Sunday School Lesson 13

Lesson 13: Jacob 5-7

We will concentrate on chapter 5, the longest chapter in the Book of Mormon. However, because chapters 4 and 5 were one chapter in the first edition of the Book of Mormon and I think that Jacob 4:15-18 are an essential to understanding the allegory, I suggest that you read them as part of the lesson.

Rather than the usual verse by verse list of thought questions, here are two outlines of the chapter followed by a few general thought questions on chapter 5 and then several questions on chapters 6-7.

Outline 1

Jacob 4:15-16: The stumbling stone is also the only possible foundation.

Verses 17-18: If someone has rejected the only stone that could be their foundation, how can it become that foundation? (Compare to Romans 11.)

Jacob 5:3: The master finds the olive tree (the house of Israel) in “decay.”

Verses 4-5: The master prunes, it digs about it, and nourishes hoping it will send out new shoots.

Verse 6: It sends out new shoots, but the top dies.

Verses 7: In an effort to save the tree, the master commands his servant to bring wild olive branches to be grafted in, and he says they will burn the old branches.

Verse 8: The master says he will take the new shoots and graft them in somewhere else. What matters most is that the root of the old tree be preserved.

Verse 11: The master has the grafted old tree dug about, pruned, and nourished, saying he has grafted in the new branches in an attempt to save the root.

Verses 13-14: The master takes the new shoots to secret places in the garden and plants them to preserve them and their fruit.

Verse 17: The tree into which the wild branches were grafted bears good fruit, fruit like the natural fruit. The tree has been saved.

Verses 20-25: The master and the servant visit the transplanted new shoots. Two have been placed in poor spots in the garden but have produced good fruit. One has been placed in a good spot, but has produced mixed fruit: some branches bear good fruit; some don’t.

Verse 26: The master commands the servant to cut off the branches that do not bear good fruit and to burn them.

Verse 27-28: The servant dissuades him. They dig about and nourish all the trees in the vineyard.

Verses 30-32: When they return to the original, grafted tree, they discover that it bears a lot of fruit, none of it good.

Verses 38-40: When they check the transplanted trees they discover that they too all bear bad fruit. The good branch of the tree that brought forth mixed fruit has withered away.

Verse 48: The servant suggests that the trees have gone bad because the tops have been allowed to “overcome” the roots.

Verses 49-51: The master says, “Let’s cut all of them down and burn them,” but the servant asks him to wait and he agrees.

Verses 52-56: In order to save the roots, the master and the servant remove the worst of the branches of the old, grafted tree and graft the natural branches back in. Then they graft branches from the old tree onto the transplanted trees.

Verse 62: The master orders that the trees be dug about and nourished one more, final time.

Verse 65: As the trees grow, the master commands that the workers are to gradually remove the worst branches.

Verses 73-74: By removing the worst branches gradually and keeping the growth of the tops in line with the root system, the trees begin to produce good fruit again, each of them equal to the other.

Verses 77-76: The Lord of the vineyard gathers fruit for a long time from these trees, but suggests that some of the branches will eventually go bad again. He says that when that happens he will preserve the good and put the bad “in its own place.” In the end, however, he will burn the entire vineyard.

Outline 2

a. The stumbling stone and the foundation stone are the same.
b. How can a stumbling stone become a foundation stone?

a. The olive tree is found in decay.
b. It is nourished, but produces only a few new shoots; the old part remains decayed.
c. The wild is grafted in; the new shoots are transplanted.

a. The old tree bears good fruit; of 3 transplants, three produce good fruit and one produces some of each.
b. The master is dissuaded from destroying the bad branches on the one transplanted tree.

a. Later all the trees are producing bad fruit and the good branches of the one previously mixed tree has withered away. The cause: the tops grew faster than the roots could bear.
b. The servant dissuades the master from destroying the entire garden.

a. They cross graft the trees.
b. They nourish the trees and gradually remove the worst branches.
c. All of the trees begin to produce good fruit.

Some will produce bad fruit in the future; those branches that do will be removed.

At the end the whole garden will be burned.

Overall Questions: Chapter 5

1. Why do the scriptures use allegories and metaphors? What might that say about how we should think about the scriptures? Might it say anything about how we should think? Does the fact that a prophet uses metaphor suggest that the things that he teaches might all be “only” metaphorical? Why not? Should we, perhaps, teach our children more about metaphor and allegory than we usually do? Should we, perhaps, learn to use them more than we usually do?

2. Who or what do each of the elements of the allegory represent? Verse 3 identifies the original tree. What does the wild tree represent? The master? The servant? The grafting of the wild branches into the old tree? The transplanting of the old branches? Pruning, digging about, and nourishing? The good fruit? The bad fruit?

3. What does each event in the story stand for? Does this allegory have one meaning, one way of being understood? If so, why is it given as an allegory? Why not just tell us the point? If not, what are some of the things it teaches us?

4. In two different places the servant dissuades the vineyard master from carrying out his plans for destruction, once with bad results, once with good. What might this teach us? About ourselves? About prophets? About the Lord?

