***Updated: Sept. 14, 2023 (See details at the end)
In Jacob chapters 2-3, we encounter one of the most fervent and emotionally charged sermons in the Book of Mormon. Delivered by Jacob, the brother of Nephi, this sermon provides profound insights into the condition of his people, as he remarks:
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.Jacob 1:15
Lehi emphasized that it was a divine commandment from the Lord for men to have only one wife and no concubines (Jacob 2:27, 34, 3:5-6).
In the midst of an extensive sermon, both the Lord Himself and Jacob unequivocally condemn the practice of having many wives and concubines, denouncing it as gross (vulgar; obscene; indelicate) crimes, sins, iniquities, whoredoms, fornication, lasciviousness, filthiness, and abominations. The sermon also vividly portrays the profound suffering and harm inflicted on women and children due to this practice (Jacob 2:31-35).
However, there is a conventional interpretation of Jacob 2:30 that suggests an exception to the Lord’s commandment of monogamy, proposing that the Lord might command men to marry multiple wives and concubines, even though He acknowledges that the practice breaks wives’ hearts and causes sorrow, mourning, sobbing, and deep wounds.
This essay’s objective is to demonstrate that Jacob 2:30 does not contain an exception to the commandment that men should have only one wife and no concubines.
Please note that the content shared on this site reflects personal explorations, and I am open to corrections if any errors are found. I am not a professional theologian or linguistics expert, and readers are not obligated to accept my viewpoints. This blog serves as a platform for me to share my thoughts and research.
Why try and reinterpret this particular verse?
I used to never give this verse a second thought as I read past it over and over because I understood that Jacob 2:30 taught that the Lord could command polygamy to be practiced if he required it.
That perspective might seem reasonable on the surface – after all, the Lord is omnipotent and can issue any command He wishes. But, is that the message being conveyed in Jacob 2:30?
Upon closer examination, I occasionally revisited this verse, attempting to make sense of how that interpretation could work, and while it seemed to align with the text at times, it never quite felt wholly convincing, leaving me with an underlying uncertainty.
I didn’t embark on a specific mission to deeply scrutinize this verse; rather, I have an extensive collection of notes where I preserve valuable insights that cross my path, as they often prove useful in the future. Around 2015, my exploration of Hebrew literary patterns, inspired by Avraham Gileadi’s work on Isaiah, led me to examine the specific words and phrases in Jacob 2:30 more closely.
At times, I noticed intriguing elements that piqued my curiosity, prompting me to add them to my notes. After about two years of accumulating these observations, I took a step back to reflect on them and realized that the meaning of this verse was gradually crystallizing.
I began the process of organizing this information into an essay, continually uncovering more evidence along the way. Even after publishing this essay, I remain open to further updates as new insights continue to emerge.
First, it is important to note that the Book of Mormon condemns the practice of having multiple wives and concubines in every instance it occurs, even among the Jaredites who predate Lehi, Israel, and Abraham for that matter:
- Riplakish the Jaredite (Ether 10:5)
- The rising generation of Nephites (Jacob ch. 2-3)
- King Noah and his wicked priests (Mosiah 11:2-14)
I want to be clear that my intent in publishing this essay is not to attack or defend the practice of plural marriage among the early Latter-day Saints.
My primary objective with this essay is to arrive at a correct interpretation of a verse of scripture. The entirety of the consequences of the interpretation I am proposing upon the theological landscape are outside the scope of this essay.
Examining the conventional interpretation’s premise
First, let’s begin by reviewing the verse in question:
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.Jacob 2:30
The conventional interpretation of Jacob 2:30 posits that the prevailing rule prescribed by the Lord is monogamy, unless a divine command is issued to His people, permitting them to enter into non-monogamous marriages involving one man and multiple wives for the purpose of “raising up seed.” Furthermore, in the absence of such divine command, they shall adhere to the practice of monogamy.
Is this the message that the verse is really conveying? What if it was saying something else entirely?
I propose that interpreting Jacob 2:30 this way exemplifies the fallacy known as proof-texting, where an external meaning is being imposed onto the verse, unsupported by the internal context of the sermon.
“A proof text is a passage of scripture presented as proof for a theological doctrine, belief, or principle. Prooftexting (sometimes “proof-texting” or “proof texting”) is the practice of using quotations from a document, either for the purpose of exegesis, or to establish a proposition in eisegesis (introducing one’s own presuppositions, agendas, or biases). Such quotes may not accurately reflect the original intent of the author, and a document quoted in such a manner, when read as a whole, may not support the proposition for which it was cited.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prooftext
For the purpose of this essay, I kindly request you to momentarily put aside the conventional interpretation and join me in a comprehensive analysis. Let’s explore not only this specific verse but also delve into the broader context of the entire sermon and the Book of Mormon in its entirety.
I believe that this approach will shed new light on this verse and objectively demonstrate it’s actual meaning.
The meaning of “otherwise”
I want to begin by examining the word “otherwise” because this is a clue to understanding the meaning of Jacob 2:30.
The word “otherwise” in this verse functions as a conjunction, introducing a conditional statement or clause that contrasts an alternative outcome or consequence based on the preceding statement. It conveys a condition or choice and the result if that condition is not met.
In every usage found in the Book of Mormon, we can observe a consistent pattern where the main statement or action always represents an intended outcome, and the alternative condition or consequence is always an undesirable outcome.
