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Jacob Preaches Against Polygamy and Pride
1 The words which Jacob, the brother of Nephi, spake unto the people of Nephi, after the death of Nephi:
There are two types of headers that are original to the original or printer’s manuscripts. They were not separated from the rest of the text during dictation, so our present headers represent those that the compositor recognized.
The easy ones to see are the book headers. John Gilbert, the compositor, recognized these. The second type of header is a chapter header. Gilbert saw them more clearly when he was preparing the books of Mosiah and Alma. However, he missed them in the material from 1 Nephi through Words of Mormon. There are not many, but there are arguably two in Nephi’s writings. One appears at the end of the book header for 1 Nephi. It should probably be set as a header. The second is for 2 Nephi 6, where verse 1 is the chapter header introducing the insertion of Jacob’s sermon.
In this case, Jacob 2:1 should also have been set as a chapter header. This one is interesting because it is much more similar to the chapter header to 1 Nephi 1. Most chapter headers introduce inserted text from a different author. The chapter header for 1 Nephi 1 and this chapter header for Jacob 2 both introduce text by the main author. Nephi’s first chapter header functions more as a declaration of authorship, but this chapter header does indicate the insertion of material given at a different time but included in the text. What follows is the content of a sermon that Jacob gave. The basic context for the sermon was indicated in Jacob 1. The two critical themes will be multiple wives and being puffed up which is associated with the search for gold and silver.
2 Now, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, according to the responsibility which I am under to God, to magnify mine office with soberness, and that I might rid my garments of your sins, I come up into the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God.
3 And ye yourselves know that I have hitherto been diligent in the office of my calling; but I this day am weighed down with much more desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls than I have hitherto been.
4 For behold, as yet, ye have been obedient unto the word of the Lord, which I have given unto you.
5 But behold, hearken ye unto me, and know that by the help of the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth I can tell you concerning your thoughts, how that ye are beginning to labor in sin, which sin appeareth very abominable unto me, yea, and abominable unto God.
Jacob begins his sermon telling his audience that it will not be a pleasant sermon. Jacob is there to call them to repentance. He is performing his duties so that their sins might not be accounted to his lack of proper instruction. He has been diligent in fulfilling the office of his calling, but now is weighed down, “with much more desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls.”
Verses 4 and 5 form an interesting contrast. He first says that “ye have been obedient unto the word of the Lord,” but follows that with “ye are beginning to labor in sin.” That they were farther along than simply just beginning will become evident as he continues. If he is about to call them to repentance, why does he say that as yet they have been obedient?
The promise of the land is that the Nephites will be protected upon obedience. They have not been destroyed. Therefore, their obedience is at least sufficient to forego that destruction. Nephi was saddened by what he saw as the direction of his people, and Jacob confirms that they continue to head in the wrong direction. If they continue, then will the destruction come.
6 Yea, it grieveth my soul and causeth me to shrink with shame before the presence of my Maker, that I must testify unto you concerning the wickedness of your hearts.
7 And also it grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God;
8 And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul.
Jacob addresses his people at a crucial juncture in their development. They are a new nation, and they have been taught a new religion and new precepts. There were those among them who had been obedient to God’s laws, as evidenced when Jacob told them in verse 4 above that they had, “as of yet. . . been obedient unto the word of the Lord.”
Nevertheless, Jacob has not come to speak of obedience, but rather of the path to disobedience. That same people of whom he said had as yet been obedient, here must be spoken to “concerning the wickedness of your hearts.”
Verse 8 is particularly poignant. Jacob knows that they have come expecting some sermon that might make them feel good, to feel “the word which healeth the wounded soul.” That is not what they are going to get. It will be a sermon to open wounds with the hope of cauterizing them, not to cover them and allow them to fester.
9 Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.
10 But, notwithstanding the greatness of the task, I must do according to the strict commands of God, and tell you concerning your wickedness and abominations, in the presence of the pure in heart, and the broken heart, and under the glance of the piercing eye of the Almighty God.
11 Wherefore, I must tell you the truth according to the plainness of the word of God. For behold, as I inquired of the Lord, thus came the word unto me, saying: Jacob, get thou up into the temple on the morrow, and declare the word which I shall give thee unto this people.
What Jacob will preach comes as a commandment. It is a fascinating contrast between the people who are “as yet” obedient, but nevertheless are to be admonished “according to your crimes.” That there is a contradiction between obedience and crimes is clear, and it suggests that Nephi society may have reached some tipping point where the actions of the majority slip from obedience to what Jacob will describe as their crimes.
