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 speak 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 provide 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 simply a place 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 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 of times per year and am all over the place in it here and there on a weekly basis. It is all too easy to read past an area of text without seeing much that compels further attention and thought. Then one day you pass a particular verse, and there is something there that wasn’t before. It’s the same verse, but some idea or question you have accumulated along the way resonates with it. You stop, and new ideas begin to flow.
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 meditate on it a little more. I have a decent collection of notes, and over time 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 fascinating 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:
- Among Riplakish the Jaredite (Ether 10:5)
- Among the rising generation of Nephites (Jacob ch. 2-3)
- 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 circumstances. 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 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 larger subject for this post so that an honest look at what this verse is 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.
Patterns Versus Prooftexting
I believe that Jacob 2:30 is one of the most prooftexted verses in Latter-day Saint theology.
When one single verse seems to claim something that is completely absent from the entire record as a whole, it is important to see if the context of the surrounding verses and the record support the claim.
This verse is commonly understood to be explaining an exception to the rule of monogamy where taking many wives (and by extension concubines) is necessary. This understanding relies upon the phrase “raise up seed” meaning “increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant.” [Source: lds.org] It is further assumed that this increase of children born in the covenant is either only accomplished, or perhaps better accomplished, by men impregnating more than one woman.
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 beginning with the structure of the verse.
Clause 1: The Commandment
An analysis of this verse reveals that the first half of Jacob 2:30 is a clause stating God’s will and the second half is a clause stating the curse that follows when his will is ignored.
That the crux of understanding what Jacob 2:30 is saying begins with an understanding of the phrase, “raise up seed.”
“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 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints official website explains that what could be termed ‘polygamy-assisted population growth’ is 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 to explore. 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. The verse could be read in this light to be saying:
“For 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 to do so…”
It is a wordy insertion, but if those words are synonymous with the phrase “raise up seed” then the verse communicates this idea very efficiently. Again, if 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, which would imply that they have not yet been commanded to “raise up seed.”
There is just one big glaring problem with that interpretation: the Nephites have already been commanded to “raise up seed,” but under a commandment to be monogamous.
Raise up seed
If we go back to 1 Nephi chapter 7, we see the Lord literally 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 might expect Lehi’s party to be 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 seeking to form a new nation in another land.
Wouldn’t this be the type of scenario for the Lord to “increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant?”
Apparently not, since Lehi was given a commandment that his people should be monogamous. How do we know? Jacob mentions this commandment repeatedly 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 4:5)
- 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 4:6)
The Nephites were commanded to “raise up seed” but under a commandment that they should only have one wife and no concubines.
This is not the only time this is referenced either; we see it 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 stating that they were brought out of the land of Jerusalem (see 1 Nephi 7:1-2) to raise up seed but using more descriptive language: “raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.”
Recall the Abrahamic covenant and the promises made to the ancient fathers. The part of the current Church interpretation referencing children born in the gospel covenant is a valid point.
However, I question the idea that having many wives and concubines is a tool for rapid population growth especially when we never see it used for that purpose where it seems it would have been practical. Adam had more ribs than one so why not create many wives for him instead of just one? Why not preserve more women so that after the flood they could have multiplied faster or after the loss of men in the many wars? Why not among the Jaredites, Nephites, and Mulekites landing with small numbers in a new land?
If taking many wives and concubines was so critical to children being born under the covenant then why is this method so absent from scripture and why was it banned for the entire history of the Nephite and Jaredite people which spanned nearly two millennia?
I think that this is because “raise up seed” doesn’t have anything to do with rapid population growth with many wives and concubines.
Jacob 2:25 points out that the Nephites have already been commanded to “raise up seed” by perpetuating Joseph’s posterity and establishing a righteous branch of it in a new land. The commandment Lehi received confirms that this was to be carried out under monogamy. The phrase “raise up seed” is not a reference to many wives and concubines, and can be understood in light of verse 25.
That brings us back to verse 30. Why then, if the Nephites have already been commanded to raise up seed in the land of promise and were told specifically that having many wives and concubines was forbidden, would the Lord imply that he has not yet commanded them to raise up seed?
