanding this verse depends upon understanding the image of the "loftiness" of the vineyard. It is tempting to correlate the term "loftiness" here with the way that word is used to describe pride. While pride might be accounted as a problem with humanity it does not fit precisely with the image in this verse.
The description of what is meant by the loftiness of the vineyard is given in the verse itself: "And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves."
The servant's response agrees with the master that the efforts of the Lord of the vineyard have been sufficient. The fault lies in the loftiness, and that loftiness is directly defined as the overgrowth of the grafted branches. In an ironic way, the efforts of the Lord have been almost too good, for the grafted branches have grown faster than the strength of the root allows. The fault lies not in the Lord, but in the branches.
The allegory therefore squarely places upon mankind the responsibility for the failure of the gospel (up to this point). This is an important theological point, for it is important to be clear that the temporary failures of the full benefit of the covenant with God are never due to his actions but always to our own.
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?
Literary: the dramatic tension is reinforced by this declaration of intent of the Lord. Justifiably, the Lord intends to cut down the tree. Botanically, the removal of the corrupt tree makes space and resources available for the growth of a new tree, thus the Lord's suggestion is both justified by the failure of the tree as well as by the increased usefulness of the land without the tree.
50 But, behold, the servant said unto the Lord of the vineyard: Spare it a little longer.
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.
Literary: The servant again serves as the literary foil to work against these legitimate (and threatening) plans of the Lord of the vineyard. In a literary sense it is the grace of the Lord that allows for the continuation of the tree. While the servant may suggest it, it has no effect until the Lord provides that grace.
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.
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.
Symbolic: The botanical process is that the branches from the nethermost region that were part of the original tree will be brought back to the original tree. The focus of the nethermost branches was most recently the Lamanites and Nephites, but there is no reason to exclude any of the nethermost branches including those that were described s being in the poor and poorer places.
The event to which this refers is the gathering of Israel. The process of bringing scattered Israel back to the main roots is the image and reference. In the case of the Lamanites and Nephites, however there is an additional possibility, which is that the reason that this grafting will be beneficial is that the Book of Mormon comes as part of this re-grafting, and the words of those far flung branches of Israel will bring strength back to the original tree.
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.
Symbolic: In this part if the allegory, the focus is on the branches that were in the nethermost parts. These branches carry the genetic information from the mother tree, but not the direct strength of the roots. The branches from the original tree will therefore be added into the new trees in the nethermost region.
While the gathering of Israel is the event that is described by the image of the nethermost branches coming in to the main tree, the preaching of the gospel to all the world is the event imagined by the transferal of the branches from the main tree to the nethermost region. Thus in the end, all will be brought back together, with the unique benefits of the historical covenant brought together with those of the adopted covenant. In this last period, the gospel will come back together as one, with no separation into different parts of 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.
56 And they also took of the natural trees which had become wild, and grafted into their mother tree.
These verses indicate that the work has begun at this point in the allegory. It might appear that it is also accomplished, but later verses will indicate that the labor will be in process, and will require the participation of more than just the Lord and the servant.
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.
As with the earlier efforts, there is no wholesale destruction of the wild branches. As we are well aware, this is not a perfect world with the gospel perfectly lived. Clearly the wild branches have been allowed to continue d here we understand that it is at the tolerance of the Lord, not at his necessity. The Lord could destroy the wicked but chooses not to.
There is some indication that some of the wild branches will be destroyed. We certainly cannot place a historical face on al of these branches but the destruction of the Nephites at the end of the Book of Mormon suggests itself as a model for this type of destruction.
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.
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.
The Lord justifies the destruction of the worst of the branches. This removal of the worst of the branches allows the strength of the root to concentrate on the more productive branches. Even though the allegory makes it appear that this might be a finished task, it is probably the continuing task of the preaching of the gospel, and part of the events of the final days.
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�
In spite of the difficulties, the Lord turns completely away from the idea of destroying the unproductive trees and to the task of saving the essence of all of them. While the process will leave some parts of each type of tree to destruction, yet the Lord will salvage the good from each and bring all back together.
