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Brief Profile of Jacob
Sariah, wife of Lehi, gave birth to two sons in the wilderness sojourn before the ship voyage to the Promised Land. Jacob was the firstborn of those two, Joseph the last born. Jacob was likely born about 598 B.C. and could have been baptized at the place Bountiful, where Nephi built the ship. As the 35 members (perhaps a few more) of the family of Lehi and Ishmael boarded the ship at Bountiful, twelve of them were nine years old or under-Jacob was among this latter group. He suffered much on the voyage to the Promised Land due to the rudeness of his older brothers, Laman and Lemuel.
Jacob received his patriarchal blessing from his father Lehi shortly before Lehi died. In it we receive much insight of this young prophet. Lehi said, “I know that thou art redeemed, because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer; for thou hast beheld that in the fulness of time he cometh to bring salvation unto men. And thou hast beheld in thy youth his glory…” (2 Nephi 2:3,4.) Lehi alludes here to experiences that his young son, Jacob, had already had with the Lord, not unlike the visions and experiences of Nephi (see 1 Nephi 11-14).
Nephi also testified concerning his younger brother Jacob: “And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. For I will liken his words unto my people, and I will send them forth unto all my children, for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him. And my brother, Jacob, also has seen him as I have seen him; wherefore, I will send their words forth unto my children to prove unto them that my words are true. Wherefore, by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word.” (2 Nephi 11:2,3, emphasis added.)
We know that one of the children of Jacob was Enos who would become a prophet and one of the keepers of the records of the Nephites.
Having seen the Lord and partaken of his goodness and righteousness, Jacob seemed to have special understanding of the atonement and the great plan of happiness. Jacob’s writings in chapters 9 and 10 of 2nd Nephi are some of the most sublime in all of holy writ. Jacob had been trained and tutored not only in the fiery furnace of affliction and trial, but also by his righteous brother, Nephi, and his prophet father, Lehi. He had learned early on to be obedient and true to the Lord. When Nephi died in approximately 543 B.C., Jacob and Joseph were given the spiritual charge of the people of Nephi. Jacob was likely about 52 years old when he took his role as spiritual leader and prophet of the people of Nephi.
One can discern from the record that Jacob’s life was full of powerful, spiritual experiences. He wrote: “Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.” (Jacob 4:6) It seems from following the patterns of Jacob’s writings he was not referring to these last experiences as metaphors but as actual spiritual experiences from his own lifetime.
Jacob gave us 3% of the text of the entire Book of Mormon (8,491 words out of the 269,329 total). His words sink deeply in the hearts of the readers. He was easy to understand as he spoke freely and openly of the things of God.
Jacob was taught by angels. He recorded: “Wherefore, as I said unto you, it must needs be expedient that Christ–for in the last night the angel spake unto me that this should be his name–should come among the Jews…” (2 Nephi 10:3)
Jacob was close the Spirit. When he later confronted Sherem and was able to deal with that anti-Christ, Jacob recorded: “But behold, the Lord God poured in his Spirit into my soul, insomuch that I did confound him in all his words.” (Jacob 7:8)
Jacob was the prophet and teacher of the people of Nephi, likely for more than forty years. He was the second in a line of at least 23 scribes who were the keepers of the records of the Nephites. He likely passed away about the age of 95, around 503 B.C. His teachings are transcendent to our time.
Jacob Invites All to Come Unto Christ
Jacob felt a great responsibility to teach the people correct principles and to lead them to the Fount of all righteousness. “And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.” (Jacob 1:19)
Jacob recorded, “And we also had many revelations, and the spirit of much prophecy; wherefore, we knew of Christ and his kingdom, which should come.
“Wherefore,” Jacob continued, “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…” (Jacob 1:6,7) The very purpose of the Church today is to help individuals and families to come unto Christ and obtain, through holy ordinances and diligence to the end, eternal life. The Lord declared to Moses: “For behold, this is my work and my glory-to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) “Yea, come unto Christ,” Moroni recorded near the end of the Book of Mormon, “and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” (Moroni 10:32) Nephi added his witness: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do…And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” (2 Nephi 25:23,26)
Jacob concludes with this exhortation: “Wherefore, beloved brethren, be reconciled unto [God] 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. And now, beloved, marvel not that I tell you these things; for why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him, as to attain to the knowledge of a resurrection and the world to come?” (Jacob 4:11,12) Jacob spent his long life encouraging and exhorting his people to come unto Christ.
On Seeking Riches
Soon after the death of the prophet Nephi, his people began “to search for gold, and for silver, and for all manner of precious ores, in the which this land, which is the land of promise unto you and your seed, doth abound most plentifully.
“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.” (Jacob 2:12,13) Dr. Hugh Nibley tells a story about his own students in relation to this section of the Book of Jacob:
“Less than a month ago I gave students in a Book of Mormon class the choice of writing a term paper on either a religious or economic theme. Ninety-four percent of the class chose the theme ‘Discuss the problem of riches in the Book of Mormon.’ Almost every scholar began by evoking the sacred cliche: there is nothing wrong with wealth itself; wealth as such is good. It is only how you use it that may be bad. They insisted that a free market was the perfect and flawless order of things, the ordained sanction of free agency. It is only when the system is abused that things go wrong, and that in itself proves that it is good in itself…
“The two passages which the students choose to score their point are anything but a brief for riches if we read them with care. They were highly favored by the class because out of more than sixty statements on the seeking of wealth in the Book of Mormon, these are virtually the only ones that can be interpreted as giving countenance to the profit motive. The first of these passages is Jacob 2:18-19: ‘But before ye seek for riches, seek ye first for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ, ye shall obtain riches if ye seek them.’ That is the great favorite.
