Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

BoM Lesson 12: Jacob 1-4

Posted by BrianJ on March 18, 2008

Go to this Feast page for an index of Sunday School lesson posts, including Jim F’s notes from 2004.

I usually go to class with a lot of notes and a general idea in mind, often something that builds on the previous weeks’ lesson. I start class with a brief reminder of what was discussed and then we go where the discussion takes us this week. Every now and then, however, I like to create “lesson vignettes”—a bunch of 5-to-10-minute mini-lessons. The goal is not to teach all of them, mind you, and I’m always happy whenever we spend the entire class on only one of them, but sometimes moving quickly through several different ideas seems to reach more class members than a lesson that focuses on a single theme. Another bonus: sometimes the class just isn’t interested in the things I am, so it’s nice to have multiple talking points just in case what I find most interesting is greeted by the chirping of crickets {smile}. Here are two vignettes for Jacob 1-4.

His Rest

Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness. (Jacob 1:7)

Jacob is the king of allegory. Here he uses the children of Israel in Sinai as an allegory for…what? What is “his rest”? It seems like Jacob is talking about heaven (or eternal life, etc.), just as Alma was:

“And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” (Alma 40: 12)

But are there other ways this word (or idea) is used? Abraham begins his record by telling us of the “greater happiness and peace and rest” he sought (Cf. Abraham 1:2). While it’s possible that he was referring to paradise, I think there’s reason to believe that Abraham speaks of the “rest” he found on this earth. Is this rest similar to what Alma’s people enjoyed despite living under oppression?

And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord. (Mosiah 24: 15)

A final thought: when and why did the Lord “swear in his wrath” that the Israelites would not enter Canaan? The Israelites did a lot to upset the Lord during their time in Israel, but the event that brought upon them this particularly sore curse was when representatives from each tribe were sent to scout out the land of Canaan and all but two returned with an “evil [i.e. discouraging] report”—specifically, that it would be impossible for the Israelites to succeed in settling in the land due to the exceeding strength of its current inhabitants (Cf. Numbers 13-14). According to Numbers 14:1-2, “all the congregation” bought into the discouraging word and complained, complained, complained. The Lord, in response, threatened to destroy them entirely; Moses plead on their behalf; the Lord ‘backed down’ and vowed only that no Israelite currently alive would see the promised land (except Joshua and Caleb). What does all that have to do with Jacob (the Nephite)? Note that it wasn’t a “sin” that kept the Israelites from entering into the Lord’s rest, but rather their lack of faith that the Lord would/could fulfill his promise to give them the land of Canaan. How interesting, then, that Jacob encourages his people to “come unto Christ and partake of the goodness of God, [so] that they might enter into his rest.”

Purpose of Creation

“And all flesh is of the dust; and for the selfsame end hath he created them, that they should keep his commandments and glorify him forever.” (Jacob 2:21)

Why did God bother with man? or any part of the universe? Jacob says that he created us so that we would glorify God forever. What does “glorify” mean? How does this relate to D&C 11: 20?

Behold, this is your work, to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind and strength.

or Moses 1:39?

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

Other Ideas

Jacob 2:12-19 discusses pride and persecuting the poor. I might tie Jacob 2:15 (God can crush you) into the final chapters of Job, when God rises up—so to speak—in full majesty when confronted by Job. I might also mention the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, namely that they neglected the poor, etc. (Cf. Ezekiel 16:49).

With the current events surrounding the governor(s) of my state (New York), I’ll avoid any discussion of whoredoms, etc. in Jacob 2-3. Call me a wimp, but I’m afraid that the ‘timely and relevant’ would devolve into the ‘political and judgmental’.

I might also discuss Jacob 4:10:

Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.

This verse stood out to me because it portrays the Lord as a certain kind of leader: one who provides wisdom, justice, and mercy. Yes, we could talk for days about what those are, but I’m particularly interested in this: Do we really want that kind of person leading us? The problem with wisdom, justice, and mercy is that they are absolutely opposed to selfish interests. I’m fine with mercy being shown to me, etc. But if I do as Jacob says and “take counsel from [the Lord’s] hand,” I just know that I’m going to be asked to do things I don’t want to do; i.e., things that don’t serve my immediate interests. (I hope you can tell that I’m being facetious, but just in case….)