If we impose the conventional interpretation, the only exception in the group is Jacob 2:30. While it is conceivable that Jacob 2:30 may deviate from the others, there exists compelling evidence supporting the contention that it aligns with the rest.
Here are each of these highlighted instances, demonstrating the pattern:
“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 them; otherwise 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 Christ; otherwise 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 garments; otherwise 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 claimeth; otherwise, justice 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 thee; otherwise 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 wilderness; otherwise 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 guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned;” (Mosiah 4:25)
“Inquire of the Lord, and if he saith unto us go, we will go; otherwise 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)
If these verses all use the word otherwise consistently, the second half of Jacob 2:30, “…they shall hearken unto these things,” would have to be referencing an undesirable outcome, but does it?
This one verse, being the outlier, deserves a closer look.
The conventional interpretation suggests that “raise up seed” means taking many wives (and concubines?) only if God commands. However, in the absence of such a commandment, the Nephite people should obey the standing commandment of monogamy.
There is another way to interpret this verse that fits the narrative of the sermon, the Book of Mormon as a whole, and is consistent with the other examples, but we will need to take a closer look at each of these two clauses and examine their contents.
Clause 1: God’s intended outcome: to raise up a righteous branch
If we go back to the verse itself with this particular interpretation, that “raise up seed” involves “increas[ing] 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.” Is the “if” conditional and implying that the Lord has not yet commanded his people to take “many wives and concubines” but that he could require it if he wanted to? That is what the conventional interpretation is suggesting.
If so, we could read the verse this way:
“If I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, increase the number of children born unto me in the gospel covenant, I will command my people to take many wives and concubines…”
If the Lord is speaking hypothetically here, this would mean that the Nephites have not yet been commanded to “raise up seed.”
There is a significant issue with that interpretation: the Nephites have indeed been commanded to “raise up seed,” but remarkably, they are commanded to do so monogamously under a clear directive.
What does “raise up seed” mean?
If we go back to 1 Nephi chapter 7, we see the Lord 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)
Considering the commandment given to Lehi’s party, which included the precise wording of Jacob 2:30 (“raise up seed”), wouldn’t it imply that the men in Lehi’s party must have had multiple wives and concubines?
If there were ever a time that increasing the number of children would be a need, it would certainly be among this small party of individuals seeking to form a new nation in another land.
Would not this be a perfect time for the Lord to command his people to “increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant?”
It appears not, as Lehi received a specific commandment for his people to “raise up seed” monogamously. How can we ascertain this? Jacob underscores this commandment four times in his sermon:
- 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)
- 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)
- [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 3:5)
- 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 3:6)
Why does the phrase “raise up seed” refer to the monogamous growth of a faithful people in 1 Nephi 7:1, yet seem to imply polygamy in Jacob 2:30, especially when the entire surrounding sermon vehemently condemns the practice, using some of the strongest language in scripture?
The Nephites received a specific commandment to “raise up seed” while being instructed to maintain only one wife and abstain from having concubines. Additionally, Jacob 2:25 furnishes a more detailed explanation of the Lord’s intentions regarding “raising up seed” In verse 25.
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 emphasizes that the Nephites had received a commandment to “raise up seed” or establish a righteous branch from Joseph’s descendants, perpetuating Joseph’s posterity in a new promised land.
If taking multiple wives and concubines is considered a sacred means to have more children under the covenant, why did God repeatedly condemn the practice itself as a “gross crime,” equating it to whoredom and abomination throughout the thousand-year history of the Nephites?
Does it seem reasonable that the Nephite women and children were so profoundly heartbroken by the men’s practice of taking multiple wives and concubines simply because they lacked “authorization”? And would everything have been harmonious if they had indeed been authorized to do so?
Would there have been no “sorrow,” “mourning,” “cries,” “sobbing,” “captiv[ity],” or “hearts [dying], pierced with deep wounds” if only there were “authorization”?
Even the sole mention of this practice among the Jaredites involved a king who “did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (Ether 10:5). It is worth noting that the Jaredites separated from the main body of God’s people at the Tower of Babel, centuries before the existence of Abraham or the House of Israel, and this practice was still deemed unacceptable among them.
When we replace the phrase “raise up seed” with synonymous language from verse 25, the verse becomes clearer:
“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…”
We should examine the phrase “If I will” more closely, as this is a point where our understanding of this verse can become unclear.
This phrasing is rare in the Standard Words and appears in only four places (Jacob 2:30, Malachi 3:10, John 21:22-23). I think that John 21:22-23 most closely resembles the language of Jacob 2:30:
“Jesus saith unto him, If I will that [John] tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me… He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?”
Jesus wasn’t implying that he might hypothetically permit John to tarry at some point in the future; it was already decided that John would tarry.
The King James English is just a little confusing here so here are the verses in some alternate translations:
“Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”Revised Standard Edition
Jesus answered, “Suppose I want him to remain alive until I return. What does that matter to you? You must follow me.”NIV
Yeshua said to him, “If I want him to stay on until I come, what is it to you? You, follow me!”The Complete Jewish Bible
Using “if” to signify a condition functions as a transitive verb. Jacob 2:30 and John 21:22 demonstrate that it can also convey something already a fact.
