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1 But behold, I, Jacob, would speak unto you that are pure in heart. Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause, and send down justice upon those who seek your destruction.
2 O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may, if your minds are firm, forever.
3 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.
As Jacob transitions from discussing the sin of thinking oneself better than another, he returns to the idea that not all people are under condemnation. He had said that the Nephites were, as yet, living the commandments. Then launched into the sin of those who were not.
Similarly, the transition recognizes that not all are under condemnation. There are those who are pure in heart. They have been faithful and are admonished to continue to be faithful. Those people are not the target of his sermon. The next phase of the sermon begins by pronouncing a wo upon those who are not pure in heart.
The way that Jacob will begin to make this case is interesting. He brings the Lamanites into the issue. The Lamanites are the enemy, and most people create divisions between the in-group and the out-group. The in-group is good, and the out-group is not as good. In the ancient world, it was often more dramatic, and for the Nephites, it was an even greater division. Nephites were good. Lamanites were the opposite. The social division had been reinforced by prohibitions of intermarriage. They were dangerous; they were opposites.
In spite of that difference, Jacob uses them as a comparison against which the Nephites do not fare well. In absolute contrast to cultural expectation, Jacob declares that the Lamanites “are not filthy like unto you.” Built into that reversal is the reminder that the negative aspect of the promise of the land is that the Nephites would be destroyed if they do not live the commandments. Jacob does not threaten them with destruction, but with scourging. Perhaps there are sufficient numbers of righteous to forestall destruction, but not to prevent serious problems.
4 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.
5 Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them.
6 And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them, but will be merciful unto them; and one day they shall become a blessed people.
Jacob is aware of Nephi’s prophecy that the Nephites would be destroyed, but that the Lamanites would remain. That prophetic knowledge undergirds this part of the discussion. The essential prophecy is in verses 4 and 6, where verse 4 indicates that the Lamanites will possess the Nephite lands, and verse 6 promises that the Lamanites will not be destroyed but will one day be redeemed—will “become a blessed people.”
Nevertheless, Jacob appears to be referencing something long before the end of the Nephites in a thousand years. The most likely reference is to the dispersal of the Nephites out of the land of Nephi and into the land of Zarahemla under the reign of Mosiah1 (father of Benjamin). Thus, verse 4 notes that “the Lord God will lead away the righteous out from among you.
The immediate point is contained in verse 5. Jacob reiterates that the Lamanites are the outsiders, and that they are hated. The expectation that the Nephites are good and the Lamanites are bad is upended when Jacob declares that they “are more righteous than you.” The reason has to do with the marriage law Lehi gave his children; they are to have no more than one wife. The Lamanites are living that law. Clearly, some of the Nephites are not.
See the comments on 2 Nephi 5:20-21 for a short discussion of the skin of blackness. Jacob refers to the cursing of the Lamanites, and notes that the curse came upon their skins. In Jacob, there is no reference to pigmentation, just to the curse. Interestingly, one of the elements of the curse was that they were to be a scourge to the Nephites, a threat that Jacob has reiterated in verse 3.
Nephite Prejudice Condemned
7 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?
8 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.
The contrast between the Lamanites and the Nephites continues and is intensified. Jacob declares that Lamanite husbands love their wives, and their wives and children love their fathers. There is an implicit statement that this is not the case for the Nephites practicing plural marriage. Indeed, Jacob already discussed the plight of the women in Jacob 2:32 and 33.
The assumed superiority of the Nephites over the Lamanites is again questioned. If the Lamanites have loving families and live the law given to Lehi, and the unstated declaration is that the Nephites do not, Jacob asks “how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?”
It was that Creator who had given the commandment that the Nephites were violating. Therefore, Jacob also declares “I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye are brought with them before the throne of God.” Again, we see the reference to white skins. In this case, it is obvious that the word white is being used in the sense of purity or righteousness. The skin is simply the metaphorical location of this aspect.
Many in the ancient world believed that what was inside a person could be seen on the surface. Hence, righteousness might be visibly manifest. That is the concept behind the metaphor that is expressed in Joel 2:6 and Nahum 2:10, where faces gather blackness. There is no assumption of a change in pigmentation, only that the pain would be metaphorically visible on their faces.
9 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers.
10 Wherefore, ye shall remember your children, how that ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them; and also, remember that ye may, because of your filthiness, bring your children unto destruction, and their sins be heaped upon your heads at the last day.
11 O my brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death.
This is the conclusion of the sermon. He ends, as he should, with a command to repent. What Jacob does do is highlight the reversal of expectations. He tells the Nephites not to revile the Lamanites, if the Lamanites are better than they are.
In verse 10 he asks that they remember their children. It is interesting that there is no declaration that any should divorce any wives. The command is to remember their children, and what is being taught to them. It is speculation, because this is all Jacob gives us, but it appears that Jacob is willing to allow those with multiple wives to continue in the responsibilities they have made to those families. The injunction would be to stop the practice and teach the children that it should not occur.
Jacob’s sermon presents two seemingly unrelated issues. One is the pride of self, coming from the search for wealth, and the second is multiple wives. Is there a connection between those two?
Assuming a Mesoamerican background, around the time that Jacob is giving this sermon, the early cities of the Maya have been forming, and social distinctions are becoming apparent in the archaeological record. Archaeologists studying that rise have suggested that one of the mechanisms for the rise in social segregation was a set of people they have called aggrandizers. These were people who attempted to accumulate more than others and were eventually successful.
The actual mechanism for such aggrandizing was trade. Trade required goods in surplus that were available for trade. Therefore, those who could produce a greater surplus of trade goods were in a position to receive more in the exchange, and thus elevate themselves above those who did not have that ability.
In the early stages of the trade, production was largely family based, and one of the ways to have more workers was to have more wives and more children. Thus, there were more workers who would create the trade goods.
In the assumed Mesoamerican context, the very time and place in which we suggest for the early Nephites is right in the middle of a larger culture that is going through the very same growing pains and is witnessing the very same sins that Jacob decries. Across the region, there were those who were creating social segregation based upon the wealth they were accumulating, and they were accumulating that wealth through large families consisting of multiple wives and, therefore, a larger number of children.
12 And now I, Jacob, spake many more things unto the people of Nephi, warning them against fornication and lasciviousness, and every kind of sin, telling them the awful consequences of them.
13 And a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, which now began to be numerous, cannot be written upon these plates; but many of their proceedings are written upon the larger plates, and their wars, and their contentions, and the reigns of their kings.
14 These plates are called the plates of Jacob, and they were made by the hand of Nephi. And I make an end of speaking these words.
When Nephi wrote the book of 1 Nephi, he clearly had an outline for the entire book. There was a long story he wanted to tell, and he wanted to tell it in a particular way. That plan also drove the early chapters of 2 Nephi. In contrast, Jacob has no plan for his book. It exists in three discreet sections. This first is a sermon. The next is a different sermon on a different topic, and then finally there is his conflict with Sherem. There is no cohesion.
This closing statement would have been a fine ending for the book of Jacob. The declaration that these are the plates of Jacob, and that he couldn’t write everything, are both themes for conclusions, not beginnings.
It appears that in contrast to Nephi’s plan, Jacob wrote in sections, probably with time between writing. Thus, he writes three incidents and had no plan for future text. It is possible that the next sermon had not yet been given when Jacob wrote this part of his record, contrasting with Nephi’s retroactive writing of his history, which didn’t catch up to real time until 2 Nephi 5.
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