Revelation & Things

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Today’s post comes from The Teacher.  Section 8 of the Doctrine & Covenants refers to “another gift” Olivery Cowdery had, called at different times “the gift of Aaron” or “the rod of nature.”  Several commentators recognize this gift as related to Oliver’s use of a divining rod.

If you interpret Oliver’s “gift of Aaron” in Section 8 as a divining rod, it makes for some interesting reading.  Oliver’s gift has told him many things (verse 6).  The gift only works for Oliver because of the power of God (verse 7).  If he has faith in his gift, he will use it to do marvelous things (verse 8).  Oliver’s gift is the work of God (id.).

When I first learned of what “the gift of Aaron” might be, my initial reaction was that it was, well, odd.  I mean, a divining rod?  I knew about Joseph Smith and folk magic, but I sort of put the idea aside.  Then, I read the heading for Section 11 which says, “This revelation was received through the Urim and Thummim in answer to Joseph’s supplication and inquiry.”  And I thought, “Whoa.” 

Faithful Mormons accpet that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim and a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon.  He used the Urim and Thummim to receive revelations that became scriptural passages of the Doctrine & Covenants.  Is a divining rod any stranger than a Urim and Thummim?  At least I have seen a divining rod.  I have heard people talk about divining rods.  I have never seen a Urim and Thummim.  And that got me thinking about revelation.

Divining rods and seer stones and interpreters are certainly outside our daily experience, and it is easy to think them odd.  But weren’t they just aids that Joseph (and perhaps Oliver) used for a while in seeking inspiration and revelation from God?  Don’t we all use tangible objects to help us believe and seek God’s guidance?

I have long thought that part of the power of ordinances is their tangibility.  You know precisely when you were immersed in water, and that meant something to you.  You know when hands are placed upon your head.  When you eat the bread and drink the water, it is a signal to your soul (the tangible and the intangible part) that you are seeking for God’s spirit.  When I think about it, I see lots of examples of tangibility as an aid to revelation and faith.

Easton, a commenter at Gospel Doctrine Underground, raised a couple of interesting ideas.  He referred to a talk by Dallin Oaks who said that reading the scriptures can be like a Urim and Thummim.  By that, Elder Oads meant that we can receive revelation through scripture study, not just on the topic we are reading about, but on any topic.  Easton also referred to a statement by Brigham Young that Joseph Smith had taught that everyone could and should have their own seer stone.  I don’t know if Joseph was speaking literally, but I think we all use tangible things to seek revelation.  The temple might be the ultimate example.  Among other things, don’t lots of people who really need revelation and guidance go to the temple because they believe being in a sacred place, a building, will help them find it?

I guess it is natural to think that things outside our experience, like the Urim and Thummim and seer stones, are kind of strange.  But we have a wealth of tangibility that Joseph and Oliver did not have:  sacrament emblems blessed by the priesthood, the laying on of hands, celestial rooms.  All these things help us find inspiration and direction from God.  Maybe God just finds ways to work through the tools we have.

What do you think?  Can tangible things help us get revelation?  Do you have a “seer stone”?  What is it?

Comments 9

  1. I don’t have a “seer stone”, though I have seen real ones and I am quite fascinated by the real ones. Through the ages man has used material items to communicate with God. The sacred items along with sacred space go hand in hand. Colleen McDannell has written a book called “Material Christianity” that includes a chapter on Mormonism.

    As for members during Smith’s time having seer stones, many did. Hyrum Page, David and John Whitmer all come to mind. Smith is supposed to have had Page’s stone crushed to dust. Apparently Smith was not always pleased with others stones or their use.

    A bit of trivia about the rod of nature: “In the revelation to Oliver Cowdery in May, 1829, Bro. (B.H.) Roberts said that the gift which the Lord says he has in his hand meant a stick which was like Aaron’s Rod. It is said Bro. Phineas Young (brother-in-law of Oliver Cowdery and brother of Brigham Young) got it from him (Oliver) and gave it to President Young who had it with him when he arrived in this (Salt Lake) valley and that it was with that stick that he pointed out where the Temple should be built. (Anthon H. Lund journal, 5 July 1901)

  2. For me, the temple has definitely played a great part in helping me to receive personal revelation. The atomsphere in the temple helps me to be able to listen without distraction and allows the Spirit to flow freely. I believe, in that respect, a tangible thing (the temple) can help facilitate getting revelation. I don’t feel, however, that the temple is necessary to receive revelation; we can receive revelation anywhere. Some tangible things I believe are necessary in the revelatory process are items used to record the revelations received. As soon as I leave the temple or if I have received revelation outside of the temple I write down as soon as possible that which I have received. I think writing revelation down is a critical part in being able to receive more. We forget so very easily that if we don’t record that which the Lord has already given us, how can we expect Him to give us more? If we record, study and pray about it, I believe it opens the door to receive more.

  3. Inthedoghouse: Thanks for the reference to Numbers 17. Section 8 certainly draws a parrallel between Oliver and Aaron’s budding rod, and Oliver filled a similar role to that of Aaron. But, Section 8 refers to the rod Oliver used as a tool to receive revelation personally. See verses 6-8. What else do you make of the allusion to Aaron’s budding rod?

    Joe: Thanks for the information on Brigham Young and the rod. I had not heard that before. Very interesting.

  4. Oliver Cowdery’s Patriarchal Blessing can be found in Michael Marquardt’s incredible book, “Early Patriarchal Blessings”. It is dated Oct. 2, 1835 and given by Joseph Smith junior. Smith did not declare lineage for Cowdery. Nor did he for Frederick G. Williams or Sidney Rigdon.

    What is interesting for this discussion is Smith told Rigdon in his blessing that “he (Rigdon) shall hold the rod of Aaron, in his right hand.” This is in connection with Rigdon’s calling as a “spokesman unto the Lord”.

  5. Joe: Thanks for your research. This seems to suggest that, at least in some contexts, the “rod of Aaron” is representative of a role to be fulfilled by the holder. But, I am not sure that intepretation squares cleanly with the text of Section 8, which seems to refer to something held in the hand which provides access to revelation. Of course, the revelation could be read on more than one level. Perhaps Oliver’s rod of nature was a material thing and a calling or role. I will have to think about that.

  6. To even make this more interesting. On Juvenile Instructor Ben has been kind enough to share his notes on a lecture given yesterday at BYU by Grant Underwood. Underwood discusses what may be the most important Mormon document find in our life time. This is the manuscript book that contains the earliest revelations of Smith and was used for the publication of the Book of Commandments. In the manuscript book section 8 has “sprout” instead of “rod” and “this thing of nature” instead of “rod of nature”.

    Rick Grunder discovered on Wikipedia, under “Aaron’s Rod” “sprout” fits in well with this imagery. The rod seemed to spontaneously bloom and bud, and even bear fruit if held by the priesthood line.

    For a complete discussion I would suggest visiting Juvenile Instructor. Robin Jensen, one of the editors of this new book, has commented as well. Robin is a great person and quite bright. I think you would enjoy the information.

  7. Interesting. I have noticed pretty open discussion of Oliver’s divining rod in some mainstream sources. For example, Steven Harper treats it pretty matter-of-factly in his book, “Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants.” I imagine that document has influenced thinking about Section 8.

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