For example, consider a hypothetical sentence that starts with “if”: “If I intend to make dessert, you must eat your dinner first.” In this scenario, dessert has yet to be prepared, and it will be if dinner is eaten.
Similarly, starting a sentence with “if” can address something already in progress, not hypothetical: “If you want your pet fish to stay alive, you must keep feeding it.” In this case, the fish is already alive, and the goal is to maintain its well-being.
In the context of Jacob 2:30, the use of “if” illustrates the conditions associated with the Lord’s establishment of a righteous branch. It signifies that if He intends to raise such a branch, it can only happen if He is in command of it.
Furthermore, the term “will” may be misconstrued. According to Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, one of its definitions is “divine determination,” which I propose aligns with the context in which it appears in this verse.
The true nuance lies in the interplay between ‘if’ and ‘will.’ The Lord is not necessarily suggesting, ‘If someday I decide to…’ but rather, He is conveying, ‘If it aligns with my divine determination…’ or ‘If it is my intent for this to happen…’ The conventional interpretation hinges on the context in which ‘if’ is used in scripture, denoting conditions already true or ongoing, not solely future actions.
Here is the verse reflecting this meaning:
“For if I determine to […] raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph, I will command my people…”
To ensure the growth of the righteous branch he has already established in the promised land, he must issue the commands; otherwise, an undesirable outcome shall result.
In the broader context of the sermon, the understanding of the initial segment of verse 30 becomes quite evident when comparing the modified verse with the original and examining the three elements I have highlighted in blue, red, and green:
“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph unto me, 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)
The essential idea here is that while God certainly desires the birth of more Nephite children within the gospel covenant, His vision extends far beyond this singular goal.
Inclusion in the gospel covenant is not limited solely to birth; nor does being born within the covenant hold precedence over adoption into it. Abinadi’s words shed light on this matter:
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)
The righteous branch God seeks to establish comprises those who heed the words of the holy prophets and receive the blessings He has promised. In the Book of Mormon, there are references to becoming the sons and daughters of God and experiencing spiritual rebirth through Christ.
Given that there is no record in the extensive scriptural history detailed in the Book of Mormon or the Bible, spanning over 6,000 years, of God ever issuing a directive commanding men to increase covenant birthrates through simultaneous marriage and impregnation of multiple women, does it still seem reasonable to interpret verse 30 as implying such a directive?
Why would God even raise such a topic with a people who neither held a desire to increase covenant birthrates as their justification nor would ever receive such a command in that manner?
I suggest that the opening portion of verse 30 is crystal clear: if God intends to establish a righteous branch for Himself, He must also take command of that branch. It is His mission, and for His objectives to prosper, He must be the one in control; otherwise, they would be subject to the command of another authority.
Increasing children under the covenant?
There is another conventional idea that God commands men to marry multiple women, not just to increase covenant births, but also to increase the population.
It’s important to note that while the monogamous Nephites did experience significant population growth at various junctures in their history, the practice of men marrying more than one woman, contrary to expectation, can actually result in a decrease in the population.
After studying the marriage and birth data from 186,000 Utah adults and their 630,000 children from the 1800s, evolutionary biologist Michael Wade concluded:
“Although [plural marriage is] great in terms of number of children for successful males to have harems, the data show that for every new woman added to a male’s household, the number each wife produced goes down by one child or so“https://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/16939.html
For instance, consider the case of Brigham Young at the time of his death. He had entered into marriage with 56 women, but only 16 of these women actually gave birth to children. In total, Brigham fathered 57 children, with 46 of them reaching maturity. (Source)
If we calculate the average number of children born per mother by dividing the total number of children (57) by the number of mothers (16), we arrive at an average of 3.5 children per mother (this figure drops to 2.8 when considering only surviving children). In contrast, the average number of children born to a woman between 1840 and 1880 was approximately 5.21 children per woman. (source)
Comparatively, Brigham was married to 56 women, and the number of children produced per woman was significantly lower than the contemporary average, 3.5 compared to 5.21. If each of those 56 women had been in a monogamous marriage and produced children at the average rate, there could have been 291 children instead of 57!
Even if we focus solely on the 16 women who bore children, at the average birth rate, they could have produced 83 children instead of 57.
To provide another example, on June 13, 2021, a man named Ziona Chana passed away, survived by 38 widows. Remarkably, he had 94 children with these women.
He married his first wife at the age of 17 in 1964. During the period when Ziona was having children, the birth rates in India ranged from 5.85 children per woman to 2.18. On average, there were about 4 births per woman during that time frame. However, Ziona’s wives collectively produced 2.41 children per woman on average.
If his wives had all been married monogamously and had children at the average birthrate, there could have been around 156 children instead of 93. This would have also resulted in far fewer widows and fatherless children upon his passing.
It’s crucial to recognize that observing a single man fathering numerous children with multiple women creates an illusion that such a practice leads to a net increase in population. In reality, when one man fathers many children through several women, the birth rate often falls below the average. While these are just two examples, similar patterns emerge when analyzing other cases.
On the contrary, consider the notable success of the monogamous Nephites in increasing the number of children born under the covenant over the course of their millennia-long history:
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)
The evidence strongly indicates that one of the primary reasons the Lord opposed the Nephites taking many wives and concubines is that it leads to a decrease in birthrates, hinders population growth, and runs counter to the Lord’s desire to “raise up seed.”
