|Photo by from|
This morning I was reading Jacob 5, the allegory of the olive tree, but I also had this question in the back of my mind. There must have been many other trees in the vineyard besides this one. Why was he so focused on this particular tree? When I finished reading the chapter, I picked up my notebook and started writing the thoughts that had come to my mind relative to this question as I had been reading. Here are those thoughts, with others I've had this morning as I've pondered further:
- God has a plan for his children to return to his presence with greater knowledge and experience. God's "work and ...glory [is] to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39) He wants all of his children to return to him, and I can't even imagine all the plans and preparations he needed to put into place for his plan to have any chance of succeeding. (Satan's plan where we would all be saved without faith or struggle might have been so much easier... but that would be like a test where the teacher gave us all the answers; we wouldn't learn what we needed to learn.)
According to God's plan, the Savior of the world would have to be born on earth, and he could only be born one time, in one place, to one group of people. These people would have to have some foundation of truth so proper priesthood authority would exist and so Christ's teachings wouldn't be completely foreign and would be accepted by many people, and yet they would need to be wicked enough to kill an innocent man who had done nothing but good. It would also be necessary for the knowledge of Christ's ministry and teaching to be spread to as many as possible. This society of people would have to be selected carefully and nurtured so the Plan would be fulfilled properly.
- We don't have a lot of information about what happened between Noah, the tower of Babel, and Abraham's day. We know that the people were scattered and that their languages were changed. Therefore, the majority of the people on earth wouldn't have had readable records of God's teachings. We know Jared and his brother had one record which they took to the other continent. (Ether 1:3) How many other copies existed? Without written records, most of the people of the world would have forgotten all they might have known about the God who created them within a few generations (see Omni 1:17). Shem, Noah's son, probably would have had Adam's record, and he probably passed it down through his descendants. We know that Abraham was Shem's descendant, and that Abraham's fathers had turned to apostasy, but Abraham chose to be righteous and so he was able to preserve the records with God's teachings. (Abraham 1:31)
In other words, almost all of God's children were scattered and lost, and only a small remnant, including Abraham, retained a knowledge of the truth of the Plan and the Savior.
- God loves all his children throughout the world. He wants them to know the truth of his plan, so he reveals himself to righteous men and women so they can be prophets to their own people. They preach of Christ, and they keep records so they can remember those teachings.
But with the majority of his children scattered and lost to apostasy, how could God, whose greatest desire was to bring his children back to him, provide a way for all of them to learn about him and his plan? He used the tools he had. The Jaredite "tree" were his representatives for a while somewhere on the American continent, and Abraham's family were his representatives in the Middle East. Perhaps there were other "good trees" in other parts of the Lord's vineyard as well, but Abraham's family was chosen to be the society into which Christ would be born.
- The Lord favors the righteous, whoever they may be, whether descendants of Abraham or not. However, over time, people fall into apostasy. Prophets are rejected and killed. Records are destroyed or lost. Teachings of the prophets are forgotten. The Jaredite nation went in and out of apostasy many, many times. The house of Israel did as well, but in both nations, there was a written record of truth that could bring people back to the path. There were people who desired to be righteous who the Lord called to be prophets to call the rest of the people to repentance. There may have been other righteous civilizations in other parts of the world and they were surely favored of the Lord for as long as their righteousness lasted.
- Being God's "chosen people" didn't do the Israelites many favors. They were conquered and enslaved many times. They were carried into captivity. They were scattered and lost themselves. However, because God needed them to provide the proper environment for the Savior to be born, he preserved them from being destroyed completely. He sent prophets to remind them of the truths their fathers had known. At times he "pruned" or allowed the more wicked parts to be killed so they wouldn't drag the rest of the people into apostasy. He even granted miracles that would help them to retain an identity as a people, and to remember their God. Through the ages, the memory of who they were as a society continued, and somehow an unbroken chain of priesthood was preserved, so that when Christ was born, he was able to fulfill his part in the Plan.
- It wasn't just enough that God provide the proper environment for Christ to be born. It was also important that God spread the word of his plan and of Christ to his other children. This may have been one of the reasons for the scattering of Israel - to spread what they knew of the gospel to other people throughout the world. We know that groups of Israelites were scattered at various times in their history. Some were taken in war and carried off to parts unknown. Others, like Lehi's family, left of their own free will. In the allegory of the olive tree, the branches of the tree were scattered to different parts of the vineyard. The Book of Mormon people were just one of at least three branches that were scattered, but they were all still nourished by the master of the vineyard.
- Records of Christ would be most plentiful where Christ actually lived. He made an impression that continued on past his death. It, too, decayed into apostasy over time, but some records survived long enough to become the Bible. Christ also visited people in the Americas, hence another impression was made there, a record was preserved and God caused it to be found in our day as a second witness of Bible truths. By the Savior's teaching "Other sheep I have which are not of this fold..." (John 10:16, 3 Nephi 15:17) we know there are other people that Christ has visited of whom we still have no record. (See 2 Nephi 29:10-13)
- The wise men from the East came from another people who had heard of the prophecies of Christ. Were they of the house of Israel? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Maybe they had been taught of the Messiah by some branch that had been broken off. Or maybe they had been revealed the truth of God's plan some other way. I don't know. The wonderful thing is that they were close enough and rich enough that they were able to come witness Christ's birth and carry the news back to their own people. Were they chosen specially by God? Yes! Does it matter whether or not they were of the House of Israel? No!
- What about today? In all the talk about the gathering of Israel happening today, is God only concerned about gathering Abraham's direct descendants? No. The children of Israel are the ones that have been selected for the work of spreading the knowledge of God's Plan and the Savior to all of God's children. The Lord's chosen people, however, are all the righteous. The work of gathering is to gather everyone who will hear the gospel and accept it and be baptized. Missionary work and temple work today aren't limited to just certain people of certain lineage. It is for everyone on earth, past and present.
- So to sum up.... God wants his children to return to him - as many of them as are willing to accept Christ and the plan. These are the righteous - the good fruit, whoever or wherever they may be. Abraham's family was a tree that gave good fruit. They were righteous and had the necessary knowledge of God's plan. Because of this, they were chosen to do a job - to produce as much good fruit as possible. God gave them the protection and help (pruning, digging, nourishing) that they needed to accomplish that job. The Israelites were then scattered to bring the knowledge of the gospel to God's other children throughout the world where they continued to be nourished. Now in our day, through both missionary and temple work they all are being gathered from all over the world, back to a knowledge of the restored gospel, of God's plan, and the role of the Savior so we will be ready when he comes again.