The Vainness of Men

“O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God.” So the prophet Jacob opens his criticism on the failings of men in 2 Nephi 9. But there is hope for the learned: “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.” It’s not a curse to be learned, if one is also humble.

Jacob’s next words are for the rich: “But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.”

But as with the learned, there is an implied way out for the rich: support the poor, elevate the meek, and put your heart on people instead of things. This would not only be in a personal way, but in a societal way, remembering Jeremiah’s condemnation of the Kingdom of Judah. The structure of the society must be such that the poor and the meek are protected and sustained, even if it means the rich are sacrificing wealth and power in order to do so. If a society concentrates power among the powerful and concentrates wealth among the wealthy, it is running afoul of Jeremiah’s and Jacob’s preaching.

Jacob continues a few verses later: “… and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches – yea, they are they whom he [God] despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them.”

In earlier verses, Jacob had preached against liars, murderers, and adulterers, but it is the vainness of learning and riches that Jacob returns to to explicitly call out as those who cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. These are the most serious things to consider, as they are the sins of the ruling classes and, as such, impact the whole of a nation more than the actions of a lone depraved murderer or adulterer. These are the sins that set the tone for a nation and which bring it under condemnation.

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