Jacob 5-6: The Allegory of the Olive Tree

Book of Mormon Student Study Guide, (2000), 63–65


An allegory is a story that uses symbols to explain important truths. The allegory of the olive tree in Jacob 5 teaches us about the Lord’s purposes in the scattering and gathering of the house of Israel. In chapter 6, the prophet Jacob summarized the major points of the allegory. At the end of Jacob 4, Jacob asked how the Jews could ever build on the “sure foundation” of Jesus Christ after they rejected Him (see Jacob 4:17). Look for the answer to that question in Jacob 5–6.

Understanding the Scriptures

Jacob 5

Waxed old (v. 3)Grew old
Cumber (v. 9, 30)Burden
Nethermost (vv. 13–14, 19, 38)Lowest
Whithersoever (v. 13)Wherever
Whither (v. 20)Where
Hither (vv. 21, 23–25)Here
Withered (vv. 40, 43, 45)Shrunk or shriveled
Hewn, hew (vv. 46–47, 49)Cut
Dunged, dung (vv. 47, 64)Fertilized, fertilize

Jacob 5:1—Who Was the Prophet Zenos?

Zenos, along with Zenock and Neum, were prophets during Old Testament times whose writings are not found in the Bible but were found on the plates of brass (see 1 Nephi 19:10; “Studying the Scriptures” section for 1 Nephi 19:10, p. 30).

Jacob 5—Understanding Zenos’s Allegory

Every item in an allegory is not necessarily meant as a symbol for something else, but certain major symbols must be understood in order to understand the allegory. The following symbols are important in understanding the allegory of the olive tree:

Symbol

What It Might Represent

The vineyard

The world

Master of the vineyard; Lord of the vineyard

God

Servants

The Lord’s prophets

Tame olive tree

The house of Israel, the Lord’s covenant people

Wild olive tree

Gentiles, or non-Israelites (later in the allegory the wild branches are apostate Israel)

Branches

Groups of people

The roots of the tame olive tree

The covenants the Lord makes with His children, a constant source of strength and life to the faithful

The fruit

The lives or works of men

Digging, pruning, fertilizing

The work the Lord does for His children to help them be obedient and fruitful

Transplanting the branches

Scattering groups of people throughout the world, or restoring them to where they came from

Grafting

The joining of one group of people to another; referring to scattered Israel, it also means to “come to the knowledge of the true Messiah” (see 1 Nephi 10:14)

Decaying branches

People dying spiritually from sin and apostasy

Casting branches into the fire

God’s judgments

Jacob 5:8–10—What Does It Mean to “Graft” Branches?

To graft branches, healthy, living branches are cut from a tree or plant and inserted into another place (see accompanying illustration). The branches in this allegory represent groups of people that the Lord takes from one place and plants them in another. In the scriptural sense, grafting means to “come to the knowledge of the true Messiah” (1 Nephi 10:14).

grafting

Grafting branches

Jacob 5:8, 13–14, 19–25—The “Young and Tender” Branches of the House of Israel

The “young and tender branches” seem to be those people who responded to the “pruning and fertilizing” by God and His prophets. They were more teachable than the old established branches, or the groups of Israelites who had to be removed and destroyed.

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught: “In that parable the olive tree is the House of Israel. … In its native land it began to die. So the Lord took branches like the Nephites, like the lost tribes, and like others that the Lord led off that we do not know anything about, to other parts of the earth. He planted them all over his vineyard, which is the world” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 4:204).

Zenos’s allegory helps us understand that the scattering of branches of Israel all over the world was a blessing both to Israel and to the rest of Heavenly Father’s children, the Gentiles. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained: “In general, the Lord sends to earth in the lineage of Jacob [Israel] those spirits who in pre-existence developed an especial talent for spirituality and for recognizing truth. Those born in this lineage, having the blood of Israel in their veins and finding it easy to accept the gospel, are said to have believing blood” (Mormon Doctrine, 81).

As scattered Israel mixed with the Gentiles around them, the blood of Israel was spread even further. Elder James E. Faust, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, commented: “The scattering of Israel throughout the world sprinkled the blood that believes, so that many nations may now partake of the gospel plan” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1982, 127; or Ensign, Nov. 1982, 87–88).

Jacob 5:32–46—When Did All the Trees Become Corrupt?

The part of the allegory when all the trees bear evil fruit seems to represent the period of the Apostasy, prior to the restoration of the gospel. When the Lord spoke to Joseph Smith in the First Vision, He told Joseph that he should join none of the churches of that day because they were all “wrong” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19).

Jacob 6

Stiffnecked (v. 4)Stubborn
Gainsaying (v. 4)Contradicting, opposing
Beseech (v. 5)Beg, plead
Cleave, cleaveth (v. 5)Join with, hold on to

Studying the Scriptures

Do activities A and B as you study Jacob 5–6.

Activity A iconWhat Does Zenos’s Allegory Teach Us about the House of Israel?

After you have studied the olive tree allegory in Jacob 5, write in your notebook whether the following statements are true or false and list the verses where you found the answers. (Use the chart on page 65 of this manual for additional help.)

  1. 1.

    The tame olive tree represents the house of Israel and the decaying branches represent wicked people.

  2. 2.

    The master of the vineyard pruned and nourished the tree to make it bear good fruit.

  3. 3.

    The young and tender natural branches rebelled and were transplanted or scattered as punishment.

  4. 4.

    The natural branch, planted in good soil, that grew good fruit and bad fruit could represent the Nephites and Lamanites.

  5. 5.

    There is a time when all the trees bear only evil fruit. Then the Lord proceeded to restore the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith.

  6. 6.

    The branches of the trees that were scattered were later grafted back into their original tree.

  7. 7.

    There is never a time when all the trees bear only good fruit.

Activity B iconHow Does This Allegory Apply to Me?

In your notebook, answer any three of the following questions:

  1. 1.

    In what part of the allegory do you think we are living today? Why?

  2. 2.

    Why do you think Jacob was willing to record this long allegory on the plates?

  3. 3.

    What does the scattering and gathering of Israel mean to you?

  4. 4.

    What do you learn from this allegory about Heavenly Father’s concern for all of His children?

  5. 5.

    What are some things the Lord has done in your life to “prune” and “nourish” you?

  6. 6.

    Jacob 6 is a summary of Jacob 5. What verses in Jacob 6:5–13 do you think best summarize what the allegory of the olive tree means to you? Explain why you chose those verses.

The Olive Tree Allegory (Jacob 5)

Olive Tree Alegory chart(click to view larger)