Thoughts on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 12

by | Mar. 11, 2004

Sunday School

CHAPTER 1

VERSES 1-8

What "I should write upon these plates." Here the thread of narrative is again broken, to be resumed by Jacob. Fifteen years passed and then Jacob was instructed to take charge of the second set of plates and to hand them down to his descendants, properly completed with the history of his times.

Readers of the Book of Mormon know that Nephi had been instructed to make a set of smaller plates for the record of sacred history, and that he did so, while the larger plates, which had been kept by Lehi were devoted to secular events, chiefly. (See 1 Ne. 6:16) This arrangement was not new, or original, in the days of Nephi. Dr. Leonard Wooley, an English archaeologist who has spent years of successful research in the land of the Near East, tells us in his little but immensely interesting book on the Sumerians, that about 2000 years B.C. scribes of that race undertook to record the glories of the past. They, he says, had at their disposal, a mass of documentary evidence and from this they compiled, on the one hand the political history of the people and on the other, their religious traditions. The original records were lost long ago but this set of duplicate tables undoubtedly facilitated the making of such excerpts and lists of kings as do exist and which enabled Berosus, the Greek historian (about 260 B.C.) to write his Babylonian-Chaldean history. Jacob was instructed by Nephi to write upon the small plates mainly that which he considered "most precious," such as "sacred preaching" or "revelations" or "prophecies."

VERSES 9-12

Nephi was now advanced in years. He appointed a king over the people. The people, however, decided to make nephi a title as well as a name and let their kings be known as nephis, Nephi I and Nephi II, etc. Thus the king-title was virtually set aside for the title of Nephi, which means prophet.

Having set his house in order, Nephi passed away...

VERSES 13-14

Nephites and Lamanites. An important change in the division of the people is noted in this connection. Hitherto, the tribal arrangement into Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Ishmaelites, Lamanites and Lemuelites had been maintained for civic and genealogical purposes. Now, Jacob says, "I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi."

The term Nephites or Lamanites is generally supposed to refer only to the literal descendants of Lehi, through Nephi and Laman, respectively. This is not strictly correct.

A few years after this change in giving names after tribal ancestors, as indicated, was made, we read,

"And it came to pass that whosoever would not believe in the tradition of the Lamanites, but believed those records which were brought out of the land of Jerusalem, and also in the tradition of their fathers, which were correct, who believe in the commandments of God and kept them, were called the Nephites, or the people of Nephi, from that time forth...." (Alma 3:11)

May not the reason for this deviation from the original and obvious rule of naming the people in accordance with their lineage been necessitated by the accession to the pioneer colonies of people, those whose genealogies were not known? Descendants of the Jaredites, for instance? Or from other arrivals here, of whom the Book of Mormon has no record? It is easier to understand what follows concerning the wickedness of the people at that early day of their history and their having a temple with temple ordinances and service, if we suppose that they had been joined by other elements.

VERSES 15-16

Began to grow hard in their hearts. The death of Nephi was a great spiritual loss to the people. This became evident already during the reign of his successor. The people began to adopt the practices of David and Solomon regarding marriage and concubinage. They also began to prospect for gold and silver and as a consequence of worldly success, their hearts were filled with pride. Jacob reproved them severely, having obtained the Lord's will concerning these things.

VERSES 17-19

Jacob and Joseph ordained priests and teachers. Sometime before Nephi died, he appointed Jacob and Joseph, his brothers, to the office of priest in the Holy Order of God. At the death of Nephi, Jacob succeeded him as the leader and head of the spiritual concerns of the people. Another was appointed to rule over their civil affairs.

CHAPTER 2

VERSES 1-11

Commanded of the Lord to reprove the People. In this chapter and the two which follow, a continued sermon or a series of sermons, preached by Jacob, is recorded by him. They can easily be understood by all who desire to know and understand the truth. They bear the mark so plainly seen in Jacob's addresses, that of being devoid of any attempt to minimize or to apologize for what he has to say. He realized that a truth, spoken in plainness, is more quickly recognized than one decked in apologies, pretexts, and excuses. Besides this, he knew that such a one carried with it a conviction of right which would endure, while all else, no matter how pleasant, would "sooner or later perish" and as a dream, pass from the mind. Therefore, the plainness of the Gospel of Christ.