“It is the standard practice to stop there and leave it at that. But even if we go no further, the plain lesson of the injunction is to seek the kingdom of God first of all. And how do we build up the kingdom of God and establish Zion? By observing and keeping the law of consecration. What does that mean? The preceding verse, routinely overlooked, explains: ‘Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance.’ How free? ‘That they may be rich like unto you’ (Jacob 2:17). That looks suspiciously like equalizing the wealth-this is with reference to ‘substance’; you cannot get out of it by saying you will make them ‘spiritually rich.’ We give the poor enough to make us feel virtuous and keep them on the leash, but the order here is for a basic redistribution of wealth. And when do you stop seeking the kingdom of God on the earth and turn to seeking riches? Certainly not as long as the Lord’s Prayer is effective. If God’s kingdom is to come (a place on earth where his will is done), then we must remove the great obstacle of it-the burden of debt which binds all mankind and robs them of freedom of choice and action. That removal is ‘the Lord’s release’…the cancellation of all debts, required by what we think of as the primitive, savage, tribal law of Moses (Leviticus 25)-far more humane than our own. The Lord’s Prayer given in the Book of Mormon preserves the correct business terminology of Matthew 6:12: ‘Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors’ (routinely softened to read ‘trespasses’). It is a literal cancellation of debt which is required by the Mosaic Law before we can have the kingdom of God on earth. ‘It is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin’ (D&C 49:20). But when do you start seeking riches for yourself? Never, according to Jacob, since your intent in seeking them is to give to others. That is no way to maximize profits! But we are still ignoring that big ‘if,’ which admonishes us to consider the context of the speech. Jacob has gathered the people together because he has been commanded to give them two messages which he is very reluctant to deliver, the first being an impassioned rebuke to people possessed with gold fever. He must hold their attention and not lose them completely. The best he can do is to tell them that if they must seek riches, they should get them under only two conditions, 1) seeking for the kingdom of God, which means not giving up until you have found it, and 2) seeking with the intent to give to others, to the point of achieving the kingdom.” (1)
The lessons from the teachings of Jacob are clear. All of our efforts in this life must be to bring people unto Christ and to use the resources we obtain to bring people to Christ as well!
Chastity and Plural Marriage
Jacob’s people had not only sought after riches in an unrighteous way, they also began to justify themselves, feigning to understand the scriptures, in taking upon themselves more than one wife and committing adultery. The word of the Lord was revealed to Jacob concerning his people: “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” (Jacob 2:23). Many of the people had begun to practice unauthorized plural marriage and go against that which the Lord had counseled: “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. Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes” (Jacob 2:27-29).
The misunderstanding of this teaching in the Book of Mormon became a great problem for David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon and was one of the reasons he gave for his staying disaffected from the Church. In an interview published on January 24, 1888 in The Chicago Times the following was reported: “Whitmer’s faith in Joseph Smith has always remained steadfast. He has ever considered him a God-fearing man, and divinely appointed to preach God’s word. Polygamy in any shape or form has never formed part of Whitmer’s creed, and wherever he has been called upon to speak upon the subject he invariably expressed the deepest loathing for the abomination. He has ever asserted the doctrine to be directly a contradiction of the teachings of the Book of Mormon, which in themselves have always been defended by this zealous adherent as free from moral blemish.” (2) In an earlier interview with David Whitmer on December 15, 1885, a correspondent from the Chicago Tribune reported the following: “The Book of Mormon as originally translated he asserts to be without moral blemish, and says it is eminently fit for the library of the most exacting moral philosopher. It expressly forbids polygamy…” (3)
Apparently Brother David only held to the few verses quoted above but did not become familiar with or understand verse 30 of Jacob, chapter 2: “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” (emphasis added). A perusal of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, the edition with which David Whitmer was likely the most familiar, reads exactly the same. (4) For a brief season of less than fifty years, the Lord commanded the practice of plural marriage in this kingdom, then in 1890 the practice was, by revelation and counsel of the prophet Wilford Woodruff, ceased. The practice was instituted by the Lord and was rescinded by the Lord, just as the teachings of the Book of Mormon state.
“We Knew of Christ”
Jacob summarized by giving profound insight into the keeping of the record of the Nephites and the faithful Nephites’ feelings for the gospel of Jesus Christ: “Now behold, it came to pass that I , Jacob, having ministered much unto my people in word, (and I cannot write but a little of my words, because of the difficulty of engraving our words upon plates) and we know that the things which we write upon plates must remain; but whatsoever things we write upon anything save it be upon plates must perish and vanish away; but we can write a few words upon plates, which will give our children, and also our beloved brethren, a small degree of knowledge concerning us, or concerning their fathers-Now in this thing we do rejoice; and we labor diligently to engraven these words upon plates, hoping that our beloved brethren and our children will receive them with thankful hearts, and look upon them that they may learn with joy and not with sorrow, neither with contempt, concerning their first parents. For, for this intent have we written these things, that they may know that we knew of Christ, and we had hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming; and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us” (Jacob 4:1-4).
1. Nibley, Hugh. The Prophetic Book of Mormon. Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City and Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, 1989, pp. 558-561.
- Cook, Lyndon W. David Whitmer Interviews, A Restoration Witness. Grandin Book Company, Orem, Utah, 1991, pp. 252-53.
- Ibid, p. 178.
- The Book of Mormon. Palmyra edition, 1830, p. 127. The only change in the verse was the semi-colon of today’s verse 30, after the word people, was a colon.