Why would the phrase “raise up seed” suddenly imply the opposite of the surrounding verses? If we return to verse 30 and replace “raise up seed” with the synonymous language in verse 25 the verse is clarified:
“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…”
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.” The “if” here is not referencing a future condition that may or may not happen, it is illustrating the conditions involved in his establishment of a people. If he is going to raise up this righteous branch, he will command them or else there will be negative consequences (as indicated by the “otherwise” which I’ll get to later).
In the context of the rest of the sermon, the understanding of the first part of verse 30 is quite clear, let’s compare this 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)
If God wants to raise up a righteous branch unto himself, he must be the one commanding this 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?
Why should we understand verse 30 as referencing a program where, at the command of God, many wives are used to rapidly increase birthrates among the Nephites when such a program utilized in this manner is absent from all of scripture?
To paint verse 30 in this fashion ignores a host of other evidence that there is another interpretation that fits the context of the sermon. 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 for his purposes to be successful or else Satan becomes their commander.
I will command my people
What about the “I will command my people” line? There are a lot of references to the Lord and his commands in Jacob’s sermon:
- O that ye would listen unto the word of his commands (2:16)
- 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. He desires to command his people and for his people to keep his commandments. This isn’t the only time the Lord has spoken like this, here are some other examples:
- If he should command me… (1 Nephi 17:50)
- …he shall do none other work, save the work which I shall command him… (2 Nephi 3:8)
- For I command all men… (2 Nephi 29:11)
- 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 a title that found 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 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 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. The six times this title is invoked hearkens back to examples the Nephites might have been aware of from the Brass Plates such as when Elisha prayed for his servant’s 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. Since the breaking of this commandment led to national destruction, 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 situation.
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 threatening a curse rather than suggesting that the Nephites ‘follow the standing monogamous instructions.’ In other words, I think that verse 30 parallels in meaning to the preceding verse (29):
“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.”
It may not seem clear how “cursed be the land” and “they shall hearken unto these things” imply the same ideas but that is what I will attempt to prove next.
The Come Follow Me manual for 2020 states this:
Note that Jacob also addressed the practice of having more than one wife. What do you find in Jacob 2:23–30 that helps you understand why the Lord has, in limited situations, commanded His people to practice plural marriage? How does He feel about those who do so without His authorization?Come Follow Me, March 9-15
We are asked to assume that there are legitimate reasons for plural marriage given in these verses.
The one official interpretation is that “raise up seed” means something akin to rapid population growth via men marrying impregnating many women (and concubines), but I have demonstrated thus far that “raise up seed” is synonymous with “raise up a righteous branch” which has nothing to do with rapid births and multiple wives and concubines.
If verse 30 was simply about authorization, then the big problem here was that God was upset about the Nephites acting without permission but still ok with the idea of them having many wives and concubines – just under certain circumstances.
In this scenario, it would also stand to reason that the cause for “broken the hearts”, “lost confidence”, “sobbings hearts”, “many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds” was all due to the women and children being upset that their husbands and fathers were acting without authorization; not the fact that the acts themselves were wicked and abominable.
Are we to assume that if the Nephites did have the Lord’s authorization to have many wives and concubines, that the hearts of their wives would not have died and they would have not lost the confidence of their children?
I don’t think so, because the Lord clearly indicates that the sorrow of his daughters due to the actions of their husbands, not any lack of authorization, but the actions themselves that were abominable.
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 2:31
The Lord had commanded them to have only one wife and no concubines and when they disobeyed their families mourned deeply. The Lord even says:
“…ye have done these things which ye ought not to have done.”Jacob 2:34
Again, the Lord doesn’t say anything about authorization, but that the acts themselves were things that should not have been done.
To prove that the Lord and the women and children were upset about the act itself and not “lack of authorization” we need only look a few verses earlier. In verse 27 the Lord explains his will:
For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;Jacob 2:27
The Lord wants only one wife and no concubines; none, and he then explains why:
For [or because] I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.Jacob 2:28
Again, nothing about authorization.