7 Responses to “BoM Lesson 12: Jacob 1-4”

  1. Ben McGuire said

    I don’t think that Jacob is allegorizing the Sinai experience here. 1:7 is almost certainly (in my view) a reinscription of Psalm 95. Psalm 95 would have been sung (probably in a liturgical fashion) at the beginning of Sukkoth – which gives us a plausible context for Jacob’s sermon at “the temple”.

    Within this context, part of the emphasis to me suggests that Jacob sees the Nephites are participating in a wilderness setting, having been displaced from the land of their inheritance, and wanting to return. Thus, to enter into the rest of the Lord – at least on one level – seems to be a reference to just that – returning to the land of their inheritance. After Jacob there isn’t a lot of emphasis on this until Zeniff …

    I have always had a rather radical view of Jacob 1-4. It seems to me that the underlying issue is a challenge to authority – both Lehi’s and his successors: Nephi and Jacob. The issues which are raised are the idea of polygamy and the desire for greater wealth and the social inequality this creates. Jacob seems to be alluding to both Deuteronomy 17:17 (he kingship code) and 18:18-19 (the parallel passages dealing with prophets). To introduce the one set of issues, Jacob tells us (1:15, 2:23-24)

    1:15 And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son.
    2:23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.
    2:24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.

    This idea of having many wives and concubines had apparently been forbidden by Lehi (2:34). And so, the Nephites who desired this practice turned for justification to the Brass Plates, and the accounts of David and Solomon. What makes this practice by David and Solomon an abomination? Our own D&C 132:38-39 tells us something completely different than Jacob does. But, if we assume that Jacob is basing his criticism on Deuteronomy 17:17, there is a certain amount of recognition that the Nephites shouldn’t be making an appeal to these examples as a way of getting around a commandment provided by Lehi.

    Historically, Lehi isn’t the only person of Israelite heritage to try to place restrictions on marriage practices. In general, modern Jewry does not practice polygamy either. The Jews who were most opposed to it were the Ashkenazic Jews. In the 11th century, Rabbenu Gershom issued the Ban – forbidding bigamy and divorcing a wife without her consent. Later, takkanot extended the authority of this ban to the point that it was considered nearly equal to Mosaic Law (this was a touchy point with some groups of Jews). Early restrictions on polygamy were not done through legislation but through restrictions placed in the Ketubbah (the marriage contract). When the ban came out, it was rejected by a number of rabbis – particularly those of the school of Rabbenu Tam. The most often cited dissensions were issued by Speyer, Worms, and Mainz. These dissensions were based on the issue of whether or not the ban had greater authority than the law – and the two points of contention were the commandment to multiply, and the commandment of Levirate marriage. (I.E. was it proper to engage in polygamy when your wife was infertile – without the necessity of divorce – or in the case of the widowed sister-in-law whether the surviving brother was already married). In the 13th century, Levirate marriage began to see a decline, and by the 14th century, R. Asher b. Jehiel ruled that as far as Ashkenazic Jewry was concerned, halitzah was a requirement and no longer an option. This opinion was not universal. Particularly among Spanish and Portuguese Jews, who based the continuance of polygamy on these two issues – progeny and levirate marriage. Members of these groups were present in early America – and were very influential in America – even though the Sephardic Jewish population was a small minority compared to the Ashkenazic population, they still dominated the religious instruction (the Seixas family was the most prominent of these). And I suspect this is one reason why polygamy was viewed with tolerance by American Jewry at so late a date (up into the early 20th century). Eventually, in the formation of the Jewish state, secular law followed Ashkenazic religious law in forbidding polygamy of any sort and requiring halitzah (even among secular Jews to an extent).

    This same kind of debate seems to be going on behind the scenes of Jacob 1-4. The reference to “raise up seed” in 2:30 is quite likely a reference to Levirate marriage (this phrase is used of this practice in the Old and New Testaments).

