Jacob 6:1-7 — LeGrand Baker — ‘his arm of mercy’
In Jacob’s brief analysis of the Zenos’ allegory of the olive trees, he compares the trees to the house of Israel, then, carefully and deliberately changes the focus of the allegory altogether. In this change, the olive tree is no longer all of Israel, but every individual who is a part of Israel. He writes,
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?
So the tree is all of Israel who come to this earth, or else, the tree is each individual person who has made a covenant which identifies him or herself as “Israel.”
I suggested in a question last week that “Israel” might also be bigger than either of those. I have thought about my question since then, and the question has grown with my thinking, but the answer is far beyond my reach. Nevertheless, I would like to give you some of the ideas that expand the question, in case you would like to think about it also.
In February 1843, at the request of W.W. Phelps, the Prophet Joseph re-wrote the vision which is the 76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants in poetry form. It was published in the Times and Seasons, February 1, 1843, and republished in the Millennial Star, August, 1843. Part of it reads,
And now after all of the proofs made of him,
By witnesses truly, by whom he was known,
This is mine, last of all, that he lives; yea, he lives!
And sits at the right hand of God on his throne.
And I heard a great voice bearing record from heav’n,
He’s the Saviour and only begotten of God;
By him, of him, and through him, the worlds were all made,
Even all that career in the heavens so broad.
Whose inhabitants, too, from the first to the last,
Are sav’d by the very same Saviour of ours;
And, of course, are begotten God’s daughters and sons
By the very same truths and the very same powers.
President John Taylor wrote an editorial published in The Mormon, New York, New York, August 29, 1857, under the title of “Origin, Object, and Destiny of Women.” Part of that editorial reads,
Knowest thou not that; eternities ago, thy spirit, pure and holy, dwelt in thy Heavenly Father’s bosom, and in his presence, and with thy mother, one of the Queens of heaven, surrounded by thy brother and sister spirts in the. spirit world, among the Gods. That as thy spirit beheld the scenes transpiring there, and thou growing in intelligence, thou sawest worlds upon worlds organized and peopled with thy kindred spirits, took upon them tabernacles, died, were resurrected, and received their exaltation on the redeemed worlds they once dwelt upon. Thou being willing and anxious to imitate them, waiting and desirous to obtain a body, a resurrection and exaltation also, and having obtained permission, thou made a covenant with one of thy kindred spirits to be thy guardian angel while in mortality, also with two others, male and female spirits, that thou wouldst come and take a tabernacle through their lineage, and become one of their offspring. You also choose a kindred spirit whom you loved in the spirit world, (and had permission to come to this planet and take a tabernacle) to be your head, stay, husband, and protector on the earth, and to exalt you in the eternal worlds. All these were arranged, likewise the spirits that should tabernacle through your lineage. Thou longed, thou sighed, and thou prayed to thy Father in heaven for the time to arrive when thou couldst come to this earth, which had fled and fell from where it was first organized, near the planet Kolob. Leave thy father and mother’s bosoms, and all thy kindred spirits, come to earth, take a tabernacle, and imitate the deeds of, those you had seen exalted before you.
The identity of those other persons is suggested by President Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1963), p. 50-51. Speaking of the pre-mortal spirit world, President Smith wrote:
It is reasonable to believe that there was a Church organization there. The heavenly beings were living in a perfectly arranged society. Every person knew his place. Priesthood, without any question, had been conferred and the leaders were chosen to officiate. Ordinances pertaining to that pre-existence were required and the love of God prevailed. Under such conditions it was natural for our Father to discern and choose those who were most worthy and evaluate the talents of each individual. He knew not only what each of us could do, but also what each of us would do when put to the test and when responsibility was given us. Then, when the time came for our habitation on mortal earth, all things were prepared and the servants of the Lord chosen and ordained to their respective missions.
Paul said to the Ephesian Saints:
3 Blessed be the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ
4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love. –(Eph. 1:3-4).
Near the beginning of President Taylor’s editorial that I just quoted, he addresses the unnamed woman to whom he was writing with these questions,
Lady-whence comest thou? Thine origin? What art thou doing here? Whither art thou going, and what is thy destiny? Declare unto me if thou hast understanding? Knowest thou not, that thou art a spark of Deity, struck from the fire of his eternal blaze, and brought forth in the midst of eternal burning?
I suspect that statement is not allegorical, but is a real description of our origins. Just a few quick examples: Members of the Council in Heaven are sometimes called stars in the scriptures, other times they are collectively called “the heavens” An example of the first is the Lord’s question to Job,
4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)”
An example of the second is Isaiah’s description of a Council meeting in Isaiah 49 (but it doesn’t work well unless you use the Book of Mormon version in 1 Nephi 20, which is what I will quote. This Isaiah is different from the one in the Bible. In the Bible the chapter is about Cyrus, king of Persia. In the Book of Mormon the chapter is about the war in heaven and Joseph Smith’s role in it.
14 Hearken unto me, O Jacob, and Israel my called [“called” may mean called the way we use it in the church today, but as in the first verse which I will quote below, it more likely means “named” suggesting that “Israel is a covenant name], for I am he; I am the first, and I am also the last. Mine hand hath also laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens. [It becomes clear as we go on that “the heavens” are the members of the Council] [To “span” is to measure, I presume this means he has placed his right hand on the heads of each of the members of the Council, measuring them, thus designating them as sacred space — a temple.] I call unto them [the heavens] and they [the heavens] stand up together. [One stands to make a covenant, see 2 Kings 3:1-4 and Psalm 82 where the gods ask God to “arise” so they make a covenant with him.] All ye [the heavens], assemble yourselves [i.e. at the Council] , and hear; who among them hath declared these things unto them? The Lord hath loved him [that turns out to be the Prophet Joseph, by the way]; yea, and he will fulfill his word which he hath declared by them; and he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall come upon the Chaldeans. (1 Ne. 20:14)
At the beginning of that same chapter Isaiah says the same thing:
1 Hearken and hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism, who swear [covenant] by the name of the Lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, yet they swear [covenant] not in truth nor in righteousness.
3 Behold, I have declared the former things from the beginning;
5 And I have even from the beginning declared to thee; (1 Ne. 20: 1-5)”
I checked and found there are more phrases like “the beginning” and “before you were born” and that sort of thing, in this chapter of Isaiah than in any other part of the Old Testament except the creation story in Genesis.
So it appears that very early on in our existence we made covenants, and that the new name associated with those covenants was “Israel.” The tree is all the “Israel” in this world, just as it is each individual who has taken the covenant name of Israel.