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This is the last chapter of the book of Jacob. He has taught us of the atonement, and given us beautiful understanding of how the Lord does nourish us no matter the context of our lives. These same lessons taught us how to love and care for others in the same way we are nourished. Together, all this reminded us of the consequences of our choices – for good or bad – in that the Savior’s love is unconditional, but the blessings He waits to give us out of that love are very much conditional on how we demonstrate our love for Him.
Jacob closes his book by returning to the narrative of the record of his people, showing how these doctrinal concepts play out in the lives of the people by the choices they make.
Jacob tells the story of Sherem (verse 1), who becomes a false preacher among the people. He wants the people only to feel good, which is not love at all. Growth and change are difficult and hard work, and truth makes us uncomfortable when it pushes us to progress further. Yet Sherem uses flattery to woo the people, which is not the same thing as teaching truth that convicts so that the Spirit can do the transforming work of applying the atonement. In this way, Sherem gives an illusion of friendship that points to a false gospel, in effort to “overthrow the doctrine of Christ” (verse 2).
“And he labored diligently that he might lead away the hearts of the people…” (verse 3).
Sherem knew of Jacob’s faith and leadership, and he sought out opportunity to meet and talk with Jacob (verse 3).
But when Sherem spoke, he used only flattery as his power of speech, which is not of God and is “according to the power of the devil” (verse 4).
Yet Jacob’s testimony was not based on feel-good-flattery, and was not based on illusions of friendship, and was not based on powerful words that were not scripture-based. His testimony was based on his own personal experiences with the God he knew. Jacob held fast to his testimony, even his knowledge of revelations and angels. Because He was so familiar with the Lord’s voice, he knew when it was NOT the Lord speaking. “Wherefore,” he said, “I could not be shaken” (verse 5).
But Sherem still tried to make his move, slinking up to Jacob saying that he has sought many opportunities to speak to him because he knows that Jacob “goest about much, preaching that which ye call the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ” (verse 6).
Then, in a bizarre turn of events, it is Sherem who accuses Jacob, saying that he does “pervert the right way of God, and keep not the law of Moses…” (verse 7). This is blasphemy, Sherem says.
This seems shocking! Jacob is the Prophet, so how is he not keeping the law of Moses? Jacob is a covenant keeper, and a worthy priesthood holder, and leading the people as a Prophet!
It’s a classic case of projection, where someone is mad at someone else because of something wrong inside of themselves. Instead of fixing what is wrong inside of them, they instead focus on it being wrong in other people. We all do this at times, but if we are not being healthy and well and in tune with the Spirit, it can really be a problem.
We see it here with Sherem, who is a false preacher accusing the Prophet of not keeping God’s laws.
And we see, still in verse 7, the error of Sherem’s claims in what he bases it on: he says that Jacob is wrong because no one can know what is to come (in the future).
This is the basis for Sherem’s attack, which is in the pattern of those who frequently cause contention. Instead of doing their own work and focusing on their own learning and progress, they focus on what is wrong with other people. Because they are not making progress, and are only stagnant – which is death, they do not have the knowledge they need to understand things correctly.
But Jacob, who is a covenant keeper, and thus making progress (not just dying by stagnation), has knowledge. When we do the work of gaining knowledge, then the Spirit enlightens us further and teaches us more, revealing to us more and more and more. So when Jacob was attacked, “the Lord God poured in his Spirit into my soul” so much that he was able to show that Sherem’s words of attack were not correct. He did not retaliate, and he did not get mean and ugly. He simply re-aligned the accusations with truth, and let the truth speak for itself… let the Spirit speak for itself.
Instead of getting lost in the contention-drama Sherem was stirring up, Jacob focused on the doctrinal implications of what Sherem was saying. Thus we have a beautiful lesson how, even when attacked with contention-drama, we can simply point back to the Savior and let the atonement work. This brings far more healing, by the power of the Spirit, than if we got in the way by taking it all personally and escalating the contention-drama into war.