There are times, when as a reproof, a truth is spoken in love and kindness. It is often more painful to him who imparts it than to those who should receive it. This seems to have been so in the case of Jacob. He expresses a deep concern for those who have been made to suffer because of the wrongdoings of others. To add grief and misery to the sufferings of those who had come to the temple to be comforted by God's holy word caused him to shrink with shame before the Lord, in whose presence he must testify to them of their guilt. He says, "And also it grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God." (Verse 7)

Jacob first tells those who have gathered there of his purpose in coming up to the temple that day. He points out the obligation he has under God "to magnify mine office with soberness" that in no way could their sins be accounted against him, "I came up to the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God." (Verse 2)

VERSE 3

And ye yourselves know, etc. To the end expressed in verse 2, he, as they all knew, had been most diligent. But he says, "I this day am weighed down with much more desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls than I have hitherto been." No doubt the growing iniquities among the people had been a source of great sorrow to Jacob. The increasing pride of their hearts had come as a wedge between their duties and their pleasures. He consoles himself with the fact that they, as yet, had been obedient to the "Word of the Lord" that beforetime he had given unto them.

VERSES 12-19

Lifted up in pride. Many of the Saints residing in the Land of Nephi had grown exceeding rich in search for gold and silver, which, in the land where they lived, did "abound most plentifully." fn Some of them, more than others, obtained many riches and in the pride engendered thereby, wore costly apparel and went about with "stiff necks and high heads." They persecuted the poor and in vainglory imagined they were better than they. Jacob reproved and admonished them, saying that God did not justify them in so doing, "Let not the pride of your hearts destroy your souls." Be free with your substance and think of those who may be less fortunate than you, because, he warned them, God can destroy all your wealth and even you with one glance of his piercing eye. You will recall a previous sermon in which Jacob said, "But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their God." (2 Ne. 9:30) In any event, "Before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God." He assures them that after they receive a "hope in Christ" that then, if they still want riches, they will obtain them. However, he tells them that then their wants will be for a different purpose; they will seek for riches only to do good.

VERSES 20-22

Ye were proud in your hearts. Why be proud in your hearts and afflict your neighbor because of the things God hath given you? Jacob asks for a reason. "What say ye of it?" He wants them to ponder it in their hearts. "Do ye not suppose such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh?" One man he says, is as precious in the sight of God as is another and that, for the same reason all are created to keep His commandments and, thereby, glorify Him. There is a lesson we all may learn here. Pride, too often, leads our footsteps astray. It crowds all thoughts of God from our hearts. We are so engrossed in the world and the things thereof that we have no time or thought for other than, "What shall I eat? or what shall I drink? or wherewithal shall I be clothed?" We forget his wisdom and guidance. It is then we should remember, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God." When we recognize that great truth, all pride, envyings, hardheartedness, and deceit will be banished and in their place, love of God and our fellowmen will fill our hearts and in humility, we will recognize all men as brethren, they having one Father, and we will profit by the lessons they shall teach us.

VERSES 23-35

This people ... understand not the scriptures. We know but little of what occurred among the Nephites in Jacob's time. The people, however, appear in some respects to have fallen into sin. They had grown in worldly pride and devoted much time and energy to the search of wealth. By reason of their isolated position and because the Jews had abused the principle of plural marriage, the people of Lehi had been commanded that each man should have but one wife. Some of them did not heed this special law and took other wives, not only without God's sanction but entirely contrary to his express command. Indeed, they committed other grievous sins, excusing themselves therefor by quoting the actions of Kings David and Solomon, his son. At this the Lord was greatly displeased and he instructed Jacob to reprove them sharply. This, he did in the temple. He re-affirmed the law that the Nephites of that age should have only one wife, but he added, in the name of "the Lord of Hosts," that if he wanted to raise up a holy seed unto himself, he would command his people. This, we have reason to believe he did, though we find no direct statement on the matter.

Plural marriage is wrong where the Lord does not permit it. And the Lord, who commands his people to be loyal and law-abiding, is not going to give his consent to law-breaking. Matrimony, whether single or plural, is sanctified by the commandment of God, but he will not command his people to break the laws of the land. "Let no man break the laws of the land, for he that keepeth the laws of God hath no need to break the laws of the land." (D. and C. 58:21)

GENERAL NOTES

David and Solomon. Different opinions concerning the true meaning of this text have been expressed by readers of the Book of Mormon. The reference to David and Solomon shows clearly what the Lord censored and why.