5. Why was the allegory of Zenos important to the Nephites?

6. Why is it important to us?

7. Why is the olive tree used in this allegory?

8. What other trees are important scriptural symbols? The trees in the Garden of Eden? The Tree of Life in Lehi’s dream? The tree that grows from the seed planted in our hearts (Alma 32:37)? The cross? Any others? Why is a tree such an appropriate symbol? Does the use of the tree as a symbol in each of these places connect the others in some way or ways? How?

Chapter 6

How is the prophesy of this chapter related to the allegory? Why does Jacob first read/record the allegory, then give a prophesy of his own that has a similar message, if not the same one? To whom is Jacob speaking, those inside of Israel (the Church) or those outside? How is that significant?

Verses 4-5: How are these two verses related to one another? One way to think about that is to ask what to make of the “wherefore” at the beginning of verse 5.

Verses 11-12: Jacob says commands “repent,” then he commands “be wise.” Do these mean the same thing? What kind of wisdom is repentance? Is the wisdom of repentance prudential: we will avoid our guilt if we do? Or is it something else? Is repentance, the might change of heart, itself a kind of wisdom?

Chapter 7

Why does this story follow the allegory of the olive tree? What is the thematic connection?

Verses 1, 4: Do these verses suggest that perhaps Sherem was an outsider, someone who did not come from among Jacob’s people and was not a native speaker of their language?

4 comments for “Sunday School Lesson 13

  1. March 22, 2004 at 4:29 pm

    Anyone notice the significance of the way the apostasy is described here? The reason that there is all bad fruit is because the tops grew faster than the roots could support. I wonder if part of the problem with the early apostasy was simply the rapid growth of Christianity that the church couldn’t keep up with. It’s a problem that plagues a lot of companies as well. I wonder if our own church has seen interesting ways of avoiding this. (i.e. controversial doctrines in the Nauvoo era) Perhaps even our own current slowing of growth may be a blessing as much as a curse?

    Also, doesn’t Jacob 5 seem to contradict most accounts of the last days? There the judgment of fire is averted and the bad branches are *gradually* removed.

    Lots of little things in this chapter that are often interesting if not problematic to a future historical reading. (Problematic in the sense of calling into question our assumptions about the future)

  2. Gary Cooper
    March 22, 2004 at 5:05 pm


    Good points. In last year’s New Testament study I made the point over and over in the Gospel Doctrine class that I teach that one of the reasons for the Apostasy was the inability to call enough appropriate leadership to nourish the huge numbers of converts, and that the modern Church has learned a great deal from that lesson.

    I agree, that the current slow down in growth of membership may be a blessing, especially if it forces us to re-think and adapt how we preach the Gospel and perfect the saints. I think the move toward encouraging more member-oriented missionary efforts, prayerfully selecting non-member friends to share the Gospel with, etc., is part of this reappraisal, as well as Pres. Hinckley’s renewed focus on hometeaching and the fellowship needs of new converts. We are simply losing too many people, especially in non-English speaking areas, needlessly. I wonder, though, if we going to see the kind of statements from the Brethren that “separate wheat from chaff” in our day as was the case in the early days of the Restoration. Maybe–Ezra Taft Benson and H. Verlan Anderson though so.

    Finally, I have wondered too, about why the end of the vineyard seems different than the catyclismic ending found in other scriptures. It maybe that this allegory is dealing more with the spiritual condition of Israel, whereas many other scriptures are covering both physical as well as spiritual events, but that’s just a guess.

  3. greenfrog
    March 23, 2004 at 10:51 am

    As to why allegorical presentation rather than exposition?

    It seems to me that symbolism in general, and allegory in particular, is the language of dreams. Dream “logic” works differently, is differently persuasive, than formal reasoning. It conveys one’s sense of an idea without facilitating the critical mode responses that exposition can (and frequently does, based on the back-and-forth that occurs here and elsewhere on Web discussion boards). For example, Jacob’s allegory allows him to highlight the gardener’s hand and involvement in causing and shaping the events of the olive grove. It is not hard to imagine that if he had simply described the movements of the society that listeners might be more inclined to quibble with the reason that some of the branches of the family turned bad or good.

    In many ways, Jacob’s allegory seems to me the parallel of Lehi and Nephi’s dreams. In the allegory and each account of the dream, we are engaged in trying to discern the meaning of the story rather than existentially debating about whether the story has any meaning at all. Presenting the allegory inspires a mythic response, rather than a reasoned one.

  4. March 24, 2004 at 11:50 pm

    I’ve been thinking about how to teach this lesson because it seems like a difficult one. But in conversation with some friends who also are Gospel Doctrine teachers, we came up with an idea that I like and that may be helpful to others. The lesson plan is designed around the fact that Jacob himself gives an interpretation of the allegory, with his introduction in 4:15-18, in which he says that it answers the question of how the stumbling stone becomes the corner stone, and in chapter 6, in which verses such as 3-5 and 11-13 give the heart of his answer to that question and, so, an interpretation of chapter 5. I’ll start with the verses from chapter 4 and discuss the problem, including what it means to us. Then I’ll shift to chapter 6 to discuss Jacob’s interpretation of the allegory. Then, assuming that there is time, I’ll go back to chapter 5 and ask the class to talk about the allegory in terms of the introduction and the interpretation of chapter 6.

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