In verse 9, Jacob said to Sherem, “Do you deny the Christ who will come?”
Sherem said, “If there were a Christ, I wouldn’t hate on him. But there isn’t, hasn’t, and won’t be a Christ.”
Even now, instead of hating on Sherem, Jacob continues to point to the atonement – both in behavior and interaction, so that his response was pure and holy, and only of God (with no contention-drama).
“And I (Jacob) said unto him (Sherem): Believest thou the scriptures? And he (Sherem) said, “Yea” (verse 10).
So then Jacob tells Sherem that if it is true he believes the scriptures, then it must be that he (Sherem) does not understand them. Because none of the prophets have written or prophesied without speaking of the Christ (verse 11). Jacob says that EVERYTHING written in scripture points to Christ, even these scriptures they have which we now call the Old Testament.
But not only this, when prophets speak (even through writing), the Holy Spirit manifests the truth of their words (verse 12). So not only do we have the words of the prophets testifying of Christ, but we also have the Holy Spirit confirming those testimonies and revealing more than just the words we see on a page.
So, Jacob says, everything has pointed to Christ. And without His great atoning sacrifice, “all mankind must be lost”. This is a tiny phrase that is expounded upon in Alma, with most of the 30’s chapters delving into this in-depth.
But basically, we know there are three kinds of death. First, there is physical death, which we all experience because of the Fall from God’s presence in the whole Garden-of-Eden events. Secondly, there is the first spiritual death, which is our separation from God because we are all born outside God’s physical presence (Heleman 14:16-18, D&C 29:41). This “estrangement” (love the phrase, taken from Tad Callister’s book, Infinite Atonement, which the Prophet said we should read) is because of the Fall. Thirdly, there is a second spiritual death that is a separation from God caused by our individual sins and transgressions that we ourselves have chosen.
The Atonement is the answer to all three kinds of death, and without it we would be “lost” as Jacob said. Without the resurrection of our physical bodies to be reunited with our spirits, we would be no physically different (other than our mortal experience) than Satan. Without being reunited to the presence of God, we would forever become more and more like Satan.
This is why we must pray continuously. This is why we must be cleansed through fasting and service. This is why we must go to the Temple regularly and often. Because we should be getting shinier and shinier, not darker and darker.
There is no stagnant ground. Stagnant is death. We are either moving forward, with softened hearts and submissive spirits, so that we are increasing in love and service, or we are moving backward into bitterness and gossip and negativity and selfishness. The prophets have said if we are not moving forward, then we are moving backward. There is no standing still, there is no waiting it out. Every choice is a choice to progress forward and upward toward God or a choice to slide backwards and away from God.
Because Christ conquered physical death, the first two kinds of death (physical death and spiritual death from being born outside God’s physical presence) are healed, fixed, taken care of. He has already done that work, and so all of us, regardless of our belief in Him or love for Him, will receive our physical bodies and return to His presence (even if just for the moments of judgment). We will all be resurrected, and we will all face God. This is unconditional. So we are not lost.
But the second spiritual death, that caused by our own sins, is corrected only when the atonement is applied through repentance and our own hard work of submitting to His will and demonstrating our love through obedience and service. Our redemption from our own sins is very much conditional, as the consequences of our own sin is removed only through the repentance process. He has done the work to provide for it, but its application depends on us accepting, receiving, and actually applying it.
In its simplest form, it is like friendship, which can be very much unconditional.
But the quality of friendship is very conditional, dependent upon the love given and positive interactions had within the context of that relationship. Relationships are not facts or done deals; they are fluid and ever flowing. They are not flowers picked and pressed into a book, but living gardens that must be cultivated, pruned, and nourished.
So it is with the atonement, which has guaranteed us all immortality.
But the quality of that immortality, our eternal lives, depends upon the quality of relationship we develop with Him now.
