Instagram Follow

A Proposed Reinterpretation of Jacob 2:30

In Jacob chapters 2 – 3 we find one of the most passionate and heart-wrenching sermons in the Book of Mormon. Jacob, the brother of Nephi, and the Lord himself speaks in condemnation of two major themes; the Nephite’s lust for riches and for taking many wives and concubines.

While the Book of Mormon as a whole condemns the practice of taking many wives and concubines, verse 30 of chapter two is said to indicate an exception to that rule. While the practice is condemned as a gross crime, a whoredom, and even an abomination, verse 30 appears to indicate that God will not only allow, but command the men of his people to take on many wives and concubines to “raise up seed,” a reference to posterity. The phrase “raise up” is a bit enigmatic if you only look at this verse alone. Does “raise up” mean simply the act of bringing up children, does it mean increasing the population at a higher velocity, or could it be referencing something else entirely?

I believe that there is enough evidence within the text and supporting scriptures that provides an alternate interpretation. As with any post on this site, I am open to corrections if I am in error at any point. I don’t speak for the Church, I am not a scholar, and nobody should feel any obligation to believe anything I say. This blog is mainly an extension of my personal study where I share some of the things I’m exploring.

Why try and reinterpret this particular verse?

It is a constant struggle to find the voice of the Lord through the difficult and often awkward ways that language tries to communicate his ideas. I rely on multiple translations of the Bible, old and modern English and etymological dictionaries, and Hebrew and Greek concordances to try and render the meanings of scripture passages as close as possible to the intent of the author. Almost every single study session I participate in involves the discovery of something new concerning a particular word or phrase.

I often took Jacob 2:30 for granted. It was a passage where God said that if he wanted to produce more children, he’d just command his people to take more wives (and concubines?) for that purpose. I passed the verse so many times without a hard look because I felt that the meaning was abundantly clear.

I don’t know how many times I’ve read the Book of Mormon all the way through. I read it through a couple times per year and am all over the place in it here and there on a weekly basis. Because the stories and language become more and more familiar, it requires deeper and more ponderous study of certain verses that you find yourself passing over too quickly; this verse was one of them.

Honestly, the traditional interpretation never sat quite right with me. The verse always seemed kind of awkward and I just accepted the default meaning until I decided to really look at it. I have a large collection of notes and every now and then, I find additional pieces to a puzzle and add those pieces to my notes. As I go back and revisit them, I begin to see patterns and that prompts new ideas that lead to new discoveries that are compiled in with the previous notes. I started taking notes on Jacob 2:30 back in May of 2015 and as time ticked on, I had a great deal of very interesting insights compiled that led to a startling conclusion: this verse is saying something entirely different.

The Book of Mormon condemns the practice of having multiple wives and concubines in three separate places:

  1. Among Riplakish the Jaredite (Ether 10:5)
  2. Among the rising generation of Nephites (Jacob ch. 2-3)
  3. Among King Noah and his wicked priests (Mosiah 11:2-14)

It is only in the short and somewhat enigmatic verse 30 of Jacob 2 that we find a possible allowance for taking on many wives under the condition that God commands it. Although current LDS policy also condemns polygamy, LDS doctrine recognizes polygamy as valid under certain conditions. Since Jacob 2:30 has been used as the sole reference in the Book of Mormon that appears to justify the practice of polygamy, I realize the controversy in suggesting that it is actually talking about something else entirely.

The purpose of my study here is not to attack or defend polygamy. I would rather stay neutral on that subject for the purposes of this post so that an honest look at what this verse is really saying can be the focus. I believe that the information that I will present here speaks for itself and is simple enough to understand that any person can look at the same information and come to the same conclusions.

My thesis here is that Jacob 2:30 is not referring to condition where God may command people to take additional wives and concubines, but is instead a summary of what has already been stated in Jacob’s sermon while stating commandments and instruction that have been previously given. The first half of the verse is a clause stating God’s will and the second half is a clause stating the curse that follows when his will is ignored. I believe that the evidence will bear out this interpretation and I leave it to the reader to decide for themselves.

The Method

It is never a good idea to try and analyze a single verse alone, it must be considered within the context of a number of themes such as time, culture, ideology, and author. While this verse is commonly understood to be kind of an aside where the Lord is suggesting when taking many wives and concubines is allowed, I think the evidence shows that it is actually a summary of some of the main points that have already been made in the sermon, built upon established teachings that had already been revealed to Nephi.

What I will attempt to do is to break down and analyze key phrases of this verse and connect them with the larger themes they summarize. I’ll begin by separating the verse into two parts, the semicolon being the point of division and I will explain why later. Once that is done, I believe that the actual meaning of the verse becomes profoundly clear.

Clause 1: The Commandment

The first part of verse 30 begins with a clause that contains many intricate parts. I believe that the crux of understanding what Jacob 2:30 is actually saying must begin with an understanding of this phrase, “raise up seed.” Let’s begin by looking at the verse in question:

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” (Jacob 2:30)

The LDS Church’s official website explains that population growth is indeed the meaning behind this phrase:

The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to “raise up seed unto [the Lord].” [Source: lds.org]

While that seems like an open and shut case for understanding the meaning of the verse, there are many other aspects of this verse that are not addressed. If we go back to the verse itself with this particular interpretation, that “raise up seed” equals “increase the number of children born into the gospel covenant” then some issues arise.

The first part of the verse begins with the words “If I will…” and ends with “…I will command my people.” The “if” is important, it implies that the Lord has not yet commanded his people to take “many wives and concubines” (the word “polygamy” is never used in the Book of Mormon) but he could require it if he wanted to. To flesh this out more, the verse could be read in this light to be saying:

“If I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant unto me by having them take many wives and concubines, I will command my people…”

That is quite the wordy insertion, but if those words are synonymous with the phrase “raise up seed” then the verse communicates this idea very efficiently. Again, the “if” implies that the people have not been commanded to do this, this would mean that the Lord is speaking hypothetically here: if he wanted to do something then he would command it and they haven’t been commanded to “raise up seed.”

Here’s the problem: Not only is there any evidence in the text that the phrase “raise up seed” means “increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant,” the Nephites actually have been commanded to “raise up seed,” previously and under a commandment to be monogamous.

Raise up seed

If we go back to 1 Nephi chapter 7, we see the Lord clearly command Lehi’s people to “raise up seed unto the Lord.”

…it came to pass that the Lord spake unto him again, saying that it was not meet for him, Lehi, that he should take his family into the wilderness alone; but that his sons should take daughters to wife, that they might raise up seed unto the Lord in the land of promise. And it came to pass that the Lord commanded him that I, Nephi, and my brethren, should again return unto the land of Jerusalem, and bring down Ishmael and his family into the wilderness. (1 Nephi 7:1-2)

If the phrase “raise up seed” is equivalent to “increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant by having them take many wives and concubines” then we would expect that Lehi’s party was polygamous. If there was ever a time that increasing the number of children would be a need, it would certainly be among this small party of individuals forming a new nation in another land.