I would argue that God commands monogamy, not only because it aligns with the divine pattern established in Eden, but also because it proves to be a significantly more effective means of fulfilling the mandate to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
If the goal is to have more children born within the covenant, this objective is most effectively achieved through faithful monogamous families, which can produce a significantly higher number of children.
Brian C. Hales, the author of “Joseph Smith’s Polygamy,” a comprehensive three-volume collection of all known documents related to this practice in Latter-day Saint history, addresses the question of whether polygamy might ever be “commanded again” with the following insight:
“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?”Brian and Linda Hales, http://blog.fairmormon.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Lending-Clarity-to-Confusion.pdf
If the practice of men fathering children with multiple women was indeed an effective method for increasing the number of births within the covenant, one might wonder why historical examples of this approach are notably absent.
I think that the reason lies in the fact that such a practice tends to diminish the overall fruitfulness of the people and curtails their capacity to multiply.
“I will command my people”
What about the line “I will command my people”? We have previously established that when used by God, the word “will” can signify “divine determination.”
Is He indicating that He will issue a command to His people in the future? Or is He expressing His active determination to assume command over His people in the present?
It is worth noting that, in this context, He is warning them of imminent destruction.
In such a scenario, regaining immediate command would undoubtedly become a top priority to avert such a fate.
The term “command” can encompass future, past, or present states, as seen in phrases like “I am going to command,” “They ignored the command,” or “I command you.” Jacob’s sermon contains numerous references to the Lord and His commands.
- I will command my people (2:30)
- 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)
- O that ye would listen unto the word of his commands (2:16)
- to be obedient unto the commands of God (4:5)
- Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts (2:29)
- 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)
In all these instances, the speaker is Jacob, except for verse 30, where the Lord is speaking.
The Lord asserts His determination to command His people and expects them to heed His commandments. This declaration aligns with similar instances where the Lord has similarly expressed Himself. Here are a few additional examples:
- For I command all men… (2 Nephi 29:11)
- I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. (2 Nephi 15:6 quoting Isaiah)
- …he shall do none other work, save the work which I shall command him… (2 Nephi 3:8)
- 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)
- If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land (2 Chron. 7:13)
Numerous additional examples underscore that it’s not uncommon for the Lord to employ this phraseology. The term “command” carries a notably strong and assertive connotation, a fitting choice considering the gravity of the sermon as a whole.
Here’s an updated rendition of the clarified verse:
“For if I determine to […] raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph, I will be the one to command my people…”
God issues an ultimatum, outlining a covenant curse looming over the people. He does so by strategically invoking a title, prominently featured in verse 30 and most concentrated in the Book of Mormon: The Lord of Hosts.
“The Lord of Hosts”
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 determines to “command” his people, that sounds very militaristic, and rightly so, because the title Lord of Hosts 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 see this phrase being used and only two of them are actually quoting the Lord himself.
Unique to Book of Mormon figures: 12
- 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 five verses, and again, this is the Lord speaking and referring to himself as “the Lord of Hosts.” (verses 27-33).
Note that in between each set of three, we have the curse mentioned.
- saith the Lord of Hosts
- saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
- saith the Lord of Hosts
- I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.
- saith the Lord of Hosts
- saith the Lord of Hosts
- saith the Lord of Hosts. […] I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction;
- saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
- saith the Lord of Hosts
As noted, the title Lord of Hosts implies that God is the commander of angelic forces.
The frequent use of this title harkens back to examples that the Nephites may have been familiar with from the Brass Plates. For instance, there is the account of Elisha, who, when he prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened, revealed a vision of “the mountain [being] full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17).
Isaiah’s writings are extensively quoted in the Book of Mormon. In Isaiah 37, King Hezekiah sought divine protection from the Assyrians and addressed God as “the Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 37:16). In response, God, referring to Himself as the “Lord of Hosts” (Isaiah 37:32), promised His protection. During the night, “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)
This use of such language emphasizes that the Nephites are facing a threat of destruction due to their “gross crimes,” which encompass taking many wives and concubines. In stark contrast, the Lamanites are assured protection because they follow the commandment of having 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)
Adherence to this specific commandment spared the Lamanites from impending destruction. Since violating this commandment would lead to the nation’s downfall, the Lord essentially declares war on the Nephites.
Considering these factors, the language “I will command my people” or “I determine to command my people” is entirely fitting and appropriate, given the gravity of the situation.
There are only two other instances in the Book of Mormon where people take many wives and concubines, and in both cases, they faced the wrath of the Lord of Hosts: King Noah (Mosiah 11:2-14) and Riplakish (Ether 10:5-8).
This leads us to the second part of the verse, the latter portion of the clause.
Clause 2: The undesirable outcome: a sore curse, even unto destruction
I propose that the second clause of this verse conveys the “undesirable outcome,” which involves a curse of destruction, rather than merely suggesting that the Nephites should “follow the standing monogamous instructions.”
To support this argument, I would like to draw attention to verse 29, which, when examined alongside verse 30, reveals a parallel structure—an alignment of meaning emphasized through a similarity in form. Both verses comprise two clauses that follow a consistent pattern: first, a description of a desired outcome, and then an illustration of an undesirable consequence:
“Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or 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 people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.”Jacob 2:30
It may not seem clear how “cursed be the land” and “they shall hearken unto these things” are parallel ideas but that is what I will attempt to explain next.
