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Zenos’s Allegory of the Olive Tree
1 Behold, my brethren, do ye not remember to have read the words of the prophet Zenos, which he spake unto the house of Israel, saying:
2 Hearken, O ye house of Israel, and hear the words of me, a prophet of the Lord.
Zenos is a prophet from the plates of brass, but not one who is recorded in the version of the Old Testament that has come to us through history. The brass plates were kept by descendants of Joseph of Egypt, and they had their inheritance in the northern kingdom of Israel. The Old Testament as we have received it came through the southern kingdom of Judah. That division had occurred over three hundred years before the Book of Mormon story begins. Thus, there were three hundred years in which the northern kingdom had their own prophets, recorded in their own records, but who were distinct from both the prophets and records kept in the kingdom of Judah.
While we are accustomed to a specific collection of books that we call the Bible, before there was such a collection there were multiple copies of separate books which were later combined into a canon. There were other writings that were left out. The most commonly known set of writings are known as the Apocrypha, a set of pre-Christian books accepted by the Catholic Church, but not accepted by Protestants and those influenced by Protestant ideas. The fact that there was no specific authorized canon meant that the northern kingdom scriptures kept among the descendants of Joseph could be brought to Jerusalem and then added to with the southern prophets after its arrival. It is in that way that we have the lost northern kingdom prophets Zenos and Zenock, and still have the southern kingdom prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah.
3 For behold, thus saith the Lord, I will liken thee, O house of Israel, like unto a tame olive tree, which a man took and nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.
4 And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard went forth, and he saw that his olive tree began to decay; and he said: I will prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it, that perhaps it may shoot forth young and tender branches, and it perish not.
Most people in the ancient world were involved with things that grew. They might plant for their own sustenance, or they might have orchards producing fruit or—in the case of this allegory—olives. Olive production was important in the ancient near east, and the images that will be invoked would have been very familiar to an ancient population so attuned to the work involved in caring for fields and orchards.
Most modern readers of this allegory are not so familiar with caring for fields and orchards, and so we need a little more information than did ancient readers of the same allegory. Nevertheless, botanists who have examined the many details given in this allegory have found that the processes mentioned, and the actions taken in the allegory, replicate good practices in olive-growing culture.
One of the interesting aspects of the allegory is the seeming confusion of vineyards and orchards. In verse 3, Israel is likened to a tame olive tree, which was in a vineyard. In verse 4 it is the lord of the vineyard, not the orchard, who attempts to save the tree. While this seems unusual, it is an old tradition. In the Eastern Mediterranean, olive trees were planted in and around vineyards. The trees protected the vines from strong winds and provided other symbiotic benefits.
There is an allegory using an olive tree in Romans 11:13–24. That allegory is given in a context where it also assumes that those who read it understand the processes being discussed. It also speaks of branches broken off and grafted in. The purpose of that allegory is to discuss the inclusion of gentiles in the blessings of the house of Israel, which is only a part of Zenos’ allegory. In general, more complete and complex stories are considered to be older, and upon that principle we would expect that Paul is tapping into a long tradition, rather than the Book of Mormon allegory being taken from Paul. This is particularly true when we understand that Zenos’ allegory required an intimate knowledge of how olive trees were cared for.
Branches Grafted to Preserve the Tree
5 And it came to pass that he pruned it, and digged about it, and nourished it according to his word.
6 And it came to pass that after many days it began to put forth somewhat a little, young and tender branches; but behold, the main top thereof began to perish.
The allegory begins with the efforts to save the tree. The tree is the house of Israel, and the various elements of the tree will represent different aspects of the history of the house of Israel. The first, and most important part, is that the olive tree is old and has begun to decay. This is a theme of many prophecies of Israel just before the Assyrian invasion. We have the record of Isaiah preaching that the house of Israel has strayed from Yahweh. Clearly, Zenos preached the same message in the north.
The efforts to save the tree begin with the first level of care. It is pruned and fertilized. That suggests that there are religious reforms attempting to return to a more correct form of worship. In the southern kingdom, we have the reforms of Hezekiah as an example of this pruning and nourishing.
The result is that there is some success, but most of Israel continues. The top of the tree is the larger amount of the leaves and branches, and therefore the location where there should be fruit. That continues to perish. More is required.