There is another problem, Lehi was also given a commandment that his people should be monogamous. How do we know? Jacob mentions this commandment repeatedly in his own sermon:

  1. Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; (Jacob 2:27)
  2. And now behold, my brethren, ye know that these commandments were given to our father, Lehi; wherefore, ye have known them before; and ye have come unto great condemnation; for ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done. (Jacob 2:34)
  3. [the Lamanites] have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them. (Jacob 4:5)
  4. And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them… (Jacob 4:6)

It is clear that the Nephites were commanded to “raise up seed” but under another commandment that they should only have one wife and no concubines. This is not the only time this is referenced either, it is mentioned again in Jacob’s sermon just before in verses 25-26:

Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph. Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old. (Jacob 2:25-26)

Verse 25 begins by referencing that they were brought out of the land of Jerusalem, as mentioned before in 1 Nephi 7:1-2, and then mentioned raising up seed again but using more specific language: “raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.” This ties us back into the Abrahamic covenant and the promises made to the ancient fathers. That part of the current LDS interpretation referencing children born in the gospel covenant is proven correct here, it’s just the “increase” portion and the idea that polygamy is the solution for this that I don’t believe is supported by the text. A key reason is that as verse 25 clearly indicates that the Nephites have been commanded to raise up seed to perpetuate Joseph’s posterity and establish a righteous branch in a new land, they are specifically told that polygamy is not a part of the program.

That brings us back to verse 30. Why then, if the Nephites have been commanded to raise up seed in the land of promise and were told specifically that polygamy was forbidden would he imply that he has not yet commanded them to raise up seed meaning increase population via polygamy? Why would the meaning of the phrase “raise up seed” suddenly imply the opposite of everything the Lord has just said 5 verses later? Let’s take verse 30 again and replace “raise up seed” with the more specific phraseology mentioned in verse 25:

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph, I will command my people…”

That actually fits very well. The phrase “if I will” is not suggesting that the Lord ‘hasn’t done something yet but could’ it is implying that he already has and that his will has already been set in motion. In John 21:22, we see the same phraseology: “Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.”

In the context of the rest of the sermon, the understanding of the first part of verse 30 is quite clear, let’s compare these two side by side and look at the three elements that I have marked off in blue, red, and green:

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph, I will command my people…”

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people…” (Jacob 2:30)

This can be stated with a simple formula: if A is true, then B must be true also (A = raising up a righteous branch unto himself and B = Him commanding said branch). The point here is that God doesn’t just want more Nephite children, even Nephite children born in the gospel covenant, his vision is much larger than that. Consider the following words from Abinadi:

And now I say unto you, who shall declare his generation? Behold, I say unto you, that when his soul has been made an offering for sin he shall see his seed. And now what say ye? And who shall be his seed? Behold I say unto you, that whosoever has heard the words of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have prophesied concerning the coming of the Lord—I say unto you, that all those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you, that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God. (Mosiah 15:10-11)

This righteous branch that he is seeking to establish may consist of anyone and birth is not the only method by which this is accomplished. In the text of the Book of Mormon we observe that the people didn’t seem to have any problem whatsoever increasing the number of children born in the covenant under the commandment of monogamy that was given to Lehi:

And it came to pass that we began to prosper exceedingly, and to multiply in the land. (2 Nephi 5:13)

And we multiplied exceedingly, and spread upon the face of the land… (Jarom 1:8)

And there were a great number, even so many that they did not number them; for they had multiplied exceedingly and waxed great in the land. (Mosiah 2:2)

…and we did begin to multiply and prosper in the land. (Mosiah 9:9)

And it came to pass that they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land of Helam; (Mosiah 23:20)

And they did prosper exceedingly, and they became exceedingly rich; yea, and they did multiply and wax strong in the land. (Alma 50:18)

And the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to multiply and to wax exceedingly strong again in the land. (Alma 62:48)

And it came to pass that they did multiply and spread, and did go forth from the land southward to the land northward, and did spread insomuch that they began to cover the face of the whole earth, from the sea south to the sea north, from the sea west to the sea east. (Helaman 3:8)

And thus it did come to pass that the people of Nephi began to prosper again in the land, and began to build up their waste places, and began to multiply and spread, even until they did cover the whole face of the land, both on the northward and on the southward, from the sea west to the sea east. (Helaman 11:20)

And now, behold, it came to pass that the people of Nephi did wax strong, and did multiply exceedingly fast, and became an exceedingly fair and delightsome people. (4 Nephi 1:10)

And now I, Mormon, would that ye should know that the people had multiplied, insomuch that they were spread upon all the face of the land, and that they had become exceedingly rich, because of their prosperity in Christ. (4 Nephi 1:23)

Having lots and lots of kids didn’t seem to be a problem that needed to be fixed using polygamy. In fact, the attention given to God’s seed, or covenant people, increasing is portrayed most often through the missionary labors of the Nephites to apostates and Lamanites. While among these are certainly the descendants of Joseph, and the promises made to him, there is a larger goal of redeeming the posterity of Abraham and all of Adam’s seed that comes into play. In the end, are not all people the seed of God himself literally, and the seed of Christ by way of covenants?

To reduce verse 30 as a program for polygamy to increase birthrates among the Nephites, to me, falls short of the larger purposes continually repeated throughout scripture. The first part of verse 30 is clear, if God seeks to raise up a righteous branch unto himself, he must also command that branch himself. It is his work and he must be at the helm in order for his purposes to be successful.

I will command my people

What about the “I will command my people” line? This too is now easily explained by looking at these following verses together:

  • Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord (2:27)
  • Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts (2:29)
  • I will command my people (2:30)
  • ye know that these commandments were given (3:34)
  • they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord (4:5)
  • this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment (4:6)
  • to be obedient unto the commands of God (4:5)
  • we truly can command in the name of Jesus (4:6)
  • O then, why not able to command the earth, or the workmanship of his hands (4:9)

In all of these examples, it is Jacob speaking, save one, verse 30, that is the Lord speaking. It is clear that he desires to command his people and for his people to keep is commandments. It’s not very often in scripture. This isn’t the only time the Lord has spoken like this, in the Book of Ether we read:

  • And at my command the heavens are opened and are shut; and at my word the earth shall shake; and at my command the inhabitants thereof shall pass away, even so as by fire. (Ether 4:9)
  • I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. (2 Nephi 15:6 quoting Isaiah)
  • If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land (2 Chron. 7:13)

There are many, many more examples so it isn’t unusual for the Lord to use that phraseology. The word “command” is a strikingly bold word to use and considering the seriousness of the sermon as a whole, God isn’t asking nicely, he is very upset and declaring an ultimatum and he invokes this with an interesting title that is in around around verse 30 in the highest concentration anywhere else in text unique to the Book of Mormon.

