Sunday, June 9, 2013

Jacob’s Rhetorical Purpose for Quoting Zenos’s Allegory of the Olive Tree, Jacob 6:4-7

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Before Jacob quotes Zenos’s allegory of the olive tree, he asks a question that frames why he quotes the whole thing.

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? (Jacob 4:17)

His concern before the allegory is to draw out how the Jews who rejected Christ would ever be persuaded to believe in Him.  His purpose for quoting the allegory is to show how the Lord meant to scatter Israel so that the wicked would forget all they knew so that when the gospel was brought to their descendants they would recognize the miracle that it was and finally accept Christ. 

However, the allegory doesn’t just focus on this issue.  Much of it is taken up with showing the scattering of Israel’s righteous branches is to prevent them from being tainted by the corrupt whole, showing how the Gentiles would be grafted in to the main tree to remind the Jews of the miraculous blessings Israel had been born to, and showing the gradual decay of the vineyard after all the Lord of the vineyard has done to try to save it.

As it happens, when Jacob is finished quoting the allegory, he doesn’t refocus on his initial question.  Instead, he likens the allegory to his people who are branches broken off and placed in a different part of the vineyard.  His concern becomes persuading them not to become corrupted, wild branches that bring forth wild fruit after having been planted in a good spot of ground and nourished by the word of God all the day long.

4 And how merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long; and they are a stiffnecked and a gainsaying people; but as many as will not harden their hearts shall be saved in the kingdom of God.
5 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I beseech of you in words of soberness that ye would repent, and come with full purpose of heart, and cleave unto God as he cleaveth unto you. And while his arm of mercy is extended towards you in the light of the day, harden not your hearts.
6 Yea, today, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts; for why will ye die?
7 For behold, after ye have been nourished by the good word of God all the day long, will ye bring forth evil fruit, that ye must be hewn down and cast into the fire? (Jacob 6:4-7)

These words are also highly applicable to us as members of the church.  Jacob urges us not to reject the words of the prophets, the words of Christ, or reject the Holy Ghost, or quench it in any way, and to not mock the plan of salvation.  After all, we are in the last time when the vineyard is being nourished and pruned and we only have this chance.

Jacob’s purpose of quoting changes from explaining how the Jews who rejected Christ will be eventually be grafted back in to instructing his people (and us) to remain in the tree as good branches bringing forth good fruit and not become wild branches bringing forth evil fruit or withered branches that die off.  It is likely that as he labored to quote the allegory, the Holy Ghost impressed upon him the importance of persuading to repentance the people who are within the reach of his influence so that purpose began to overshadow his previously stated intention to discourse on how others afar off would come back to the fold.

I appreciate Jacob’s words.  They remind me that as a branch of the tree I’m not here just to suck the sap and put out leaves forever.  I’m supposed to bring forth good fruit.