Certainly this aspect of the allegory is clear. God will save all of his children who are capable of salvation, those who will choose to turn back to the Lord. Even though we may, as a general people, have strayed, nevertheless the Lord will continue to strive to save all those he can, and to bring them back to one gospel.
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.
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.
Verse 62 clarifies that these events are related to the last days. This is the last time that the Lord will attempt to gather the righteous, for after this final gathering will come the destruction of the wicked.
To assist in this great final task, the Lord sees that both the magnitude of the task and the time available will require more labor that that of the servant, and so verse 61 calls in other servants to assist in the task of this final gathering together. These are the missionaries on the latter day, both those called formally and those whose efforts effect missionary work without the formal calling.
These verses also refer to the "natural fruit." In other parts of the allegory, the fruit may be good or useful, but is not described as "natural." Similarly, the use of "natural has been as a contrast between good and evil. While the "natural" fruit is certainly good, there appears to be a greater meaning here, as this natural fruit is better than any other. In this context, it is the gospel truly understood and lived. The ability of the children of man to be good is greater under the gospel than any other way. although mankind may certainly be good when the gospel is not present. It is this superior "goodness," this perfection through the gospel, that is the focus in this verse.
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.
This is perhaps the least clear of the verses of the allegory, for it presumes that we are able to understand the referents for the "first" and the last." Although the natural branches in the nethermost regions have been the most recent focus, this verse begins with a command to the servants, and is not related to the previous contexts of the allegory.
In this case, the last and first refer to the time periods of the grafting attempts. The last to occur was the grafting in of the wild branches to the man tree, or the preaching of the gospel to the gentiles. The first would have to be the natural branches sent to the farther reaches, or the "lost" of Israel including (but not limited to) the Lamanites.
The gospel is therefore to come to the world through the gentiles, and the gathering is to bring Israel in to the church which will be a combination of the Jew and the Gentile.
Polemic: From the standpoint of issues of authorship, it is interesting to note that while this allegory clearly invokes the Lamanite/Nephite story from the Book of Mormon, it does not clearly describe the Restoration. One might suspect that a modern author would make sure that the most important aspects of the modern movement would be covered in the analogy, yet this is precisely the point that is missing. We have the result of the Restoration in the missionary work to the world, but there is no part of the allegory that can describe the Restoration through Joseph Smith.
In terms of the allegory, this would be a grafting of the root (pure gospel) onto wild branch (gentile - not genetically related to the covenant) in the nethermost reaches of the vineyard. In the logic of the allegory, this is what would have had to have occurred, but it is missing completely.
While there are very few "proofs" which can be claimed for an ancient authorship of Zenos' allegory of the olive tree (in light of the very similar Pauline allegory) nevertheless we do have a rather interesting negative proof. That is precisely what one would expect of a modern tale is conspicuously absent. At the very point that the allegory could become self-serving for a modern author, that self-serving portion is not to be found, an there is no hint of its necessity from within the allegory itself. The allegory as written, functions completely without any need for a Restoration.
Of course this does not suggest that there was no Restoration, but rather that the perspective an concerns of an ancient author would have produced the emphasis on the gathering, but not been interested in the Restoration that would have preceded it.
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.
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.
Literary: This repetition of the plan is now given as instructions to the servant. Structurally, we have had the discussion of the plan, the announcement o the plan, and will yet see the implementation of the plan.
The process will be the cross-grafting of the Gentiles with the gathered of Israel, and as that process proceeds, there will be a selective destruction of some of the competing branches. While this may be the destruction of the wicked in the last days, it appears to be more directly related to a pruning of the branches of Christianity and Judaism. Perhaps some of the proliferation of competing interpretations will be diminished, so that there will be a lesser amount of competing voices to lead astray those who are returning to the Covenant.
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.
This verse is much more clearly part of the destruction of the wicked in the last days. The literary reference that makes this clear is the burning of the cast of growth into the fire. Fire is associated with the final triumphant entry of the Messiah, and is therefore the conclusive connection in this verse.
67 And the branches of the natural tree will I graft in again into the natural 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.
Once again, this repetition of information comes because the structure of the allegory has the Lord making a plan. and then executing it.
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.
