To sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE.
I have frequently read Jacob 5 searching for historical applications of the events described regarding the olive tree, which is the House of Israel (Jacob 5:3). But I have found that the chapter is more useful when I apply the messages to the lives of individuals. This approach allows me to search for principles that can be applied to my own life or to the lives of others.
The master of the vineyard was grieved at the possibility of losing his tame olive tree and its fruit to decay (Jacob 5:3,7). He began to labor with his servant to save the tree and its branches and its fruit. When the pruning and digging and nourishing (Jacob 5:4) did not resolve the problem, the master of the vineyard began to do some grafting. He removed “young and tender branches” (Jacob 5:8) from the tree to be grafted into wild olive trees in remote locations, and he instructed his servant to bring branches from wild trees to be grafted into the mother tree (Jacob 5:9).
The Lord of the vineyard did not employ husbandmen to do the work with the tame branches. That he did himself.
“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” (Jacob 5:13).
The Lord’s explanation is interesting. I will place these branches in the “nethermost part of the vineyard, whithersoever I will.” The location of these branches is not to concern the servant; it is a matter to be determined by the Lord himself. But the implication is that the locations are not ideal. My dictionary defines nethermost as lowest, farthest down. In the context of the Lord’s explanation of his efforts, we must consider places to mean circumstances as well. The Lord of the vineyard may move us to new places, but he may also intervene in our experiences to educate us.
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 (Jacob 5:14).
I spoke of this at a gathering of Latter-day Saints a few years ago, and after the class a lovely woman came forward for a brief conversation. “Now I understand,” she said. “I was furious when circumstances forced me to move with my family from Australia to Alabama. I detested Alabama. But it was there that I met the missionaries and found the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” She had been grafted into the “nethermost parts.”
My wife stopped her car one snowy winter day to offer a ride to a woman and two small children walking on the sidewalk without coats. As she drove them to their destination, the woman explained that she had left her car at a business for repairs and that the person who had agreed to meet them there and take them to their home a mile or two away had not come.
My wife asked where they were from and was told that they had moved to Utah from Michigan. When asked about the purpose of the move, the woman explained that she and her husband had felt that they should move to Orem, Utah. That feeling persisted and finally they relocated. She could not explain why, only that it had seemed to be the right thing to do. My wife thought she knew why. She asked for a name and an address and sent the Ensign and missionaries to the home. The Lord had grafted this branch into a new location.
When I was teaching at the Orem Institute of Religion I met a young man at an Institute social. He was from the East somewhere. He got into his car one day and began driving. He arrived in Orem, Utah, of all places, where he walked into the Institute building and into a class. He had been transplanted, or, to use the words of the allegory, he had been grafted.
My wife and I have two adopted daughters from Mexico. They came to our home when they were eight and eleven years old, and by a series of unusual but divinely directed events, became our daughters. I am certain that they were grafted.
After “a long time passed away” (Jacob 5:15), the Lord took his servant into the vineyard to check on those grafted branches. After examining the tame three and finding good fruit (Jacob 5:15-18), they traveled to those remote and unexpected locations where the Lord had grafted the small and tender branches of that first tree.
“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” (Jacob 5:20).
The first graft had flourished and fruit was abundant. The Lord instructed the servant to gather it and store it.
The servant had a question to ask; “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” (Jacob 5:21).
Why in the world did you graft a branch here? This is the worst place in the vineyard?
As you consider this conversation, do not miss the significance of the Lord’s response. “Counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor spot of ground” (Jacob 5:22). We must proceed through the challenges of our lives with an awareness that the Lord does not make mistakes. If he allows or encourages circumstances that move us from Australia to Alaska, or from Hawaii to Helena, we must believe that there are divine purposes at work. After all, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Most of us will have experiences in our lives that will move us to places we do not want to be or into circumstances that we would never have chosen for ourselves. Our inclination when such events transpire will be to cry out, “This is a terrible place. Why am I here?” Or, “What did I do to deserve this? I’ve been good.” Or, “Union Springs, Alabama? What is wrong with Sydney, Australia?”
The reason for the Lord’s decision to select such locations is given in his next statement: “I have nourished it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit” (Jacob 5:22).
The Lord is not in the business of real estate development, and he is not inclined to make decisions that will cause us to be unhappy. He is in the business of harvesting good fruit, of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children, and he alone knows his plants and his places well-enough to select the perfect spots for us to grow.
I remember a Peanuts cartoon by Charles M. Schulz from many years ago. In the first panel Charlie Brown comments, “Sometimes I lie awake at night, and ask, “Why me?” In the second panel, he continues, “Then a voice answers, ‘Nothing personal . . . Your name just happened to come up.’”
The Lord’s grafting always occurs with divine purpose. He moves people around or modifies the circumstances of groups and individuals to maximize the probability that they will accept the gospel, or to maximize their ability to assist others to claim those blessings.
This lesson is emphasized in the following verses. The Lord said to 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” (Jacob 5:23).
The servant’s assumption that the first branch had been grafted into a tree in the poorest spot in the vineyard was inaccurate. The second young and tender branch was grafted into a tree in a place even less likely to produce useful fruit.
My 88 year-old sister traveled from Nevada to Wisconsin to visit a daughter. In spite of her age she was energetic and bright, walking every day, eating well, and keeping a superb journal of her life. But while she was at her daughter’s house, she made a misstep and fell down a flight of stairs. After weeks in intensive care in Wisconsin, she returned to Reno, but not to her recently-rented home. She has been confined to a care center where she requires daily attention and much assistance as she attempts to learn to walk again, and hopes to regain some of her independence so that she can move to an assisted-living facility.
A life which had been engaging and productive was suddenly altered in a way most would find unbearable—an even poorer spot than she could have imagined. Life has been hard for her, a daily challenge. But she has used her time when she could to make new friends and share the gospel. And she has noted on several occasions that there are those around her who are much worse off than she is.
The Lord said to his servant of this poorer spot of ground, “But, behold the tree. I have nourished it this long time, and it hath brought forth much fruit” (Jacob 5:23).
Where we are in the vineyard is certainly not as important as who we are and what we are. Our longing for the good things of mortality must not undermine our longing for the better things of eternity. The Lord makes this point beautifully as he and the servant visit the last tree where a branch was grafted.
“And [the Lord] 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” (Jacob 5:25).
The allusion to the Nephites and the Lamanites who were taken to “a choice land . . . above all other lands” (2 Nephi 10:19) is clear enough, but the lesson must not be missed. In spite of the fact that the branch was grafted into a tree “in a good spot of ground,” the harvest was not exclusively good fruit. Only half of the tree produced fruit worthy of preserving.
All of us have known people whose ease and prosperity have come between them and their covenants—people planted in wonderful places with every opportunity but who wandered off into forbidden paths (1 Nephi 8:28), strange roads (1 Nephi 8:32), and broad roads (1 Nephi 12:17), where the quality of their fruit has diminished.
The messages of these few verses from the allegory are that 1) we must be willing to let the Lord of the vineyard make some of the decisions about its trees and branches. 2) We must not lament unduly about being planted in a poor spot of ground when we are certain that things would be better elsewhere. 3) We must recognize that no matter how bad things are for us, they are worse for someone else in another place. 4) And we must be grateful for the continuing nourishment that will come to us no matter where we are or what we are experiencing in the Lord’s vineyard.