Church/state tension in Jacob 1-3?

Listening to the book of Jacob on my iPod while driving around today, I picked up on something that I hadn’t noticed or considered before. There is, I think, a hint of tension between Jacob and the new Nephite king, particularly through the first few chapters of Jacob. The first thing that caught my ear was this passage:

And now it came to pass that the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son. Yea, and they also began to search much gold and silver, and began to be lifted up somewhat in pride. Wherefore I, Jacob, gave unto them these words as I taught them in the temple, having first obtained mine errand from the Lord. (Jacob 1:15-17)

Now, Jacob has just spent several verses talking about the death of Nephi and the choosing of a subsequent king (to be called “second Nephi” or, as we might say it, “Nephi the Second”). So he doesn’t need to re-inform us that we’re now “under the reign of the second king” — but he does so anyway. And that phrase sounds as though Jacob could mean it in a causative sense — that it is because of the reign of the “second king” that the Nephites “began to grow hard in their hearts” and so on.

Note also that Jacob doesn’t say “second Nephi”, “King Nephi”, or anything like that; after giving a glowing send-off for his brother (Jacob 1:9-14), Jacob simply calls the new king “the second king” and gives us no information about his background, lineage, or character. This is underscored by Jacob subsequently stating that his own ecclesiastical authority — and that of his brother Joseph — came “by the hand of Nephi” (Jacob 1:18), emphasizing Nephi’s holiness and standing before God — and implying that it is Jacob and Joseph who are carrying on Nephi’s tradition, rather than “the second king”.

When Jacob describes the Nephite trend towards polygamy, he specifically cites the example of two fallen Israelite kings: David and Solomon. He doesn’t cite any of the polygamous prophets (including Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel), or any other Old Testament practitioners of polygamy. This makes me wonder if Jacob 1:15 actually describes what the second king is doing, with the people of Nephi simply following suit. In that case, consider the following hypothetical rewrite of verse 15:

…the second king…began to grow hard in [his] heart, and indulge [himself] somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son. Yea, and [he] also began to search much gold and silver, and began to be lifted up somewhat in pride. (Compare with this description of King Noah some 400 years later.)

So, if this was the case, why didn’t Jacob just write this? One answer is that Jacob may not have considered it safe to do so, though it’s unclear what access the king and his advisors would have to the small plates. (Still, see Jacob 3:13-14, which I comment on below.) Another possible answer is that Jacob did not feel it his place or right to challenge or criticize the king directly, since the king in Israelite terms was considered the Lord’s anointed; again, this could be a reason why Jacob may have specifically cited his own ordination, but was still circumspect in what he said (or, at least, what he wrote).

A third (and not necessarily exclusive) answer is that the second king was most likely a son of Nephi; it could also have been Jacob’s older brother Sam (less likely, given what Sam’s age would be at that time), a son of Sam, a son of Jacob himself (other than Enos — who appears very late in Jacob’s life) or even a son of Joseph. It’s hard to believe that the kingship would pass out of the Lehi lineage altogether immediately after Nephi’s death, so Jacob was almost certainly closely related to the king, whoever he was. As such, Jacob may have been hesitant to challenge or criticized his close family directly, especially given the disastrous and painful split among his own older brothers which was even then a source of on-going conflict and war.

If this is correct — that is, if the problems that Jacob cites had their origin with the second king — then Jacob’s sermon in chapters 2 and 3 becomes very interesting, since Jacob in that case almost certainly directed his sermon at the king as much as at the people. When read or listened to in that context, the sermon has what could be interpreted as some very pointed remarks for the new king:

  • Avoid pride and remember that God “can pierce you, and with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust.” (2:15)
  • Share your wealth and seek the kingdom of God first (2:17-18)
  • Use your position and wealth “for the intent to do good” (2:19)
  • “One being is as precious in [God’s] sight as the other. And all flesh is of the dust” (2:21)
  • David and Solomon did that which “was abominable before [God]” (2:24)
  • God led Lehi and his family out of Jerusalem to raise up “a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph” (2:25; emphasis mine)
  • “These commandments were given to our father, Lehi; wherefore you have known them before; and ye have come unto great condemnation; for ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done.”” (2:34; emphasis mine)

He then spends much of the rest of his sermon talking about how much better the Lamanites are in their treatment of their wives and children, and how much better it will be for the Lamanites at the last day than for the (wicked) Nephites; again, a reminder that blessings are not guaranteed by lineage or position. He then concludes his sermon (or, at least, his transcription of it) with

O my brethren [think: “king” or possibly just “brother”], hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death. (Jacob 3:11; compare with Lehi’s admonition to Laman and Lemuel)

And then he closes this section (chapters 2 and 3 were a single chapter in the original Book of Mormon manuscript) with a passage that sounds as if he’s unsure he’ll be writing any more (which underscores the thought that he might be at risk):

And a hundredth part of the proceedings of this people, which now began to be numerous, cannot be written upon these plates; but many of their proceedings are written upon the larger plates, and their wars, and their contentions, and the reigns of their kings. These plates are called the plates of Jacob, and they were made by the hand of Nephi. And I make an end of speaking these words. (Jacob 3:13-14)

As I said, these are only hints of a serious church/state tension after the death of Nephi. But they form a useful context for reading the first three chapters of Jacob, and they give several of the passages new meaning and depth, particularly in the context of Jacob calling the king — who is almost certainly a very close family member — to repentance. ..bruce..

4 thoughts on “Church/state tension in Jacob 1-3?

  1. I know it’s speculation, but it makes sense and adds another dimension to what was transpiring at the time.

    I wish I was more creative like this in pondering the scriptures.

    Very interesting.

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