Sherem, though, who is flattery-based (and so would find such conditions insulting because of his pride), does not accept this. He is so stubborn that he refuses to submit even long enough to ponder the idea. Instead, the contention-drama continues with a direct challenge: rather than accepting the truths, or swallowing his pride to see what he can learn from those truths, he again demands what he wants when he wants it, and it has to be his way.
This another moment where Sherem thinks he is being so tough and so “right”, but instead is clearly screaming out his symptoms in a fit of rage that makes it easy to see what is wrong with him.
Demanding what he wants, when he wants it, in his way, is obviously not submitting to God’s will or doing it God’s way in the timing and pattern God has revealed.
So Sherem demands a “sign”, but not only does he demand a sign, he demands it “by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the which ye know so much” (verse 13). Now he is not only rejecting truth, but mocking the Holy Ghost!
This cross-references to Korihor, who comes later in the Book of Mormon. We know from the Korihor incident that sign-seeking is almost always an indication of sexual sin. While this chapter does not talk about Sherem and any sexual sins directly, adding this cross-reference to Korihor, we know that these stubborn fits with explosive rages of someone who wants what they want, when they want it, and wants it their way (NOW!), that this goes along with sexual sin. This inability to submit to confrontation, and this refusal to submit to the promptings of the Holy Ghost are both symptoms of sexual sin. This flattery instead of friendship, this gossip to woo the people instead of teaching to heal them, this demanding of proof (of love, of God, of friendship, of anything) instead of focusing on demonstrating it himself… these are all symptoms of sexual sin.
The problem is not that Sherem doesn’t know the law (of the covenant).
The problem is that he is only going through the motions. He is not progressing, is not receiving revelation, and is demanding signs (which is evidence that he is trying to fit the law to him instead of submitting himself to the law).
Rather than becoming more like God, these choices and behaviors move a person backward, more toward Satan. It happens because instead of claiming the atonement through the Great Exchange of Isaiah 22, by which we give up our sins in exchange for His righteousness, Sherem is instead demanding the law fit his sins, even justify them. Anytime someone feels justified, it is a symptom of this. We are never justified in our behavior, because it is Christ who brings the mercy to what justice demands. We are justified only through faith, and our faith is demonstrated by obedience. We are either behaving like God, or we are not.
So Jacob knows better than to fall into this Sherem-trap, and says “What am I that I should tempt God to show unto thee a sign in the the thing which thou knowest to be true?” (verse 14).
Again, the problem is that Sherem knows better.
This isn’t a new convert discovering the amazing process of signs that follow evidence of faith.
This isn’t a moment of covenant making, when signs are given as evidence of that covenant.
This is demanding a sign without giving evidence of faith.
That’s the problem.
But it is Sherem’s choice, and Jacob respects his agency.
Jacob says, “Dude. This isn’t right, and you know it. But not my problem. God is good about giving us what we ask for, so I’d be more careful in my asking.” More careful, mostly, because Sherem has already proven that he is not ready to receive. So stop asking for more when you haven’t received what you have already been given, he says.
Because Sherem is denying God’s power (the Holy Ghost), Jacob says that will be the sign Sherem receives: a sign that is evidence of His power.
“Nevertheless, not my will be done; but if God shall smite thee, let that be a sign unto thee that he has power, both in heaven and in earth; and also, that Christ shall come. And thy will, O Lord, be done, and not mine” (verse 14).
The moment Jacob says these words, that power of God (the Holy Ghost) does come upon Sherem, “insomuch that he fell to the earth” (verse 15). But it’s the next words that are so incredible, so Jacob, so loving-Jehovah: “And it came to pass that he was nourished for the space of many days” (verse 15).
When the power of God came upon Sherem, it was not a power of destruction.
It was a power that nourished.
It’s just like the vineyard, two chapters ago (Jacob 5), where we are “nourished this long time” by the Lord as He and his servants (prophets, priesthood leaders) work the vineyard (church, earth, us).
It’s that simple.
What is not of God, destroys.
What is of God, nourishes.
