Jacob wrote chapter one when he was about 50-54 years of age, noting that he was writing 55 years after Lehi left Jerusalem. Nephi would have been around 70-75 years of age when he gave the plates to Jacob. We may note here that for a period of time, we will see much discussion from prophets in their older years. If we count the time periods given in the scripture notes for Jacob and Enos, for instance, we see Jacob must have been around 75-80 years of age when Enos was born!
We can determine that Nephi either did not have any sons, or that they passed away or were not worthy to continue carrying the record, as he delivers the record to his brother Jacob, instead. That Nephi establishes the larger record as an official historical record to be passed down official channels, but this record to be passed down through Jacob’s line, suggests it is a family record.
Again, we see the possibility of other peoples being absorbed by the Nephites. If the smaller plates of Nephi are only for the family, then why have the larger plates as well as an official record? A reasonable conclusion is that there were many under the rule of the Nephites, who were not Nephites nor of their religion. These would not be interested in Nephi’s spiritual record, while the official record would record the important history of all the peoples involved.
After a few remarks discussing Nephi’s design for the small plates to be a spiritual testimony to his family, Jacob then explains his purpose for writing his portion of the Nephite record:
“Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness” (Jacob 1:7).
In 55 years, the Nephites (after their separation from Laman) would only number 300 adults at most. If Nephi, Sam, Jacob, Joseph, and Zoram all had 10 surviving children each (50), and they paired off into 25 couples that each had 10 children, then by the third generation there would be about 300 adults.
That Nephi would see the need to anoint a king, suggests that there were actually more people involved. That Jacob “labored diligently” to persuade them to follow Christ seems to be an easy task to do with a group the size of a modern LDS ward, generally isolated from all others. However, with a larger group of non-believers also in the mix, it would cause Jacob to have a great struggle on his hands. In a later lesson, when Sherem comes forth in his missionary zeal, one would imagine that Jacob would have known him among a group of just 300 adults. Clearly there were others for Jacob to deal with.
“But I, Jacob, shall not hereafter distinguish them by these names, but I shall call them Lamanites that seek to destroy the people of Nephi, and those who are friendly to Nephi I shall call Nephites, or the people of Nephi, according to the reigns of the kings” (Jacob 1:14).
That the Nephites are internally labeled by their tribal affiliations, Jacob sees it fit to provide a cultural nomenclature to both the Lamanites and Nephites. From this point forward, Nephites would be any person or group friendly to the Nephites, while all enemies would be Lamanites, regardless of whether they originally were Nephite, Lamanite, Jaredite, Mulekite, or some other group not specifically mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
Whoredoms are not Plural Marriage
“And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son” (Jacob 1:15).
Where would 300 adults get “many wives and concubines” from, unless it was from among the conquered native peoples of the Americas? It was a standard practice in the ancient Middle East for the conqueror to take the women as concubines (slave wives). Solomon obtained many of his wives through political treaties made with other nations, and many concubines from the tributary lands conquered by King David,
Interestingly, the view we receive here of David and Solomon would fit well with the concept of E (Elohist) from the Documentary Hypothesis, as I discussed in another lesson According to Richard Elliott Friedman, King David united the tribes of Israel, partially by having a priest of Aaron (Zadok) and a priest of Moses (Abiathar) as his two religious advisers. However, when Solomon came to power, he exiled Abiathar to the northern parts of Israel. For the author of E, to see Solomon show such disdain to the Ten Tribes would affect his view of the reign of David and Solomon. E always viewed Moses as the hero of Israel, never mentioning his weaknesses noted in the Bible. That the Brass Plates of Laban may have been the source for E among the people in Jerusalem, would also suggest writings in the Brass Plates that were not favorable to David and Solomon.
That the Nephite men were beginning to adopt polygamy as a normal practice, which Jacob suddenly had to deal with, suggests that the natives that dwelt with the Nephites may already have been practicing it for a long period. Upon seeing the local custom, it would be easy to justify if from the scriptures that describe David and Solomon also having many wives and concubines.
Suddenly, Jacob had major issues to deal with, as apostasy crept in among his own people, from the culture surrounding them. Jacob would take two directions in dealing with this.
First, he explained the scriptures:
“For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.
Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph” (Jacob 2:23-25).
As mentioned before, they used the scriptures to justify whoredoms, pretending it was correct in God’s sight. If it was okay for David and Solomon, then it must be okay also to do it. Interestingly, such practice as having many wives and concubines (or sexual sin) is suggested as one reason the Nephites were led out of Jerusalem in the first place!
“Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;
For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts...
And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts.
For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts.
” (Jacob 2:27-33).
