As promised – more on Zenos’ Allegory of the olive tree. I wrote last week about a little connection I made between the house of Israel and the lifespan of an olive tree. I promised myself that I would use that connection to make my study of the allegory more meaningful this go around.
My first step was to look up the pertinent chapters to the allegory in the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine manual, the Institute manual, the seminary manual on the allegory, and then any talks/Ensign articles/etc. Most of them had one thing in common – they started with the part where the master of the vineyard starts grafting in the branches of the wild olive tree.
But I had noticed that the master of the vineyard did not resort to grafting at the very beginning. In fact, in verse 4-6 we discover that the master “pruned it, and digged about it, and nourished it” – and as a result, “after many days it began to put forth somewhat a little, young and tender branches.”
The only place I found a reference to these verses was a fun little graphic in the Institute manual.
So what was the pruning, digging about, and nourishing that the Lord did? And who were the “somewhat a little, young and tender branches” that began to grow? Well, I went back to the timeline of the Old Testament (the seminary bookmark) and checked out what went on before the house of Israel was scattered.
We know that after the time of Moses, the House of Israel started going downhill fast (this was about 900 years or so after the beginning of the House of Israel – or the birth of Jacob). In fact, even Moses had to deal with a lot of issues due to the House of Israel’s hard headedness. From the time of Moses until the scattering of Israel (when Lehi went to America and the rest of the Jews were carried off by the Babylonians) was about 600 years.
Image Credit: Bruce Okkema
The description of the branches being “young and tender” makes me think of something delicate and easily damaged. Some of these “young and tender branches” were easily damaged. The good kings that were raised up in this time – many from their youth (young and tender branches) – Solomon, David, Saul – they were delicate, and those “young and tender branches” ended up dying off. They didn’t make it.
But there were other branches that, though young, became stronger and were able to be grafted into other tress. For example, Joshua was born in Egypt before the Exodus and was basically raised under Moses and became his successor. Then there is Samuel, who was called by God while he was still a child. We also have Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, who were raised in mostly righteous environments – young and tender branches that grew strong and stayed strong. , who was adopted into the house of , became a very strong branch – in fact, through her branch would eventually come the Savior of the world. And finally Lehi, who was spiritually young, although physically he was old became one of the strongest of the new young and tender branches, through his sons, Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph.
However, even when all of these “young and tender branches” were growing, “the main top thereof began to perish.” During this whole time the the Lord was furiously taking care of the house of Israel, trying to save it, the house of Israel was becoming apostate, regardless of the new branches that were growing.
It was at this time that the master of the vineyard finally decided to cut his losses, burn the dying branches, and begin the process of grafting his young and tender branches into other wild olive trees, hoping to create more tame olive trees that would bring him good fruit.
Image Credit: khraishi.sameer
It might seem odd that the master would graft wild branches into the roots of the tame olive tree, but he didn’t want to lose the roots of the old tree. The gospel doctrine manual also points out that “the root of the [olive] tree may go on producing new trees and fruit for thousands of years” through grafting the new shoots that can potentially grow from the roots of the old, dying tree into other wild olive trees (this is probably where the young and tender branches came from originally). Because the master of the vineyard took all the young and tender branches and grafted them into the wild trees around the vineyard, he put some of the wild branches into the old tree to help preserve the roots, probably hoping that the roots would keep sending out new young and tender branches.
This post would not be complete if we didn’t have a little discussion about what this all means. The most significant part of the beginning of the allegory of the olive tree, and a theme that is constant throughout the allegory (and throughout our lives) is the love of Jesus Christ for His people. He experiences grief when His people are lost. “It grieveth me that I should lose this tree” – that sounds like a loving Savior to me. He always does all He can to save us, to protect us, and take care of us. We still have our agency, and as seen by this first part of the allegory, despite everything the Lord is willing to do for us, He cannot save us against our will. But He will definitely do everything in His power to help us.
I also can’t help thinking about the young and tender branches in my own life. I want my children to grow to be strong branches of our family tree, and so I need to treat my family tree the way the Savior treated the olive tree, by pruning and digging and nourishing. Ruth is one of my favorite examples of a strong branch – she was a convert, but her branch became so strong it was through her lineage that the Savior was born. That’s the kind of strength I want in the branches of my family tree.
What doctrinal principles do you see in the allegory of the olive tree?