7 And it came to pass that the master of the vineyard saw it, and he said unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, go and pluck the branches from a wild olive tree, and bring them hither unto me; and we will pluck off those main branches which are beginning to wither away, and we will cast them into the fire that they may be burned.
8 And behold, saith the Lord of the vineyard, I take away many of these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will; and it mattereth not that if it so be that the root of this tree will perish, I may preserve the fruit thereof unto myself; wherefore, I will take these young and tender branches, and I will graft them whithersoever I will.
The next step is to remove the dying branches of the house of Israel. At the time of Zenos, this would have been a direct reference to the Assyrian invasion that took away the top, or more importantly, the population of the kingdom of Israel. They were literally plucked off and were taken away. The idea that they were burned in the fire might simply suggest the scattering. The kingdom of Israel was effectively destroyed, but the people were not.
The young and tender branches were those that had heeded the prophets’ call for repentance. These were taken away. It is possible that since Zenos is seeing this prophecy from the perspective of the northern kingdom, some of the young branches were carried away to Jerusalem. Many were among those who were scattered among the ten tribes. The allegory suggests that there would be righteous among those scattered, who would later be gathered.
As Jacob tells the allegory, he clearly adds his own perspective, seeing the Babylonian invasion as doing the very same thing. The descendants of Lehi were one of the young and tender branches that were taken away.
9 Take thou the branches of the wild olive tree, and graft them in, in the stead thereof; and these which I have plucked off I will cast into the fire and burn them, that they may not cumber the ground of my vineyard.
10 And it came to pass that the servant of the Lord of the vineyard did according to the word of the Lord of the vineyard, and grafted in the branches of the wild olive tree.
11 And the Lord of the vineyard caused that it should be digged about, and pruned, and nourished, saying unto his servant: It grieveth me that I should lose this tree; wherefore, that perhaps I might preserve the roots thereof that they perish not, that I might preserve them unto myself, I have done this thing.
12 Wherefore, go thy way; watch the tree, and nourish it, according to my words.
One of the ways to preserve an olive tree was to graft in branches from a wild olive tree. The allegory suggests this, which is completely appropriate for ancient practice. The dead branches are destroyed by Assyria or Babylon. The wild branches are gentiles. Gentile is the definition of anyone who was not of the natural lineage of the house of Israel. This infusion of the gentiles began before the time of Christ when there were a number of gentiles who converted to Judaism, but many more who were sympathizers without officially converting to the religion. As Paul would later explain, one of the hindrances was the Mosaic law’s insistence upon circumcision, which was not only not practiced in the Greek-influenced world but seen with derision as a defilement of the body. Nevertheless, for the purposes of the allegory, these gentiles added to the number of believers, and they strengthened the faith.
An important lesson for the way God works in our lives is contained in verse 12’s admonition to “go thy way; watch the tree, and nourish it.” We will later learn that this will not be sufficient, but the important aspect is that God will work with us over his time, not ours. While we might hope for a mighty miracle that will change things dramatically and immediately, God moves more slowly. His method is to make small changes and wait for us to learn them and react to them.
13 And these will I place in the nethermost part of my vineyard, whithersoever I will, it mattereth not unto thee; and I do it that I may preserve unto myself the natural branches of the tree; and also, that I may lay up fruit thereof against the season, unto myself; for it grieveth me that I should lose this tree and the fruit thereof.
14 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard went his way, and hid the natural branches of the tame olive tree in the nethermost parts of the vineyard, some in one and some in another, according to his will and pleasure.
The allegory returns to the young and tender shoots that were good, but which were removed. Those were taken to different parts of the vineyard and planted to give them a chance to grow. From Zenos’s perspective, these would be the lost ten tribes, among whom there were righteous people. For Jacob, the Nephites were clearly one of those young and tender branches. They had clearly been planted in the nethermost part of the vineyard, literally on the other side of the world. They would grow in isolation from the rest of the trees of the vineyard. Nevertheless, they were part of the original tree, part of the house of Israel. They were preserved so that the house of Israel might continue and might also grow.
The First Return to the Vineyard: The Fruit is Good
15 And it came to pass that a long time passed away, and the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Come, let us go down into the vineyard, that we may labor in the vineyard.