“They shall hearken”
Do the words, “they shall hearken unto these things,” lead one to assume that the Lord is merely urging the Nephites to heed the instructions He has already provided?
The initial clause of Jacob 2:30 establishes that for God to establish a righteous branch unto Himself, He must command authority. In a preceding verse, Jacob affirms:
“Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord…”Jacob 2:27
I suggest that Jacob 2:30 implies that if the Lord’s words or commands are not heeded, it is inevitable that His people shall instead hearken to the doctrines of men and be swayed by wicked practices and abominations.
However, in a rebuttal to this essay, Jeff Lindsay cites Dr. Steve Bonta, a linguistics PhD graduate from Cornell University, to challenge my assertion that the term “hearken” in Jacob 2:30 implies listening to someone other than the Lord in the context of this sermon.
Reed argues that “otherwise” in the Book of Mormon in such contexts always has a negative or undesired consequence in the following clause; but one could as easily argue that the word “hearken” almost always in the Book of Mormon refers to listening to the Lord or his representatives, and not to the devil or those who do his bidding (as indeed it does; I did a quick count, and out of 55 total occurrences of this word, all but three referred to listening to the Lord or to righteous men).Source
I believe Dr. Bonta’s perspective is valid, as one could make a case for either interpretation.
I assert that using “otherwise” as a conjunction consistently follows a pattern, as I have previously explained. It can be demonstrated that the Nephites had already been specifically “commanded” to “raise up seed” under monogamy.
Jacob 2:25 indicates that “raising up seed” is related to establishing a righteous branch of people who were brought out of Jerusalem, with no indication that this process involves men taking additional wives and concubines.
Contrary to Dr. Bonta’s “quick count” of 50, there are, in fact, 100 references (source) to the word “hearken” in the Book of Mormon (including variations like “hearkeneth,” “hearkened,” and “hearkening”).
Excluding Jacob 2:30, there approximately 13 references, not 3 as Dr. Bonta claims, that mention hearkening to sources other than God and His servants (1 Nephi 3:28, 2 Nephi 12:6, 2 Nephi 28:5, 2 Nephi 28:6, 2 Nephi 28:26, 2 Nephi 28:31, Jacob 7:23, Alma 5:41, Alma 50:32, Alma 51:3, Helaman 4:3, Helaman 12:4, and 3 Nephi 3:12).
While “hearken” is frequently used when talking about listening to the Lord and His representatives, it is not exclusively reserved for them.
Dr. Bonta mentioned finding only 3 references, but there are 4 references in just one sermon, delivered by Nephi, Jacob’s brother, which refer to sources that are not God and His servants:
5 [Churches built up in the last days that are not of the Lord shall say:] Hearken unto us, and hear ye our precept; for behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men;
6 Behold, hearken ye unto my precept; if they shall say there is a miracle wrought by the hand of the Lord, believe it not; for this day he is not a God of miracles; he hath done his work.
26 Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!
[I included verse 30 here to show how the Lord contrasts hearkening to his words versus the precepts of men] 30 “…blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel…
31 Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men…2 Nephi 28:6
“Hearkening unto the precepts of men” is exactly what Jacob’s people were doing, and he describes how they were following the examples of men in the scriptures instead of God’s commands:
[The people] 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.Jacob 1:15
He goes on to explain this further in his sermon:
…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.Jacob 2:23
In this instance, it’s evident that they are not heeding God’s command. The term “hearken” is referenced four times in Jacob’s sermon. The first (Jacob 2:5) and the last (Jacob 3:11) instances involve Jacob urging the people to heed his own words. He implores them to “listen” to “the word of [the Lord’s] commands” (Jacob 2:16) and to “hearken” to the word of the Lord (Jacob 2:27).
However, when the Lord is speaking in verse 30, the context strongly suggests that His use of the phrase “they shall hearken unto these things” pertains to the doctrines of men that His people will inevitably follow if they disregard the commands of the Lord of Hosts.
I think that two opposing things are being contrasted here:
“hearken to the word of the Lord; otherwise, they shall hearken unto these things.”
Two distinct outcomes are being presented: the first involves the people being obedient and heeding the word of the Lord, while the second, less favorable outcome entails them hearkening to “these things,” which I posit are not aligned with the word of the Lord.
If “these things” are not the word of the Lord, the question arises: what exactly do they refer to?
What are “these things”
The Nephites were directly violating God’s commandment to have only one wife and no concubines. Note that in Jacob’s commentary in chapter 1 before his sermon he very specifically talks about that practice itself as being wicked.
“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.”Jacob 1:15
What was wicked was not the Nephites “acting without authorization,” but the practice itself of desiring many wives and concubines. (Jacob 1:17)
Back in 2013, updates were made to some of the chapter headings in the Book of Mormon. I immediately looked up Jacob 2 and discovered that it had been significantly altered from the original.
Prior to that date, the chapter heading said:
“Jacob denounces the love of riches, pride, and unchastity—Men may seek riches to help their fellow men—Jacob condemns the unauthorized practice of plural marriage—The Lord delights in the chastity of women. About 544–421 B.C.”
Those who made the edits removed the portion that said “unauthorized practice” and replaced it with this:
“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. About 544–421 B.C.”
