Here is a list of items described in the chapter and what they represent:
|The vineyard||The world|
|Master of the vineyard||Jesus Christ|
|The servant||The Lord’s prophets|
|Tame olive tree||The house of Israel, the Lord’s covenant people|
|Wild olive tree||Gentiles|
|Branches||Groups of people|
|The roots of the tame olive tree||The gospel covenant and promises made by God that constantly give life and sustenance to the tree|
|Fruit of the tree||The lives or works of men|
|Digging, pruning, fertilizing||The Lord’s work with his children which seeks to persuade them to be obedient and produce good fruit|
|Transplanting the branches||Scattering of groups throughout the world or restoring them to their original position|
|Grafting||The process of spiritual rebirth wherein one is joined to the covenant|
|Decaying branches||Wickedness and apostasy|
|Casting the branches into the fire||The judgment of God|
PART I (vs.1-14) – In this first part, Zenos introduces the allegory by stating that he will liken the House of Israel to an olive tree, a tame olive tree to be exact. This olive tree was in a vineyard owned by the master of the vineyard. The master is Jesus Christ and the vineyard is the world we live on. The master has his servant to help him with all the labors of the vineyard. The servant represents a prophet.
In verse 6, the tame olive tree’s top begins to perish. One thing that we need to remember about olive trees is that the caretaker of the tree must keep it balanced. What I mean by balanced is that the branches and roots need to stay balanced or the tree will go bad. If the branches are too heavy or not pruned, they will ‘overtake’ the roots. If the roots are not cared for or are left unattended, they will ‘overtake’ the branches. The overall tree must be balanced. So in v.6, the tame tree is unbalanced, with the top beginning to perish. The answer to the master’s problem is to take the bad branches off the tame tree and replace them with good branches. The master takes some good branches from a wild olive tree and grafts them into the tame tree where the bad branches were. The bad are burned in a fire. Then he takes some young branches from the tame tree and grafts them into several other trees spread throughout the vineyard, that he preserves the natural branches of the tree.
This first part represents the apostasy and the scattering of Israel.
In verse 15, a time passes and the master and servant go down again to the vineyard. This time their mission is one of observation and preparation. The footnote for 15a says “Millennium, Preparing a People for.”
PART II (vs. 17-28) – In the second part of the allegory, the branches begin to bear fruit. The tame tree with the wild branches bore good fruit. The master notes that the root of the tame tree “brought forth much strength.” The roots represent the covenants of the Lord. After observing the tame tree with the wild branches, the master and servant go to observe the rest of the vineyard.
In verses 20-25, the master and servant observe four different trees. The first “brought forth much fruit” which was good. The servant noted that this tree was planted in the poorest spot of the vineyard, but the master replies that he knew it was a poor spot, but that he nourished the tree and it bore good fruit. They observe the second tree and noted that it was planted in a spot poorer than the first and that it too bore good fruit. They go on to observe the third tree and it too bore good fruit. The finally come to the last and the master notes that this one was planted in a good spot of ground and that it has born half good fruit and half bad or wild fruit. The master was disappointed at this tree that only half of this tree’s fruit was good. He told the servant to take the bad half and pluck the branches and burn them. But the servant replied that they should prune, dig about, and nourish the tree a little longer. The master agreed and they nourished the tree.
The second part represents the Lord and his prophets preparing the people of the world. The fourth tree is a representation of the Nephites and Lamanites. The Nephites being the good fruit and the Lamanites being the bad fruit on the same tree.
Again, some time passes before the master and servant visit the vineyard again.
PART III (vs. 30-50) – When the master and servant arrive to the vineyard again, they first visit the tame tree which has wild branches grafted in it. They discovered that it had all kinds of bad fruit. The servant notes to the master that the branches nourished the roots, but the master responded that the roots mean nothing to him if the tree doesn’t produce fruit. He states in verse 35, “The tree profiteth me nothing, and the roots thereof profit me nothing so long as it shall bring forth evil fruit.” I think that this is a significant statement. I read a talk by Elder Maxwell once where he said, "So it is that discipleship requires all of us to translate doctrines, covenants, ordinances, and teachings into improved personal behavior. Otherwise we may be doctrinally rich but end up developmentally poor." (Neal A. Maxwell, “Becoming a Disciple,” Ensign, Jun 1996, 12) If we don’t make the necessary changes in our life after we make covenants with God, then the covenants mean nothing. The results of the covenants are what is important.
After visiting the tame tree, the master and servant visit the other trees of the vineyard. They found that the other trees had gone bad too. Verse 40 notes that the one tree that had had both good and bad fruit was not all bad. The bad overran the good. This is of course referring to the Lamanites destroying the Nephites. Verse 44 makes reference to the Jaradites.
After the master grieves for a few moments, he asks his servant who corrupted his vineyard. The servant replies that the loftiness of the branches is the reason the trees have gone bad. As the olive tree must remain balanced, the branch's strength overtook that of the roots. As the footnote indicates, this loftiness represents the pride. Again the master wants to burn the vineyard, but the servant persuades him to stay his hand and to spare the vineyard a little longer.
The next part talks about the action the master takes to save his vineyard.
PART IV (vs. 52-72) – The master’s plan of action is to take the natural branches that were grafted all over the vineyard in the four different trees and to graft them back into the original tame tree. As for the wild branches, the master commanded that the servant only burn the most bitter-fruit-producing branches and burn them.
In this season of labor, the one servant is not adequate enough for all that is required. The master commands him to call other servants to help with the great project (v. 61). In verses 65 and 66, the master instructs the servants to not be too hasty with the clearing of the bad branches. He warns them that they must clear away the bad “according as the good shall grow.” From what I understand of this, the master understands that there must be opposition in all things. He all the bad were taken away at once, the good would not be as strong as hoped. But the bad will strengthen the good.
PART V (vs. 73-77) – After much labor, diligence and obedience, the good and natural fruit began to appear again in the vineyard and as verse 74 notes, “they became like unto one body.” The master is pleased with his servants for laboring so well. He commends them and tells them that they will have joy with him in the vineyard.
To end the chapter, the master states that when bad fruit begins again to appear, he will cause the whole vineyard to be burned by fire. This is obviously in reference to the earth’s baptism by fire.
I enjoy reading this chapter whenever I come to this point in the Book of Mormon. I like its vast scope of time and geography. It greatly simplifies the Lord’s plans with the House of Israel.
Additional Links on this chapter:
Olive Trees and the Book of Mormon by Jeff Lindsay
Multidimensional Commentary for Jacob 5