16 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard, and also the servant, went down into the vineyard to labor. And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: Behold, look here; behold the tree.
17 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard looked and beheld the tree in the which the wild olive branches had been grafted; and it had sprung forth and begun to bear fruit. And he beheld that it was good; and the fruit thereof was like unto the natural fruit.
18 And he said unto the servant: Behold, the branches of the wild tree have taken hold of the moisture of the root thereof, that the root thereof hath brought forth much strength; and because of the much strength of the root thereof the wild branches have brought forth tame fruit. Now, if we had not grafted in these branches, the tree thereof would have perished. And now, behold, I shall lay up much fruit, which the tree thereof hath brought forth; and the fruit thereof I shall lay up against the season, unto mine own self.
The allegory is first a story, and secondly a lesson. The lesson will not be taught unless there is a story to follow. Therefore, the allegory spends time on the efforts of the Lord of the vineyard and his servant. Some commentators have suggested that we are seeing Elohim the father and Jesus the son as the Lord of the vineyard and the servant respectively. That would be a modern perspective, but not one that would have informed Zenos’ or Jacob’s understanding.
As children of Israel, Zenos and Jacob believed in one God, who was Yahweh. Therefore, the Lord of the vineyard had to be Yahweh. As Yahweh is the celestial realm designation for the mortal realm’s Jesus, the Lord of the vineyard and servant would not be the same person. It is better to understand Yahweh as the Lord of the vineyard and perhaps a prophet as the servant.
The two come to the vineyard after waiting to see what the effect of the last effort produced. It had begun to work. The grafting in of the gentiles allowed the original covenant to be refreshed, and the results were “like unto the natural fruit.” That is, there is no difference in God’s eyes whether one was naturally of the house of Israel or adopted into it. The covenants nourish all who come to that source.
19 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Come, let us go to the nethermost part of the vineyard, and behold if the natural branches of the tree have not brought forth much fruit also, that I may lay up of the fruit thereof against the season, unto mine own self.
20 And it came to pass that they went forth whither the master had hid the natural branches of the tree, and he said unto the servant: Behold these; and he beheld the first that it had brought forth much fruit; and he beheld also that it was good. And he said unto the servant: Take of the fruit thereof, and lay it up against the season, that I may preserve it unto mine own self; for behold, said he, this long time have I nourished it, and it hath brought forth much fruit.
21 And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: How comest thou hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot in all the land of thy vineyard.
22 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto him: Counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor spot of ground; wherefore, I said unto thee, I have nourished it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit.
The Lord of the vineyard and the servant go to examine one of the young and tender branches planted in the nethermost part of the vineyard. The first thing described is that the new tree is flourishing. Then comes the important question.
The servant asks why they were planted in such a place when it was poor ground; it was “the poorest spot in all the land of [the] vineyard.” This place is not clearly defined in the real world and might not need to be. The point is that the location is not the reason for the flourishing of the gospel. Even difficult places can yield faithful children of Israel. It is for that reason that God nourishes and cares for all his children, wherever they might be.
23 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Look hither; behold I have planted another branch of the tree also; and thou knowest that this spot of ground was poorer than the first. But, behold the tree. I have nourished it this long time, and it hath brought forth much fruit; therefore, gather it, and lay it up against the season, that I may preserve it unto mine own self.
24 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said again unto his servant: Look hither, and behold another branch also, which I have planted; behold that I have nourished it also, and it hath brought forth fruit.
The allegory moves to a spot even poorer than the one just examined. This reinforces the point of the lesson, which is that God is able to nourish his children regardless of where they find themselves. The repetition of the action of going to a poor spot in the vineyard and finding a flourishing tree does not only reinforce the lesson, it emphasizes it. The progression for poor ground to even poorer ground is intended to underscore the ability of Yahweh to nourish the house of Israel wherever they might be.
For Zenos and Jacob, these two events would signify the dispersal of the ten tribes. For Jacob, it would include those taken away to Babylon. However, it does not yet describe the Nephites.
25 And he said unto the servant: Look hither and behold the last. Behold, this have I planted in a good spot of ground; and I have nourished it this long time, and only a part of the tree hath brought forth tame fruit, and the other part of the tree hath brought forth wild fruit; behold, I have nourished this tree like unto the others.