God places the blame for whoredoms not on women, but on the men. Remember, Jacob apologized to the women and children for his harsh words, not to the men. He even noted that the Lamanites were more righteous in this thing, continuing in faithful monogamous relationships. We should note that in the Book of Mormon, it seems that the mistreatment of women tends to always be an issue with the Nephites, but rarely with the Lamanites (or at least not on the same scale).
It may be an interesting future study to study from the Bible and Book of Mormon how the mistreatment of women tends to corrupt a society and may lead it to destruction. That Jacob felt that such was a key issue that brought about Jerusalem’s destruction and Lehi’s fleeing the city, should be well noted.
From this, Latter-day Saints can learn from this scripture that only God through the living prophet may command plural marriage. If it is not done in this manner, then it is nothing but whoredoms committed by the men. Indeed, Jacob explains the eternal default standard of monogamy:
“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things” (Jacob 2:30).Only if God commands through his prophet is plural marriage allowed. Otherwise, it is not plural marriage, but a whoredom the man is committing.
Be Pure in Heart
Because of such sins, Jacob warns the Nephites to be pure in heart. If they are not, the consequences are clearly spelled out:
“But, wo, wo, unto you that are not pure in heart, that are filthy this day before God; for except ye repent the land is cursed for your sakes; and the Lamanites, which are not filthy like unto you, nevertheless they are cursed with a sore cursing, shall scourge you even unto destruction.
And the time speedily cometh, that except ye repent they shall possess the land of your inheritance, and the Lord God will lead away the righteous out from among you” (Jacob 3:3-4).
The Nephites are considered filthy in their sexual sin and pride. The Lamanites are cleaner than they are. It is like comparing the proud rich and the humble poor. The one group is rich with the gospel and squanders, even rebels against the gospel light. Meanwhile, the humble poor among the Lamanites, who have not been taught the gospel, still follow much of God’s will. They being cleaner than the Nephites will inherit the land, even with their flaws. And only a small group of righteous will be led out from among the Nephites to a new land of promise, just as Lehi was led out of Jerusalem.
“ Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?
O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God” (Jacob 3:7-8).
Jacob speaks metaphorically about skin color here. When we are brought before God’s throne of judgment, literal skin color will be meaningless. In fact, it is very possible that Jacob is discussing the word “skins” as in animal clothing.
Nephi had previously noted "scales of darkness" as applying to the Jews, as well as Lamanites (2 Nephi 30:1-6). Meanwhile, Jacob speaks often of shaking his garments out in testimony against the people, ensuring his own are clean before the Lord. For LDS, the idea that Adam and Eve’s first garments were made of animal skins gives Jacob’s warning a new and unmistakable reading. Several ancient texts, including the books of Enoch and the Ascension of Isaiah, discuss them being dressed in white garments before they approach the throne of God. That Lamanites would have whiter garments than the Nephites would definitely have given the men pause.
Be Reconciled unto Christ
After his great lecture, and in preparation to share Zenos’ Allegory of the Olive Tree (chapt 5), he leaves us with some key concepts:
“Wherefore, beloved brethren, be reconciled unto him through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, and ye may obtain a resurrection, according to the power of the resurrection which is in Christ, and be presented as the first-fruits of Christ unto God, having faith, and obtained a good hope of glory in him before he manifesteth himself in the flesh” (Jacob 4:11).
Reconciliation is the key thing God desires of us. Earlier, Jacob warned the Nephites regarding rebelling against God (Jacob 1:8). How do we rebel against God? By not fully accepting the atonement of Christ into our lives. Every time we sin or rebel, we separate ourselves from God. We cannot abide his glorious and perfect presence while we are in a fallen state of sin and rebellion. By making a true reconciliation, through faith and repentance, we are made guiltless or sinless before God.
For Christians today, as with the ancient Jews, we often look for “mysteries” of the gospel, which in reality are speculations about teachings in scripture. Such speculations, or “looking beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14), led the ancient Jews to reject the prophets that lived in their day, and to reject Jesus as their Savior. Today, many look beyond the simple gospel offered to all through Christ’s atonement, and instead find other things that end up replacing the real gospel.
As the Nephites strayed by justifying their sexual sins by misinterpreting the scriptures, so can we get off track and be led astray of the true reconciliation that occurs between Messiah and man. Jacob will continue explaining this true mystery, of how the atonement works in our lives.
“Who Wrote the Bible?”, Richard Elliott Friedman on the Documentary Hypothesis:
Solomon in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lessons at Joel’s Monastery: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2010/06/ot-gospel-doctrine-lesson-26-king.html
Documentary Hypothesis explained, Book of Mormon lesson one at Joel’s Monastery: