One of the reasons I love the 5th chapter of Jacob is because the entirety of it belongs to a prophet that we know very little about: Zenos. “Although specific dates and details of Zenos’ life and ministry are not known…evidently he lived sometime between 1600 and 600 B.C.” Look at footnote A of verse one, and you’ll see a reference to the Topical Guide: Scriptures, Lost. As much as we know about Moses, Isaiah, Nephi, Alma, and other prophets, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had the Book of Zenos? What other stories or teachings might it contain?
Can you think of someone in your family history that you know “very little about?” Does what you know about that person make you want to know more about him/her?
Despite being the longest chapter in the Book of Mormon, Jacob 5 is easily one of the best chapters for visual learners. It’s very easy to picture in your mind a tree that is being planted, cared for, or grafted.
Have you ever planted anything? Did the plant bear any kind of fruit or flower as a result? Did you do the same things to your planting that are described in Jacob 5?
For purposes of this article, I want to focus on verses 21-23, where the Lord of the vineyard (Christ) teaches his servant (prophets and others called to serve) that even in the “poorest spot in all the land” it is possible to bring “forth much fruit.”
The question of how a spot is defined as poor is perhaps as much obvious as it is subjective. Certainly if we’re defining poor by economic standards, then it’s quite obvious where those spots are on the world’s landscape. But if we’re defining poor as less than adequate, or inferior in quality, then it’s entirely dependent upon the person making that determination. It’s the latter definition that results in us, like the servant, questioning the Lord, “How comest thou hither to plant?” Or, put another way:
Father, where shall I work today’
And my love flowed warm and free.
Then He pointed me out a tiny spot,
And said, “Tend that for me.”
I answered quickly, “Oh, no, not that.
Why, no one would ever see,
No matter how well my work was done.
Not that little place for me!”
And the word He spoke, it was not stern,
He answered me tenderly,
“Ah, little one, search that heart of thine;
Art thou working for them or me’
Nazareth was a little place,
And so was Galilee.”
Are there callings or assignments that you’ve been asked to fulfill in the Church that you thought were less than adequate or inferior in quality? How did you overcome those feelings?
If one of the ultimate lessons from Zenos’s Allegory is the reinforcement of the Lord’s teaching that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God,” and I believe it is; then we also need to examine our perception of “poor,” as against each of God’s children on this earth. Remember Alma’s insight among the Zoramites that certain persons “were not permitted to enter into synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea,…they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart.” Is there a correlation between someone being financially poor, but also being in a state of readiness to receive and blossom in the gospel of Jesus Christ? Not necessarily; but it’s certainly true that being “poor as to things of the world” can lend to someone also being “poor in heart.”
Do you hesitate to share the gospel with persons you determine to be “poor as to things of the world?” How can you learn to look beyond worldly things, and see a person’s heart?
I also note that in educating His servant, the Lord of the vineyard indicates that the poor spots were “nourished…this long time.” We should therefore understand another lesson from Zenos’s Allegory: that planting seeds, caring for growing plants, grafting branches, and working poor spots of ground, etc., is not an overnight or even a fortnight process. Oftentimes, a spiritual journey can take years, decades, and even continue into the Spirit World before a resolution is reached.
Do you know someone whose spiritual journey took years? What similarities can you identify between that person’s experience, and the process of planting a seed and caring for the plant until it bears fruit?
But even if poor or other spots of ground fail to yield fruit, take comfort. Because the Lord of the vineyard, despite all that He could do, “What could I have done more for my vineyard?” experienced frustration and disappointment. Remember, “men are free…to choose liberty and eternal life…or to choose captivity and death.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “that vivid moment in the Book of Mormon allegory of the olive tree, when after digging and dunging, watering and weeding, trimming, pruning, transplanting, and grafting, the great Lord of the vineyard throws down his spade and his pruning shears and weeps, crying out to any who would listen, ‘What could I have done more for my vineyard?’
Have you done all that you could to help someone embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, but were rejected in the end? How can the principle of agency and the Lord’s own frustration and disappointment help you accept the result of your efforts?
My favorite hymn, both in message
and meter, is #243, “Let Us All Press On.” And even though the lyrics seem to
apply more to battles than planting trees, the message is still applicable.
Zenos’s allegory is about pressing on in the work of the Lord, despite
setbacks. It’s a long effort. We’ve all been given our own corner of the
vineyard to tend for the Lord. “That when life is o’er, we may gain a reward.”
And even though the allegory tells us that the number of servants “were few,”
“an unseen power will aid me and you.” And so Jacob’s ultimate admonition to us
all, “O be wise; what can I say more?”
is satisfied when in doing “what’s right we have no need to fear, for the Lord,
our helper, will ever be near.”
 Use the following graphic to help in your understanding of what is essentially the journey and destiny of the House of Israel from just prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, through the Millennium: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/bc/content/shared/content/images/gospel-library/manual/PD60005073/60005073_000_ICallegory_v2.pdf
 Meade MacGuire, “Father, Where Shall I Work Today?” in Best-Loved Poems of the LDS People, comp. Jack M. Lyon and others (1996), 152.
 D&C 18:10
 Alma 32:3
 Jacob 5:22-23
 Jacob 5:41, 47, 49
 2 Nephi 2:27
 “The Grandeur of God,” Ensign, October 2003
 Elder Boyd K. Packer also addresses the concept of “What could I have done more?” but in terms of local leaders and the overscheduling of church activities versus a home centered, church supported culture. See: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1990/04/teach-them-correct-principles?lang=eng
 Jacob 5:70
 Jacob 6:12