The new version reflects what is in the text, while the previous version injects a meaning that I do not believe is supported by the context of the sermon.
The words “thing” or “things” are used to describe both the word of the Lord and the “gross crimes” of the Nephites. While the majority of the “things” are the “gross crimes” of the Nephites, the word “things” cannot be exclusively applied to those crimes.
But if we look at the usage of these phrases in the sermon, it seems far more likely that the “these things” that the Lord is referencing in verse 30 are the gross crimes of the Nephites rather than the commandment of monogamy.
“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)
Do you not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? (Jacob 2:21)
“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)
Considering the context of the usage of “these things” in verse 30 and the surrounding verses, it appears reasonable to conclude that the “these things” in verse 30 refer to the “these things which ye ought not to have done” that the Lord is condemning.
I propose that hearkening unto “these things” and incurring a curse represents the undesirable consequence of rejecting God’s command. This aligns the word “otherwise” with all the other examples in the Book of Mormon.
Jacob observed a significant change in circumstances after the death of Sherem, highlighting that they chose not to heed the words of wicked men and instead returned to God.
And it came to pass that peace and the love of God was restored again among the people; and they searched the scriptures, and hearkened no more to the words of this wicked man.Jacob 7:23
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 verse 29 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” and continuing to explain what “these things” are, beginning with a “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 observed that the Nephite men were:
“[indulging] 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.”Jacob 1:15-16
Jacob must have had access to the book of Deuteronomy via the brass plates because it says there that the kings of Israel shall:
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
Multiplying wives and gold, and silver, exactly what they were told not to do. Yet this is exactly what the Nephite men were doing, as were King Noah and his priests, and Riplakish the Jaredite king.
Doing these wicked practices caused their hearts to turn away, but this was not the only damage to hearts; look what happened to the hearts of their women and children:
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
As previously demonstrated, Lehi’s words were embraced and conveyed as the word of the Lord. Furthermore, the phrase “they shall hearken unto these things” may also allude to strikingly similar language found in the writings 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 encounter a situation strikingly similar to that of Jacob’s people. These individuals are straying from the path of righteousness because they are failing to heed the Lord’s guidance and, instead, are following the precepts of men.
Among the Nephites, some men were attempting to justify their practice of taking multiple wives and concubines by citing writings related to 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)
Compare that with this warning from Nephi’s words:
Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men…2 Nephi 28:26
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. Notice how the or and the otherwise join two ideas:
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.Jacob 2:30
Mormon spoke more plainly about who you are really hearkening unto when you hearken unto the precepts of men:
O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!Helaman 12:4
You are really only hearkening unto the commands of God or the words of the evil one; there is no middle ground.
A conversation with ChatGPT about the meaning of Jacob 2:30
(September 3, 2023 – I want to give Jeff Lindsay credit for the idea of asking ChatGPT, an unbiased language model, to interpret Jacob 2:30 based on the entire context of the sermon. Note that ChatGPT is not perfect, and should not be relied upon alone for information. But as a language model, it provided accurate information when asked to determine the meaning of Jacob 2:30. I have copied and pasted the conversation I had with ChatGPT below.)
Question: [pasted the entire chapters of Jacob 2-3]
[ChatGPT responded thanking me for pasting those two chapters and noted that it recognized them as being from the Book of Mormon and provided a short summary.]
Question: What is the meaning of verse 30 in Jacob ch 2?
In verse 30 of Jacob chapter 2, Jacob speaks about the relationship between seeking for the kingdom of God and obtaining riches. The verse states:
“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.”
The meaning of this verse can be understood in the context of the preceding verses where Jacob addresses the people’s pride, materialism, and the mistreatment of their brethren. Jacob emphasizes that seeking after riches should not be their primary focus. Instead, he teaches that the people should seek for the kingdom of God first and foremost.
The phrase “raise up seed unto me” can be interpreted as the Lord’s desire to have righteous descendants or followers who are faithful and devoted to Him. In this context, Jacob is conveying that if the people seek after the kingdom of God and prioritize their spiritual growth and obedience, the Lord will guide and command them according to His will.
On the other hand, if the people continue in their wickedness, disregarding the commandments and mistreating others, they will need to “hearken unto these things” or listen and take heed of the consequences and judgments that will come upon them.
In summary, verse 30 emphasizes the importance of seeking the kingdom of God and aligning one’s actions with His commandments rather than pursuing worldly wealth and status. It reminds the people that their obedience and devotion to God will determine the blessings or consequences they will experience.ChatGPT
After getting this response I decided to dig a little deeper and ask it a more specific question about the meaning of the phrase “raise up seed” and if it is connected to taking many wives and concubines.
Question: Does verse 30 indicate that God will command his people to take many wives and concubines if he wants to “raise up seed”
Verse 30 of Jacob chapter 2 does not explicitly state that God will command His people to take many wives and concubines in order to “raise up seed.” The verse itself does not address the specific practice of polygamy or provide any direct command regarding the matter.
However, it is important to consider the broader context of the Book of Mormon and the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) on this topic. In the early history of the LDS Church, polygamy was practiced for a period of time. Some individuals, including certain prophets and leaders of the Church, believed that this practice was commanded by God as a means to “raise up seed” and increase the number of faithful followers.
It’s worth noting that the LDS Church officially disavowed the practice of polygamy in 1890, and it is not currently practiced by the Church. The specific doctrines and practices of the Church regarding marriage and family have evolved over time.