The Lord of the vineyard has conscientiously avoided wholesale pruning up to this point. This is the destruction of the wicked at the beginning of the millennium. and it is continued through the end of the Millennium as the final act of this earth. This final destruction of the wicked is the only time that the Lord will actually destroy the wicked.
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.
We are now in the implementation phase. The servant brings other servants - but they are not many. Even the impressive numbers of the modern LDS missionary force are still few when compared to the numbers to whom they are sent.
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.
The Lord specifically gives the charge to the servants. The missionary force is sent at the direction of the father to accomplish his work in the gathering of his children.
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.
Of course we expect that these servants will do as they have been commanded, but this part of the allegory is a necessary literary transition. It is important that we know that the instructions are carried out so that we can understand the results as they will be discussed.
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.
In literary opposition to the earlier efforts of the Lord we have here the vindication of the Lord's efforts and patience. Where all was previously bleak, now all is well. The fruit is producing, and the result desired by the Lord from the beginning is finally realized.
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.
Perhaps the most important theological point of this verse was that the fruits were equal. The success of the Lord's plan depended not upon whether the fruit began on a branch that was once natural, or one that was grafted in. The strength of the root was sufficient for all.
The original Abrahamic covenant produces God's peculiar (his very own) people, and the benefits of the covenant produce children capable of exaltation, whether they come to the covenant through heritage (the Jews) or adoption (the Gentles). All receive the benefits of the gospel equally, and before the Lord there is respecting of persons. In Paul's terms: "Gal. 3:27-29
27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
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.
The Lord rejoices in the success of the vineyard. At the end, God will rejoice at the success of the purposes of the earth. It is significant that the Lord also indicates that those who have labored n this process will share in the joy of the harvest of the vineyard. This verse foreshadows the same sentiment found in the D&C "great shall be your joy"
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.
The laying up of the fruit "for a long time" refers to the Millennium during which Satan is bound. The events to this point in the allegory usher in the Millennium, and this verse covers the expanse of it.
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.
The allegory ends with the destruction of the vineyard. When combined with the indication that evil will once again creep into the vineyard, we are clearly seeing the description of the final events. Satan will be released at the end of the Millennium, and the final phase of this earth will come in fire
We know the image of the final destruction by fire, but does that make any sense in the allegory? How is it that the Lord, who has resisted all attempts at destruction up until this point, suddenly decides to burn the vineyard after it has finally been successful?
The answer lies in understanding the essential botanical basis of the allegory. First, while the efforts of the Lord clearly takes time, this time is all described as part of a season. At the end, we are told that "And then cometh the season and the end." Although historical time takes place over thousands of years, the allegorical time takes place in a single "season." This allegory demonstrates the efforts of the Lord of the vineyard to produce valuable fruit for the "season."
At the end of a season, it was part of some ancient practices to burn a field, and start up in a new area. This certainly would not be done in a short "season" for anything as long-lived as an olive tree, but the botanical image of fire is one of renewal as much as of destruction. It is through the burning of the fields that nutrients are returned to the soil. Therefore, this burning at the last days is not pictured as a devastation, but rather as a transformation. It is a renewal of life rather than a cessation of life.
Literary: Of course the allegory of the olive tree comes to us in written form, and was certainly in written form when Jacob copied it from the brass plates. The structure of the allegory, however, is suggestive of oral literature.
In an oral literature, structure, and particularly structured repetition, serve as devices to develop the story while decreasing the sheer quantity of material that must be remembered. Thus repetition serves not only as reinforcement but also as a means of lengthening the story for a more dramatic telling. Very simplistic examples of repetition in oral texts are the children's tales of Chicken Little, the Gingerbread Man, and the Little Red Hen. In each of these oral texts, there is a set structure, even having particular set phrases. The story is developed by adding episodes into the basic structure of the repeated piece. Of course the ending has to have a variation on the theme for contrast with the set pieces, but that is the reason they are retold is the juxtaposition of the unexpected after the establishment of the expected.
The basic structure of the allegory breaks down into four easily remembered pieces. We start with a single tree, from root to branch. In the second phase, branches are removed and placed in a separate location. In the third phase, wild branches are grafted in to the main tree, and the final phase has the reuniting of all pieces into a single tree. A narrator only has four main elements to hold in his head (one may expect that the majority of the storytellers of ancient Israel would have been male, given the male dominance of the society).