We are looking at three verses in this section, and in each one Jacob declares that he is fulfilling Yahweh’s commandment. In verse 11 he quotes Yahweh, telling him when and where to give this speech. With the reinforcement of being repeated three times in three verses, they—and we—are to understand that Yahweh has provided the substance of this sermon. The ills to be described are contrary to Yahweh’s will, and therefore a prophet warns his people.
Pride and Social Inequity Condemned
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.
The first topic is the search for gold and silver. To understand more fully this sin, we need to understand some of the economics behind it. Modern readers see that they searched for gold and silver, and all manner of precious ores, and immediately assume that finding them led to wealth. We understand the California gold rush, where the lucky few did find gold and it made them wealthy.
What we miss in this verse is the final statement. Jacob tells them that gold and silver and precious ore “doth abound most plentifully.” That is the economic contradiction to value. One does not become rich by having what everyone else has in similar quantities. Wealth comes through scarcity. It was the very fact that only a few struck gold in California, and as a percentage of the population of the United States, only very few obtained the gold. That isn’t the inference in Jacob. In Jacob, these ores are plentiful.
Our first clue that we should read Jacob carefully is that our predisposition about the meaning of gold and silver may not inform the issues Jacob will discuss.
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!
Jacob had noted two positive things about his audience. The first was that, as yet, they had obeyed the commandments. The second was that they had come to “hear the pleasing word of the Lord.” Those two positive comments establish the baseline against which he will now show the reality of their situation. Jacob had noted that they had searched for riches, and now notes that they have obtained them.
Jacob is not against riches. There is nothing in his sermon that suggests that riches are inherently problematic. What is a problem, however, is that “some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren.” Wealth isn’t the problem, it is the uneven distribution of that wealth.
However, it isn’t even the actual distribution of wealth. It is virtually impossible that all could be precisely equally rich. The problem isn’t the wealth itself, but the human reaction to that wealth. Because there are those who have accumulated more wealth, they consider themselves better than those who have not accumulated that wealth. The sin is that you “persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.” The sin is exalting oneself over another, particularly for something so worldly as wealth.
Perhaps this is a reason that Jacob noted that there were those in their society who had been obedient. For Jacob, the problem is the smaller set of people who assume that they are better than others. While that is probably a smaller number, it is also probably the more powerful in society. Human society tends to empower the rich, even though wealth may not display the type of leadership that social welfare might require.
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.
In verses 18 and 19 Jacob clearly demonstrates that wealth is not the problem. It is fine to seek riches, but first we should seek the kingdom of God. Then we will have the necessary wealth to use it for the benefit of our fellow beings.
The idea expressed in verse 19 that the rich would use their wealth to clothe the naked and feed the hungry is the logical extension of verse 17’s injunction that they should “think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance.” In the ancient world, that was an understandable and important requirement.
Without attempting to diminish the value of caring for our brethren, we should also understand that the nature of economics and wealth were different in the ancient world. In the Old World, access to land governed the ability to produce, and when land and goods were concentrated in fewer hands, there was less available for others. The ancient world had a concept of limited good. There was only so much wealth available, and if some people took a larger portion of that pie, there was less left for others. Thus, wealth was often considered to have been created by diminishing one’s brethren.
Note Alma’s definition of riches: “And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need—an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth” (Alma 1:29). Although some of these things might be considered the finer trappings of wealth, most of them indicate the ability to provide. If people have an abundance of flocks and herds and of grain, they will be able to eat. If any should fall prey to a natural disaster that might take away the produce of their fields, the excess that others have can fill their want.
In Nephite society, that was the ideal for wealth. It was a situation where all had what they needed, and if a need arose, those with the ability could care for those who had the need. In agricultural societies, that was often the result of the vicissitudes of weather and land, not will.
20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken unto you concerning pride; and those of you which have afflicted your neighbor, and persecuted him because ye were proud in your hearts, of the things which God hath given you, what say ye of it?
21 Do ye not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other. And all flesh is of the dust; and for the selfsame end hath he created them, that they should keep his commandments and glorify him forever.
22 And now I make an end of speaking unto you concerning this pride. And were it not that I must speak unto you concerning a grosser crime, my heart would rejoice exceedingly because of you.
Jacob concludes his discussion of the first grave sin of pride. Although it is placed in terms of the search for gold and silver and the accumulation of wealth, the issue is pride. Nothing in this conclusion returns to the theme of wealth. The problem was always pride. In Nephite society, pride will always be associated with social inequality, with considering one person to be better than another.
Jacob’s setup statement for the next section should have been devastating to his audience. He has told them that their pride was an abomination to God, but that if that were their only problem, Jacob’s “heart would rejoice exceedingly because of you.” An even greater sin is to come.