In summary, while verse 30 does not explicitly mention polygamy, the topic of multiple wives and concubines has been discussed in other parts of the Book of Mormon and in the history of the LDS Church. However, the interpretation and understanding of those teachings have evolved, and the current stance of the LDS Church is against the practice of polygamy.ChatGPT
I think it’s fair that ChatGPT tried to provide broader context by looking at the conventional interpretation and the history of plural marriage in general, but for the sake of this experiment, I only wanted it to consider the context of the sermon.
Question: Given the context of Jacob chapters 2 and 3, could verse 30 be interpreted to mean that “raise up seed” refers to taking many wives and concubines or God commanding the practice of polygamy?
Verse 30 of Jacob chapter 2 does not explicitly mention the practice of polygamy or taking many wives and concubines. The phrase “raise up seed” can be interpreted more broadly as God’s desire to have righteous descendants or followers who are faithful to Him. The verse does not provide specific instructions or details about how this is to be accomplished.
Interpreting verse 30 as a direct command to practice polygamy would require making assumptions and reading into the text beyond what is explicitly stated. It is important to consider the overall message and teachings of the Book of Mormon and the doctrines of the LDS Church as a whole.
It’s worth noting that the LDS Church, as mentioned earlier, officially disavowed the practice of polygamy in 1890. The current teachings and practices of the LDS Church do not endorse or encourage the practice of polygamy.
Interpretation of scripture can vary among individuals, and it is always important to seek guidance from reliable sources and consider the teachings of the Church and its leaders.ChatGPT
It’s true the verse alone doesn’t suggest how “raising up seed” is to be accomplished which is why the context of the whole sermon is important, as is the rest of the Book of Mormon such as 1 Nephi 7:1. I decided to ask next what it thinks verse 30 means.
Question: What does “raise up seed” mean in verse 30?
In verse 30 of Jacob chapter 2, the phrase “raise up seed” can be understood as a broader call for God’s people to bear righteous and faithful children who will continue to follow God’s commandments and carry on His covenant. This phrase emphasizes the importance of raising a righteous posterity and maintaining a heritage of faithfulness.
The concept of “raising up seed” can be seen as part of God’s plan for His people to perpetuate a righteous lineage, both spiritually and physically. It involves instilling faith, values, and a love for God in future generations, ensuring that His covenant is passed down from one generation to the next.
While the specific interpretation of “raise up seed” may vary among individuals, it generally encompasses the idea of raising a righteous family and ensuring the continuation of God’s covenant through faithful descendants. It emphasizes the importance of nurturing a legacy of righteousness and devotion to God.ChatGPT
I completely agree with this response and thought it was very well expressed. Next, I wanted to see what it had to say about the rest of the verse and ChatGPT nails it.
Question: What does “otherwise they shall hearken unto these things” in verse 30 mean?
The phrase “otherwise they shall hearken unto these things” in verse 30 of Jacob chapter 2 can be understood to mean that if the people do not follow God’s commandments, they will be inclined to listen to and engage in the practices that were condemned earlier in the chapter. In this context, the previous verses address the wickedness of seeking after riches, pride, and committing sexual sins, including the practice of taking many wives and concubines.
The phrase suggests that if the people do not repent and turn away from their wickedness, they will be susceptible to the temptations and cultural practices that were prevalent among other nations. It serves as a warning that if they do not keep the commandments, they will be influenced by the worldly behaviors and practices that God has instructed them to avoid.
In essence, the verse implies that obedience to God’s commandments is necessary to protect the people from falling into the same sins and cultural patterns that were prevalent among other nations. By hearkening or listening to the commandments and following them, they can avoid the negative consequences associated with those practices.ChatGPT
While I wouldn’t put my complete trust in AI to interpret scripture, as a language model, I think it can be an interesting tool to help parse out complex wording using an unbiased analysis of the text.
The Proposed Reinterpretation Compared
Let’s take one more look at the version that represents the traditional understanding of Jacob 2:30:
“If I want to increase the number of children born unto me in the gospel covenant, I will command my people to take many wives and concubines; in other respects, they shall hearken unto these standing instructions.”
That is the meaning that is being read into the verse but with the evidence provided in this essay from the context of Jacob’s sermon, the Book of Mormon as a whole, and grammatical analysis, we can understand something closer to the real meaning.
I propose that the Lord, in Jacob 2:30, is actually saying something closer to the effect of:
When I determine to raise up a righteous people unto me, I alone will be the one to command my people; otherwise, (without me at their command) they shall hearken unto the precepts of men.
Consider the state of the world today when God is not at the helm of His people, and contemplate the various things that individuals choose to hearken to instead of His divine will and command.
I am not insinuating any malicious intent behind the conventional interpretation. I cannot ascertain why this interpretation has persisted for so long, aside from it appearing around the time that plural marriage was announced publicly in 1852.