26 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Pluck off the branches that have not brought forth good fruit, and cast them into the fire.
27 But behold, the servant said unto him: Let us prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it a little longer, that perhaps it may bring forth good fruit unto thee, that thou canst lay it up against the season.
28 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard and the servant of the Lord of the vineyard did nourish all the fruit of the vineyard.
For Zenos, the allegory would continue to describe unknown peoples and places. It would be a generic understanding that contrasts the poor ground with the difficulties of the branches in the rich ground. Jacob saw this part of the allegory as dramatically personal. For Jacob, there would have been no question that the single planting that brought both wild and tame fruit represented the Lamanites and Nephites.
Since the allegory is created to teach a lesson, the Lord of the vineyard says to the servant: “pluck off the branches that have not brought forth good fruit, and cast them into the fire.” Modern readers assume a more patient and lenient God and might be surprised at this reaction from the Lord of the vineyard. This story might be best seen in the light of Abram bargaining with Yahweh to spare Sodom if a decreasing number of righteous people were found.
The result is that the Lord of the vineyard grants a reprieve and attempts to save the whole tree. The principle that the Lord will act on our behalf, and then wait for results, is repeated.
29 And it came to pass that a long time had passed away, and the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Come, let us go down into the vineyard, that we may labor again in the vineyard. For behold, the time draweth near, and the end soon cometh; wherefore, I must lay up fruit against the season, unto mine own self.
30 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard and the servant went down into the vineyard; and they came to the tree whose natural branches had been broken off, and the wild branches had been grafted in; and behold all sorts of fruit did cumber the tree.
31 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard did taste of the fruit, every sort according to its number. And the Lord of the vineyard said: Behold, this long time have we nourished this tree, and I have laid up unto myself against the season much fruit.
32 But behold, this time it hath brought forth much fruit, and there is none of it which is good. And behold, there are all kinds of bad fruit; and it profiteth me nothing, notwithstanding all our labor; and now it grieveth me that I should lose this tree.
The allegory returns to the original tree. It has produced much fruit, indicative that it is thriving. However, when the Lord of the vineyard tastes the fruit, it is not good. It has the appearance of prosperity but is still useless for its intended purpose.
The real-world sense of the allegory now moves to a time when Christianity has been grated into the covenant root of Israel. Christianity, in particular, has prospered, and the Jews have also become more populous. In numbers, the people who have inherited the covenants are large. For the Lord, however, it is not the numbers, but rather, the transformation of souls that matters. Individuals are the fruit of the tree, and the ultimate goal is to transform the fruit into something more pure and more important. For the olive tree, it was the production of the oil. For God it is the refinement of the soul.
The long time that has passed has led to a false impression that the tree of Israel is doing well. It is not. It is not producing the quality transformation that is desired. Thus again, something needs to be done. Even with so many failures, the Lord of the vineyard continues to attempt to save the tree so that he might have the desired fruit.
33 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto mine own self?
34 And the servant said unto his master: Behold, because thou didst graft in the branches of the wild olive tree they have nourished the roots, that they are alive and they have not perished; wherefore thou beholdest that they are yet good.
35 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: The tree profiteth me nothing, and the roots thereof profit me nothing so long as it shall bring forth evil fruit.
36 Nevertheless, I know that the roots are good, and for mine own purpose I have preserved them; and because of their much strength they have hitherto brought forth, from the wild branches, good fruit.
37 But behold, the wild branches have grown and have overrun the roots thereof; and because that the wild branches have overcome the roots thereof it hath brought forth much evil fruit; and because that it hath brought forth so much evil fruit thou beholdest that it beginneth to perish; and it will soon become ripened, that it may be cast into the fire, except we should do something for it to preserve it.
The solution for the main tree is to take drastic measures. The important statement is that the roots are good. Those roots are the covenants God has made with the house of Israel. Those covenants are good and remain for those who can access them. The Lord of the vineyard does not see a reason to alter the covenants themselves.
The blame is put on the wild branches, which have been identified as the gentiles. Thus, this part of the allegory would describe the time of Christian apostasy. It was a time when there was a great increase in the numbers of Christians, but the loss of some of the pure doctrines had made it difficult to receive the full benefits of the covenant with the house of Israel.