In the case of David, the Lord said through the Prophet Nathan:

"Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; and I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. (II Sam. 12:7-9)

That was David's awful sin. He had not only taken a wife without divine sanction—another man's wife at that—but he had committed foul murder, in order to get possession of her. I fancy his sin would be no greater, had he committed murder to come in possession of houses or land, or even, as Nathan expressed it, "one little ewe lamb." Ahab and Jezebel were both sentenced to death, through the mouth of the Prophet Elijah, for the murder of Naboth for the sake of his vineyard. (I Kings 21:17-24)

In the case of Solomon we read:

"But King Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; of the nations concerning which the Lord said to the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in to you: for surely they will turn away your heart after other gods: Solomon clave unto these in love.... For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father." (I Kings 11:1-4)

Solomon, as is here shown, sinned in making social alliances with idolaters, contrary to the commandment of God, and in adopting features of their worship. It was this that kindled the anger of the Lord against him. (Ibid., vv. 5-11)

Now it appears that the Nephites, shortly after the death of Nephi, began to yield to the desires of depraved hearts, and sought to justify their carnal practices by what is recorded of David and Solomon. The Prophet Jacob, who had succeeded Nephi, was, therefore, directed by the Lord to explain to them the awful consequences of sexual indulgences outside the sacred precincts of divine sanction, as exemplified in the experiences of those two kings of the Jews, and to command them to have only one wife and no concubines, unless the Lord for some special purpose, should give them a different law.

CHAPTER 3

VERSES 1-14

Whilst the early Nephites were polygamists and unfortunately for them, unrighteous ones, the Lamanites were monogamists, which form of marriage they appear to have ever after retained.

One phase of Lamanite character, originating, doubtless, in their Israelitish ancestry is worthy of our praise. It was the great strength of their domestic affections, their love for their wives and their children and their kindness to their families. As we shall have to refer so often to their vices, we must, in justice to them, insert here the description of their virtues given by Jacob. He says, "Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers." Nor is there anything in this incompatible with the ferocity of their character or their bloodthirstiness in war. In the earlier ages of the Lamanite nationality rigid chastity was observed by the men as well as the women. Indeed, it may be said that while they manifested most of the prominent vices of semi-barbarous people, they also possessed the virtues that such races, uncorrupted by a more luxurious mode of life, generally show. Nor would it be consistent, nor historically true, to give one general description and apply it to the whole Lamanite race, for as their numbers increased the state of society amongst them grew more complex and we read of different grades of civilization in their midst.

Notwithstanding their own vices the Nephites constantly reproached and abused their brethren, the Lamanites, because of their habits and customs. They referred to them as filthy and as loathsome, forgetting that they, too, had many faults which were to be despised and scorned. He reminds them that the dark skins of the Lamanites and their vileness were the rewards of sinful lives led by their fathers. He gives them the commandment, which, he says, "Is the word of God, that you revile no more against them" because of these things and remember your own children that you do not bring the same destruction upon them and thereby cause that their sins be accounted against you in the great and terrible day of the Lord.

The Nephite people, in the days of Jacob, had become many. Only a part of what transpired among them could be written upon the Small Plates which were made by Nephi. Upon the Large Plates were engraved the political history of these times. That part of the Small Plates upon which Jacob wrote were called "The plates of Jacob."

CHAPTER 4

VERSES 1-7

That they may know that we knew of Christ. Jacob, having been ordained to the Holy Priesthood by Nephi and appointed by him to a high office therein, continued to minister with much zeal among the people; teaching them by word of mouth, the wonderful things revealed to him of the glory of Christ, the Messiah, whose coming was as yet, many hundreds of years away. He labored throughout all the difficulties of engraving his words upon metal plates that their children might know that their fathers knew of Christ and had a hope of his mission centuries before his birth among the children of men. Furthermore, he says that this hope and this knowledge was had by "all the holy prophets which were before us."

These prophecies and teachings were engraved upon plates of metal that they might endure and remain as an indestructible media of transmission; not to pass away and vanish as other means are apt to do.

VERSE 5

Behold, they believed in Christ. In this verse we see clearly, that anciently, the Jews had a knowledge of Christ. The prophets of old taught and prophesied of his mission. They worshiped the Father in the name of Christ and this, the Nephites also did. The Nephites kept the law of Moses because they understood it was symbolic of the great Sacrifice that was to be made. And it prepared them to receive the blessings attendant thereon.

VERSE 6

Wherefore, we search the prophets. To the end that they might obtain a fuller knowledge of his glory, they searched the Scriptures to find all the prophets had written concerning him. There they found much to establish, beyond any doubt, the hope in Christ which they cherished. The knowledge they thus obtained, together with the revelations they constantly received and the spirit of prophecy that was in them, raised their faith to such a pitch of reality that they did "command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea."