The Lord of Armies

We cannot ignore the placement and frequency of the title “Lord of Hosts” in Jacob’s sermon. When we see the Lord talking about how he will “command” his people, that sounds very militaristic and rightly so, because the title Lord of Host means:

“Jehovah or God when regarded as having the angelic forces at his command” (lord of hosts. (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition)

In the Book of Mormon the title “Lord of Hosts” occurs 52 times and is found most frequently in verses that were actually from Isaiah and Malachi:

Quoting the Old Testament: 39

  • Isaiah: 29
  • Malachi: 10

In the writings of only three other Book of Mormon individuals do we find this phrase being used and only two of them are actually quoting the Lord himself.

Unique to Book of Mormon figures: 13

  • Nephi: 1
  • Nephi (quoting The Lord): 2
  • Jacob (quoting The Lord): 6
  • Samuel: 3

In Jacob 2 we find by far the most frequent use of this title in verses that are unique to Book of Mormon figures. All six occurrences in Jacob 2 are clustered together in the small span of just 5 verses and again, this is the Lord speaking and referring to himself as “the Lord of Hosts.” Here are all the words of the Lord in Jacob’s sermon that mention this title (verses 27-33).

Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.

Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes. For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.

For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands. And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts. For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts.

As noted, the title Lord of Hosts implies that God is the commander of angelic forces, hearkening back to examples the Nephites might have been aware of from the Brass Plates such as when Elisha prayed for his servants eyes to be opened and he saw, “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17)

Isaiah is quoted heavily in the Book of Mormon and in Isaiah 37, King Hezekiah prays and addresses God as the “Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 37:16) to obtain protection from the Assyrians. God then replies through Isaiah referring to himself as the “Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 37:32) and promises his protection. During the night, “Then the angel of Jehovah went out and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. And when men arose in the morning, there lay all their dead bodies!” (Isaiah 37:36 IIT)

Concerning the practice of taking many wives and concubines, the Lord invokes this title for himself and later on in Jacob’s words we see that destruction is indeed being threatened for this practice, in contrast to the Lamanites who will be protected because they keep the commandment to have only one wife and no concubines:

But, wo, wo, unto you that are not pure in heart, that are filthy this day before God; for except ye repent the land is cursed for your sakes; and the Lamanites […] shall scourge you even unto destruction. Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them. And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them, but will be merciful unto them; and one day they shall become a blessed people.” (Jacob 3:3,5-6)

The obedience to this one particular commandment was granting the Lamanites a stay from destruction. The breaking of this commandment led to national destruction, hence the Lord presents himself to the Nephites as a leader of armies as a warning. Taking all this into account, the language “I will command my people” is not at all out of place and entirely appropriate given the gravity of the situtation.

There are only two other places in the Book of Mormon where the people take many wives and concubines and they were both destroyed in wars: King Noah (Mosiah 11:2-14) and Riplakish (Ether 10:5-8). This brings us to the second part of the verse; it follows a semicolon and begins with the word “otherwise.”

Clause 2: The Curse

From my research it appears that only the first clause of the verse is ever commented on in Church publications, the second half doesn’t seem to ever be explained. Whether or not my interpretation of the first clause is correct, the second clause still needs some explanation particularly when we look at the placement and meaning of the word “otherwise.”

I propose that the second clause of this verse is actually threatening a curse rather than simply suggesting that the Nephites follow the standing instructions.

The meaning of otherwise

If we go back to the traditional understanding of the verse and add the second half, we get this:

“If I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant unto me by having them take many wives and concubines, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”

Thus we can look at the big picture of typically how this verse is understood as a whole and how I understood it for many years:

“If I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant unto me by having them take many wives and concubines, I will command my people; in other respects they shall hearken unto these standing instructions.”

One official source from the Church newsroom sums up Jacob 2:30 this way:

In other words, the standard of the Lord’s people is monogamy unless the Lord reveals otherwise.

Here’s the problem, the Church newsroom is using the the word otherwise as an ordinary adverb in their explanation, but in Jacob 2:30, the word otherwise is being used as a conjunctive adverb. A conjunctive adverb is used with a semi-colon to connect two independent clauses together. To illustrate the difference, here is the word otherwise being used as a regular adverb like the Church newsroom example, and a conjunctive adverb with a semi-colon the same way it is used in Jacob 2:30:

Adverb: Under the Bill of Rights, a person is presumed innocent until proved otherwise.

Conjunctive adverb: We must hurry; otherwise we’ll miss the train.

The Cambridge Dictionary explains that when used as a conjunction, the word otherwise is “used after an order or suggestion to show what the result will be if you do not follow that order or suggestion.” Merriam-Webster states that otherwise can also mean “if not” and gives two examples that match the way Jacob 2:30 uses it as a conjunctive adverb: “do what I tell you, otherwise you’ll be sorry” and “Tickets can be bought in advance at a discount; otherwise they can be purchased at the door for full price.”

The first part of Jacob 2:30 outlines the intentions of the Lord in raising up a righteous branch unto himself. He has already set this process in motion and is seeking to get his people back on board with the program. The word otherwise requires the first part of something to be true, and in the interpretation I am proposing it is: God has commanded his people to raise up a righteous branch unto him previously and is now seeking to re-establish his command.

Then comes the otherwise, which suggests that if God is not able to establish his righteous branch because he people reject his commands, then something else will happen and it will be bad. Hence, the use of the title “Lord of Hosts” and the threat of destruction.

We can see otherwise being used as a conjunctive adverb in many other verses of the Book of Mormon where it sits at the crux of two opposing possibilities. First you have the intended outcome, then the word otherwise (but if not), and then undesirable outcome. Here are several examples:

“Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor; but take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of themotherwise ye have no reward of your Father who is in heaven.” (3 Nephi 13:1)

“And behold, there were divers ways that he did manifest things unto the children of men, which were good; and all things which are good cometh of Christotherwise men were fallen, and there could no good thing come unto them.” (Moroni 7:24)

“And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garmentsotherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.” (Jacob 1:19)

But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimethotherwisejustice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.” (Alma 42:22)

“If thou wilt grant that my brethren may be cast out of prison, and also that Lamoni may retain his kingdom, and that ye be not displeased with him, but grant that he may do according to his own desires in whatsoever thing he thinketh, then will I spare theeotherwise I will smite thee to the earth.” (Alma 20:24)

“Behold, here are our weapons of war; we will deliver them up unto you, but we will not suffer ourselves to take an oath unto you, which we know that we shall break, and also our children; but take our weapons of war, and suffer that we may depart into the wildernessotherwise we will retain our swords, and we will perish or conquer.” (Alma 44:8)

Here are a few more examples with Jacob 2:30 included in the mix. Note the very similar structure and how the desired outcome begins with an “if” followed by a comma or semicolon, then the word otherwise, and concludes with the undesirable outcome:

“And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltlessotherwise ye are condemned;” (Mosiah 4:25)

“Inquire of the Lord, and if he saith unto us go, we will gootherwise we will perish in the land.” (Alma 27:10)

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” (Jacob 2:30)

Of the 13 times that the word otherwise appears in the text of the Book of Mormon, 9 of them are as a conjunctive adverb, and in every single case they follow this pattern. The big question here is why would the word otherwise be set in Jacob 2:30 as a conjunctive adverb and yet not act like one, as do all of the other examples?

