Lesson 13: The Allegory of the Olive Trees

Book of Mormon: Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual, (1999), 56–60


Purpose

To help class members better understand Zenos’s allegory of the olive trees and how it applies in our day.

Preparation

  1. 1.

    Read, ponder, and pray about the following scriptures:

    1. a.

      Jacob 5. Jacob quotes Zenos’s allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, which describes the history and destiny of the house of Israel.

    2. b.

      Jacob 6. Jacob exhorts his listeners to repent and follow Christ.

  2. 2.

    Additional reading: 1 Nephi 10:12–14; 22:3–5; Bible Dictionary, “Olive Tree,” 739–40.

Suggestions for Lesson Development

Attention Activity

As appropriate, use the following activity or one of your own to begin the lesson.

Draw an olive tree on the chalkboard, and ask class members to tell as many things about an olive tree as they can think of in one minute. Write their answers on the chalkboard around the illustration. If class members need help, suggest a few of the answers shown below or listed in the second additional teaching idea.

tree

Explain that this lesson discusses how the olive tree was used as a symbol to describe the Lord’s dealings with the house of Israel.

Scripture Discussion and Application

Prayerfully select the scripture passages, questions, and other lesson material that will best meet class members’ needs. Discuss how the selected scriptures apply to daily life. Encourage class members to share appropriate experiences that relate to the scriptural principles.

1. Jacob quotes Zenos’s allegory of the olive trees.

Discuss Jacob 5. Invite class members to read selected verses aloud. Explain that in this chapter Jacob quotes an allegory from Zenos, a Hebrew prophet mentioned several times in the Book of Mormon. An allegory is a literary device in which one object or event is used to describe or represent another. Zenos’s allegory uses olive trees to summarize Israel’s history and foretell its destiny.

  • What symbols did Zenos use in this allegory? What are the meanings of these symbols?

    Allowing class members to contribute as much as possible, identify the main symbols from the allegory and their meanings. List these in a chart on the chalkboard. The completed chart will look something like this:

    Zenos’s Allegory

    Symbol

    Meaning

    Vineyard

    The world

    Master of the vineyard

    Jesus Christ

    Tame olive tree

    The house of Israel, the Lord’s covenant people

    Wild olive tree

    Gentiles (people not born into the house of Israel)

    Branches

    Groups of people

    Servants

    Prophets and others called to serve

    Fruit

    Lives or works of people

    Leave this chart on the chalkboard throughout the lesson.

  • The allegory begins with the master of the vineyard finding that his tame olive tree is beginning to decay (Jacob 5:3–4). What does this decay represent? (Apostasy.) What did the master of the vineyard do when he found his tame olive tree decaying? (See Jacob 5:4–14. You may need to explain that grafting is a process in which part of a second plant is joined to a first plant in such a way that it becomes a permanent part of the first plant.) Why did the master ask the servant to graft in some wild branches? (See Jacob 5:11, 18.)

  • What does grafting represent in this allegory? (Bringing Gentiles into the house of Israel through baptism.) When was the gospel first taken to the Gentiles? (See Acts 10.)

  • What is represented by transplanting the tame branches into distant parts of the vineyard? (See 1 Nephi 10:12–13.) What specific groups might these tame branches represent? (See 1 Nephi 2:19–20; 22:3–4.) Why was Israel scattered? (See Amos 9:8–9.)

  • The master of the vineyard repeatedly worked with his servant to prune, dig about, and nourish his tree. What does this suggest about Jesus Christ’s involvement in the lives of His people?

  • When the master visited the vineyard for the second time, what did he discover about the wild branches that were grafted into the tame tree? (See Jacob 5:15–18.) What does the bearing of good fruit symbolize? How can new converts add life and strength to the Church?

  • What did the master find when he visited the natural (tame) branches he had planted in various places around the vineyard? (See Jacob 5:19–25. Point out that the branches planted in poor ground brought forth good fruit, while the branches planted in good ground yielded both good and wild fruit.) What application might these situations have for us today?

  • When the master visited the vineyard the third time, what had happened to all the fruit? (See Jacob 5:29–32, 37–42.) What do the many kinds of corrupt fruit symbolize? (Universal apostasy.) What caused the apostasy? (See Jacob 5:37, 40, 48.) What might the “loftiness” of the vineyard symbolize? How can our own loftiness, or pride, prevent us from bearing good fruit?

  • What does the master’s response to his corrupted vineyard tell us about the Lord’s feelings for His people? (See Jacob 5:41, 47.) How does knowing that the Lord loves you make a difference in your life?

    You may want to point out other verses that illustrate the Lord’s love for us. Some suggestions are given below:

    1. a.

      “I will prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it, that … it perish not” (Jacob 5:4).

    2. b.

      “It grieveth me that I should lose this tree” (Jacob 5:7).

    3. c.

      “What shall we do unto the tree, that I may preserve again good fruit thereof unto mine own self?” (Jacob 5:33).

