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A painting of the prophet Jacob from Book of Mormon

The sensitivity of the Lord and his prophets to the human condition is beautifully exemplified in the prophet Jacob’s poignant sermon to the Nephites, delivered some 60-plus years after Lehi led his family out of Jerusalem and recorded in the Book of Mormon. It is as relevant today as it was then.

Jacob and Joseph were younger brothers to Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi, born while Lehi’s family traveled seven years in the wilderness before boarding ship for the “promised land” (see 1 Nephi 17).

Once in the Americas, Jacob chose righteousness and while still young saw the Savior in vision. Lehi blessed his son, “Jacob … thou knowest the greatness of God … and thy days shall be spent in the service of thy God” (see 2 Nephi 2:2-3). The Prophet Nephi consecrated his brother to be “a priest and a teacher over the … (Nephites)” (see 2 Nephi 5:26), and for 20-30 years Jacob ministered and kept a record of things “most precious” on the smaller plates that became part of the Book of Mormon (see Jacob 1:1-2).

Robert J. Matthews, author of “Jacob, Prophet, Theologian, Historian,” declared, “There have been few people in history who have possessed the combination of spirituality, intellectual capacity, judgment, literary ability, parentage, faith and seership that Jacob did. … Jacob taught by the Spirit and was a bold, charismatic expounder of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Clearly, by the time of his masterful sermon in Jacob 2-3, Jacob was a seasoned, spiritual giant, a Nephite prophet warning against pride, the curse of trusting riches and the heinous effects of sexual immorality. Matthews adds his testimony, “His teachings on these subjects are among the best we have in the scriptures.”

In his sermon, Jacob pointedly addresses men, explaining in Jacob 2:7, 9, “It also grieveth me that I must use so much boldness of speech concerning you, before your wives and your children, many of whose feelings are exceedingly tender and chaste and delicate before God, which thing is pleasing unto God.”

Yet with great regret he explains he must “enlarge the wounds of those (women and children) who are already wounded, and instead of consoling and healing their wounds” and allowing them to “feast upon the pleasing word of God” they must “have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds” (see Jacob 2:9 ).

After condemning pride and growing materialism Jacob turns to their “grosser crimes,” rebuking men who “seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms … which thing (is) abominable before me” (see Jacob 2:23-24).

And then, on a seemingly discordant note, Jacob states in verse 28, “For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me” (see Jacob 2:28).

For years, this verse made me a bit testy, the onus to be chaste suddenly shifted to women, while ignoring men whose immorality was the cause of the widespread grief in Nephite society. To my feeble mind it seemed more appropriate to state, “I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of men,” or “in the chastity of men and women” — a reiterating denouncement of the Satanically inspired, sexual double standard. Why, then, this directive to women?

Finally, after years of study, the thought; perhaps the verse is not directed to women but, still, to men — a sort of doubling down on the Lord’s condemnation of men who exercise their power to abuse women, ignoring their God-given duty to protect them.

As history teaches, most societies have, over time, been patriarchal. Men have and continue to control the vast majority of resources in terms of money, power, privilege and prestige. This creates a construct where men wield vast power in society yet, within God’s economy, it denotes man’s duty to protect women and children. While not always adhered to, nevertheless, protecting and providing has been man’s duty before God since the creation.

This being the case, the verse seamlessly conjoins with others. When Jacob tells men the Lord “delights in the chastity of women” (and while God’s standard is chastity for both men and women), he is rebuking men who hold power in society yet use that power to deprive women of that “which is most dear and precious above all things” (see Moroni 9:9). The Lord is speaking to, and indicting, men who have failed in their sacred duty to respect, honor and protect women’s virtue. In this light it reads beautifully (see Jacob 2: 27, 28, 31-33, 35):

“There shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none;

"For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me. …

"I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters … because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands. …

"And I will not suffer … that the cries of the fair daughters of this people … shall come up unto me against the men of my people. …

"For (men) shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction. …

"Behold … ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them. And … many hearts have died, pierced with deep wounds."

God, indeed, delights in the chastity of women. However, in a world where men often have power to exert their will upon women and children, it is imperative men understand that not only is chastity and virtue required of them, but it is their sacred duty to recognize the nobility of all women, to protect them and treat them with utmost respect and honor.