“Before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.”—Jacob 2:18
Today we will read one of the sermons from the Book of Jacob, the brother of Nephi. Jacob was probably about 20 years younger than Nephi, and at this point in time it has been 55 years since Ishmael and Lehi’s families combined together and left Jerusalem. What started off as a group of 49 passengers on a homemade ship built by someone the age of one of our returned missionaries, has now grown into something much larger.
What that precise number is, we can only guess. But, by way of comparison, my parents, who are very much alive, started with eight children and now have 140 living descendants. So without doing any fancy math or exploring birth and death rates from 2600 years ago, I suspect the family may have grown to about a couple of thousand by now—maybe as large as our stake.
Furthermore, there are some hints in the Book of Mormon that the Lehites and Ishmaelites weren’t the only inhabitants in the land and undoubtedly the tribes had already expanded the villages to include some of the indigenous Americans. So maybe these communities were even larger. We don’t really know. I suppose we don’t really need to know either, but it helps me visualize the scene in my mind’s eye.
At this point in history, Nephi, the magnificent prophet, founding father, and warrior king, has lived into his 70s and, after trying to lead his people in paths of righteousness for five decades, dies in verse 12 of chapter 1.
Long before he died, however, he ordained and set apart his righteous brothers, Jacob and Joseph to work with him as priests to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who will listen. They would become the religious leaders while it appears that Nephi’s son, would become the new political leader.
Before he died, Nephi gives Jacob the responsibility of keeping the church records on a small set of plates, which Nephi says should not focus on history but focus on the things that were of spiritual importance—namely a record of great sermons, revelations, and prophecies that focus on the Savior.
And in the 19-page Book of Jacob, we find these things—things that undoubtedly helped those ancient Nephites and things that will help turn latter-day sinners into latter-day saints. We’ll explore one of these sermons today and more later in two weeks (after General Conference).
I’d like to spend the rest of this lesson focusing on chapter two. But before I do that let me set the stage with chapter 1, verse 15.
15 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.
16 Yea, and they also began to search much gold and silver, and began to be lifted up somewhat in pride.
So here we have the central thesis of the sermon, and in fact, the central crisis that happens over and over and over and over again throughout the Book of Mormon. Namely, as people grow hard in their hearts—which means that they lose their spiritual sensitivities and neglect their spiritual nature—most people tend to start appeasing their carnal nature. For example, you know you have a hard heart if you want to over-indulge in sexual activities to the point where you crave multiple sex partners. Which is what was happening here.
But having lots of lovers costs lots of money. I only have one wife and let me tell you, I am almost always broke. And so you spend more time and energy acquiring wealth than acquiring righteousness. Furthermore, you spend your wealth buying the things of this world. And with a cold and lusty heart, it isn’t long before you are a proud disciple of Mammon and refuse to humbly bow down to the one true God.
As a prophet with the ability to stand on the spiritual tower and see into the horizon, Jacob knows that the future won’t be so bright for his people if they continue in their trajectory, so he calls a special stake conference at the temple courtyard to deliver a remarkable sermon. But, as we see in verse 19, he is also doing this because as a priesthood leader and gospel teacher, it is his God-given mandate to do so.
In fact, he worries that the sins of the people will fall on him if he doesn’t personally magnify his calling. In fact, he mentions this anxiety a number of times during his sermon. He really wants to make sure the people can never use the age-old excuse, “Well Brother Jacob never told us about that. We can’t be punished for being ignorant.”
This is good advice for us as we contemplate our callings and responsibilities. Do we just do what the guy or gal did before us did, or do we try to figure out why the Lord called us and what we might do that no one else could do to help those we serve.
President John Taylor said, “If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those you might have saved, had you done your duty.”
President Hugh B. Brown said, “If any of us fail to teach, lead, direct, and help to save those under our direction, then the Lord will hold us responsible if they are lost as a result of our failure.” (The Abundant Life, p37)
These are pretty sobering words from Latter-day prophets. It is clear that Jacob felt the same worrisome burden as he shepherded his flock 2561 years ago.