If having more than one wife violates the chastity of women and causes whoredoms, then under what circumstances would God command men to violate the chastity of women and cause whoredoms?
Under what circumstances would God authorize the tender hearts of his daughters to be broken and to die “pierced with deep wounds”?
It cannot be for population growth because it has already been demonstrated that the Nephites and Lamanites had no problems multiplying “exceedingly fast” under the commandment of monogamy they had been given.
This is why God can only raise up a righteous branch if they are hearkening to his commands; otherwise, without his commands, they always end up hearken to these kinds of things.
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 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:
Adverb: Under the Bill of Rights, a person is presumed innocent until proved otherwise.
And a conjunctive adverb with a semi-colon the same way it is used in Jacob 2:30:
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 this 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 his 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 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)
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 mysteriously not follow the same grammatical rules as all the others?
This inconsistency highlights that there are problems with the current official interpretation of the verse because these rules still work even if you eliminate the punctuation which was absent from the original text.
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 here with the otherwise being used as a conjunctive adverb.
If we recognize otherwise as a conjunctive adverb here then 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 because I believe that it is generally saying the same thing as verse 30. I’ll place the two here below again but this time 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 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
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 an “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 Lord; otherwise [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”
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
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)
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)
If in every single instance, the phrase “these things” is referring to “wicked things the Nephites were doing,“ then it would be consistent that the “these things” in verse 30 are referring to those same wicked things as well.
The “these things” (hearkening to the precepts of men instead of the commandments of the Lord) are the “bad consequence” for not obeying the first clause of verse 30. Now the word otherwise here as a conjunctive adverb, and the phrase “these things” are consistent with all of the other examples of each in the Book of Mormon.
A similar pattern is found in what Jacob said about what his people did after the death of Sherem:
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 this instance the people ceased hearkening unto the things Sherem was teaching (precepts of men) and turned back to search the scriptures to better understand God’s commandments.
When the people hearken unto “these things,” these wicked practices, these precepts of men, instead of the Lord’s commands, it brings a curse and eventual destruction. This is a message of warning to the Nephites in the form of receiving some clear understanding of doctrine.
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
Earlier, Jacob mentions “his judgments” coming upon the Nephites if they persist in “these things.”
…if ye persist in these things his judgments must speedily come unto you.Jacob 2:14
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.Jacob 2:30
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 that if God seeks to establish a people, then he will need to command them; otherwise, they shall hearken to the precepts of men.
The Proposed Reinterpretation Compared
Let’s take one more look at the version that represents the traditional understanding of Jacob 2:30:
“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).”
Now, 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 supported by the text:
“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 the 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.”
The traditional interpretation focuses on polygamy being an instrument for causing more children to be born among covenant people (a practice never instituted by God in the Bible or Book of Mormon). I think that the context of the sermon and other factors demonstrate that the verse acknowledges the curses and destruction that come from hearkening to the precepts of men instead of the commandments of God.
Ultimately it is up to the reader to decide which interpretation best communicates the meaning of Jacob 2:30. As I went through the process of trying to understand the meaning of this verse and it pulled me deeper into the message of Jacob, I discovered how important and timely his teachings are today. Jacob’s sermon is about men seeking to justify their own precepts and perversions while ignoring the commands of God.
Is the problem of people having many wives and concubines widespread today? We may see it in practice among splinter groups in small populations but what if it was more widespread and in a different form? What if there is a deeper problem stemming from the mindset that seeks after these things?
Pornography keeps the spirit of multiple wives and concubinage alive
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 a compelling 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 and human trafficking 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 inevitably “shall hearken unto these things” (Jacob 2:30) and follow the precepts of the natural man bringing curses upon every civilization that embraces them.
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, the rampant sexualization of virtually everything, and the vast usage of pornography, prostitution, and sex slavery.
There is a war going on within us where we struggle between the identity of the natural man or the saint. The Lord of Hosts must command his people; otherwise, they inevitably 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 of today and compare them with those of the past. Where the fruits of evil are present, so is a curse, and destruction isn’t far behind.