Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our mights this last time; for behold, the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard. Graft in the branches. Begin at the last, that they may be first and that the first may be last; and dig about the trees, both old and young, the first and the last, and the last and the first, that all may be nourished once again for the last time. Wherefore, dig about them, and prune them, and dung them once more for the last time, for the end draweth nigh. And if it so be that these last grafts shall grow and bring forth the natural fruit, then shall ye prepare the way for them that they may grow. And as they begin to grow, ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof.Growing up I almost always associated this allegory in the Book of Mormon with geography and the various parts of the earth. But I like thinking of it in terms of demographics as well. It adds more insight to think in terms of God planting his word among various people, not just geography. Some people/cultures are better spots of ground, or more humble welcoming of God's word than others.
Anyway, the allegory mentions something the Lord does on various occasions to save the trees and encourage them to bear fruit. Dig about them. Prune them. Dung them. Nourish them. These efforts to bring fruit are no guarantee of fruit though. They encourage repentance but whether or not repentance happens is left to the tree. "If it so be" the allegory says. The big IF. It's up to the tree to respond. God doesn't force. Force tends to produce bitter fruit.
This isn't the first time trees and the vineyard has been dug about, pruned, and dunged in this allegory. Some of them are in the past, so I wanted to take a look at those. When the Lord or servants dig, prune and dung, what does that look like in the lives of the people? The Tree in the allegory represents a family. One God is trying to preserve.
The digging and pruning back with ancient Israel was probably traumatic to them. Invasions, scattering, wars, loss of political identity, loss of traditions, loss of deeply held religious beliefs or hope, loss of knowledge of God or their heritage. From their point of view the digging and dunging was probably like all hell breaking loose. Same could be said of the other areas of the vineyard we know about that experienced God's gardening efforts. Some repent, some don't. What else happened with the people we know about in scripture that we could connect with acts of digging and dunging by God? What about from the perspective of the individuals, what could these acts of vineyard gardening look like?
Digging implies going underneath the surface. Likely intended to soften up the ground so it's not hard. Soft ground is critical in both a literal gardening sense, as well as in an allegorical sense according to numerous other scriptures that deal with agriculture and tree growth. Alma's seed analogy for example. Or the parable of the sower for another example. Hard ground doesn't work.
On an individual level "digging about the tree" might relate to softening up the ground of a persons heart and or mind. Our hearts and minds according to scripture are best when soft and open. But like ground, it can get hard, stale, dry and barren. Hence the digging. It's anyone's guess what that would look like to any particular individual. But surely some event, some relationship, some thing with a child or something unique to them or their surroundings will soften up the ground of a persons heart or mind. What seems painful to them is however necessary from God's point of view. The ground has to be soft or the tree is doomed. So it makes sense he digs about it. The pain of that is nothing compared to the alternative.
What about on a large scale? What would digging look like for a group of people or nation? Food for thought.
Pruning is pretty obvious, it's removing parts of the branch so the other areas can grow. Proper pruning creates a healthier tree with better fruit. Trees last longer too, and do better against the elements if pruned. The tree probably doesn't like it though. Probably hurts. So for a person, pruning might look like cutting away bad ideas, false traditions, false beliefs, foolishness, errant behaviors, stubbornness etc etc.. so that charity, forgiveness, and godliness could potentially grow in its place. It's only potential though. The person/people get to respond. This stuff may be traumatic to the person. Removing false beliefs may not come easily. Removing ungodly behaviors or habits will likely involve some difficulty, and the person may find it devastating to their pride. What about on a large scale? Pruning suggests cutting off. What would that look like?
What about dunging? In our vocabulary this is literally adding "crap" to the situation. Fertilizer provides nourishment and livens up the ground which may otherwise be stale or dead or lacking needed nutrients to support the tree. If the tree would otherwise perish, isn't this kind of God to do? What once was "waste" now becomes the means of providing growth, nourishment and nutrients. God is not only kind, but brilliant. Nothing goes to waste, even the waste itself.
Doesn't always smell good though. No one likes having crap added to their lives. But I have to admit when I read scripture that this has a positive intent to save the tree and give it what is needed. Otherwise the tree can't produce fruit. Or worse it may not survive at all. It's something the Lord does on at least 3 occasions in this allegory. It's designed to help the tree become fruitful. Which in this allegory means to have living children of God on the earth with a connection to the Fathers in Heaven. I wonder what dunging look like on a large scale? Large scale challenges, problems, setbacks, influx of bad smelling elements. But they enliven the ground and make possible a different future.
Nourishment. The Good word of God is nourishing to the soul. Jacob mentions this in his teachings. God gives His word to nourish us. If we will receive it. We too are to nourish the seed of God's word with "great care" "dilligence" and "patience" according to Alma. Then this from Nephi:
NC 1 Nephi 5:12 And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God, he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide ways and means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them.The need for constant nourishment to both body and soul is symbolized in religious ceremony and we all also have a physical reminder on our belly. The body makes the need for food apparent if you don't feed it. Having recently had newborns, watching the nourishment coming from their mother is especially noteworthy. Nourishment is vital. We all need to be nourished. The soul may hunger and thirst in a different way than the physical body that's more easily dismissed or neglected. Of note here is God offering to gather his people as a hen gathereth her chicks under her wing, and nourishes them.
NC 3rd Nephi 4:9
And it came to pass that there came a voice again unto the people, and all the people did hear and did witness of it, saying, O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, O ye people of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.Where we find ourselves in 2019 inside this allegory is really really interesting. It's up to us to produce fruit. I hope we do. I hope I do. I do not find God's acts always pleasant or immediately understandable or without challenge and pain. But the scriptures do in fact show that they come from a kind God who lovingly takes care of His vineyard. To those in the heat of the moment it's possible everything looks all wrong at times. But scriptures and especially this allegory portray the Lord as someone worthy of our adoration. The character displayed by the Lord is humbling. That's something I want to place faith in.