I hope everyone is safe and healthy as we adjust to the guidelines laid out by the Church and our local government leaders. Amid these historic challenges, we have a unique opportunity to practice a truly home-centered Gospel study. To support your efforts on this front, I will be posting additional resources and thoughts more frequently until we can meet together again.
While personal and family study is paramount, I also recognize the strength that comes from gathering to discuss the “peaceable things of the kingdom” (D&C 39:6; D&C 42:61). To that end, I ask that you treat the comments section below each post as a Sunday School class discussion. As with our class discussions in the chapel, there are no prerequisites or special qualifications for participating. Even if you feel you are weak in writing – as Nephi did – the spiritual impressions that you share in the comments will uplift and answer prayers (2 Nephi 33:4, 11). In the face of today’s challenges, let us “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).
The Allegory of the Olive Tree
The allegory of the olive tree was written in the brass plates by the prophet Zenos and quoted by Jacob in the Book of Mormon. Of this chapter, Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:
“The parable of Zenos, recorded by Jacob in chapter five of his book, is one of the greatest parables ever recorded. This parable in and of itself stamps the Book of Mormon with convincing truth. It is a pity that too many of those who read the Book of Mormon pass over and slight the truths which it conveys in relation to the history, scattering, and final gathering of Israel.”Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions
This allegory, recorded in Jacob 5, documents the tireless efforts of the master of the vineyard to nourish and care for decaying olive trees. While a careful reading of the allegory reveals much about the history of the Lord’s chosen people, the primary focus of the symbolism centers on His infinite mercy.
“Even as the Lord of the vineyard and his workers strive to bolster, prune, purify, and otherwise make productive their trees in what amounts to a one-chapter historical sketch of the scattering and gathering of Israel, the deeper meaning of the Atonement undergirds and overarches their labors. In spite of cuttings and graftings and nourishings that mix and mingle trees in virtually all parts of the vineyard, it is bringing them back to their source that is the principal theme of this allegory. Returning, repenting, reuniting—at-one-ment—this is the message throughout.
At least fifteen times the Lord of the vineyard expresses a desire to bring the vineyard and its harvest to his ‘own self,’ and he laments no less than eight times, ‘It grieveth me that I should lose this tree.’ One student of the allegory says it should take its place beside the parable of the prodigal son, inasmuch as both stories ‘make the Lord’s mercy so movingly memorable.’Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant
In his explanation of the allegory, Jacob himself summarizes the Lord’s mercy when he states, “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” (Jacob 6:4).
It also helps us understand much more emphatically that vivid moment in the Book of Mormon allegory of the olive tree, when after digging and dunging, watering and weeding, trimming, pruning, transplanting, and grafting, the great Lord of the vineyard throws down his spade and his pruning shears and weeps, crying out to any who would listen, “What could I have done more for my vineyard?”
What an indelible image of God’s engagement in our lives! What anguish in a parent when His children do not choose Him nor “the gospel of God” He sent! How easy to love someone who so singularly loves us!Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, The Grandeur of God
Zenos’ allegory of the olive tree is a timely reminder of the Lord’s persistent and personal involvement in our lives. As you reflect on this past week, consider how you saw His hand in your life. What can you do this week to see His personal involvement in your life more clearly?
Trusting in God and the Rock of Salvation
Throughout the allegory of the olive tree and in the historical events that are recorded in the following chapters, we are reminded of the need to trust God in the midst of uncertainty. As you ponder the passages below, consider how those in each verse displayed trust in God.
Although our circumstances are not identical to those described above, we can confidently place our trust in God knowing that the Lord of the vineyard labors also with us.
Finally, take a moment to hear President Russell M. Nelson’s words regarding our current circumstances. How does the prophet invite you to increase your trust in God?