Once again, a possible solution is to destroy the entire experiment, but that is not what the Lord of the vineyard desires. The desire is to preserve the roots, or the covenant, if at all possible.
38 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto his servant: Let us go down into the nethermost parts of the vineyard, and behold if the natural branches have also brought forth evil fruit.
39 And it came to pass that they went down into the nethermost parts of the vineyard. And it came to pass that they beheld that the fruit of the natural branches had become corrupt also; yea, the first and the second and also the last; and they had all become corrupt.
40 And the wild fruit of the last had overcome that part of the tree which brought forth good fruit, even that the branch had withered away and died.
The scene moves to the New World and to the Lamanites and the Nephites. Both parts of the original branch planted in this land have now become corrupted. One had become corrupt earlier, but not both of them had. The earlier state showed the relationship between Lamanites and Nephites while the Nephites were righteous. However, the Nephites did not continue in righteousness. Although the allegory doesn’t know of the promise of the land for the Nephites, it does depict the fulfillment of the negative aspect of that promise.
The Nephites did not continue in righteousness—therefore they were destroyed. In the allegory, they are the branch that withered away and died.
The Servant Urges the Lord to Spare the Vineyard
41 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?
42 Behold, I knew that all the fruit of the vineyard, save it were these, had become corrupted. And now these which have once brought forth good fruit have also become corrupted; and now all the trees of my vineyard are good for nothing save it be to be hewn down and cast into the fire.
43 And behold this last, whose branch hath withered away, I did plant in a good spot of ground; yea, even that which was choice unto me above all other parts of the land of my vineyard.
44 And thou beheldest that I also cut down that which cumbered this spot of ground, that I might plant this tree in the stead thereof.
45 And thou beheldest that a part thereof brought forth good fruit, and a part thereof brought forth wild fruit; and because I plucked not the branches thereof and cast them into the fire, behold, they have overcome the good branch that it hath withered away.
46 And now, behold, notwithstanding all the care which we have taken of my vineyard, the trees thereof have become corrupted, that they bring forth no good fruit; and these I had hoped to preserve, to have laid up fruit thereof against the season, unto mine own self. But, behold, they have become like unto the wild olive tree, and they are of no worth but to be hewn down and cast into the fire; and it grieveth me that I should lose them.
47 But what could I have done more in my vineyard? Have I slackened mine hand, that I have not nourished it? Nay, I have nourished it, and I have digged about it, and I have pruned it, and I have dunged it; and I have stretched forth mine hand almost all the day long, and the end draweth nigh. And it grieveth me that I should hew down all the trees of my vineyard, and cast them into the fire that they should be burned. Who is it that has corrupted my vineyard?
Verses 41 through 45 show the Lord’s lament for the New World branch of the house of Israel. Verses 46 and 47 return to the perspective of the entire vineyard. Before examining the New World, the Old World tree into which the gentiles had been grafted appeared to be laden with fruit, but the fruit was bitter. The New World tree that was planted in the good ground has become corrupt, with the previously fruitful branch dying entirely.
Before providing any hope, the allegory has the Lord of the vineyard consider the possible loss of the entire vineyard. That loss cannot be placed at the feet of neither the Lord of the vineyard nor his servant. Yet it happened, and therefore the lament: “who is it that has corrupted my vineyard?
The answer will not lay blame at the feet of any person, but rather on the nature of the world.
48 And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard—have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves. Behold, I say, is not this the cause that the trees of thy vineyard have become corrupted?
49 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Let us go to and hew down the trees of the vineyard and cast them into the fire, that they shall not cumber the ground of my vineyard, for I have done all. What could I have done more for my vineyard?
50 But, behold, the servant said unto the Lord of the vineyard: Spare it a little longer.
51 And the Lord said: Yea, I will spare it a little longer, for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard.
As a story, the tension is built by having the Lord of the vineyard ready to cut down all trees and cast them into the fire. The servant prevails upon the Lord of the vineyard to be yet patient, and the Lord acquiesces.
As with the comment on Jacob 5:25–28, the picture of a God wanting to destroy who is being held off by his servant is part of the story, but not a reflection of the reality of God. It is God who has planted the vineyard and who desires it to thrive, and who ultimately does all that is possible to save humankind.