So what did Jacob want to make sure was so important for his people to understand—as well as his modern readers—that he decided to cull through the hundreds of sermons he delivered during his ministry and include the most important ones within these 18 pages. We’ll, let’s read some of it shall we? We’ll pick it up in Chapter 2, verse 2.
2 Now, my beloved brethren, I, Jacob, according to the responsibility which I am under to God, to magnify mine office with soberness, and that I might rid my garments of your sins, I come up into the temple this day that I might declare unto you the word of God.
So he starts off with a bang. He warns them that this speech is going to be harsh and condemning to those who are wicked. But he also makes it clear that these are not his words, but the words of God.
3 And ye yourselves know that I have hitherto been diligent in the office of my calling; but I this day am weighed down with much more desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls than I have hitherto been.
4 For behold, as yet, ye have been obedient unto the word of the Lord, which I have given unto you.
So from outward appearances, it appears that the people have been fairly obedient. They seem to be doing the right thing. They are being extrinsically compliant—which is completely different than being intrinsically compliant.
5 But behold, hearken ye unto me, and know that by the help of the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth I can tell you concerning your thoughts, how that ye are beginning to labor in sin, which sin appeareth very abominable unto me, yea, and abominable unto God.
He is saying that the Spirit of God has told him what the people are thinking. This isn’t a unique experience. How many of you as leaders or as parents have felt the Holy Ghost witness to you what people you love are thinking and feeling? It happens from time-to-time after we demonstrate through our thoughts and behaviors that we truly love someone and are in a position to help them.
I also like how Jacob is focusing on internal thoughts, desires, and intentions rather than external behaviors. Evidently he was the first cognitive-behavioral therapist in the Book of Mormon. He understands that sin doesn’t start with bad behavior—it starts with bad thoughts. If you change your thinking, you change your behavior.
6 Yea, it grieveth my soul and causeth me to shrink with shame before the presence of my Maker, that I must testify unto you concerning the wickedness of your hearts.
Remember, Jacob is a very righteous man who has seen a vision of the Savior and has probably had his calling and election made sure. He not only knows from firsthand experience that there is a big gulf between men who sin and God, but he feels it, and he feels it deeply and it causes him a great deal of pain.
7 And also it grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God;
8 And it supposeth me that they have come up hither to hear the pleasing word of God, yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul.
9 Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.
10 But, notwithstanding the greatness of the task, I must do according to the strict commands of God, and tell you concerning your wickedness and abominations, in the presence of the pure in heart, and the broken heart, and under the glance of the piercing eye of the Almighty God.
11 Wherefore, I must tell you the truth according to the plainness of the word of God. For behold, as I inquired of the Lord, thus came the word unto me, saying: Jacob, get thou up into the temple on the morrow, and declare the word which I shall give thee unto this people.
Now this is a relatively long introduction, but it reveals a lot about the sensitive nature of Jacob. His heart is obviously full of compassion for the innocent women and children, as well as the innocent men. He, like any great leader, seeks to unify rather than divide his people. Great leaders seek to uplift and inspire, not condemn and chastise. So this speech he is about to give is quite different than he’d prefer to give and brings him a great deal of discomfort. But Jacob is, above all else, obedient to the whisperings of the Spirit.
Wealth and Pride
12 And now behold, my brethren, this is the word which I declare unto you, that many of you have begun to search for gold, and for silver, and for all manner of precious ores, in the which this land, which is a land of promise unto you and to your seed, doth abound most plentifully.
13 And the hand of providence hath smiled upon you most pleasingly, that you have obtained many riches; and because some of you have obtained more abundantly than that of your brethren ye are lifted up in the pride of your hearts, and wear stiff necks and high heads because of the costliness of your apparel, and persecute your brethren because ye suppose that ye are better than they.
