This chapter is an allegorical answer to Jacob’s question from the last one:
“And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these [the Jews], after having rejected the sure foundation [Christ], can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner?” Jacob 4:17
The olive tree allegory was given by an ancient prophet named Zenos. He told them the Lord had likened the house of Israel to a tame olive tree, which was “nourished in his vineyard; and it grew, and waxed old, and began to decay.” (3)
The master of the vineyard, which I assume is Christ, sees His people are beginning to decay and decides to “prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it, that perhaps it may shoot forth young and tender branches, and it perish not.” (4)
This pruning, digging, dunging, and nourishing concept with trees is used again and again in this chapter.
Pruning keeps trees healthy, by cutting off the dead or diseased parts, so new growth can flourish during the next growing season.
When God prunes us, He cuts off elements that are unproductive and that can lead to our spiritual wilting. Even healthy parts of a tree can be pruned at times when there are too much. Too many branches can be just as bad as dying branches, because they crowd each other out and can’t grow to their potential.
Once, not knowing better, I let my plum tree grow branches like crazy. So much fruit appeared, and I was thrilled. But as the fruit got heavier, whole branches began to break off under the weight. Since I hadn’t thinned them, the branches didn’t have room to grow and the roots were too small to keep up with the growth. The branches couldn’t bear the weight. Now, I know to prune a bunch of branches before the fruit grows, so the branches left can be strong enough to bear the weight of good fruit.
God is the master pruner.
When the loving Lord of the vineyard digged about the tree, it made me think about softening the soil, so the roots can more easily receive nutrients. Hard clay soil will stunt roots and choke them, not allowing them to breathe and get what they need, but if one digs about the soil, loosening it up and adding additives, the roots can then receive all the good in the soil.
The Lord nourishes us with his word (5). That is the supplement added to the softened soil to feed our testimonies of Christ and His restored gospel. Words from the living prophets, words from ancient prophets in scripture, and personal revelation from God feeds our roots, so our branches and fruit can thrive.
In the last chapter, we talked about the power of words, especially The Word (Jesus Christ). Worlds were created by words, and so are men. Words change the world, and words change men. Are we allowing God to dig about our soil so that we can be nourished by His good words?
After pruning, digging, and nourishing His people, the tree “began to put forth somewhat a little, young and tender branches; but behold, the main top thereof began to perish.” (6)
Remember, this is symbolic. It can mean different things. The young and tender branches, to me, represent a few believers, but as a whole, the children of Israel (the mother tree) began to perish in sin and wickedness.
So, the Lord decides to graft in some branches of a wild olive tree and cast away and burn those branches that are withering in sin and decay on the mother tree. The Lord takes “away many of these young and tender branches [from the main tree], and I will graft them whithersoever I will…” that he may “preserve the fruit thereof unto myself” (8) even if the root of the main tree withers and dies.
The servant grafts branches of the wild tree into the tame tree and burns the more wicked branches. This shows the dispersion of the Jews throughout the world. The Lord and His servant then prune, dig and nourish the tree some more. This caring for the tree shows God’s love for us. Even when we make mistakes and fall into sin, He gives us lots of chances to turn from our wicked ways and repent.
He is always pruning, digging, and nourishing for the sole purpose of bringing us back to Him to be saved.
The Lord tells his servant to “go thy way; watch the tree, and nourish it, according to my word.” (12)
- Am I listening to God’s words and choosing to be nourished by God’s watchmen on the tower? His prophets.
- Am I nourishing others around me, according to God’s words? Do I share my testimony of Christ and the good news of His saving Atonement with all that I meet?
The young and tender branches from the main tree are placed “in the nethermost part of my vineyard…” (13) He does this to preserve the heritage of His people, so a remnant, at least, will survive.
The foreign branches that were grafted into the house of Israel are spiritually strong and bearing good fruit. The wild branches gained strength from the root of the mother tree, and have given it life again.
Are my roots strong or weak? Is my testimony built upon rock or sand? Jesus is the Rock of our Redeemer.
