In a revelation to Oliver Cowdery found today in D&C 8, the Lord trained Oliver about the process of revelation and “the manifestation of my Spirit” (vs. 1), telling him that the Spirit of God will work “in your mind and in your heart” (vs. 2) and that “this is the spirit of revelation” (vs. 3). The Lord then likened this gift of revelation and translation to yet another gift Oliver had that had “told you many things” before, even “the gift of Aaron” (vs. 6). The earliest written version of D&C 8, however, was not that Oliver Cowdery had the “gift of Aaron” but “the gift of working with the sprout rod.” God caused “this thing of nature rod to work in your hands” the Lord told Oliver, and it was “the work of God.”
This “rod” or “sprout” or “thing of nature” that Oliver held in his hands is likely a reference to the practice of using divining rods, or a Y-shaped branch to locate water or broken earth in a field, still common in some agricultural areas today. It seems in section 8 the Lord was trying to teach Oliver Cowdery about the gift of revelation and translation—how you have to pay attention to the mind and heart and be in tune—and likened it to Oliver’s use of diving rods to make a connection with which he could relate. Later in the 1835 D&C the phrase was changed from “gift of the rod” to “the gift of Aaron,” likely as a way to connect the present way God worked with them to the miraculous past, like Moses and Aaron’s miracles they did with rods (see Exodus 4:17), such as how Aaron’s rod flowered to confirm the tribe of Levi’s selection to the priesthood (see Numbers 17-18).
This painting shows Oliver Cowdery, working in a field holding a y-shaped branch gently in his hands as he pays attention to its subtle guiding movements. The clouds are dark, suggesting both water (for which Oliver may be searching) and also darkness (which Oliver must learn to discern). In the top left shines the sun through the darkness, referencing the Lord’s teachings to Oliver on revelation and inspiration guiding him.
This original painting was created for my Repicturing the Restoration project published in 2020 by BYU’s Religious Studies Center & Deseret Book.
“Oliver Cowdery’s Gift of the Rod” 16×20 oil on board, 2018 (comes in a 3″ brown rustic frame, 22×16)
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