VERSE 7

The Lord God showeth us our weakness. In what way their weakness was made manifest to them is not stated but, nevertheless, Jacob says it was shown to them that they might know it was by the power of God and through his grace that they did these things and not by any power they, themselves, possessed.

VERSE 8

Great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. From the heart of Jacob there comes a glorious paean in praise of the Great Creator of earth and man. In the words of the Prophet Habakkuk (629 B.C.) we can hear him say, "I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." As we listen to his words we remember the Eighth Psalm of David, "O Lord, our God, how glorious is thy name in all the earth, whose majesty is rehearsed above the heavens. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man, that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man, that thou thinkest of him? ... O Lord, our God, how glorious is thy name in all the earth." (Jewish Rendition) His thoughts were, undoubtedly, "I will exalt thy holy Name, I will exult in the works of thy Fingers." "How great," he says, "and marvelous are the works of the Lord." How far beyond man's understanding are his gracious deeds. Those, only, to whom it is revealed, know his wondrous ways. "Wherefore, brethren," he admonished, "despise not the revelations of God." Despise means scorn, disdain, disregard, spurn, or contemn. Remember, when a truth is revealed of God, it becomes at once, a solemn obligation upon each individual. It is given, as the Apostle Peter says, for us to heed. It is not to be ignored, or in any way made inconsiderable.

VERSE 9

Earth was created by the power of his word. In the first part of the Book of Moses (we call it the Book of Genesis), a copy of which was in the possession of Jacob and was thus available to the Nephites, we read of the creation of earth and man. The facts there stated were familiar to all the descendants of Nephi and were used by Jacob as a proof of his further statement that if such were the case, then it is not unreasonable nor incompatible with the truth to believe that by that same power "why not able to command the earth, or the workmanship of his hands upon the face of it, according to his will and pleasure."

You will remember that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea were given an abode and told to multiply and fill the earth. The Great Creator saw what he had done and pronounced it "Good." He then said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." (Gen. 1:26) This was done. The knowledge of the glorious creation of man was inherited by each passing generation of Israel. It lifted them to a higher plane in their estimate of mankind. That such a belief was universal is shown when Malachi proclaimed this great truth by stating in the form of a question what was an established fact in the minds of his hearers. He asked, "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us all?" (Mal. 2:10) The thought that they were all created in the image of God, imbued every generation of ancient Israel and sanctified before him, their prayers to him and their praise of him.

To them, he was the "Majesty on High."

The Nephites, whose fathers came from the Capital City of the Jews, believed as did the Jews, in God the Father Almighty. They believed that he was the Maker and the Creator of all. They believed in a God with whom they dwelt in close relationship and one who would lead them and guide them in every experience of life. The Hebrew conception of man's relationship to God was the basis of their wisdom, and the wisdom Paul deplored, was the wisdom displayed in the pagan philosophy of Greece and Rome and of it he said that the world, by wisdom, knows not God.

This task has been left to revealed religion. It has been left to revealed religion to do that, in the attempt of which mankind has failed. It has been left to revealed religion to accomplish those things for which men have sought in all ages. Revealed religion is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jacob says in verse eight, "And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him."

If you lean unto your own understanding and trust to those who are worldly wise, you may search every acre of the globe and not find it. You may follow every path of human erudition and not walk in the way of truth. A man may partake freely of all the knowledge that has accumulated since the world began, and still not know that which has been revealed to even the humblest among us, "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3) Amid trial and disappointment, when his neighbors came to mock, Job stood up and said, with a voice of thunder, the reverberations of which we still hear, "For I know that my Redeemer liveth and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." (Job 19:25) This differs only in the use of words from the great truth revealed through the Prophet Abinadi, "I would that ye should understand that God, himself, shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people." (Mosiah 15:1) This is a great mystery revealed to the pure in heart. Learning cannot find it. The power of man cannot gain it. With money, it cannot be purchased, but it is made known to those, who, without guile, seek the Kingdom of Heaven. I have seen the golden glow of money illumine the halls of the rich. I have seen great armies, on the eve of battle, prepare to inflict their might. I have seen the learned, when they say, "I do not believe." But in the hovels of the poor, in the dwellings of the meek, in homes where toil and sorrow seem to pace the struggle to endure, I have seen the strength of faith, the power of love, the light of God's Holy Word, shine more brightly than all the riches of the world, all the learning of the ages, or all the force the armies and navies of the world can muster. These first are mysteries of God, as are prayer, forgiveness of sin, etc., and as Jacob says these mysteries "Are known only to those to whom it is revealed."