If we turn again to the traditional interpretation we see how little sense it makes for the Lord to propose a hypothetical command, and suggest with the term otherwise that the consequence for not following the hypothetical command is following an existing command. Following God’s existing commandments is the consequence for not following a commandment he may hypothetically give? That doesn’t make any sense, but it is what the traditional interpretation appears to imply when you examine it closely.

If we look at the interpretation that I am proposing here, and how I am defining the word otherwise, there should be a bad consequence contained in the words “…they shall hearken unto these things.” At first blush the words seem pretty innocuous, God is saying “they shall hearken unto these things” so one could assume that he’s simply telling them to do as he has instructed, after all, even I am making the case that the people not listening to God is the main part of their problem here.

But look at the preceding verse closely because I believe that it is saying almost the exact same thing as verse 30. I’ll place the two here below and highlight the components that I think are a 1 to 1 match and it is very striking:

“Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hostsor cursed be the land for their sakes.” (Jacob 2:29)

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my peopleotherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” (Jacob 2:30)

I believe that these two verses are a direct parallel to each other and I will explain why by breaking down the words “hearken” and “these things.”

They shall hearken

The first clause of Jacob 2:30 states that if God seeks to raise up a righteous branch unto himself, he must also command that branch himself. In a previous verse, Jacob states:

“Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord…” (Jacob 2:27)

One could say that the phrase “hearken to the word of the Lord” matches up with the first clause of verse 30 which says, “I will command my people.” Both suggest cooperation between God and his people. As the word indicates a “if not” scenario, watch what happens when we place these words in the first clause and include the second:

hearken to the word of the Lordotherwise [IF NOT] they shall hearken unto these things.”

We can see that there are two scenarios being presented, the first being a situation where the people are obedient and hearkening to the word of the Lord, and a second undesirable scenario where they shall hearken unto “these things” which we assume here are not the word of the Lord. If they are not the word of the Lord, then what are “these things?”

What are “these things”

In Jacob’s sermon, the words “which thing,” “the things,” “this thing” or “these things” and the negatives, curses or condemnations that follow are revealing. If this is an accurate pattern, it reveals something very important about verse 30. Consider the following verses of the sermon and the object that we repeatedly see these words referencing.

“And now, my brethren, do ye suppose that God justifieth you in this thing? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. But he condemneth you, and if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you.” (Jacob 2:14)

“But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.” (Jacob 2:23-24)

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things. For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands. (Jacob 2:30-31)

“And now behold, my brethren, ye know that these commandments were given to our father, Lehi; wherefore, ye have known them before; and ye have come unto great condemnation; for ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done.” (Jacob 2:34)

When Jacob or the Lord refer to the commandments, they don’t refer to them as “things,” instead the “things” they are referencing are their “grosser crimes” the “abominations” of the Nephite people, namely their practice of taking on many wives and concubines. The Nephites were directly violating God’s commandment to have only one wife and no concubines.

If hearkening unto “these things” is the bad consequence for not obeying the first clause of verse 30, why and how it is bad? It is a bad consequence because it brings a curse upon them and that curse brings destruction.

The curse

In Jacob 2 verse 29 we see the curse directly and clearly mentioned:

“Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.” (Jacob 2:29)

Verse 30 re-emphasizes the previous verse about keeping the commandments but adds a portion about raising up seed, meaning the, “righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph” mentioned in verse 25. The Lord shows that the effects of the curse are already among them by following “otherwise they shall hearken unto these things” with “For behold…” and invoking the curse once again:

…otherwise they shall hearken unto these things. (vs.30) For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands. And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts. For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts. (Jacob 2:31-33)

Jacob immediately follows the Lord’s words with his own by laying bare the damage that they are causing to their wives and children.

Behold, ye have done greater iniquities than the Lamanites, our brethren. Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you. And because of the strictness of the word of God, which cometh down against you, many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds. (Jacob 2:35)

It has already been shown that the words of Lehi were accepted and taught as the word of the Lord, and the phrase “they shall hearken unto these things” may also be referencing strikingly similar language found in the writing of Jacob’s brother Nephi.

…they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men. (2 Nephi 28:14)

In this verse we find a situation very similar to Jacob’s people. They are falling into error because they are not hearkening to the Lord, but rather to the precepts of men. There were Nephite men justifying taking many wives and concubines for themselves because of what was written concerning David and Solomon. They were not doing this to help increase the population, the Lord saw their hearts and said: “they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms…” (Jacob 2:23)

A few verses later we read this warning in Nephi’s words:

Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men… (2 Nephi 28:26)

Once more, in the same chapter, just a few verses later, we actually see the word “curse” being associated with those that hearken unto the precepts of men.

Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men… (2 Nephi 28:31)

Now see how well this fits in with Jacob’s sermon by looking at verses 29 and 30 together (because there were no verses in the original):

Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes. For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.

I believe that these connections are deliberate and are not coincidental. The events unfolding in Jacob chapters 2-3 are a fulfillment of what Nephi had written. The people are led into error because they ignore the commandments of God and hearken unto the principles of men and bring a curse upon themselves.

I believe that this is the essence of Jacob’s sermon and the words of condemnation and warning coming from the Lord. This is exactly what the Nephites are doing and they are being told plainly and rather generally that if God seeks to establish his people, then he will need to command them, otherwise, they end up hearkening to the precepts of men.

The Proposed Reinterpretation Compared

At this point, we can combine the first clause with the second clause and render a clear interpretation of what Jacob 2:30 is saying by inserting three equivalent statements from other verses that I believe verse 30 is referencing.

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph (Jacob 2:25), I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these precepts of men (2 Nephi 28:31) and I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction. (Jacob 2:34).”

Now compare it again with the original in Jacob 2:30:

“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”

And the version that represents the traditional understanding of the verse:

“If I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant unto me by having them take many wives and concubines (LDS Gospel Topics), I will command my people; in other respects (possible meaning) they shall hearken unto these standing instructions. (possible meaning).”

Ultimately it is up to the reader to decide which version presented here, or perhaps another version not mentioned, best communicates the meaning of Jacob 2:30.

Other considerations

I could end this post here, but there are other considerations that I would like to include for the benefit of the reader.

A change in the chapter heading of Jacob 2:30

What was the real crime that the Nephites were being accused of? It’s clear that they were breaking a commandment, and that their breaking of that commandment had terrible effects on the Nephite women and children, but would these effects have been negated if they Nephites had acted with authorization instead? Why were the women and children so upset? Was the sorrow, mourning, and cries, the broken the hearts, lost confidence, sobbings and death of their hearts pierced with deep wounds all because they were sad that their men were acting without authority? Or was it the practice itself?

It is of interest to note that the chapter heading of Jacob 2 read this way for decades:

Jacob denounces the love of riches, pride and unchastity–Men should seek riches to help their fellow men–Jacob condemns the unauthorized practice of plural marriage–The Lord delights in the chastity of women.