The natural branches that he grafted in the nethermost part of his vineyard have born much good fruit, even though it was planted in the poorest spot of soil. (21) The Lord tells him he knew it was a poor spot. That’s why he nourished it so long. There is even a poorer spot of soil in 23, where he planted other offshoots of Israel,. Those people have flourished and brought forth good fruit.
The Lord shows his servant a tree he 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.” (25)
To me, this half & half tree symbolizes Lehi’s seed. They were a branch from the original tame olive tree that were transplanted into a far part of the vineyard (world), in a good spot of soil (the promised land). But they split into two separate peoples—the Lamanites who decayed spiritually and the Nephites who followed the Lord’s prophet.
The Lord tells the servant to “pluck off the branches that have not brought forth good fruit, and cast them into the fire.” (26) But the servant pleads for him to give the tree more time. He says, let us “Prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it a little longer, that perhaps it may bring forth good fruit unto thee.” (27)
We shouldn’t give up on people so fast either, even when they don’t seem interested in God’s word or living His commandments. We should emulate the servant and prune off rough or dying edges, dig about their soil and foundation of faith, and nourish them with the good word of Christ, hoping that perhaps they might someday bring forth good fruit.
After a long time, they find that the wild branches grafted onto the natural tree have brought forth all sorts of bad fruit that “did cumber the tree.” (30)
Cumber means to hinder or encumber by being in the way or to clutter up. The wild fruit hindered the tree from growing to its potential. It cluttered it up, so the pure, good fruit couldn’t grow.
- Do I have clutter in my life that cumbers my tree?
- What distractions could I cut off to help my spirit thrive?
- What could I do that I’m not doing now to nourish my soil?
Despite all the fruit, “none of it which is good.” (32) The Lord says, “What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto mine own self?” (33) The servant tells him that the wild branches kept the roots alive and it is still good (34). But the Lord says, “The tree profiteth me nothing, and the roots thereof profit me nothing so long as it shall bring forth evil fruit.” (35)
This shows that it’s more than just our core beliefs that matter. Our works must be good as well. If we say we believe in Christ, but do nothing to serve our fellowmen, our fruits are evil and profit us and the Lord nothing.
Maybe all these trees they view at this point, full of all kinds of bad fruit represent the Dark Ages, when God’s light was hidden and mankind suffered physically and spiritually because of it. When the Lord of the vineyard sees all this corruption and decay, he “wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?” (41)
God weeps over us when we turn away from Him, because He knows we will decay and rot without His nourishment.
He is grieved to think of losing any of his trees (people) that He’s worked so hard to prune and nourish. Even Lehi’s seed, the tree that used to be half good, half bad, has become totally corrupted, signaling the near end of the Nephite civilization.
He asks a question:
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?”Jacob 5:47
The servant answers:
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.”Jacob 5:48
- Do I ever forget or ignore God, taking strength unto myself to do my will, not His?
- Do I ever cause my God to weep?
The root of our testimony should be Christ. That root needs to be strong enough to support what’s above ground (our desires, actions, pursuits). If our testimony of Christ wavers (weak roots) and we grow our lives without Him, we can easily be blown over or produce bad fruit. If our roots are strong, He will bless us to thrive. Always.
The Lord wants to burn his corrupt trees, but the servant begs him to spare them a little longer. (50) The Lord agrees because “it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard.” (51) They do more pruning, grafting, and moving things around.
God shakes things up in our lives to help us remember to strengthen our roots, so our branches don’t grow faster than we have strength.
The COVID-19 virus
These uncertain times right now have shaken up the world. We have two choices as troubles come our way:
- turn to our Savior and hear Him so that we strengthen our spiritual roots, or
- choose to be bitter about these trials and harden our hearts.
Are my roots strong right now? How am I treating my fellowmen and women? If I’m hoarding, belittling others for not being prepared, or hardening my heart toward others, maybe my roots aren’t as strong as I think.
I believe Satan can use even righteousness against us. I have heard a few people almost brag about being prepared and put those who aren’t down. That attitude leads to pride, thinking we’re better than others because we followed the prophet. Satan has mastered the art of twisting good into bad.
