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In the Book of Mormon, part of the official canon of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a prophet named Lehi had a remarkable vision from the Lord. The vision centered around a tree, known as the Tree of Life. This tree was far more glorious than any earthly tree could ever be. The fruit of the tree was also unlike any earthly fruit. The prophet Lehi described the fruit as "desirable to make one happy.... And as [he] partook of the fruit thereof it filled [his] soul with exceedingly great joy”(1 Ne. 8:10, 12).
In order to reach the tree, however, a number of obstacles blocked the way: a mist of darkness, alternate roads that would lead a person astray, a large building filled with people both jeering and beckoning, and a filthy river. But along the narrow path which led straight to the tree was a rod of iron. This iron rod served as a guide to those who sought the tree and its fruit. In the vision, Lehi saw many people start on the path that led toward the tree. However, only those who held tight to the iron rod were able to navigate safely and ultimately attain the tree and taste of its fruit.
Nephi, one of Lehi's sons, prayed to God that he might understand his father's vision. In answer, he too was shown the vision and was taught by an angel what the symbolism of the vision meant (see 1 Nephi 11). The Tree of Life symbolized Christ and its fruit was the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The straight and narrow path which led to the tree was the way to salvation as we journey through life. The mists of darkness, filthy river, and building full of taunting people all represented the vanity, pride, and sinfulness of the world. As for the iron rod, it represented the word of God, whether it be in the form of scriptures, words of living prophets, or personal revelation.
To members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the iron rod has become a well-known symbol for following God’s commandments and staying true to the path that leads back to Him. A song included in the LDS hymnbook is a good explanation of all that it stands for in the LDS faith.
The Iron Rod
- 1. To Nephi, seer of olden time,
- A vision came from God,
- Wherein the holy word sublime
- Was shown an iron rod.
- Hold to the rod, the iron rod;
- ’Tis strong, and bright, and true.
- The iron rod is the word of God;
- ’Twill safely guide us through.
- 2. While on our journey here below,
- Beneath temptation’s pow’r,
- Through mists of darkness we must go,
- In peril ev’ry hour.
- 3. And when temptation’s pow’r is nigh,
- Our pathway clouded o’er,
- Upon the rod we can rely,
- And heaven’s aid implore.
- 4. And, hand o’er hand, the rod along,
- Through each succeeding day,
- With earnest prayer and hopeful song,
- We’ll still pursue our way.
- 5. Afar we see the golden rest
- To which the rod will guide,
- Where, with the angels bright and blest,
- Forever we’ll abide.
- (Joseph L. Townsend, "The Iron Rod," LDS Hymns, no. 274)
The iron rod, as illustrated by the song, is now synonymous in the Church with clinging to the Gospel and enduring to the end even when the way is dangerous and hard. The path is clear and God’s rules are simple, just as holding tight to a railing that will lead you when you are in the dark. It would not make much sense to let go, especially if your surroundings are unfamiliar. So when a Latter-day Saint is heard encouraging a friend by saying, “hold to the rod,” he is telling his friend to continue trying to live the commandments of God. President Harold B. Lee said the following about the importance of holding to the rod:
- If there is any one thing most needed in this time of tumult and frustration, when men and women and youth and young adults are desperately seeking for answers to the problems which afflict mankind, it is an “iron rod” as a safe guide along the straight path on the way to eternal life, amidst the strange and devious roadways that would eventually lead to destruction and to the ruin of all that is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report” (“The Iron Rod,” Ensign, June 1971, 5).