Jacob 1-7: “Before Ye Seek for Riches, Seek Ye for the Kingdom of God”

With all the changes in the world and church being canceled for so many, I hope that these posts can be helpful in your family worship and learning.

This week we get to read Jacob’s most important teachings. The room on the plates is becoming limited, and Jacob is aware of his responsibility to only record things that would be of great worth to his posterity and future generations. I think Jacob’s words are particularly important to us as our world becomes more tribal, Jacob’s world was becoming increasingly tribal and difficult to unify.

I hope that we can all gain something from studying Jacob. Chapter 4 is one of my favorite chapters and I hope we can find ways to come closer to Christ and find ways to recognize that we need the Lord’s guidance if we are to truly be helpful in the cause of bringing people back to the Lord.


– It is human nature to become tribal, the gospel is meant to unite in the face of conflicts and tribal instincts.

– The three main causes of apostasy or separation within a group: Wealth, Pride, and Immorality.

– Although separation is part of the plan of God, reuniting and gathering is the responsibility of those who embrace the gospel.

History and Context:
– At the time of Jacob begins his writing it has been 55 years since the family first fled Jerusalem and many things have changed.  It is critical to understand the likely social dynamics which have changed and are changing at this time in order to understand things as the story picks up again hundreds of years later. One of the biggest relates to something not written, yet implied. Prior to Nephi finishing his writing the people who had followed him (Nephites) had already begun down a path to apostasy, and Jacob’s writing suggest that he was trying to change their ways. However, underneath this is an idea we don’t think much about, but Jacob and Nephi both hit on it, economics. With over 4 decades for the people to establish trade, and interactions with the indigenous people (likely as they had become prosperous) – the Nephite “lineal” group was likely to take on customs and even beliefs of the people they interacted with. This would have significantly increased the difficulty of keeping everyone in the religious fold.  Not unlike any community dynamic.  

– In addition to economics, there was politics at play, and I find this to be the key point in relation to Book of Mormon historicity. Jacob explains to us that the people are no longer split by familial lineage. Instead the people become a political “us” and “them.” With all different families mixing, and it becoming impossible to tell the difference in ethnicity, Jacob explains that those who follow the King Nephi and his successors are Nephites and EVERYONE else is a Lamanite. This is so important, because on first blush as you read the Book of Mormon you keep thinking that the Nephites and Lamanites are this same group of family relatives forever. While in reality, political and religious beliefs were the true separation, not lineage, and likely not color (although they probably used color as a descriptive way to honor their own righteousness).

– Another thing to point out is Geography. At this point the people of Nephi lived in a community (city) called…you guessed it Nephi. And this is true for hundreds of years, but when we pick up the larger narrative later, Mosiah has actually taken the records and some of those who believe (small numbers) and fled the City of Nephi to establish a new community of believers. Three hundred years would have completely wiped out lineal distinctions between Nephites and Lamanites, with the exception of those families who were in charge of the records and leadership of the community. Yet, those are the people who we get the record from, and that is why it seems like the distinction is so clear because it likely was for their family. 

–  Mesoamerican studies show that from 1000 BC through 400 BC was a period of where tribalism was flourishing. From 400 BC to 250 AD there was population explosions through the region and constant fighting and wars before power was consolidated in the centuries after 250 AD. These conditions shed helpful light on what is happening in the record of the Book of Mormon and the periphery of the authors understanding. 

– Many critics of the Book of Mormon attack its writings over the liberal and specific usage of Jesus Christ and Christian history, when many Old Testament prophets were vaguer and more symbolic in their teachings. Jacob actually addresses those issues head on in discussing both the language of the Jews (more symbolic and implicit), and their spiritual openness (they rejected the prophets by in large), and when added to the many scribes and people who may have altered the oral tradition of Moses and many other prophets it explains why their understanding wasn’t as plain. Whereas Jacob and Nephi had direct experiences with the Lord Himself and wrote the most precious and plain truths in the record.  

–  The allegory of the Olive Tree is a retelling of the prophet Zenos and it has been referred to briefly by Lehi and Nephi in earlier parts of the Book of Mormon and would have been something that would have been close to home to Lehi and Nephi as they were a branch broken off from the tree.  However, Jacob is retelling the story in more detail here because it would have meant much less to the people he is preaching too.  He is trying to awaken their own importance to God in their minds. The allegory of the Olive Tree likely was passed down orally before written down and it seems Paul borrowed from a retelling of the same story from Columella, one of his contemporaries, in telling a much shorter version in Romans 11. 

– The fact that Sherem talks to Jacob about the Law of Moses (several years after Jacob’s sermon recorded in chapters 2-6), and that Jacob preached his sermon to the people at the Temple, implies that the people had become similar to the Jews in that they were following the religious law as a political rule or tradition. Jacob says the people who don’t follow their religion and laws are more righteous than the Nephites and so it is very likely that the people had integrated the habitual aspects of the gospel into their lives and had abandoned the spiritual, challenging, and meaningful aspects of the gospel.  Jacob was trying to awaken them, and us. 

– Sherem was a stranger to the Nephites and yet was completely accustomed to their beliefs. This is further evidence that the Nephites integrated into the indigenous population. 

– There are many who criticize Joseph Smith for using the word adieu at the end of chapter 7. However, it is important to remember that adieu was a common English word used in Joseph’s time and place which meant “To God” which would have been the word to interpret what Jacob was saying in his language. Joseph had to use English words to describe what was being revealed to him. This does highlight a consistent problem with all scripture reading and study, is we think the authors spoke or wrote the exact contemporary words in their language.  Languages do not work that way and translator interpretation is essential to all translation. We must do the mental work of thinking through what they were trying to convey when we study and read scripture to find the meaning that can resonate with us. 

Jacob begins by bringing us up to speed on the situation. Nephi has turned the spiritual teaching over to Jacob and Joseph and has chosen a king to replace him. All kings will be called Nephi, and whoever follows their rule Nephites. This, because as the people become wicked, hardened, and changed by their surrounding culture, they can no longer be distinguished only through lineage or spirituality. The religious practices are integrated into their political traditions. However, Jacob’s efforts are not going well, and he is concerned about the people. Nephi has tasked him with recording important things on the plates and so he chooses to include the sermon that he preached after Nephi’s death at the temple.

Jacob’s Sermon – Nephite Apostasy
Jacob’s sermon is a hardcore rebuke of Nephite society and apostasy that he is witnessing. It is a warning to them, but more importantly it is a warning to any people who have the following: 1) affluent, 2) well-educated, 3) part of the racial majority, 4) have easy access to the true church.

His warning is thorough regarding the separation that happens with us and God when our hearts and desires are rooted in financial success, intellectualism, pride and social status, and political power. Then when you mix the convenience of the church and gospel in our lives it is a powder keg of apostasy. This is one of the truest things I have seen in my life and it is amazing that Jacob called it so many years ago.

One other point to make here is that whiteness and pureness has become colloquial at this point instead of realistic in skin color. The Nephites have grown to describe their “supposed” righteousness as whiteness and Jacob calls them right out by saying the Lamanites are more righteous than them. This couldn’t have been a more harsh rebuke to the people, and further shows just how deluded we can become when we think we are so much better than others in any regard (money, power, intelligence, righteousness, beauty, etc.).

Jacob’s Writings – Christ is Real and He Will Save Us
After Jacob finished writing the sermon he preached, he jumps into writing the things he wished he could have taught them, had they been closer to the Lord. He hopes these writings will be received by his people and children. I will breakdown Chapter 4, 5, and 6:

  • Chapter 4 – Christ is Real
    • Christ is real, and we can all know Him.
    • Ingredients for Revelation 4:4-8
      • Hope and Faith in Christ
      • Sought to see Christ in commandments
      • Searched the Prophets (scriptures, teachings, etc.)
      • See and admit weakness, not to feel bad, but to turn more to Christ and His grace.
    • Seek not to Counsel the Lord, but to take Counsel from the Lord
  • Chapter 5-6 – Christ Will Save Us
    • Zenos’s Allegory of the Olive Tree
      • The allegory is both a commentary on the path that will likely happen to Israel, but also the path of individual groups of believers.
      • Israel –
        • Apostasy begins – the Lord tries to prune, nourish, and help the Tree (Israel).
        • Only part of the Tree grows and so the Lord allows for “wild branches” to be grafted in – Assyrian and Babylonian captivity and other events like the Gentiles being adopted into Abrahamic covenant.
        • In addition, the tender and good branches are removed from the Tree and grafted in other places in the Vineyard (world) – Nephites and other tribes of Israel who may have believed.
        • The Gentiles being added to the Tree has benefited it and it has grown well. However, of the Natural branches that were grafted in other places of the Vineyard only one tree produced any good fruit the third tree (Lehi’s family) and it produced both wild and tame fruit.
        • After another long passing of time the Lord comes back and finds the original tree to have “all sorts of fruit” and none of it is good, but the roots (covenant and gospel). This represents the spreading of all kinds of philosophies and ideas and the gospel being choked out.
        • They then check Lehi’s tree and find that the wild fruit had overtaken the tame fruit as well and now there are no good fruit in all the vineyard – this is total apostasy on earth.
        • After a long discussion it is decided that the Lord will implement a new plan: Take Lehi’s branches and graft them back into the original treey (BOM and Bible combining forces) and then hire more servants in the vineyard (restoration) and go about pruning, digging, grafting (missionary work) and do all the things in extra effort allow the roots (covenant) to bring forth the good fruit (love and eternal life).
        • The plan is implemented, and it works and in the end the fruit is all equal and good.
      • Individual Symbols worth noting for our personal application –
        • There are lots of time in between events which represents the patience of the Lord.
        • God wants to burn the whole thing down, but Jesus Christ convinces Him to give us more chances.
        • Apostasy happens because we are all different, and our differences are good, but can overrun the goodness of God if we let them.
        • In the end when we graft our differences together with the gospel covenant as the focus, our fruit is still different but equal and good.
    • Jacob begs us to not reject the Lord and to repent and love Christ, who loves us and will always come for us.