    The issue of the righteousness/wickedness of David and Solomon on this point isn’t unique to this discussion either. It was long recognized in Jewish literature that there is this issue here. And there was a long standing debate over the meaning of the word “many”. Other solutions were quite novel – as in this text from the Cairo Damascus document (CD, Col. V):

    And they who came into the Ark, “Two and two went into the Ark” As to the prince it is written, “He shall not multiply wives unto himself” But David read not in the Book of the Law that was sealed, which was in the Ark. For it was not opened in Israel from the day of the Death of Eleazar and Joshua and the Elders who worshipped Ashtareth. And it was hidden and was not discovered until Zadok arose. But they concealed the deeds of David save only the blood of Uriah.

    The “hidden” nature of Deuteronomy, and its “rediscovery” in the cleansing of the temple following the return from Babylon constitutes justification for David and Solomon to be excused for violating the law – and yet the caveat for the wife of Uriah (just as with the D&C Section 132).

    Jacob is constantly reminding us of his authority: that God has given him the words to speak, that they – the Nephites – need to “hearken” to what he has to say, and the implied threat that goes along with this from Deut. 18. He isn’t just appealing to their common sense, he is letting them know in no uncertain terms that their misapplying the scriptures as a way of contradicting Lehi’s teachings is completely unacceptable. And of course this is contained within the idea that what they are doing is the same as the Israelites at Sinai – they are fashioning a golden calf – they are returning to the sins of Jerusalem – and they will never inherit their promised land until they get themselves straightened out.

    I really enjoy this particular text, as it engages me in many different ways.

  2. cherylem said

    Ben has pointed out to me that our BOM dates the book of Jacob as taking place between 544 and 421 BC. “421” has to be way off. In fact, if Jacob was born abt. 590 (1 Ne 18:7), then in 421 he’d be 169 years old.

    Anybody have any comments about this?

    And Brian and Ben, thanks for the notes above.

  3. NathanG said

    I like this passage about entering into the rest of the Lord.

    D&C 84:23-24.

    Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God;
    But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.

    Pretty similar to how Jacob was speaking, but it adds that last phrase.

  4. brianj said

    Ben: thanks for the very interesting comment! (I added a little formatting to make it easier to read—hope you don’t mind.) I wonder if you could clarify what you mean by “Jacob is not allegorizing Sinai.” Since Psalm 95 is based on the Sinai experience, it seems impossible to separate Jacob 1:7 from Sinai. It is also unclear to me that 1:7 was something that Jacob said as opposed to something he merely wrote, since the beginning verses are addressed to the reader and not necessarily a transcript of any sermon. I think it’s a compelling idea that Jacob preached around the time of Sukkoth, but I’m not as certain as you appear to be. Are there other hints in the transcript portion (i.e., Ch 2-3)?

    As for your comment on authority: I find it interesting that Jacob mentions that “a [nameless] man” was called to be king in Nephi’s place, then Jacob goes on about wickedness akin to _King_ David and _King_ Solomon, and throughout stresses his (Jacob’s) authority to call the people to repentance. Could it be that their new king was a main target of Jacob’s words?

    Cheryl: dunno. Enos has the same time frame attached, so that might make the dates easier….

    Nathan: thanks for adding a great reference.

  5. Ben McGuire said

    brianj writes:

    >>I wonder if you could clarify what you mean by “Jacob is not allegorizing Sinai.” Since Psalm 95 is based on the Sinai experience, it seems impossible to separate Jacob 1:7 from Sinai.<<

    I think that I am disagreeing with the idea of it being allegorical. Jacob is certainly alluding to Sinai. But, Jacob seems to me to be thinking of the Nephites as then being in the wilderness waiting to return to their promised land. This idea first comes out (in a developed way) in 2 Nephi 9:2 –

    “That he has spoken unto the Jews, by the mouth of his holy prophets, even from the beginning down, from generation to generation, until the time comes that they shall be restored to the true church and fold of God; when they shall be gathered home to the clands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise.”