So this is the first condemnation. He will first deal with those who obtain and squander wealth for selfish desires. Note that he isn’t condemning the work it took to get wealth or refine the gold and silver into precious luxury items—he’s condemning how that wealth is spent. Is it spent on providing necessities of life to those who need it, or is it spent on personal luxury items, like costly apparel, that often create social divisions and economic classes. If it leads you to say, “I’m better than you are because I have better stuff and things” than it is always sinful.
14 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.
15 O that he would show you that he can pierce you, and with one glance of his eye he can smite you to the dust!
I don’t think that Jacob is suggesting that God should smite us, but that if we’re unworthy to be in his glorious presence then we will feel like we are less significant than dust particles. I think he’s saying that if we regularly pursue sin, someday we’ll see that we have wasted the opportunities in life to become more than the substance with which we were created.
16 O that he would rid you from this iniquity and abomination. And, O that ye would listen unto the word of his commands, and let not this pride of your hearts destroy your souls!
You see, individual pride never affects just you—it affects everyone around you. If it is allowed to run rampant through our neighborhoods or through our nation then it leads people to separate into classes, which creates divisions, which leads to schisms, and these work against the fabric of society itself.
17 Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.
Notice that he isn’t advocating socialism—the forced redistribution of wealth by a government. He’s suggesting that we should make the choice to spread our wealth among those who are in need. We should freely give to others.
Being forced to do something has never been, and will never be, the Lord’s way of doing things. Lest we forget, Lucifer was the one who wanted to regulate everything and force good behavior.
I’d like to add to this notion of freely giving to others the companion idea that we should also be willing to have one-on-one relationships with the poor and the needy. It is one thing to give an envelope of money to the bishop to help the faceless needy, but it is something entirely different when we take time to meet individuals, witness their sorrow, lift their burdens, and help them on their way. The most important things in life can never be purchased with money.
18 But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God.
19 And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.
So once again, to be perfectly clear, Jacob does not appear to be saying that acquiring wealth is a sin. What is a sin, however, is in giving more priority to the acquisition and spending of money than doing the things that matter the most—which is building up the Kingdom of God.
The economic law of reciprocity says you always trade something of value to get something of value. What are you willing to trade for physical wealth? If our quest for wealth severs us from feeling the influence of God or distracts us from our responsibility to care for each other—then that is the sin.
Furthermore, Jacob is about to teach us that we must avoid the presumption of superiority that wealth can bring.
20 And now, my brethren, I have spoken unto you concerning pride; and those of you which have afflicted your neighbor, and persecuted him because ye were proud in your hearts, of the things which God hath given you, what say ye of it?
21 Do ye not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other. And all flesh is of the dust; and for the selfsame end hath he created them, that they should keep his commandments and glorify him forever.
So how do we know where we are in this whole wealth and pride issue? Here are 10 questions that I think we should ask ourselves to make sure don’t fall into the same as the Nephites.
- Are you seeking for wealth or riches? (12)
- Can you resist the temptation to think you are better than others when you have more than they do? (13)
- Can you resist the pride that may come with wealth and that may destroy your souls? (16)
- Do you think of your brethren like unto yourself? (17)
- Are you familiar with all and free with your substance? (17)
- Is the kingdom of God more important to you than any business or financial success? (18)
- Do you seek for riches for the intent to do good? (19)
- Do you recognize that all you have is a gift from God? (20)
- Do you truly believe that all humans are as precious as you are? (21)
- Do you understand (and live as though you understand) that the true purpose of life is to keep the commandments and glorify God? (21)
And that is the end of part one of Jacob’s sermon. So let’s make sure wealth doesn’t wreck our spirituality and prevent us from fulfilling our covenants to bless the lives of Heavenly Father’s children.
Adultery and Immorality
22 And now I make an end of speaking unto you concerning this pride. And were it not that I must speak unto you concerning a grosser crime, my heart would rejoice exceedingly because of you.
23 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.
24 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.
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.
26 Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
27 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;
28 For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts.
In the 1820s, by the way, a whoredom is defined as “Lewdness; fornication; practice of unlawful commerce with the other sex.” (Webster’s Dictionary 1828).
In Jacob’s day we may infer that the “illicit commerce” going on may have reference to buying the services of a prostitute, or perhaps even the practice of selling your wife or daughter to neighboring villages in exchange for goods, protection, or even costly apparel.
Or maybe it wasn’t so overt. Maybe you are a married man and notice a pretty young widow whose husband just died in a war, and you offer to take her as a second wife and give her property in exchange for sexual favors. Oh, there are lots of ways to commit whoredoms.
Nowadays, we’ve broadened the definition of whoredom to include all things that violate the Law of Chastity, where you sell your virtue and chastity for temporary carnal pleasure.
Furthermore, the New Testament and Doctrine and Covenants make it clear that this extends beyond illicit physical contact between people—it also pertains to thoughts. “He that looketh upon a woman to lust after her shall deny the faith.” (D&C 42:23)
Therefore, by way of example, considering both narrow and broad definitions, the consumption of pornography, which is a multi-billion-dollar industry, is clearly a whoredom.
29 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of Hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes.
I think it would be a fair statement to make that the United States of America is currently under a curse because of our tolerance for and consumption of immoral behavior and the resultant failure to keep the Law of Chastity.
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.
Notice how Jacob says the Lord reserves the option to command people to practice polygyny when it is vital that righteous parents produce lots of children quickly. But this is to be the exception, rather than the rule, and only when under direct commandment and administered in righteousness. Why? Because when not sanctioned by the Lord, it always causes suffering and misery.
31 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.
32 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.
33 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.
So what was the sore curse? Destruction.
Did it happen to the people of Jacob. Yes, within a few decades. Throughout the Book of Mormon as soon as the covenant people became rich, prideful, and dabbled with whoredoms, it wasn’t long until a group of outsiders came in, killed many, took their homes and possessions, and turned the remnants into slaves.
Can that happen today? I have no reason not to believe that it will happen. God is no respecter of persons. We aren’t any better than the Nephites. If we are disobedient, we will be humbled. If we engage in whoredoms, our loving family relationships will be destroyed, people’s trust in us will be lost, we’ll be cast out from among the Saints, our faith will waiver, and the blessings of God will be withheld and we’ll be left alone, subject to the will of the merciless Destroyer.
34 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.
35 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.
And that takes us to the end of Jacob chapter 2. Sometimes it is kind-of a downer to hear messages like this, but the truth always needs to be spoken clearly so that all can understand it, and Jacob does a beautiful job with it.
Trust me, there was a lot more to talk about from this chapter, just as there is in every other chapter in this remarkable Book of Mormon. In preparation for today’s lesson I’ve read over 100 pages of commentary from dozens of authors on this chapter alone. As one of your teachers, I would invite you to take the time to take a deep dive into the scriptures.
Chapter 3 is just as good as it tells us how to avoid prejudice, and so is 4 that talks about the Atonement of Christ. And then there’s the remarkable chapter 5 containing the allegory of Zenos, and chapter 6 about the prophecies of the last days, and chapter 7 which is how we deal with anti-Christs—which we should study because our world is absolutely filled with them.
While the information we can glean from a simple reading of the content is vast, there are lots of hidden gems hidden just below the surface. But reading isn’t enough. We’ll never discover them if we don’t take the time to study, to reason, to ponder and to pray.
It is my testimony that if we do these things, we will see exactly how the content from the Book of Mormon tells us not only about an ancient American civilization, but about how to survive and thrive in our modern America. Its truths and principles are eternal and timeless and will always lead us in paths of righteousness.
May God bless us with ears that hear the words of his mouth.