Natural Branches Grafted Back into the Tree
52 Wherefore, let us take of the branches of these which I have planted in the nethermost parts of my vineyard, and let us graft them into the tree from whence they came; and let us pluck from the tree those branches whose fruit is most bitter, and graft in the natural branches of the tree in the stead thereof.
53 And this will I do that the tree may not perish, that, perhaps, I may preserve unto myself the roots thereof for mine own purpose.
54 And, behold, the roots of the natural branches of the tree which I planted whithersoever I would are yet alive; wherefore, that I may preserve them also for mine own purpose, I will take of the branches of this tree, and I will graft them in unto them. Yea, I will graft in unto them the branches of their mother tree, that I may preserve the roots also unto mine own self, that when they shall be sufficiently strong perhaps they may bring forth good fruit unto me, and I may yet have glory in the fruit of my vineyard.
55 And it came to pass that they took from the natural tree which had become wild, and grafted in unto the natural trees, which also had become wild.
56 And they also took of the natural trees which had become wild, and grafted into their mother tree.
This part of the allegory is concerned with the gathering of Israel. The allegory spoke of Old World branches that had been scattered, at least including the lost ten tribes. Those are to be gathered in and brought back to the house of Israel. The New World branches are to be gathered. They too are to be reunited. The allegory does not specify locations, and those natural branches in the poor soil are not specifically mentioned, although it is certain that they too are part of the gathering.
In verse 55 it can be a little confusing because it says that they “took from the natural tree which had become wild, and grafted in unto the natural trees, which also had become wild.” The original, or the mother tree, is one of the trees which had become wild. The other branches that became wild were the young and tender shoots that were originally broken off and placed in far regions. The botanical process is to cross-graft branches among the trees. The spiritual process is to reunite scattered Israel through the restoration of the gospel.
Additional Servants Called
57 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Pluck not the wild branches from the trees, save it be those which are most bitter; and in them ye shall graft according to that which I have said.
58 And we will nourish again the trees of the vineyard, and we will trim up the branches thereof; and we will pluck from the trees those branches which are ripened, that must perish, and cast them into the fire.
59 And this I do that, perhaps, the roots thereof may take strength because of their goodness; and because of the change of the branches, that the good may overcome the evil.
There are two processes occurring. The first is to save that which is salvageable. The second is to pluck off those that are most bitter, those farthest gone into apostasy, those for whom there is no hope. This is a principle taught in Proverbs 10:24: “The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him: but the desire of the righteous shall be granted.” There is, of course, an ultimate time when this distinction is made. It is made at this point in the allegory to show that there are those who will not bend to the will of the Lord.
After the section describing the despair of thinking that all was lost, these actions show the continued attempts to save humankind. Note that the image is that the roots may take strength. The root continues to be God’s covenant promises to Israel.
60 And because that I have preserved the natural branches and the roots thereof, and that I have grafted in the natural branches again into their mother tree, and have preserved the roots of their mother tree, that, perhaps, the trees of my vineyard may bring forth again good fruit; and that I may have joy again in the fruit of my vineyard, and, perhaps, that I may rejoice exceedingly that I have preserved the roots and the branches of the first fruit—
61 Wherefore, go to, and call servants, that we may labor diligently with our might in the vineyard, that we may prepare the way, that I may bring forth again the natural fruit, which natural fruit is good and the most precious above all other fruit.
62 Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our might this last time, for behold the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard.
63 Graft in the branches; begin at the last that they may be first, and that the first may be last, and dig about the trees, both old and young, the first and the last; and the last and the first, that all may be nourished once again for the last time.
64 Wherefore, dig about them, and prune them, and dung them once more, for the last time, for the end draweth nigh. And if it be so that these last grafts shall grow, and bring forth the natural fruit, then shall ye prepare the way for them, that they may grow.
The important part of this section of the allegory comes in verses 62 and 64. The Lord of the vineyard notes that these efforts will be for one last time because the end is near. Those two concepts appear in both verse 62 and 64. These are the last actions the Lord will take for the salvation of humankind. What are those actions?
The root, or the covenant with Israel, has been preserved. The various scattered branches of the house of Israel are gathered in and grafted back into the mother tree. This last attempt is not simply the Lord of the vineyard and one servant, but a number of them, all laboring diligently that they might preserve “the natural fruit, which natural fruit is good and the most precious above all other fruit.