In the newest edition of the Book of Mormon the chapter heading has been changed to read this way:

Jacob denounces the love of riches, pride, and unchastity—Men may seek riches to help their fellowmen—The Lord commands that no man among the Nephites may have more than one wife—The Lord delights in the chastity of women.

This change is striking. The original heading uses the phrase “plural marriage” and suggests that the Nephites were engaging in the practice without authorization (an assumption made on the traditional interpretation of verse 30). The new reading focuses on the actual commandment itself in verse 27 which says, “For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;” I applaud this change to the chapter heading for focusing more on the commandment which is quite clear.

While we know that the commandment to have only one wife was definitely given to Lehi at some point, Jacob’s sermon seems to indicate that this problem wasn’t just a Nephite problem. It seems that the problem of men taking more than one wife was widespread among all of Israel.

A problem among all of God’s people

Israelite kings were forbidden from doing certain things and “multiplying wives” was expressly forbidden.

Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. (Deuteronomy 17:17)

David and Solomon had many wives (and concubines) but typically we only look at the particular sins they committed later on as the real offenses. According to Jacob, this isn’t the case, it was having many wives in the first place that was “abominable” to the Lord.

But the word of God burdens me because of your grosser crimes. For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord. (Jacob 2:23-24)

Note that it was the practice itself that the Lord calls abominable. God does not mention at all Solomon’s heart turning away to other gods (as Deuteronomy warns), thus breaking the first commandment, or David’s adultery with Bathsheba and sending her husband off to his death. David had at least 7 wives and Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (women who serve as slaves, secondary wives, and surrogate mothers). Only the many wives and concubines are mentioned and condemned here in Jacob’s sermon – this is significant.

The examples of these men seem to have had quite an effect on the Lord’s people. In the middle of Jacob’s sermon we have the words of the Lord himself and he declares how widespread the problem of his people taking many wives and concubines is:

For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands. (vs.31)

Note that the Lord recognizes this practice among the Nephites but then says that he has heard the sorrow and mourning of the daughters of his people in the land of Jerusalem and in ALL the lands of his people. This is quite the pervasive problem! He continues:

And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts. (vs.32)

He isn’t just talking about the Nephites here. It is also significant to note that after Solomon and Lehi’s time period of 600 B.C. we don’t see polygamy in the Old Testament any more. Could it be that the Lord gave a similar commandment around this time to Israelite leaders and scattered tribes to have only one wife?

It seems that the Lord led the Nephites out from Jerusalem because of the men taking many wives and concubines (among other things), to establish a righteous branch, but now they are falling into the same abominations. They are then forbidden from doing these same things that were done by “them of old” speaking of David and Solomon in particular.

For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction; for they shall not commit whoredoms, like unto them of old, saith the Lord of Hosts. (vs.33)

Note that David and Solomon’s actions are not only called “abominable” but they are also referred to as “whoredoms.” The Lord seems to clearly be trying to separate the Nephites from these practices, threatens them accordingly, and they change their ways.

There is actually no example anywhere in scripture from the creation of man in Genesis 1 to the fall of the Nephite empire in 385 A.D. where God commands his people to take many wives and concubines. If this is true, then why take a single, short verse in a sermon condemning the practice to slide in a little exception only to have no examples of it ever being used for that purpose?

On that point, LDS authors Brian and Linda Hales, who compiled the three volume work Joseph Smith’s Polygamy available at Deseret Book had this to say:

“Do we know that polygamy will ever be commanded again? In the 6000 years of religious history, the only adherents to be commanded were the Latter-day Saints between 1852 and 1890. Upon what basis does anyone assert that it will be commanded again?” (source)

It has already been demonstrated that the Nephite people were able to reproduce “exceedingly fast” under monogamy so it isn’t clear why the Lord would need to command his men to impregnate multiple women unless it is significantly faster. But why would God bring up this this population-boom-causing strategy when it is never used once in recorded history? Why indeed, when monogamy works just fine for that purpose and Jacob’s sermon associates taking many wives and concubines with the following themes:

  • crimes (2:9)
  • enlarge the wounds (2:9)
  • wounded (2:9)
  • wounds (2:9)
  • wounded (2:9)
  • daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds (2:9)
  • your wickedness and abominations (2:10)
  • broken heart (2:10)
  • grosser crime (2:22)
  • grosser crimes (2:23)
  • iniquity (2:23)
  • they understand not the scriptures (2:23)
  • they seek to excuse themselves (2:23)
  • whoredoms (2:23)
  • abominable (2:24)
  • whoredoms (2:28)
  • abomination (2:28)
  • sorrow (2:31)
  • mourning (2:31)
  • wickedness (2:31)
  • abominations (2:31)
  • cries (2:32)
  • lead away captive the daughters…because of their tenderness (2:33)
  • whoredoms (2:33)
  • ye have done these things which ye ought not have done (2:34)
  • greater iniquities than the Lamanites (2:35)
  • broken hearts of your tender wives (2:35)
  • lost confidence of your children (2:35)
  • your bad examples (2:35)
  • sobbings of their hearts (2:35)
  • many hearts died pierced with deep wounds (2:35)
  • not pure in heart (3:3)
  • filthy (3:3)
  • filthy (3:3)
  • whoredoms (3:5)
  • ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them (3:10)
  • sins (3:10)
  • slumber of death (3:11)
  • pains of hell (3:11)
  • angels to the devil (3:11)
  • lake of fire and brimstone (3:11)
  • second death (3:11)
  • fornication (3:12)
  • lasciviousness (3:12)
  • sin (3:12)
  • awful consequences (3:12)

The interpretation I have proposed suggests an accurate portrayal of Jacob 2:30 that focuses on a larger theme that we already know very well: the natural man is an enemy to God (Mosiah 3:19).

Modern Concubinage and Pornography?

King Benjamin taught that: “The natural man is an enemy to God,” and he must be, “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)

This is why God must command his people, he must protect them from the natural man and his precepts that are, “carnal, sensual, and devilish, by nature”. (Alma 42:10) because “Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men” (2 Nephi 28:31).

While the phrase “many wives and concubines” clearly refers to the practice of having more than one wife, the fact that concubines are mentioned raises some questions about how concubines are even relevant today. Concubinage was practiced differently among the cultures of the world, and the concubine was always inferior to the wife. It was often entered into voluntarily but sometimes it involved sexual slavery. (source)

The evils of concubinage may have a modern parallel not only in cohabitation and fornication, but in the realm of pornography and masturbation. C.S. Lewis once wrote a letter where he spoke of a harem of imaginary brides and the influence this has on the mind of a man.

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself… (Letter C. S. Lewis sent in 1956 to Keith Masson)

While Lewis makes an interesting case for how destructive a virtual harem of women can be to a man, imagine what an actual harem does not only to the man, but the women and children involved as well. In the creation of pornography today, many men and women submit themselves to being photographed and recorded to become a kind of virtual concubine to an innumerable host of men who crave their images to satisfy their lustful urges. Modern technology allows for the creation of virtual harems that makes Solomon’s pale in comparison.

