The Iron Rod may be more than we traditionally think it to be.
In chapter 15 of 1st Nephi, Nephi’s brothers, Laman and Lemuel, quiz him about the meaning of various elements of the dream that Lehi described to them. “What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree?”
And Nephi answered that “it was the word of God; and whoso should hearken to the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations of the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction. Wherefore..give heed unto the word of the Lord; yea, …give heed unto the word of God and remember to keep his commandments always in all things.”
The use of the phrase “the word of God” is one that has its genesis outside of our particular religious faith. It shows up in both the book of Hebrews and in the book of John. It is traditionally used by many religious traditions to signify holy scripture. (Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Koran are all referred to by that title by their religious adherents.)
It is also used to refer to the divine revelation sent through holy prophets as exemplified in the words of Jeremiah and Elisha in the Old Testament who were wont to proclaim “Hear ye the word of the Lord…” as they delivered messages to the people.
As latter-day saints, I think we tend to read these two definitions of “the word of the Lord” into Nephi’s dream: hold fast the teachings of the scriptures and the words of prophets—that is the iron rod, we think, that will “safely guide us through”.
But those are not the only definitions of “the word of God”. That phrase is also used to refer to personal revelation, as in God’s personal message to Abraham in Genesis 15:1, “the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, ‘Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and they exceeding great reward.’”
And it is also used in an interesting way in the Book of Psalms; to describe the power of God, or
the means by which God creates all things and also effectuates his will. (examples: Psalms 33, 107, 119, 147).
Some astute theologians also point out that it is exactly this last definition, “the means by which God effectuates his will”, that is behind the apostle John’s reference to Jesus as “the Word”. For a very interesting treatment on that subject try this article:
So now, knowing that “the word of God” can refer to a number of different things, let’s look at Lehi’s journey to the Tree of Life, which represents “the Love of God”.
The story elements are as follows
1) Lehi follows a man in a white robe who bades him to follow him (divinely inspired messenger)
2) As he does so he finds himself in a dark and dreary waste that he traverses for many hours
3) He begins to pray to God for mercy (prayer which leads to…)
4) He sees the large and spacious field and the tree. (….personal revelation)
5) He goes forth and partakes of the fruit.
The process is one of following a divine messenger, praying for guidance and mercy, seeing the tree and walking to it. Here we see elements of following divine messages from others, communicating personally with God which results in him being able to see clearly (revelation), and then making the effort to move forward towards what he sees (agency) and ultimately partake of it—make it a part of himself.
Later his wife and two of his sons also come to the tree, but their journey is different. They are first aware of the tree when Lehi calls out to them, and they simply walk to where he is. They use elements 1 and 5. (Laman and Lemuel, on the other hand, are not interested in making the journey.)
Next there is large group of people who also are making the journey. They start out with being able to see the tree as they start the journey, but soon discover that they must take advantage of the opportunity to catch “hold of the rod” as the “mists of darkness” swirl around them (not unlike the dark waste Lehi experienced). There is a parallel here as both they and Lehi encounter darkness on the journey and need help knowing how to proceed. It would make sense therefore, that the iron rod that they hold onto in order to continue the journey to the tree represents the same kinds of things that helped Lehi through the journey: personal revelation and increased vision and understanding that comes from personal communication with God.
So one could make a case that the iron rod represents entering into communication with God and receiving personal revelation. And since personal revelation is also a scriptural definition of “the word of God”, that should not be surprising.
Since, as I have noted above, there are multiple definitions of “the word of God” I am inclined to believe that there are also elements of those definitions of the meaning of iron rod which Lehi saw. I believe that is a reasonable assumption, given the way God tends to use symbolism.
But this post is already long enough.