Within each structural piece we have the Lord and servant, and the conversation between the two becomes the dynamic that moves the story. In the pieces we see the repetition of plan/implementation, where the information is virtually identical and it is only the context of the plan or implementation phase that differs. The story teller therefore needs only remember the crucial conflict of the segment, and can expand the tale dramatically by working the language or implementing pieces in various ways.
Of course there is no more evidence than this structural speculation to elucidate the ultimate origin of the allegory, but the structure would be at home in an oral literature. It may be that Zenos was the author, or it may be that he was merely the recorder. Understanding that there is no proof, the hypothesis does provide one interesting side effect. If Zenos is recording an oral source, it is possible that this oral source is ultimately behind the city man Paul's allegory using the same themes. There are no other written texts save Zenos' and Paul's, but if this were a part of oral culture, the essence of the allegory could be passed through the culture to arrive at Paul without the need of a written text.
Narrative: As noted with verse 1, Jacob's excursion into Zenos' allegory is specifically to answer a question he has posited: "Jacob 4:17 And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner?"
Hoskisson provides a very personalized and modern interpretation of the message of Jacob's use of Zenos:
"I cannot complete this discussion of the allegory of the olive tree without returning to the beginning, the reason Jacob gave the allegory: How can we be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ? If I were writing in good Hebrew style I would expect the reader at this point to know, from the allegory itself and the above discussion, how reconciliation takes place. But I am not, and I would be untrue to my own heritage if I did not to the best of my ability clearly explain how we can be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. As the allegory suggests, the process is deceptively simple and easy: Remain attached long enough to our roots, the scriptural heritage revealed by the God of Israel, that the healing influence of divine direction, of a "knowledge of the true Messiah," our Lord and Redeemer (1 Nephi 10:14), can change us from a twig bearing bitter fruit to a natural twig bearing good fruit. It does not matter whether our scriptural heritage is planted in a good spot on the earth or a bad one, we can bear fruit under the loving and wise care of the Lord of the vineyard." (Hoskisson, p. 96).
For the question Hoskisson answers, I cannot improve on his words. However, he answers a different question than the one posed by Jacob. Hoskisson discusses a personal reconciliation: "How can we be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ?" Though a important question and answer, and traceable through the themes of the allegory, it does not discuss Jacob's issue. Jacob is using the allegory to show how a rejected Christ can become the "head of their corner." Jacob had been discussing the Jews as a stiffnecked people who have (and will) reject the words of the prophets - and their Messiah (see Jacob 4:14).
The legitimate question arises as to how the rejected Messiah will become the triumphant Messiah, for there are now two roles discussed. The triumphant Messiah is the one described in Isaiah. It is the Messiah who comes in power and dominion. Jacob has preached of Jesus as the Messiah, but of a mortal ministry of human contexts, and a rejection by his people. This tremendous contrast between the Jerusalem Messiah and the eschatological Messiah must have been tremendous to an audience that would have understood, and expected, the triumphant Messiah.
Jacob does not explain this problem to a modern audience because he is speaking to an ancient one and is answering to that ancient audience the question that he perceives to be obvious. How is one to reconcile a Jerusalem Messiah who appears to be a failure (in that he is rejected and crucified by his own), and the expected triumphant King at the end of time?
Jacob's answer is to return to scripture, and show through the allegory the future history. The question of the Messiah is not answered directly, for the allegory discusses Israel, not the Messiah. Nevertheless, it is the theme of the temporal failure and ultimate triumph of the Lord that is the theme. Jacob's answer is to show that the Lord has plans and powers that extend across time, and that although Israel may stray, the Lord will care for Israel until the final success of the Lord's covenant.
The focus of Jacob's answer is not on how the Messiah could change, but rather how the people could be changed so that they who once rejected their Messiah might be ready for his triumphal entry at the end of time. In this way, Jacob's message is ultimately comforting, for it shows the great grace of God in allowing repentance, and the great patience of God toward a mankind in need, and search, of repentance.
|by Brant Gardner. Copyright 1999|