What would Christ do if He were here? If He went to the store for toilet paper and knew many others needed it, would He load his cart up and take more than His share, leaving others without?
Would He brag about having plenty when others are suffering, especially the elderly who maybe can’t get out as easily, or are afraid to get out because they are more susceptible to the virus?
Or would Jesus share His bounty (which He had collected earlier when times were good) with the needy, with the downtrodden?
I think we know the answer.
So, let’s be careful in our thinking and judgments. Being prepared isn’t taught by the prophets so we can feel better than others when hard times hit. It is to help keep us from acting in fear. Fear squelches faith, and God doesn’t want us to get fearful. He also wants us to be our brother’s keeper, as much as is possible.
I believe when we share our bounty, instead of hoarding it, God will always bless us to be rich, even if it’s rich in joy, not money or supplies.
We need to remember that we are all beggars before God. Don’t look down on anyone, because we wouldn’t want God to turn us away when we beg Him for mercy?
If we find we aren’t as righteous or humble as we had supposed, it’s an easy thing to change. If our roots are weak and our branches wild and messy, turning to Christ through repentance can strengthen our roots immediately and clear out dead and decaying branches in our life. It is a great and marvelous blessing…if we use it.
Now, onward with the allegory…
The Lord and His servant do everything they can to keep their trees from perishing. They give them chance after chance and change their settings when needed to give them even better chances. All their work is so, “…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.” (59)
Change is not usually fun or without pain. But God hoped changes for His trees would help the good overcome the evil, if the tree strengthened its roots in Jesus Christ.
Share the good news of Christ
The Lord of the vineyard very much wants to rejoice in the fruit of His trees. So He calls his servant to call other servants to come and labor one last time with a mighty effort to save and reclaim all the trees of His vineyard.
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.”Jacob 5:61
This is a call for all members of Christ’s restored Church to work diligently in the vineyard to prepare the way for good fruit to be grown in the hearts of man. This good fruit that comes from having strong roots in Christ is most precious above all other fruit. It is the fruits of repentance and eternal salvation. What is better than that? Nothing here on earth comes close to comparing to those blessings.
Do I serve God with all my MIGHT? What does that kind of service feel like? Look like? What sins or weaknesses do I need to repent of to feel this strength in my life, so I can serve with might?
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.”Jacob 5:63
When we repent and are baptized in Jesus’s name, we covenant to take His name upon us, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments. He has asked us to graft branches into the mother tree, dig about the old and young trees, and nourish them with our might, so they might be saved.
Are we heeding His call and taking His name to the world? To our neighbor?
The value of opposition
The Lord tells His servants to clear the way for the trees to grow, but not to clear out the bad too fast, “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.”(65) He tells them to clear away the bad “according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire.” (66)
I find it interesting that the Lord want our roots (our faith in Christ) to match our outward growth and actions (the branches). If we have a deep, abiding testimony of Jesus Christ, but don’t act on that by serving others and keeping His commandments to help the poor and lift the weary, our roots will automatically weaken and shrink. Our branches will be sterile or bring forth bad fruit. When we believe in Him, we must do His will, not ours. That strengthens our roots to grow more good branches and fruit through good works.
I also find it interesting that He doesn’t want the bad branches wiped out all at once. Opposition makes us strong. He keeps the bad and good somewhat equal, so the good branches have to fight for air to breathe and space to grow among the bad ones. As they gain strength, the bad are taken out (either by joining the good or being cut off).
He again calls out to us to be missionaries. “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.” (71)
We experience joy by serving God and laboring in His vineyard to help others be saved.
Power in obedience
God’s people “…did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.” (72) The good fruit is preserved and the natural branches preserved. The Lord says He will burn the evil branches at the end when the season ends and the good and bad are gathered.
I love how after His servants work with all their might in the vineyard, the Lord blesses them. I can just feel His love in this verse:
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.”Jacob 5:75
God is love and He yearns to share His love and joy with us, the opposite of the adversary, who desires to make us miserable forever.
Will we allow God to prune us, dig in our soil, and nourish us? Will we help Him gather fruit in His vineyard today?