Unauthorized Polygamy Condemned
23 But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. 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.
24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
25 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.
26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
The grosser crime is that the people have begun to “excuse themselves in committing whoredoms.” The first problem with Jacob’s condemnation is one of definitions. The sin is committing whoredom, but the justification is the scriptural evidence of wives and concubines. Without yet examining the issue of wives and concubines, there is a disconnect between the definition of whoredom and either wife or concubine. The significant difference is legal. Both wives and concubines are legal, and the difference between a wife and a concubine has to do with inheritance rights for the children, not the legality of the marriage. Whoredom indicates something that is not legal.
The juxtaposition of these two suggests that Nephite law, however that was defined, did not allow for multiple wives. Therefore, any who took another wife did so contrary to law, and therefore fit the designation of whoredom.
The contradiction to current law also explains why there was an appeal to the scriptures. If the Nephites believed in the scriptures, then the scriptures could be used as a justification. That is clearly what happened, with the examples of David and Solomon being presented as men in the scriptures who legally had multiple wives and concubines.
Jacob’s response is interesting. He apparently understands that the scriptures contain history that was perhaps not an appropriate model for current behavior. In this case, Jacob declares that Yahweh specifically “will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.” This is a case where God’s current comment supersedes what was allowed at a different time.
27 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;
28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
30 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.
In light of the argument that was made from scripture, Jacob declares the current word of God. The principle is that what God intends for a current people is not dependent upon what was required or allowed for a previous time and place.
The command is clear. The current law is that there be only a single wife. There is no other legal allowance, either for other wives or for concubines. With that declaration, Jacob reminds the people that the promise of the land is that they are preserved upon the condition of living the commandments. The reverse side of that promise is destruction, and that is what Jacob emphasizes when he indicates that the land would be cursed for their sakes.
That leaves a small problem in that there is still the scriptural justification that is contrary to the current commandment. Jacob declares that there are times when Yahweh’s commands to his people are conditional for the times and circumstances of his people. It is possible that Yahweh could command, or allow, multiple wives. However, that is not the current case. God’s word today takes precedence over God’s word to a different people and time.
31 For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands.
32 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.
33 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.
In these three verses, Jacob focuses on the position of the women in Nephite society who have become multiple wives. He has them mourning, as though their marriages were equal to a death. In verse 33 he says that the daughters should not be led away captive. It is difficult to know how these verses are to be read. Were the women coerced into the marriages? There is insufficient evidence to tell.
What we can do, however, is look at the interesting combination of the two sins that were so great that they initiated this sermon. The first was pride through wealth and the second is having multiple wives. Why were these seemingly different sins grouped together?
The answer is speculative but based on the events occurring in the New World in the region, and at the time, that we believe Book of Mormon peoples lived in that region. Economic development requires that there be an excess production of some desirable good which may be exchanged with someone else. The popularity of the exchange would increase the demand, and those who can produce more are able to trade for more. Although this image is from a monetized society, the more you sell, the more money you make.
At that time, there were people who were creating trade goods, and, as Jacob indicated, gathering wealth. The key to wealth was production, and at this early stage, production was a family business. Thus, the more hands, the more product. In the history of the early Maya region, those hands were supplied by multiple wives and the larger number of children available. Therefore, in that time and place, these two incipient sins were precisely the sins most widespread and developing in multiple societies. Since trade would typically be outside the community, those ideas were clearly affecting the way the Nephites saw themselves and what was desirable.
34 And now behold, my brethren, ye know that these commandments were given to our father, Lehi; wherefore, ye have known them before; and ye have come unto great condemnation; for ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done.
35 Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds.
There is no chapter break after verse 35 in the 1830 edition. The current break obscures the function of these two verses as a transition from the condemnation of the plurality of wives to the next theme, which will be the Nephite relationship with the Lamanites.
Verse 34 ends the condemnation. Jacob says: “for ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done.” They contradict current law as given to Lehi, and which should be binding upon them.
Verse 35 introduces the issue of the Lamanites. We remember at this point that Jacob has told us that his definition of Lamanite is any who are against them, or basically, any who are not Nephites. In most ancient societies, there was great animosity towards the outsider, and they were subject to almost codified prejudice. That is what we see here. The Lamanites are considered opposite of the Nephites, and, therefore, Jacob uses them as a juxtaposition to what the Nephites are doing.
When Jacob declares that “ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites,” it would have been almost inconceivable. By cultural definition the Nephites would assume themselves better. After all, it was the Lamanites who were cursed, with the assumption that therefore the Nephites were blessed.
This statement both highlights their sin and transitions into the next discussion.
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