    Jacob has extended this idea of restoration to all the various groups who claim the Abrahamic Covenant (including the Nephites). He has this concern with his inheritance and his people’s inheritance. So while he is referring to the events at Sinai through Psalm 95, he isn’t allegorizing it, in the sense that he seems to be concerned with the Nephites regaining their land of promise – and the wickedness he sees in the Nephite people (the greed, pride, social inequality, and the grosser sins involving polygamy and such) is being compared to the Israelites at Sinai returning to the practices of Egypt with the Golden Calf. There is again (Nephi did this a lot in 1 Nephi) a not-so-subtle comparison between the Jews at Jerusalem and Egypt. The Nephites are told not to participate in the practices of the Jews at Jerusalem. Compare, for example, Jacob 2:25 with Exodus 33:1 –

    2:25 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.

    33:1 And the Lord said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it:

    Similarly, we see some of the same kinds of language in Ex. 32:7-8. I think that while there isn’t a really clear connection between the texts, the ideas are present and in close proximity to this Sinai event to which the Psalm refers. So I am not suggesting that we separate Jacob from the Sinai event, what I am saying is that Jacob is drawing this parallel as something far more that an allegory. He sees the Nephites as being in the same position as Israel at Sinai – and with the same kinds of shortcomings, and fears that these shortcomings could result in their destruction or at least an extended sojurn in the wilderness. When we finally get to Zeniff, who attempts to return and colonize the land of their “first inheritance”, I have wondered if he didn’t use a Zionist kind of rhetoric to influence those who went with him – who saw this as a way of hastening that return to their promised land.

    As far as Sukkoth, well, I am not sure there are other hints. There are more possible allusions to Psalm 95 in the continuation of Jacob’s text, but, I think that the key for me is this idea that the people were gathered together, that they were gathered at the temple, and that this was an expected event. Psalm 95 is closely connected to Sukkoth (as opposed to the other feast days) and the way that Jacob seems to use his Old Testament makes this a fairly compelling argument for me (I may be wrong, but it certainly is a context which adds a great deal to the argument being made in this sermon). A similar event seems to ocur with King Benjamin’s more well known speech (and the tents being referred to and so on). So I think the argument that they recognized Sukkoth is stronger on that grounds. It is all speculative, but in such a way as to create a fairly plausible cohesion between Jacob’s introduction and his sermon at the temple.

    As far as the idea that the new king was a target, it very well may be. (Although it seems to suggest that it was more widespread). This whole discussion can be a bit difficult unless we assume the existence of “others” with whom the Nephites were in contact with. It’s hard to imagine a population growth to the extent that Solomon becomes a relevant example within the lifetime of Jacob. Deuteronomy 17 forms the criticism of several later kings as well – particularly King Noah, whose wickedness is very Deuteronomic in nature. Deuteronomy 18 is quoted (or very close to quoted) elsewhere as well, so these texts seemed to have played a significant role in the develpment of Nephite political thought.

  6. kentm said

    cherylem: My take on the time frame is that the touchstones we have are the approximate birth of Jacob (about 595-590 BC) and the death of Enos (421 BC). I tend to believe that Jacob was Enos’s grandfather or great-grandfather. There is no use of the term grandfather or grandson that I know of in the BofM. If Enos had shown to Jacob that he was a sober youth with strong spiritual talents I can understand Jacob conferring the records upon him, even if it meant skipping a generation. Suppose Enos was the son of one of Jacob’s daughters, or perhaps the father of Enos died young … there are a multitude of possibilities that would never be explained on the plates.

    If Jacob was born in 595 bc and lived 90 years (a ripe old age considering that Nephi seems to have died at a modest age, Mosiah died at 66, Alma the elder at 83), his death would be about 505bc. If Enos lived to age 90 and died 421bc he would have been born about 511bc. There is room enough for an overlap of lifespans for Enos to receive the plates from father Jacob.

  7. Pocket Vaporizer…

    […]BoM Lesson 12: Jacob 1-4 « Feast upon the Word Blog[…]…

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: