In the plant world (horticulture), grafting is a technique whereby tissues of different plants are joined so as to continue their growth together. This process involves two parts, the scion (the upper part) and the rootstock (the base or roots). For interest, some of the reasons why grafting would be used include the following:
- Repair damaged plants
- Increase the growth rate of seedlings
- Optimize cross-pollinations
- Take advantage of particular rootstocks or root systems
It just so happens that this same word – grafting – is used in the medical field as well. Similar to the plant world, this process refers to a surgical procedure to move tissue from one site to another, to replace diseased or injured tissue in order to spur or increase growth.
That was all a brief background and context for Jacob 5 – the infamous allegory of the olive tree in the Book of Mormon. There have been many commentaries on that chapter, and detailed descriptions of its various fulfillments as they relate to the house of Israel but I am going to talk about us as everyday members of the church, and what Jacob 5 can mean today. As a quick reminder or summary; Jacob 5 is the story about the Lord, his vineyard, and a few of the methods that he uses to take care of it and help it grow.
The first thing we need to remember is that it is not just a story about a vineyard, it is a story about his vineyard.
The next thing we need to remember is that beyond the grafting that I described above, there are various methods that the Lord uses to care for his trees (we happen to be the trees in the vineyard, but at times we are the branches as well, so stay on your feet). We read in verses 3-4 that the three ways in which the Lord of the vineyard works are 1) pruning, 2) digging about, and 3) nourishing.
Just so we are crystal clear on what the Lord does to all of the trees his vineyard (us), the words repeatedly used in Jacob 5 are as follows:
- Prune: to cut or lop superfluous or undesired twigs, branches or roots from, to rid or clear (of anything undesirable)
- Dig about: to break up, turn over, or remove earth as with a shovel, spade, bulldozer, or claw, to unearth, obtain, or remove by digging
- Nourish*: to sustain with food or nutriment, supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth. To strengthen, build up, or keep alive.
- Graft: to insert a portion of a plant (tissue) into the stem or stock of another plant in which it continues to grow. To transplant, or to attach.
It is interesting when you look at this list of gardening terms, that 3 of the 4 tactics appear to be very uncomfortable and unpleasant for the trees in the vineyard. Aside from number 3 (nourish), I don’t think I would be looking forward to being pruned (cut down), dug about (ruffled up and turned inside out), or grafted (ripped apart, moved, and/or completely transplanted) – yet that is exactly what the Lord does to encourage growth and ultimately produce fruit from the trees in his vineyard. That is without mentioning the the actual pain that is involved in the grafting process: cutting, inserting, flaring, etc. It’s worth remembering.
Early on in the story, the Lord recognizes some of his trees have begun to decay, and are in need a bit of help, so he starts rearranging things and mixing it up. He proceeds to ‘pluck’ (to pull with sudden force) some young and tender branches and graft them in to other locations within his vineyard. Here, the Lord makes an amazing statement (in verse 13) about these young freshly plucked branches which reads “these will I place in the nethermost part of my vineyard”. The word nethermost is awesome, and if you can ever work that into a normal conversation you should do it, but the actual definition of nethermost happens to be the lowest, or farthest down. If that’s not bad enough, verse 14 teaches us that he hid the branches there. He didn’t just graft them into the lowest or furthest tree, he actually hid them there – on purpose.1
Let’s take a time out and relate the vineyard to our lives and wards for a second. We as individuals and families are all trees within the vineyard or branches within the tree and often times we have callings within that vineyard. Sometimes it feels like we are part of the tame tree at the entrance to the vineyard that is nice and visible, but other times we feel like we are the wild tree a hundred rows back. Even more than that, sometimes we feel like we are the young and tender branch plucked right from the tame tree and grafted into or hid in the nethermost part of the vineyard 3 years or 13 years ago. What the Lord is telling us is that sometimes he plucks the YW President or the bishop or the Stake president off the tame tree and grafts them into the nethermost parts of the primary never to interact with anyone over the age of 5 ever again. It could even be that after we’ve been transplanted, we feel like the Lord hid us so well that he and his other servants can’t even remember where we are at all. We soon lose hope of ever being found or put back into the visible tame tree up front where we came from.
If we find ourselves with this mindset, we need to just keep reading Jacob 5, because it will help us understand what the Lord’s purpose is in grafting (hiding) the branches, and it helps us understand his timeline. In the very next verse after he grafts these young and tender branches into the nethermost part of the vineyard it reads that “a long time passed away”. A long time.
I know that many of us after several months or even years feel like we should be done hiding and start being found, but we learn here that the Lord is perfectly content to let ‘a long time’ pass away while we are hidden. Maybe this even means 20 years. Perhaps this is to let the graft take effect, after all, isn’t the point of a graft to allow tissue (actual nutrients and substance) to be shared between the scion and the rootstock? Yes. True grafting is not a quick process. Let’s also try to remember the next time we are feeling hidden that the reasons for a graft included:
- To repair damaged plants – often times the tree in the nethermost part of the vineyard is damaged, and we are grafted there to help with the repairs.
- To increase the growth rate of seedlings – such a great sentence when we are trees and branches and seedlings.
- To optimize cross-pollinations – what better reason to be hidden than to optimize the growth of the entire vineyard?
- Take advantage of particular rootstocks (root systems) – 100% of the time that a person is grafted into a tree (given a new calling), they can learn from and have their testimony strengthened by the root system they are trying to help grow. 100% of the time.
For those of us who find, or who have found ourselves in what we think is the nethermost part of the vineyard – just read verses 20-23 for the amazing promises that are in store for those who are strengthening the tree (as grafted in or hidden branches). Nursery, primary, scouts, the library, activity days, the bulletin board person, or any other seemingly unimportant or low profile callings are exactly what the Lord of the vineyard needs. What about that ‘seasoned’ member of the Elders Quorum who feels like he’s been forgotten and should have been made a high priest by now? He may even start to attend the high priest class because he thinks he’s ready and relates more to the members there. And what about my job, or where I live in the world, can’t we relate that to the vineyard? What if I feel like I am being severely under utilized in the kingdom or in the workplace and that I have so much to offer but never seem to get the call? What happens when my entire life is spent in the nethermost part of the vineyard?
Even when we’ve been there for what seems like ‘a very long time’ – the lord may decide to leave us there (as it states in verse 27) a little longer. This statement comes after the ‘very long time’ already mentioned. This additional time is for some extra love as it states the Lord will ‘prune it, and dig about it, and nourish the tree a little longer that perhaps it may bring forth good fruit’. That’s ‘a very long time’ plus ‘a little longer’ to get the desired results. The nethermost part of the vineyard appears to require branches that are fine with being plucked and then hidden for long periods of time – which also means that the branches that he chooses to place there have plenty of substance to share. Substance that will repair damaged tissue, increase the growth rate of seedlings, optimize cross-pollination, and branches that have the spiritual maturity to recognize and take advantage and blessings of the rootstocks to which they’ve been grafted. That last one is code for ‘learn to love the nethermost part of the vineyard, share your substance, and become one plant together’.
The Lord knows exactly what he is doing. He is a master of the vineyard. Let’s not think we can counsel him.
In closing, there is one more phrase of this awesome chapter that I would like to point out. It’s in verse 59. At this point, there have been multiple rounds of grafting, pruning, digging, and nourishing the branches and the trees all in an effort to produce fruit from. Here the Lord of the vineyard the indicates that part of the reason (if not the biggest part) that the grafting is successful in rejuvenating the tree is ‘because of the change of the branches’.
This highlights the importance of item number 4 above (in the reasons for grafting) – which is to take advantage of particular rootstocks. If we aren’t careful, while we are considering ourselves healthy, young, and tender branches (perhaps focusing too much on being so awesome or when it is we can return to our mother tree) we may start to see only the damaged parts of the tree that we are grafted into and the slow progress their damaged parts are being repaired. We could then miss a valuable opportunity to grow. It very well may be the case that we are the damaged branch grafted into a healthy tree and we are the ones in need of repair of growth, and the very reason we haven’t been moved out of our current position is because we haven’t allowed the tissue to be shared (or received) and the Lord is actively ‘watching the tree’ (v 12) and waiting for the desired effect. Ultimately, this verse and this phrase teach us that the Lord expects the branches to change as much as he expects the roots to change, and that it is good (for the overall health of the tree and the branch and the vineyard) that things ‘change’ a bit and learn to work as one by sharing all that they have and all that they are – and that it was for this reason there is a never ending process of evaluating, grafting, pruning, digging about, and nourishing that takes place in all the vineyard so that all of the roots and all of the branches and all of the trees ‘may take strength’ and ‘that the good may overcome the evil’.
1 – See 1 Ne. 21:2 for some additional reading on being ‘hid’ and how the Lord uses that word. I think ‘prepare’ might be a good synonym for hid in these two cases. Also, even though it’s been fun to highlight the word ‘hid’ as used by the Lord of the vineyard – he obviously never forgets where he made the grafts, and he doesn’t ignore the grafts once they are made – as it states in verse 12 of this chapter, and despite what we may think, he reminds us several times that he is actively watching, and he nourishes all his trees, and he is grieved at the thought of losing any of them.
* – Editor’s note (added after the initial post): As Colby commented, the Lord also uses the verb ‘dunged’ in his descriptions of what he does to nurture the trees in verses 47, 64, and 76. In the case of verse 47 and 76 it is used in addition to the word nourish, but in verse 64 it appears to be a synonym to nourish. Either way, dunging is essentially fertilizing, which means to supply a plant with nutrients to aid in growth, or to make fertile, which happens to be very similar to nourishing. The interesting part about this verb as it’s used in Jacob 5, is our perception of being dunged as plants in the vineyard. I mentioned above that 3 of the 4 methods were uncomfortable, and if we consider being dunged the same as being nourished, there is a case to be made that all 4 methods are less then awesome. Often times as trees in the vineyard we see the Lord or his servants digging about us, only to then dump wheelbarrows of dung all around us and we think that life is pretty rotten – not understanding that nourishment comes from being ‘dunged’. The idea is the same that when the Lord appears to dump a pile of turkey poo on us, he is only doing it because he wants us to be nourished.