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Branching Across The Continents

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Branching Across the Continents

According to the prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, "The parable of Zenos, recorded by Jacob in chapter five in his book, is one of the greatest parables ever recorded" (Smith 4:141). In language that rivals the best literature, Zenos' allegory of the olive tree powerfully conveys the history of the house of Israel over a time span of thousands of years using symbolism that no man could have written. In addition to containing the historical value of the scattering and the gathering of Israel, the allegory also includes doctrine on the apostasy and the millennium.

The allegory of the olive tree forms the centerpiece of a farewell speech given by Jacob to the Nephites late in his life. As with other dissertations of past prophets, Jacob addresses his people with his final words of wisdom pertaining to the exaltation. As part of his speech, Jacob illustrates reconciliation to God through Christ with the specific example of the Jews who are the forefathers of the Lehites. Jacob describes the Jews as "a stiff-necked people" who "despised the words of plainness, killed the prophets," and "will reject the stone upon which they might have safe foundation" (Jacob 4:14-5).

The question at hand is, "How can the Jews be reconciled to God through Christ after rejecting the Savior?". In answer to this question, Jacob offered to the Nephites Zenos' allegory of the olive tree (Hoskisson 73-74).

The time span represented in the allegory starts with the first cultivation of the tame olive tree and continues to the destruction of the vineyard, or, in other words, it begins with the founding of the house of Israel and goes to the end of the world. In verse 3 of Jacob 5 we learn that the tree which represents the covenant people already "waxed old and began to decay" which suggests that the house of Israel has already begun to go astray. It is important to realize that because the Jews were righteous and willing to enter in to the covenant, they became the people of the Lord (Clark 62). However, what is the Lord to do when his children are not profitable? The allegory suggests that He'd do what the lord of the vineyard would do for his olive tree: prune, dig, and nourish it in hope that it does not perish (vs. 6). Beginning with early prophets such as Moses, Samuel, Elijah, and Isaiah, the Lord attempted to reclaim the house of Israel from apostasy. Despite all this effort the Lord received little success for the tree sprouted only a few "young and tender branches" and the "main top" began to perish (vs. 6) suggesting the ruling class was corrupt while the rest of the tree continued to deteriorate (Hoskisson 77-78).

In desperation to save the tree and still bring in fruit unto himself, the lord of the vineyard planted the few young and tender branches in the nethermost part of the vineyard and grafted into the mother tree wild branches and continued to nourish it. Now with parts of Israel scattered over much of the earth and with the merging of Gentiles into Jewish culture, perhaps the tree could be spared. These scatterings are not random events. There are reasons for them. The righteous has to be protected from those who have fallen away, and there is need to preserve and add to the scriptures. The Lord also makes the scattering into a useful purpose. Through the scattering, the covenant blood has been mingled with most nations, tongues and people. Whether by blood or by adoption, all may now lay claim to the promises made to Abraham and to all of Israel's posterity (Heap 279-280).

After the nurturing of Israel and the scattering of the young, tender branches, the Lord allows "a long time" to pass before inspecting the vineyard again (Jacob 5:15). Upon returning he discovers the grafted wild branches have produced "tame fruit" (vs. 18). It is apparent that this new era is the time around the mortal ministry of Christ for the Gentiles are being taught. The fruit of the tender branches suggests that this is the correct time period also. A branch planted in "a good spot of ground; yea, even that which was choice unto [the Lord] above all other parts of the land of [his] vineyard" (vs.43), produced at this time part good and part evil branches (Hoskisson 82). The Nephites understood this to refer to them through the revelations of Lehi. Lehi was instructed that "the Lord God has covenanted this land (the Americas)" to him, and it is "a land which is choice above all other lands", "a land of promise" and "a land for inheritance of [his] seed" (2 Nephi 1:5). This plot of land was dedicated for the righteous, and from this we can see the good branch to be the Nephites and the bad branch to be the Lamanites before they entirely destroyed the Nephites. This time, instead of plucking the bad branches, the Lamanites were nourished in hope that they too might bring forth good fruit.

Again "a long time" (Jacob 5:29) passed, and the lord of the vineyard returns marking the beginning of a new era, one marking the Great Apostasy. The mother tree was found to have "brought forth much fruit, but there is none of it which is good. And behold there are all kinds of bad fruit" (Jacob 5:32). This is exactly the situation in the Old World after the priesthood was taken off the earth. The last tree is also found to be worthless. "The wild fruit of the last had overcome that part of the tree witch brought forth good fruit, even that the branch had withered away and died" (vs. 40), thus completing a world-wide apostasy (Hoskisson 83). Yet, the roots remain good.

It is at this point that the Lord pronounces a total destruction of the trees in his vineyard. After all, the Lord has done everything possible to save his vineyard. It is the fact that the roots, which represent scriptural heritage, remain resourceful that causes the vineyard to be saved: "Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard--have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? Behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves" (Jacob 5:48). Despite this apostasy the Lord's servant counsels him to spare the world for a little time, and the Lord accepts the advice. This leads to the next era of time, the Gathering of Israel (Hoskisson 83).

The gathering is deliberately slow and more involved compared to the previous care given. This is for "the end draweth nigh" (Jacob 5:47) and there are yet covenants to be fulfilled. From the transplanted tame trees that had become wild, natural branches would be cut and grafted into the mother tree. Likewise, wild branches from the mother tree would be



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