All that nourishes is of God.
All that destroys is not of God.
It’s that simple.
Contention, drama, fear, bitterness, rage, negativity, gossip, and hating are not of God.
Nourishing is of God.
And when we are nourished, when we submit to recognizing that He does nourish us, then we begin to see God and understand a taste of who He is. Only then do we truly begin to understand ourselves.
So Sherem called his followers together because “I desire to speak unto the people before I shall die” (verse 16).
And when he spoke to them, he spoke “plainly unto them and denied the things which he had taught them, and confessed the Christ, and the power of the Holy Ghost, and the ministering of angels” (verse 17).
This was more than a deathbed confession.
This was working out his salvation, applying the atonement, doing the work of repentance – including restitution – that is required for the atonement to conquer that third type of death, the one that comes because of our own sins, the one that comes when we separate ourselves from God.
“And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil” (verse 18).
The atonement heals that deceit, when Sherem says in verse 19 “that I believed the scriptures; and they truly testify of him (Christ)”. Not only are the scriptures true, as in accurate or even real, but they do “truly testify” of Christ. All scriptures point to Christ; everything is about the atonement.
And when we testify of Christ, the Holy Spirit does its work to confirm that testimony in the people who listen, who hear it, who are around us.
“And when the multitude had witnessed that he spake these things… they were astonished exceedingly; insomuch that the power of God came down upon them…” (verse 21).
So the people were also nourished!
“Now, this thing was pleasing unto me, Jacob, for I had requested it of my Father who was in heaven; for he had heard my cry and answered my prayer” (verse 22).
The sign Sherem demanded became a sign to Jacob, as a witness to the covenant.
The premortal covenant we all made: that Christ would atone for us, and we would testify of it.
Jacob has testified of the atonement, and the power of Christ’s atonement came upon the people.
If he had become part of the problem, or if he had been sucked into the contention-drama, it still would have been going on – probably even worse.
Instead, Jacob ignored who other people said he was, and held fast to who he knew he was in Christ.
Instead, Jacob did not “bite”and become part of the drama, but created healing instead.
Instead, Jacob did not let other people’s opinions have the power to change his relationship with God, but give him opportunity to testify of Him.
Instead, Jacob did not let someone else define him or trap him into poor choices, but rather focused on who God was and relied on His power to strengthen, provide, protect, and heal.
Instead, Jacob did not take the accusations personally and he used the force field of his “shield and buckler” (D&C 35:8-14), so that the Savior could accomplish His purpose for the people.
“And it came to pass that peace and the love of God was restored again among the people” (verse 23).
Notice that “they searched the scriptures” (verse 23) was part of what maintained that peace. Not wresting the Scriptures (making the scriptures fit a preconceived notion or agenda), and not just only hearing scriptures at Sacrament meeting on Sundays. SEARCHING the scriptures: reading them, pondering them, cross-referencing them, studying them, hearing the words of the prophets.
In contrast, many efforts were made “to reclaim and restore the Lamanites to the knowledge of truth” (verse 24), but these were not successful because the people so loved contention-drama that they delighted in wars and bloodshed, which established and maintained hatred. Hatred leads to destruction.
Destruction is not of God.
Hatred that leads to destruction is not of GOd.
Delighting in “war” (even in girl-world trauma-drama) that leads to hatred that leads to destruction is not of God.
Loving contention that leads to delighting in war that leads to hatred that leads to destruction is not of God.
Contention is not of God.
We must “fortify” (verse 25) ourselves against contention, and we do that by studying the Scriptures, by praying, by living (behaving and interacting) worthy of the Holy Ghost, and by nourishing.
Nourishing is of God.
Nourishing heals. Nourishing progresses. Nourishing creates more life.
Contention destroys, and leads to mourning (verse 26).
Jacob pleads with us to be nourished by the Lord, and to nourish each other.
That is the way of keeping covenants: to nourish.
That is the way to become more like our Savior: to nourish.