65 And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.
66 For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.
67 And the branches of the natural tree will I graft in again into the natural tree;
68 And the branches of the natural tree will I graft into the natural branches of the tree; and thus will I bring them together again, that they shall bring forth the natural fruit, and they shall be one.
69 And the bad shall be cast away, yea, even out of all the land of my vineyard; for behold, only this once will I prune my vineyard.
As the cross-grafted branches grow, the branches that that are not good will be cleared away. This is the winnowing of the wicked in the last days. Verses 68 and 69 essentially repeat the instructions in verse 65.
It is possible that this separation of the righteous from the wicked refers to the last days when Satan will be bound. The millennial state will be one where the wicked have been cast off, leaving only the righteous. This is an allegory covering the overall task of the Lord of the vineyard, so looking to that future date fits with the great scope of the allegory.
70 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard sent his servant; and the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few.
71 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto them: Go to, and labor in the vineyard, with your might. For behold, this is the last time that I shall nourish my vineyard; for the end is nigh at hand, and the season speedily cometh; and if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up unto myself against the time which will soon come.
72 And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.
73 And there began to be the natural fruit again in the vineyard; and the natural branches began to grow and thrive exceedingly; and the wild branches began to be plucked off and to be cast away; and they did keep the root and the top thereof equal, according to the strength thereof.
As noted in the previous episode, it is no longer just the Lord of the vineyard and a single servant. In the last days, many servants are sent to provide the gospel to those who are spiritually of the house of Israel, that they might be gathered in. The covenants and laws of the gospel are the way in which humankind learns of the path that leads to eternal life and salvation, and in the last days there is a full army of servants working to implant that message in the hearts of humankind.
The result is again a good one. “There began to be the natural fruit again in the vineyard; and the natural branches began to grow and thrive exceedingly.” The patience and hard work of the many servants was rewarded with success.
74 And thus they labored, with all diligence, according to the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard, even until the bad had been cast away out of the vineyard, and the Lord had preserved unto himself that the trees had become again the natural fruit; and they became like unto one body; and the fruits were equal; and the Lord of the vineyard had preserved unto himself the natural fruit, which was most precious unto him from the beginning.
75 And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them: Behold, for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will; and I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good, even like as it was in the beginning. And blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard.
Perhaps the most important part of the allegory is the comment about the fruit that was the result of all the various branches that were split off and returned. They included both those who were naturally of the house of Israel, and gentiles who were adopted in. In verse 74, the Lord of the vineyard says of the fruit of this entire process: “the Lord had preserved unto himself that the trees had become again the natural fruit; and they became like unto one body; and the fruits were equal.” It did not matter how one came to the covenant. The fruit is equal. Paul would later teach this very principle: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Verse 75 turns to the many servants and the Lord of the vineyard blesses them for their service. The result is “that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard. That sentiment is echoed in Doctrine and Covenants 18:16: “And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!”
76 For behold, for a long time will I lay up of the fruit of my vineyard unto mine own self against the season, which speedily cometh; and for the last time have I nourished my vineyard, and pruned it, and dug about it, and dunged it; wherefore I will lay up unto mine own self of the fruit, for a long time, according to that which I have spoken.
77 And when the time cometh that evil fruit shall again come into my vineyard, then will I cause the good and the bad to be gathered; and the good will I preserve unto myself, and the bad will I cast away into its own place. And then cometh the season and the end; and my vineyard will I cause to be burned with fire.
When the millennium arrives, there will be a time for improving the vineyard. At the end of that time will come the final end. At the end of the time allotted for this earth, there will be a final division between the wicked and the righteous. After the righteous are gathered to the Lord of the vineyard, the bad are “cast away into [their] own place.” The end of the earth is characterized by burning. As with other images of burning from this agrarian society, it is perhaps a signal of reseeding and renewal. We see nothing that comes after that burning, but we need not see it as a destruction. Perhaps it is a different beginning, when “the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” (Tenth Article of Faith).
Jacob ends a chapter with the end of the long quotation from Zenos. It is probable that it was the ending of the quotation that triggered the end of the chapter, as the next chapter is clearly the continuation of the discourse begun in chapter 4.
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