In Jeff Lindsay’s post, he fairly notes that Jacob 2:30 was never used by Joseph Smith to justify polygamy. He shares some insights that Brian C. Hales, author of the three-volume Joseph Smith’s Polygamy shared with him:
It is interesting to note that, according to all available documents, JS never referred to Jacob 2:30 to justify the restoration of PM [plural marriage]. Undoubtedly later voices have done so. It is, to me, largely a red herring since Abraham and Jacob were polygamists, which observation is found to justify the restoration of the practice in D&C 132: 1, 37 (see also 40, 45). As you know, v. 63 lists “multiple and replenish” rather than “raise up seed” to describe polygamy’s role in expanding the number of children being born.Source
There is a noteworthy issue with Hales’ claim that “raise up seed” is equivalent to “multiply and replenish,” as the evidence demonstrates that polygamy, in fact, reduces birthrates within populations.
The Nephites were capable of multiplying “exceedingly” under monogamy and spreading across the face of the land, so what potential advantage does polygamy offer in comparison? Moreover, if polygamy were advantageous, why is there no scriptural precedent for its use in that manner?
Lindsay also supplied an update from Hales who concluded:
I just did another search of my JS polygamy manuscripts and some other databases. No one quotes JS as referring to the BofM and Jacob 2:30 to justify his introduction of plural marriage.Source
I commend Lindsay and Hales for their transparency on this matter. To be equitable, it’s essential to recognize that the absence of evidence regarding Joseph Smith not teaching this does not necessarily imply that he did not teach it.
Further research is needed to discover when and how the conventional interpretation came to be and what the reasoning was behind it.
In Jacob’s day, the meaning of the scriptures was distorted because they didn’t understand them.
“…they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms…”Jacob 2:23
The Nephites initially adhered to the Lord’s commandments concerning marriage; however, when they abandoned his command, they were subsequently able to rationalize their wickedness by embracing the precepts of men.
King Benjamin explained:
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, 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
O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world! […] Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved.Helaman 12:4,23
Throughout my quest to comprehend the essence of this verse and delve deeper into Jacob’s message, I’ve come to recognize the enduring significance and relevance of his teachings in the contemporary world.
The physical and virtual harems of the modern world
Is the issue of people having multiple wives and concubines prevalent today? While we may observe it in practice among splinter groups within small populations, what if it takes on a different form and is more widespread than we realize?
What if the deeper problem lies in the mindset that seeks after these things? As King Benjamin taught, “The natural man is an enemy to God,” and individuals must be willing to submit to whatever the Lord deems necessary, much like a child submits to their father (Mosiah 3:19). This is why God must command His people and protect them from the influence of the natural man and his inherently carnal, sensual, and devilish precepts (Alma 42:10). As it’s stated, “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 multiple wives, the inclusion of concubines raises questions about their relevance today.
Concubinage varied in its practice among different cultures, with concubines generally being considered inferior to wives. It sometimes involved voluntary arrangements, but at other times, it amounted to sexual slavery. (source)
The moral issues associated with concubinage may have modern parallels not only in cohabitation and fornication but also in the realm of pornography and masturbation. C.S. Lewis once wrote a letter discussing the idea of a man’s imagination creating a harem of imaginary brides and the impact this could have on one’s mind.
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
C.S. Lewis makes a compelling case for how destructive a virtual harem of women can be to a man. However, it’s worth contemplating the profound impact that an actual harem has, not only on the man but also on the women and children involved.
In the creation of contemporary pornography, many men and women willingly subject themselves to being photographed and recorded, effectively becoming virtual concubines for an endless multitude of individuals seeking to gratify their lustful desires. Modern technology enables the development of virtual harems that far surpass Solomon’s actual harem in scale and reach.
Furthermore, this disturbing reality extends to real-life instances of sexual slavery and human trafficking, where individuals, including men, women, and children, are held captive and traded like commodities to satisfy the sickening, wicked, and insatiable appetites of the natural man.
These ancient and modern manifestations of human behavior serve as stark reminders that without God to command His people, they will inevitably “hearken unto these things” (Jacob 2:30) and thereby bring curses upon any civilization that embraces such practices.
This brings to mind Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s profound reflections as he contemplated the incomprehensible death and destruction he witnessed throughout his life, ultimately leading to the realization:
But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “Godlessness: the First Step to the Gulag”. Templeton Prize Lecture, 10 May 1983 (London)
In Jacob’s time, God used the state of women and children as a gauge of the people’s wickedness. Today, we need only examine the condition of women and children in our modern world and compare it to the past.
Where the bitter fruits of evil prevail, the shadow of a devastating curse looms ominously, threatening destruction. Yet, there remains hope if we choose to hearken unto God, cast aside the precepts of men, and embark on a path of righteousness once more.
I have observed intriguing word patterns in Jacob’s sermon, particularly revolving around verse 30. While I’m not a linguistic expert, I have a theory that suggests deliberate Hebrew literary structures that shape what could be described as a formal “covenant curse” delivered by the Lord through His servant, Jacob. My exploration of this concept is ongoing, but it appears to be a multi-layered aspect of this sermon that warrants further examination. Link to document
- Sept. 14, 2023 – Removed section, “Commandments given unto our fathers,” going to get some additional information and put it in another post.
- Sept. 5, 2023 – Added section “Commandments given unto our fathers”
- Sept. 3, 2023 – Made several updates to the essay thanks to Jeff Lindsay’s constructive criticism of my usage of grammar and my premise regarding what I was referring to as the “Church’s” official position. I have made attempts to “strongman” what will be referred to as the “conventional interpretation” and correct my analysis of the grammar regarding the usage of the word “otherwise.” These are not the first updates to this essay, and they will likely not be the last.