There is of course actual sexual slavery out there in the world where men, women, and children are held captive while being bought and sold to satisfy the appetites of the natural man. These ancient and modern horrors of human behavior prove once more that without God to command his people, it seems that they truly “shall hearken unto these things” (Jacob 2:30) and follow after the precepts of the natural man bringing curses upon every civilization that they are found.

Jacob 2:30 is a sobering reminder to us today of how man too easily slides into perversions when he sets at naught God’s commandments. We need only look around the world today at the failed marriages, rampant sexualization of virtually everything, and the vast usage of pornography, prostitution, and sex slavery.

Yes, the natural man is an enemy to God, and this is a war. The Lord of Hosts must command his people, otherwise they are left to hearken unto the precepts of the natural man and bring curses of destruction upon their heads. One need only look to the women and children, and where those fruits are present, so is a curse, and destruction isn’t far behind.

  • Richard J. Nobbe III

    Wow – what a masterpiece! That took me a long time to read through. I still feel like I need to read it about five more times before I start to grasp the fullness of what you are saying. But I feel like sharing a couple reactions…

    First of all, I agree with you a thousand and ten percent about the ofttimes misinterpreted meaning of Jacob 2:30. You have some great scholarly research here and it is presented in an organized and meaningful way. Simply put, it makes a lot of sense. It “feels” good spiritually, morally, ethically. If it means anything, I never interpreted Jacob 2:30 as a reason whereby the Lord would justify men to take wives and concubines. And remember that I read the Book of Mormon as an eighteen year-old with no filters or years of seminary and sacrament meeting talks to skew my mind one way or another. This is Jacob lamenting the practice of something that is egregious, sinful, and abominable. I’ve always seen the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob as an ancient day “Richard G. Scott,” constantly trying to move us to repentance into the safety of the arms of our Savior.

    Whenever I study something of this magnitude, I tend to ask myself a lot of questions – sometimes difficult questions. In doing so, I try to collect all the things I know for sure, things I think I know, and those that still remain a mystery. With Jacob, we know that he had the records of the Nephites and that he was commanded to do as his brother did and record the most important spiritual insights on the small plates. Secondly, we know that there was limited space on the small plates. We also think we know that the language of the Nephites was probably not best suited for detailed explanation of spiritual truths, something in which the English or German language can do particularly well. So what now remains a mystery? Well, my mind naturally wants to know WHY the individual prophets emphasized what they emphasized during their time on the earth. I realize that they were commanded of the Lord to write certain things. But as the life of Joseph Smith clearly teaches, the greatest lessons from the Lord are learned as we go through working, learning, asking questions, etc… in our own lives. In other words, the Lord commands the prophets to write, but those writings grow out of the everyday experiences of imperfect, mortal individuals.

    So let’s look deeper at the life of Jacob. Who is he? Where did he come from? What was his childhood like? HOW would these experiences shape him to be the prophet he was one day to become? Thereby hangs an interesting tale.

    We know that Jacob and his brother Joseph were born “During the days of (Lehi’s) tribulations in the wilderness.” We are not told about any additional brothers or sisters that may have come forward. And most importantly, while we know Lehi fathered these and possibly other children at this stage in his life, we are not told who their mother is. We know that Sariah was probably an old woman at this time. I know there are plenty of examples in the scriptures of old, barren women giving birth to children, but what strikes me about these accounts is the special necessity of the particular child being brought forth, and the mission they would later have in life. Sarah gives birth to Isaac so Abraham’s seed may be as numerous as the sand of the seashore. Elizabeth gives birth to John the Baptist so he can set up the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ. In each of these cases, the old women in question gave birth to one child, and that child went on to serve a peculiar purpose in the Lord’s plan, (I use the word peculiar, because “special” or “important” seems superfluous, i.e. we’re all special, we all have a purpose and a mission). This is just my opinion, but I don’t think that Jacob in the Book of Mormon has one of these “peculiar” roles as did John or Issac, but I could be wrong.

    So let’s postulate that Lehi, a prophet of God, a righteous man, did indeed have wives and/or concubines. Would that be so impossible to believe? I’m not saying that it’s true, I’m only suggesting it as a possibility. I’m sure I’m not the first one to think of this, but it’s at least worth considering. We know that David was a righteous man, mostly. We know that Lehi was a righteous man, mostly. We have at least one account of Lehi murmuring and falling short of the mark. But what interests me is the different accounts of “Lehi” we get. We get Nephi’s account of Lehi, largly in 1 Nephi. But then we get the older, more subdued, more holy, more tempered, wiser Lehi during his last years in the promised land. A lot of these words were spoken to Jacob, his “first born in the wilderness during (Lehi’s) days of affliction. We normally assume when Lehi talks about his “days of affliction in the wilderness” that he is referring to Laman, Lemuel, starvation, trial, etc… Now don’t get me wrong, that’s affliction with a capital A!!! But when we take a moment and step back, to what else might Lehi have been referring? Dare I say he might have had some misgivings of his own that he wasn’t too proud of? We know that at least by the time Jacob is mature, the Nephites are apparently still carrying out the practice of taking multiple wives and/or concubines in the promised land. It seems very logical to me that Lehi may be talking about the days of not just his physical afflictions in the wilderness, but also his spiritual tribulations during that time. Might he have been involved in practices that he knew the Lord looked down upon? When the Lord chastises Lehi for murmuring in 1 Nephi, is that ALL the Lord is chastising him for? It’s worth thinking about.

    All fathers love their children, but a child born out of wedlock is a constant reminder of the mother that gave birth to him. We suddenly see this very repentant, sober Lehi in his very old age in the promised land that we don’t see before in 1 Nephi. I don’t think we notice that or talk about that enough in the church. Could that be a clue? I don’t know. I’m just throwing out ideas here. What is interesting to me though, is the relationship forged between Lehi and Jacob. I don’t know what it is, but just by reading the chapters that these two share with each other, you can tell there is something very very very special there between these two. It is clear that Lehi loves Jacob like unto Nephi. There is this tenderness there. I’ve felt that way since the first time I ever read the Book of Mormon. And isn’t it interesting that we get some of the purest, most wonderful doctrine in these chapters of 2 Nephi?

    It is my belief that Jacob might have known about the practice of taking additional wives and/or concubines from familial experience. It’s something that he’s definitely passionate about, and probably bothered him from an early age. Why else would he talk about that one sin in particular at length? We tend to think, ponder, and dwell about the issues in life that “hit us” the hardest. If our fathers suffered from something, would that not be on our minds? I don’t know what type of father the people reading this right now had in life, but are we not ashamed of the bad, proud of the good – protective one way or the other? These are sacred, personal matters, but the point is that family problems hurt. Maybe Jacob grew up without a mother? Maybe he grew up not knowing just who his mother was? (Cue the Nephite Maury Povich Show). In any case, he is sensitive about this issue, and maybe the Lord raised him up at a time when this trend was evidently still rampant among the Nephites.