    4. d.

      “I may have joy again in the fruit of my vineyard” (Jacob 5:60).

  • What did the master decide to do to save his corrupted vineyard? (See Jacob 5:49–54, 58, 62–64. He decided to nourish and prune the vineyard once more and graft some of the transplanted branches back into the original tree.) What does this final nourishing, pruning, and grafting represent? (See 1 Nephi 10:14; 2 Nephi 29:14; D&C 33:3–6. The Restoration of the gospel and the gathering of scattered Israel.)

  • Who are the “other servants” mentioned in Jacob 5:61, 70? (See D&C 133:8.) Although these servants are few, what are the results of their efforts? (See Jacob 5:71–75.) How can we help in this final nourishing, pruning, and grafting in the Lord’s vineyard?

2. Jacob exhorts his listeners to repent and follow Christ.

Read and discuss selected verses from Jacob 6.

  • What did Jacob prophesy after relating Zenos’s allegory? (See Jacob 6:1.) What time period did Jacob refer to in Jacob 6:2? (The latter days.) What does this tell us about the relevance of Zenos’s allegory to us?

  • Have a class member read Jacob 6:4–5 aloud. What do these verses teach about how the Savior will recover Israel in the last days?

  • What gospel principles did Jacob emphasize after testifying that the events in Zenos’s allegory would all come to pass? (See Jacob 6:3–13.) What are the responsibilities of those who “have been nourished by the good word of God”? (See Jacob 6:11–12; Moroni 6:3–4.) What are some specific ways we can fulfill these responsibilities? (Emphasize that every member of the Church can fulfill these responsibilities. For example, we can invite our nonmember friends to talk with the missionaries, we can serve diligently as home teachers and visiting teachers, and couples can serve full-time missions together.)

Conclusion

President Joseph Fielding Smith said, “Today Latter-day Saints are going to all parts of the world as servants in the vineyard to gather this fruit and lay it in store for the time of the coming of the Master” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 4:142). Emphasize that we should participate in this great gathering. Because we have been nourished by the Lord, we are obligated to help others receive this nourishment.

As directed by the Spirit, testify of the truths discussed during the lesson.

Additional Teaching Ideas

The following material supplements the suggested lesson outline. You may want to use one or more of these ideas as part of the lesson.

1. Sherem’s false teachings

Discuss the account of Sherem, found in Jacob 7:1–23.

  • How did Sherem lead many people away from the truth? (See Jacob 7:1–7.) What evidence do you see that some people today use similar methods to lead others away from Christ?

  • How was Jacob able to confound Sherem? (See Jacob 7:8–22.) How can we protect ourselves from the deceptions of anti-Christs? (See Jacob 7:23; Romans 16:17–18; Ephesians 4:11–15.)

    President Joseph Fielding Smith said: “There is not anything in this world of as great importance to us as obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us search these scriptures. Let us know what the Lord has revealed. Let us put our lives in harmony with his truth. Then we will not be deceived” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 1:301).

2. Additional information about olive trees

The more we know about olive trees, the better we can understand why Zenos was inspired to use this particular tree to symbolize Israel. Share the following information as appropriate during the lesson (if needed, use some of this information as part of the attention activity):

  1. a.

    The olive tree is a living thing that can produce much fruit. It requires constant nourishment to survive.

  2. b.

    The olive branch is traditionally a symbol of peace.

  3. c.

    The tree must be carefully pruned to be fruitful and productive.

  4. d.

    For a wild olive tree to become tame and productive, its main stem must be cut back completely, and a branch from a tame olive tree must be grafted into the stem of the wild one.

  5. e.

    An olive tree may produce fruit for centuries. Some trees now growing in Israel have been producing abundantly for over 400 years.

  6. f.

    As a tree grows old and begins to die, its roots send up new shoots, which, if grafted and pruned, will mature to full-grown olive trees. Thus, the root of the tree may go on producing new trees and fruit for thousands of years.

3. Youth activity

The allegory of the olive trees can be difficult for youth to understand. You may want to have class members illustrate the allegory on the chalkboard as you discuss it. Or you could set up the classroom as if it were the vineyard (the world) and have class members walk through the allegory as you discuss it, as shown below:

Sketch an olive tree on a poster and label it Jerusalem (the House of Israel). Place this poster on the floor in the middle of the room. Sketch a branch of an olive tree on each of several other posters. Label these posters as areas where parts of the house of Israel were dispersed (The Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and so on). Place these posters on the floor around the perimeter of the classroom. Have class members move from poster to poster at appropriate times in the discussion of the allegory. For example, have some class members represent the house of Israel (tame, or natural, branches) and have some represent Gentiles (wild branches). When you discuss the master of the vineyard grafting in wild branches, have the class members representing Gentiles move to the center poster. When you talk about the master of the vineyard taking natural branches and planting them throughout the vineyard, have the class members representing the house of Israel move to the posters on the perimeter of the classroom.