The Three Tame Branches

Monte S. Nyman

The second event of this time period is when the Lord of the vineyard and his servant visited the natural branches that had been grafted into the nethermost parts of the earth (v. 19). Their first visit was to the first branch that had been taken away. This would be the ten and a half tribes that had been taken into Assyria, and then led further into the north (see 2 Kings 18:9–12). While we do not know their location, we do know they were visited by the Savior after his resurrection and his appearance to the Nephites. Near the end of the first day of his three day visit to the Nephites he said: “But now I go unto the Father, and also to show myself unto the lost tribes of Israel, for they are not lost unto the Father, for he knoweth whither he hath taken them” (3 Nephi 17:4). The branch was producing much good fruit. The servant questioned the Lord about his having brought this branch to what was the poorest spot of ground in the vineyard. The Lord responded that the servant should not give counsel, for he (the Lord) knew it was a poor spot, but the branch had produced fruit. The Lord knows all things and guides his children to accomplish his purposes.

As further evidence of his wisdom, the Lord invites the servant to look at a branch that had been planted in an even poorer spot of ground. It too had brought forth much fruit (Jacob 5:23). This undoubtedly refers to the Jews, but whether it is a group in Babylon, Egypt (the Coptics), Palestine, or somewhere else is not clear.

The Lord next invites the servant to behold the third branch that had brought forth fruit (v. 24). Some interpret this branch as different from the one described in verse 25; however, a comparison with verse 39 shows there are only three branches. This is also supported historically, since the Savior mentioned only three groups of Israelites that he had visited or would yet visit. He had visited the Jews and told them of his other sheep (John 10: 14–16). He was among the Nephites and identified them as the other sheep he had mentioned to the Jews (see 3 Nephi 15:21–24), and then told the Nephites he was going “to show himself unto the lost tribes of Israel” (3 Nephi 17:4). The following verses are, therefore, an extension of the description of the third group. That the Nephites had been planted in a choice spot of ground (Jacob 5:25) helps to identify them as the people of Lehi in America who were brought to a “choice above all other lands” (1 Nephi 2:20). Further verification of their being the seed of Lehi (and Ishmael) is shown by the allegory’s declaration that only a part had brought forth tame fruit while the other part had brought forth wild fruit (Jacob 5:26). This, of course, represents the division of Lehi’s people into the Nephites and the Lamanites (see 2 Nephi 5:5–25 or Helaman 15:4–5). The nourishing and pruning (Jacob 5:26–28) must refer to the period between A.D. 34 and 36, when “the people were all converted unto the Lord” (4 Nephi 1:2). Their work was productive for a time.

Book of Mormon Commentary: These Records Are True