1 Nephi 8:19 — LeGrand Baker — The Iron Rod.

1 Nephi 8:19 

19 And I beheld a rod of iron, and it extended along the bank of the river, and led to the tree by which I stood.

Nephi later describes the iron rod as “the word of God”:

23 And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree?
24 And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.
25 Wherefore, I, Nephi, did exhort them to give heed unto the word of the Lord; yea, I did exhort them with all the energies of my soul, and with all the faculty which I possessed, that they would give heed to the word of God and remember to keep his commandments always in all things(1 Nephi 15:23-25).

The rod, as “the word of God,” is frequently equated with the scriptures and the words of the prophet. Because the iron rod extends alone the bank of the river, and because holding on to it is such a vivid and effective analogy for keeping God’s commandments, the rod is almost always represented as a sturdy banister—a handrail that can keep one from straying off onto forbidden paths. Describing it that way is a powerful teaching tool.

While the ideas of a banister or of the scriptures are easiest to visualize and often the most applicable, there is another possible interpretation that may be more in keeping with the covenant-related subtextual context of Nephi’s writings. It is best expressed by the Hebrew word hesed.{1}

The reality of covenants made at the Council in Heaven and to be fulfilled in this world is one of the central themes of the ancient Israelite temple drama. It is expressed most beautifully in Psalm 25,{2} and reiterated by every prophet who writes of his sode experience.{3} In the Council in Heaven we received assignments (as described in Isaiah 6) and we accepted those assignments by covenants. In this life we walk in the darkness of our forgetfulness, sometimes stumbling as we go, moving through the fog that clouds our memory of who we were, and thereby obscures the reality of who we are. Nevertheless, as the 23rd Psalm assures us,

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me (Psalms 23:4).{4}

There, the rod is a scepter, the symbol of sacral kingship. The staff is a shepherd’s crook, a symbol of priesthood. The Hebrew word translated comfort means the power to transcend sorrow.{5} So that line in the 23rd Psalm might be understood as saying, “I am empowered by the symbols of priesthood and kingship.”

Psalm 2 also shows that the iron rod is a scepter. Psalm 2 is the coronation psalm where the king quotes the Lord’s covenant:

7 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel (Psalms 2:7-9).

That the rod of iron in this psalm is the king’s royal scepter is affirmed by John the Beloved who paraphrased the psalm when he wrote:

26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father (Revelation 2:26-27).

The Prophet Joseph clarified the meaning when he wrote:

26 And to him who overcometh, and keepeth my commandments unto the end, will I give power over many kingdoms;
27 And he shall rule them with the word of God; and they shall be in his hands as the vessels of clay in the hands of a potter; and he shall govern them by faith, with equity and justice, even as I received of my Father (JST Revelation 1:24-28).{6}

That brings us back to Nephi’s statement that the iron rod is the word of God.

We walk in this world in relative darkness as we were picking our way through a labyrinth of options and ideas. We know neither our destination nor how to get there. Yet our innate sense of Self teaches us we must be true to the law of our eternal being. Listening to the promptings of the Holy Ghost—the clearly understood, yet unspoken word of God— slowly brings to our remembrance shadows of who we are were—teaching us when and how to fulfill the covenants we made before we came here (See D&C 84:42-48).

Holding tightly to the powers and covenants of priesthood and kingship we may seem to wonder through the vicissitudes of life, but the promise is that we will arrive safely, as Nephi observed,

30 But, to be short in writing, behold, he saw other multitudes pressing forward; and they came and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron;{7} and they did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree (1 Nephi 8:30).

If the iron rod does represent the powers of sacral kingship, then that must also presuppose the powers of priesthood, for while one can be a priest without being a king, one cannot be a king without first being a priest. It seems possible that the rod of iron seen by Lehi was a symbol of sacral kingship that is a function of legitimate priesthood. “King” is a name/title that connotes eternal covenants along with their attendant responsibilities. A possible interpretation of Lehi’s rod of iron might be this: that the way one comes to the tree of life is to hold tenaciously to the covenants one has made, and to fulfill the responsibilities they impose. As we approach the unknown with faith, fear, and hope we echo Romeo’s sentiment when he said:

But He, that hath steerage the of my course,
Directs my sail!{8}

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FOOTNOTES

{1} For a discussion of hesed see below: 1 Nephi 19:9, Testimony of the Savior. For a discussion of hesed in Psalm 25 see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 527-43; Second edition, p. 373-90.

{2} For a discussion of the 25th Psalm see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 527-43; Second edition, p. 379-90.

{3} For a discussion of the sode Experience see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 195-209; Second edition, p. 139-48.

{4} For a discussion of the 23rd Psalm see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 619-40; Second edition, p. 441-57.

{5} For a discussion of the Hebrew word translated as “comfort” see Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, First edition, p. 467-71; Second edition, p. 340-42.

{6} For another example see Revelation 19:12-16 compared with JST Revelation 19:11.
In these places the “rod of iron” is neither a banister nor a weapon, but it is a royal scepter. It is not unusual that the scepter should be made of iron. Iron was very strong, and when it was polished, it gleamed like silver.

{7} Nephi’s observation that “caught hold of the end of the rod of iron,” may refer to the end of a banister or it may refer to that end of the scepter which one grasps with one’s hand.

{8} William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act 1 Scene 4.

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