    The gospel is chuck-full of paradoxes. You find them everywhere. This is healthy. This causes thinking to happen. I believe it is also one of the ways the Lord tests our faith, especially in times of trial. Plural marriage, as far as I can surmise, is reprehensible. It is morally wrong. It is a sin. I couldn’t even begin to think of myself participating in such an act. I don’t care what the doctrine of the church states, that’s how I feel in my heart, and I don’t think you could ever change my mind on the issue. BUT. There is obviously a higher law, something that we cannot understand right now. And God has indeed instituted it among the children of men for His own purposes. And whenever it has been introduced by God, the trials have always been the greatest for those who have been asked to do it – not just the “seed bearers” but the wives, children, etc… There are stories that are almost too much to take. The fact that Joseph Smith probably knew about it for at least 10 to 12 years before he introduced it. What kind of burden to live with!!! The story of Heber C. Kimball and others. Brigham Young. These people gave their lives in the highest form of consecration possible, and it’s hard to think about how they did it. But just as it is in D&C 132, and just as plural marriage was in force in the early church, men can still be sealed to more than one wife in the temple – and that should teach us that although it is something we cannot understand now, it seems to be part of the celestial law in heaven which the righteous will one day abide.

    • oneclimbs

      Great stuff, Richard. The theory that Lehi had more than one wife or some concubines is a curious one. Sariah is the only woman mentioned as his wife and there isn’t any hint of concubines in the text. The fact that Lehi was given a commandment that they should have only one wife is significant. It is also significant to note that the Lord says in Jacob 2 that this problem was among the people at Jerusalem and in all the lands of his people. It could have been that polygamy was one of the very things Lehi was testifying against in his preaching. We don’t know when the commandment was given to Lehi, that might have been in the lost book of Lehi. With only one wife attributed to Lehi, and a commandment of monogamy given to him, I’m not sure it is fair to suspect him of polygamy when he perhaps above all others would be the last person you might suspect. It is rare to see a wife of a prophet in the Book of Mormon mentioned and it is even rarer to have evidence that this specific prophet was specifically told to only have one wife. For those reasons I think he is probably the MOST monogamous candidate in the Book of Mormon with maybe Jacob being in second place ;)

      Jacob was a special guy, there’s no doubt. He seemed very loyal to Nephi and his father and I think he took very seriously the commandments that they were given. I think that is the source of his passion, I don’t think it requires him to see his father as a polygamist, that’s a bit of a stretch.

      I am suspect about Joseph being the source of polygamy among the Latter-day Saints. I can’t get into it here but I remain unconvinced the more I learn about it. While it certainly was a huge trial for the Latter-day Saints, it was a huge trial for the Nephite women and children as well and I’m sure faithfulness all around was rewarded. I do not have any solid ground to land on concerning polygamy as practiced by the Saints, but the Book of Mormon is very solid for me. I’m confident that we’ll know more about this in the future, as for now I can thankfully ignore it because I do find it reprehensible as well.

      • Richard J. Nobbe III

        Where is the reference stating that Lehi is commanded to only take one wife? Or are you saying this may be in the Book of Lehi? Just curious. You have great points about the possible monogamous life of Lehi, especially the fact that only one wife is mentioned.

        One thing that has always fascinated me about scripture, (or anything for that matter), is what is purposefully (or not purposefully) left out. The reading in-between the lines based on all the clues we have, not just from scripture itself, but also from history and culture. These are where the mysteries lie.

        Why doesn’t the Gospel of John mention Christ in the Garden? I have my own theories. Or, why does Paul’s 2nd missionary journey look like a backwards maze? Or, when it says Moroni was completely alone at the end of the Book of Mormon, was he alone with his extended family? His Wife? Any relatives? Any cool stories of chillin’ with some apostate Lamanaties or getting chased by hungry grizzly bears? That’s a long, lonely walk from Manti to Palmyra.

        What interests me the most are your thoughts on Joseph Smith and polygamy. I agree with you that Joseph was definitely not the source of polygamy among the Latter-day Saints, but I do think it was through Joseph that God re-instituted this practice, (for whatever reason). I think the historicity of the several accounts we have are credible and accurate. I’d love to hear your thoughts at length, if not here, then in a private email. Or maybe you can tell them to me in person one day. I don’t know if I can agree with you on this, but I’m VERY interested to hear what you have to say – I totally respect your stance!

        • oneclimbs

          The references for Lehi are Jacob 2:27 “For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;” to verse 34 “ye know that these commandments were given to our father, Lehi;” and more especially, Jacob 3:5 “for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none,”

          I wouldn’t refer to Lehi as “possibly” monogamous since he was given a commandment concerning having only one wife and only one wife is ever mentioned. The idea that he was polygamous is unsupported by the text and I would say that it is a huge stretch to consider otherwise.

          You’re right about things being left out, it is impossible to record every single instance. However, when you consider how many events happen every moment among thousands and millions of people over the course of say, 1000 years, what is left out is far less significant that what is chosen to be preserved and passed down.

          Wives aren’t mentioned much in scripture, but occasionally they are. Families are sometimes mentioned but usually only the sons. Mosiah’s and Alma’s sons and descendants are mentioned quite a bit. Not sure why the scriptures lean male.

          My thoughts on Joseph Smith, the early church, and polygamy entertain several possibly theories. The history here is extremely complex and I do not wish to get into it. There is so much more to research and that will take time since I do not spend much time on the subject. I just collect pieces here and there as I find them while occasionally dipping deeper. That’s how I study most subjects, it’s like growing a garden, I don’t demand all the answers at once, I let them come to me with a little proactive watering and fertilizing to nudge things along.

  • Huston

    Super fascinating, Steve! Unless I missed it, there’s no paraphrase of Jacob 2:30 here based on all this, and I think that might be useful. Here’s what I got out of it overall, though my wording here is very clumsy: “The Lord says, In order to be spiritually converted to me, people must accept me as their leader; or else they’ll find themselves making these mistakes and be cursed.” Feel free to improve it. Thanks!

    • oneclimbs

      Thanks, you are correct, that is needed. What I posted here was basically a long list of notes. I have actually distilled most of this down to a much more concise and easier to understand narrative ending with a paraphrase based on some additional evidence from Nephi’s words. I am planning on a major revision of this post soon.

      Your own summary is very much on point, it can be expressed in a few different ways but you’ve definitely captured the spirit of it and in a way that speaks to modern man. I appreciate your feedback and I enjoy your blog quite a bit.

    • oneclimbs

      I have posted the update, the entire thing has been restructured and reorganized and features your suggestion. Let me know what you think.

  • Rob

    Here are my thoughts on the subject of plural marriage as stated and implied in the scriptures.

    1. Satan creates no new doctrines. He only twists and perverts what God Himself establishes and creates. Therefore, the single subject of Plural Marriage can be divided two ways. Plural Marriage as approved by God, and Concubines as defined by Satan to oppose the True Doctrine. One based on true needs to fulfill the requirements of Exaltation & Eternal Marriage, and one to mimic taking on many wives to satisfying the lusts of the flesh. So it comes to the motives for which this is being practiced.

