This is just a theory but if there is something to it, then it is another example of how important the Book of Mormon is for our day.
Traditionally, it seems that we interpret the situation among Jacob’s people as men engaging in polygamy without authorization and that’s that, we move on. I think there is a lot more going on and I’ve written about it here and here.
As I have studied Jacob’s sermon in-depth I have wondered if there were other dark aspects to the Nephite’s lust for many wives that are being overlooked.
…[the Nephites] 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…Jacob 1:15
First, I think it is important to note that Jacob used the word “somewhat” which could mean that these practices were not probably widespread but he was still seeking to root out this behavior before it spread further.
Second, this sermon is being delivered only 56-79 years after Lehi left Jerusalem. The population of people is likely still fairly small at this point but perhaps as they began to “prosper exceedingly, and to multiply in the land” (2 Nephi 5:13) many young girls maturing into adolescent years gave wicked minds with a terrible idea.
Note that the Nephite’s desire for taking on many wives and concubines were affecting not only the wives but the children as well:
Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them;Jacob 2:35
It’s unclear as to why the children would be losing confidence in their fathers because of these practices, but what if, in the desire for many wives, the men were essentially trafficking not only women but their young daughters as wives for each other.
This could have been a form of human trafficking and the definition fits:
“Human trafficking is the trade of humans for the purpose of forced labour, sexual slavery, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. This may encompass providing a spouse in the context of forced marriage…”Source: Wikipedia
Jacob mentions “wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God” (vs.7)
The Lord later says, “the cries of the fair daughters of this people,” (vs.32) and I think it may be significant that he says “daughters” instead of “women” here.
The Lord then says, “[the Nephite men] shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness,” (vs.33)
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines tenderness as: “The state of being tender or easily broken, bruised or injured” which could describe some adults but it seems more applicable to the state of a younger person.
This could explain why these practices would not only upset their wives but also be a good reason why children would be losing confidence in their fathers.
Imagine mothers being persuaded to let their very young daughters marry an already married man. Think of the daughters themselves who look to their fathers for protection but receive none and the sons who see their sisters forced into perverse conditions.
The language “sobbings of their hearts” and “many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds” (vs.35) is only mentioned in the Book of Mormon directed toward victims of this particular behavior. Could this be a relevant description of how individuals being trafficked would feel?
Jacob mentions near the end of his sermon: “Wherefore, ye shall remember your children, how that ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them…” (Jacob 3:10)
Again the focus is interestingly on the children here and their grieving hearts perhaps because they were only observers, but also because they may have been victims as well.
Often when scriptures have this ambiguity in them, it can be dangerous in the sense that misinterpretations can be perpetuated, much like the Nephites trying to justify their wicked desires using David and Solomon’s examples.
Intentional ambiguity could also allow for multiple interpretations such as when Jesus uses parables or there is a vision or prophecy that could be related to multiple people or events at once.
I think the moral teachings of Jacob and the Lord here could be used in the context of modern human trafficking. Today, many people suffer because wicked men seek “to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms” (Jacob 2:23)
Human nature hasn’t changed, and Jacob’s sermon could offer scriptural guidance and healing to those suffering from a problem that still plagues mankind.
Thankfully, there are groups like Operation Underground Railroad and others that are actively working to help save victims of human trafficking today.