Narrative: These two verses begin Jacob’s introduction to his inserted sermon beginning in the next chapter. The specifics of Jacob’s injunction against polygamy will be discussed at that time.
Anthropological: It is not by chance that Jacob’s discussion of multiple wives and his indication that his people “began to search much gold and silver” come closely together. Each statement is a manifestation of increasing wealth, and emphasis on the trappings of wealth. While polygamy is not the common practice among world populations, it is often the preferred marriage style. It is inhibited in most societies because of its tremendous cost. Maintaining multiple families requires greater control of substance, and thus it is a marriage form that tends to be practiced among the wealthier members of the society in which it is allowed.
The very presence of the practice among the Nephites at this juncture in history (perhaps 70+ years after the departure from Jerusalem, 60+ years in the New World) suggests not only that the Nephites have indeed managed to become wealthy, but that there was a supply of marriageable women available such that a man might have more than one wife. Once again, both the wealth and the availability of desirable women (proper age, sufficiently removed from the kin group) is so strongly suggestive of other populations with which the Nephites had social interaction as to be nearly a certainty.