    2. The House of Israel was built upon 4 wives. Can Good Fruit come from a bad tree ? Where did the Lord tell Jacob to get rid of, or not partake in those 4 wives ?

    3. Abraham followed Sarah’s desire to bear children through Hagar. Yet the fruit of that tree, was something that God approved of Sarah’s desire to eventually reject that marriage and child. Bad fruit from a bad tree…Or should I say a lesser tree than Sarah.

    4. The requirement of Exaltation requires the need for Celestial marriage. I’m pretty sure there will not be an equal number of men available to worthy women when it comes to fulfilling those requirements.

    5. The word “concubine” has always been associated with many wives as it applied to Solomon and David taking on wives that God did not approve of. All because it involved lusts of the flesh.

    • oneclimbs

      1. Agreed, there’s nothing new under the sun. Plural marriage is a very complex subject which I why I haven’t addressed it in any post, I’m only looking at the proper interpretation of a single verse.

      2. The House of Jacob was built on the Abrahamic covenant, not plural marriage. Jacob did not have 4 wives, he had 2 wives and there were 2 handmaids that became used as concubines. It’s true that the Lord did not tell him to get rid of the additional wife and the two concubines. I would ask a similar question, “Where did the Lord tell Jacob to take an extra wife and to have children with their handmaids to whom he was not married?”

      3. In the account of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar, we don’t see God approving of their actions, but we do see him work with the situation. He blesses Hagar, she isn’t cast aside and I like that aspect of the account. I wouldn’t call these people “bad trees” or “good trees” they were people, and like us, they made mistakes and did many great things as well. It gives me a great deal of hope when I see God working through imperfect vessels and showing that even if we jump the gun and cause some chaos, that God is able to work with us for the good. That is one of many things I pull from this story.

      4. “Pretty sure” sounds like a guess, and delves into assumptions about the afterlife that have no basis in any revealed doctrine. I’ve heard this argument made many times and for most people this makes a kind of sense. However, we have no idea what that situation will be like and I think that mentality gets us into the same problem that Abram and Sarai got into. Although God promised them seed, and they patiently waited for a time, they eventually lost that patience due to their increasing age, Abram being 86 years old at the time. Sarai decided to propose a solution and that was for Abram to have intercourse with her handmaid. Well, little did they know, God had other plans which were revealed years later when Abram was 99 years old: “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at THIS SET TIME in the next year.” Sarah laughs at this and the Lord responds: “Is any thing too hard for the Lord? At THE TIME APPOINTED I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” Sarah then denies laughing to which the Lord replies, “Nay; but thou didst laugh.” My point here is that instead of waiting on the Lord to fulfill his promise, Sarai tried to propose her own solution and Abram agreed to it without any indication that he even asked the Lord about this, they make a conclusion based on an assumption that this child couldn’t come through Sarai because it was physically impossible. We must remember the words, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” before we go assuming that polygamy HAS to be necessary because there will PROBABLY be more women than men in the next life. We simply don’t know all the details except that we are promised that nobody will miss out on any blessings. I’m going to wait and see on that one.

      5. The practice of having concubines is evil. A concubine is a woman that doesn’t hold the same status as a wife, although she may be a secondary wife, she’s usually a woman used solely to pleasure a man or to bear him children. This is adultery, no matter how you cut it. Having sex with women that you are not married to such as Hagar, Zilpah or Bilhah. You suggest that the word “concubine” has “ALWAYS been associated with many wives as it applied to David and Solomon taking on wives that God did not approve of,” But do you have references for this claim and that it has “always” been clearly understood as you suggest? In the Book of Mormon, God does not make any distinctions between a concubine or a wife, they are always mentioned in conjunction: “many wives and concubines.” As for David and Solomon God condemns both: “Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.” What “thing” is that? Having many wives and concubines. Well maybe many wives is ok, but concubines aren’t? Nope: “hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;”

      Now you might be wondering, as I have for many years, why David and Solomon had so many wives when the practice was clearly condemned in Deuteronomy 17:17. Well, I have had an email exchange with someone who has been researching this very issue and they shared some really interesting information from the Dead Sea Scrolls.

      I’ll try and sum up the best I can. The writings suggest that David did not know about these commandments in Deuteronomy because the law was lost for hundreds of years. It isn’t discovered again until after David and Solomon by a high priest named Hilkiah. Here is a quote from the scrolls:

      “…although the principle of creation is “male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27) and those who went into the ark “went into the ark two by two” (Gen. 7:9). Concerning the Leader it is written “he shall not multiply wives to himself” (Deut. 17:17); but David had not read the sealed book of the Law in the Ark; for it was not opened in Israel from the day of the death of Eleazar and Joshua and the elders who served the goddess Ashtoret. It lay buried revealed until the appearance of Zadok…” (https://books.google.com/books?id=218JbeU2POgC&pg=PA56#v=onepage&q&f=false)

      This text argues that without Deuteronomy, how could David or Solomon have known this law? You can read about the rediscovery of the law in 2 Kings 22:8-11. This raises some interesting questions and adds more layers of intrigue to this story. We simply don’t have all the information on these events and that makes it really hard to understand.

      While I realize that my tone here challenges the position of polygamy, I’m merely trying to illustrate some other ways in which these events can be seen. I don’t believe they are as neat, cut and dry as we sometimes make them out.

      As for the polygamy practiced in the early church officially for 38 or so years, I have many theories but nothing I can hang my hat on. The subject is very intricate and takes years of study to even begin to wrap your mind around. It is not at all clear, there are contradictions and serious questions that remain unanswered. So for this reason, I have not posted anything on that specific subject on this blog – ever. The subject deserves careful consideration and a great deal of research and although I’m fairly well-red on the subject, I don’t have any conclusions to share.

      My point in this post is not to attack or defend polygamy, only to try and understand what this verse is actually saying and I don’t think the current interpretation is correct. This causes us to see only the polygamy exception in this sermon and pass over the point it is actually making which I think is tragic, especially when the world suffers so much from these same issues.

      There may be polygamy in the next life, there may be a valid reason behind early LDS polygamy. I’m not attacking any of those things here. I will question the interpretations being read into Biblical accounts though, and that is all I am doing here.

  • Rob

    As far as Lehi being given the commandment for them to take on only one wife as a result of the malpractice of Plural marriage being performed back in the Holy Land, it places them in a frame of reference to which they were already familiar with as being an abomination before God. If the need was currently not something required of Lehi and His small following, then why practice it ? To do it for any other reason, would be to repeat the abomination the people of the Old Testament were performing for the sake of satisfying the lusts of their flesh.

    When the subject is further mentioned later in the BOM, it was obvious that they had acquired the same old lusts of the flesh that their fathers of the Bible had grown accustomed to. It would seem to me that True Plural marriage could ONLY be found among God’s People ONLY when they were of a Higher Spiritual caliber, like Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob, and ONLY when it becomes necessary.