Monday, November 8, 2010

Millenial Positivism: Jacob Chapter 5 -- Breeding Out the Bad Fruit

As promised, here is the first installment of my series on "Millennial Positivism", or a version of pre-Millennial events that doesn't sound like something out of Mad Max.

The fifth chapter of Jacob offers a unique take on pre-Millennial events. Most other revelations on the subject tend to jump around and talk about various "signs" without presenting a coherent narrative. The fifth chapter of Jacob, on the other hand, runs straight through starting from some time after the exodus and ending with the burning of the earth following the Millennium and the great final battle between good and evil. It sticks to a single allegorical model -- olive trees in a vineyard -- throughout. It skips over many of the usual touchstones found in similar revelations; no talk of great tribulation, cataclysmic natural and man-made disasters, armageddon, or any of the other hallmarks of apocalyptic writing. Instead it focuses on the overall process of ridding the world of evil, and how that is to be accomplished in the "last days". The resulting tone is much more upbeat than one usually encounters in these sorts of revelations.

The story starts by setting the scene; we are presented with a vineyard wherein are found "wild" olive trees and a single "natural" olive tree. The vineyard represents the world, and the natural olive tree represents the House of Israel.

The focus is on producing fruit fit for consumption, and two people (the Master of the vineyard and his Servant) are the main human actors who attempt to manipulate the trees to achieve that objective. In the beginning the "natural" tree is old and decaying. The Master, who doesn't want to lose the tree, embarks on a series of schemes to try and obtain good fruit from the tree again.

The story thus progresses, with the Master and Servant working to manipulate the trees of the vineyard so they'll produce good fruit. By about half-way through the narrative, there is no longer any tree in the vineyard producing good fruit. At this point the Master unveils a new plan for saving all the trees of his vineyard:
62 Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our might this last time, for behold the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard.
63 Graft in the branches; begin at the last that they may be first, and that the first may be last, and dig about the trees, both old and young, the first and the last; and the last and the first, that all may be nourished once again for the last time.
64 Wherefore, dig about them, and prune them, and dung them once more, for the last time, for the end draweth nigh. And if it be so that these last grafts shall grow, and bring forth the natural fruit, then shall ye prepare the way for them, that they may grow.
65 And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.
66 For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.
67 And the branches of the natural tree will I graft in again into the natural tree;
68 And the branches of the natural tree will I graft into the natural branches of the tree; and thus will I bring them together again, that they shall bring forth the natural fruit, and they shall be one.
69 And the bad shall be cast away, yea, even out of all the land of my vineyard; for behold, only this once will I prune my vineyard. (source: Jacob 5:62-69)
There is much to discuss here, but most of the action centers around verse 66. The bad is to be removed, not all at once, but as the good gains strength. This process is to continue until all of the bad is cast out of the vineyard. The vineyard, remember, is the world and the House of Israel is a single tree in the middle of it. Thus the process of preparing the Earth in the last days includes a gradual cleansing, one that is now taking place.

This runs counter to much of the cultural belief about the Millennium in the Church. Many people believe that the bad in the world will continue to grow and gain strength, that the believers will be few, and that we will only be saved at the last minute by the return of Christ and a mass destruction of the wicked. That is the "Mad Max" version of the last days narrative, it envisions a world covered by sin and ripe for destruction. Hence our job in the last days is to scrounge up the few worthy individuals that we can find in the world and hunker down in preparation for Christ's return.

Jacob 5 does say that the "servants" will be few, but it is explicit about where this process of gradual cleansing ends:
70 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard sent his servant; and the servant went and did as the Lord had commanded him, and brought other servants; and they were few.
71 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto them: Go to, and labor in the vineyard, with your might. For behold, this is the blast time that I shall nourish my vineyard; for the end is nigh at hand, and the season speedily cometh; and if ye labor with your might with me ye shall have joy in the fruit which I shall lay up unto myself against the time which will soon come.
72 And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things.
73 And there began to be the natural fruit again in the vineyard; and the natural branches began to grow and thrive exceedingly; and the wild branches began to be plucked off and to be cast away; and they did keep the root and the top thereof equal, according to the strength thereof.
74 And thus they labored, with all diligence, according to the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard, even until the bad had been cast away out of the vineyard, and the Lord had preserved unto himself that the trees had become again the natural fruit; and they became like unto one body; and the fruits were equal; and the Lord of the vineyard had preserved unto himself the natural fruit, which was most precious unto him from the beginning. (source: Jacob 5:70-74)
This presents a much more positive picture of the influence of good in the world. The world begins as a corrupted vineyard, but through the diligent labor of the servants it is gradually cleansed. And, as the cleansing progresses the trees get stronger until the day comes that all of the bad has been removed from the vineyard.

Incidentally, this isn't the only narrative to present the struggle of good and evil as a progressive struggle ending with the triumph of good:
44 And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.
45 Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. (source: Daniel 2:44-45)
Here again there is no great event where the wicked are destroyed in an instant. Rather, as the stone rolls it gains strength (I'll have more to say about this in a later post) and eventually consumes all of the kingdoms of the Earth.

So, to sum up, here are the main points that I take from these scriptures. Our job, as members of the Church, is not to hunker down and await the coming of Christ while watching the world waste away. Rather, our mission is to spread the good far and wide. Thankfully, that's exactly what is prophesied in these verses, and this mission will be successful. The bad in society won't go quietly, but it will be removed by degrees as history progresses. Ultimately good will prevail and the world will enjoy a thousand years of peace:
75 And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them: Behold, for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will; and I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good, even like as it was in the beginning. And blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard.
76 For behold, for a along time will I lay up of the fruit of my vineyard unto mine own self against the season, which speedily cometh; and for the last time have I nourished my vineyard, and pruned it, and dug about it, and dunged it; wherefore I will lay up unto mine own self of the fruit, for a long time, according to that which I have spoken. (source: Jacob 5:75-76)
It is interesting to note that, at the beginning of the story, the Master was primarily concerned with a single tree, that which once bore the "natural" fruit. However, by end of the story the Master has reclaimed the whole vineyard. I believe that a similar process is at work in the Church; as we begin to gain strength and better understand our mission, our focus has shifted from our own salvation to spreading good throughout the world in whatever way we can. My next post, "The Day Dawn is Breaking", will discuss how this is happening today.


Architect said...

Thank you for the analysis. I find it tough to be positive, but I try to look for the good in people.

Jacob S. said...

I agree, Architect. And the more I think about it, the more I reject this idea that we live in a world that is more and more evil. Certainly there are some evil things going on, but we are also more tolerant and less bigoted than ever before, we have fewer wars and do a better job and keeping world peace (although it doesn't seem so at times, it really is true), we do an bang-up job with worldwide humanitarian efforts to relieve suffering, and the like. The world, in my opinion, is a better place now than it ever has been, despite the many problems we still face.

I also think that maintaining a positive outlook on the "end-times" is important from a practical standpoint. I think it influences how we treat other people, how we look at politics and public policy, and how we look at religion and interpersonal relationships. The world needs people to be positive and look for ways to improve our common lot as opposed to people who insulate themselves against perceived coming calamities.