VERSE 10

Seek not to counsel the Lord. There are some among us who are critical of all things. "The lot of mankind," they say, "could be better." The seasons are wrong; disease, famine, pestilence, should be banished from amongst us. All is not good that seems so. Pain and perplexity come penally and punishing. They think to "check over the plans and OK the blueprints of Creation." They would advise the maker, forgetting that he created all in wisdom, and in justice and great mercy he presideth over all things...

VERSES 11-13

He that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men. No prophecy of God is obscure to those who desire to know the truth. By faith it may be easily understood. It need not be added to, nor taken from. It needs no interpreter. Prophecy only knows the truth. It does not speak falsely nor foolishly. "It speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be." It "is one of the most wonderful manifestations of the Spirit upon the minds of holy men." "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (II Peter 1:19)

Jacob followed his hymn of praise to the Creator whose wisdom and justice controls all, by inviting his brethren to accept the Sacrifice of his Only Begotten Son as the means that "ye may obtain a resurrection" and through Christ be presented unto God as its first fruits. That through faith, they may attain a hope of Christ's glory even before he was born.

VERSE 14

The Jews were a stiffnecked people. The Jews scorned the words of the holy prophets because they spoke to them in plainness, so much so that they understand every word. (1 Ne. 13:24; 14:23) Like many today they listened to eloquent speakers although they did not know what they were talking about. They preferred the things they could not understand. They killed the prophets who testified boldly to them of the wickedness that blinded them. They were carried to depths they could not fathom and to heights they could not grasp because they so wished it...

VERSES 15-16

And now I, Jacob, am led on by the spirit of prophesying. Because of the stumbling of the Jews, in the which, they broke the covenant made by their fathers at Sinai and in the perversion of the ordinances they had received, they were brought to reject "the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation." Jacob saw that the Jews would reject Christ and in doing so they refused to receive the stone, which according to the Scriptures "shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build."

VERSES 17-18

The head of their corner. The Jews having rejected the cornerstone, which is Christ, the question is, "How can they ever build upon that sure and firm foundation?" Jacob, being led by the spirit of prophecy promises to unfold that mystery. That Christ may become the head of their corner, the Rock of their Salvation he will make known unless in his anxiety for his brethren he is shaken in his firmness in the spirit. In other words he asks for their faith and prayers, as we do today. That the spirit of prophecy may enlighten their minds and that they may understand what is being unrolled is his prayerful wish. He then proceeds to explain this mystery by quoting the Prophet Zenos.

GENERAL NOTES

The knowledge these verses (3-5) impart should be remembered by us. It shows the depleted condition in which we presently find the Holy Scriptures; that is the part of them we refer to as the Old Testament. Jacob says, "All the holy prophets which were before us (about 550 years B.C.) had a hope of his glory." How many editors have deleted the mention of Christ in the Old Testament? How many interpreters have left out things pertaining to him, they cared not explain? How many writings of the holy prophets are not included in any modern version of the ancient Hebrew Scriptures? There are many. Neum prophesied that the Son of God should be crucified. Zenock, that he should be taken by the hands of wicked men and be lifted up. Zenos testified that Christ would be buried in a sepulchre and of "the three days of darkness" which should be "a sign given of his death unto those who should inhabit the isles of the sea, more especially given unto those who are of the house of Israel." (1 Ne. 19:10) The wonderful parable of the "Tame Olive Tree" which Zenos gave and which Jacob copied in full, is almost incomparable. These writings, with many others, are now left out of all Old Testament compilations. The Bible, itself, mentions some books now no longer extant; the Book of Nathan (Chron. 2:29); the Book of Enoch (Jude 14); the Book of Memorial (Ex. 17:14); the Book of Jasher (Joshua 10:13); the Book of Records (Ex. 4:15).

Jacob was a mighty preacher. He was trained in the language and the learning of his father, Lehi. Besides that, he was true to the Lord. He had the gift of prophecy which led him into many paths of righteousness. His gifts are evidenced by the fact that his brother, Nephi, engraved several of his sermons in great length upon the Small Plates. Read Chapters 6-11, 2 Nephi; the wisdom and knowledge shown, ranks them with some of the loftiest discourses ever made by the prophets of old. Moses had Aaron to speak for him. It may be that Nephi used Jacob as an instrument to teach the principles of truth to his ever- needing followers.

(George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, Commentary on the Book of Mormon, edited and arranged by Philip C. Reynolds, 7 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1955-1961], 1: 466 - 467.)

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