Secularism, Prosperity and Not Wanting to Hear the Truth
Jacob finishes his narrative with a moment that seems to have helped some of his people repent. It is a story of an outsider who has convinced many to disbelieve in Christ. He seeks to confound Jacob and after admitting he is wrong some of the people change. I think this is important because it shows two things. The first is that there are people who seek to deceive and lead people away and if the environment is ripe then they have tremendous power. This is happening in our world today, and particularly online and in Utah. The environment is built like this in Jacob’s time:

  • Nephites have raw material and the ability to trade goods.
  • They begin trading and increase wealth.
  • Trade brings in other cultures, beliefs, new definitions of status and power.
  • The wealthy and powerful adopt regional norms, and twist the scriptures to support their indulgences.
  • Jacob condemns their actions, but the wealthy ignore him.
  • The powerful wish to remove Jacob from power and use Sherem, an outsider with influential beliefs, to discredit him.

It is easy to see how this environment plays out in our day, which leads to the second item. When Sherem admits to the people that he was wrong, it has a significant impact on many who were beginning to or already disbelieved. While Sherem’s story is a tragedy and a symbol, I think it is very important for those of us who do question and have concerns to be active in reaching out to people when are converted, when we have found answers, or to admit when we are wrong or might be wrong and help others find Jesus Christ. This effort brings the spirit and it helps so many people. I have seen it my life. I have been a questioner, doubter, and complainer at different times, but I have also found so much joy in bringing others back, and finding answers together, and finding Christ together.

Why do we separate ourselves into tribes? What can we do to be a unifier and not a divider when it comes to our interactions with others? How does gossip and rumor mongering play into this?

What things in our lives do we need to quit counseling the Lord on and instead asking for His counsel?

How do we appropriately integrate science, reasoning, logic, and secular learning into spiritual learning and revelation? Are they even compatible? Why or why not?

Key Moment or Scripture: Jacob 2:12-19
12 And now behold, my brethren, this is the word which I declare unto you, that many of you have begun to search for gold, and for silver, and for all manner of precious ores, in the which this land, which is a land of promise unto you and to your seed, doth abound most plentifully.
13 And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.
14 And now, my brethren, do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. But he condemneth you, and if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you.
15 O that he would show you that he can pierce you, and with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust!
16 O that he would rid you from this iniquity and abomination. And, O that ye would listen unto the word of his commands, and let not this pride of your hearts destroy your souls!
17 Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.
18 But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
19 And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.

When I was growing up we called the cycle depicted in the Book of Mormon of the people finding the Lord, believing, prospering, getting prideful, and then falling away – the Pride Cycle. However, I want to push a different way of seeing this cycle. This kind of cycle is a fact in life and it can be seen in every gospel-oriented people, or non-gospel-oriented people in the world. However, I think it is more appropriate to call it the Prosperity Cycle. Wealth and prosperity are the causes of the cycles and following commandments and gospel principles will likely make groups of believers prosperous. I believe this is the way in which the true purpose of life (learning, growing, and becoming like Christ) is always a challenge for us. If it only became easier for us to grow as time went on, then we would be limited in what we could become.

However, when we are in the moment it is nearly impossible to see what prosperity does to our relationship with God. We cannot see the challenge, because it is happening inside of us, and in our mentality. This deceptive challenge is what Jacob is talking about to his people. Jacob does an amazing job of distilling this down to one simple thing. Prioritization.

Priority 1 – Seek the Kingdom of God and the hope of Christ
Priority 2 – If it feels right to pursue financial success and you achieve it then do it for the benefit of your fellow human beings.

That is tough to digest for many of us, but I think it is something we must wrestle with and come to the Lord with. I also think that we must be honest with ourselves in our endeavors. For many of us Priority 2 comes first because we have justified the end (helping others with our prosperity), but if we have not sought Christ first then along the way we can be deceived and distracted and our seeking of riches becomes a never ending journey where we never do the good we could have or became the people we could have.

Final Thoughts:
Jacob concludes his writings by giving the plates to Enos. Enos is the “every-person”, the child of the multiple generations of righteous believers. He is the prosperous, healthy, smart, and has parents and ancestors who were so faithful. He is the person like most of us, and like most of us, he doesn’t know if he believes and struggles to live up to what he believes is righteous, and yet he has this responsibility that is overwhelming him. I love Enos and what happens to him and we will discuss that next week.

  • Sources
    • Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon by Brant Gardner
    • Understanding the Book of Mormon by Grant Hardy
    • The Book of Mormon: For the least of these. by Fatimah Salleh