Rod of Aaron
While working as scribe for Joseph Smith in the translation of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery desired to have the gift of translation. Joseph then received a revelation for Mr. Cowdery granting him that gift, as well as an additional gift: "the gift of working with the rod." This revelation was originally recorded in the Book of Commandments (BOC), then later revised and canonized to become the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C). In this revision the phrase, "the gift of working with the rod," was changed to, "the gift of Aaron."
1. Book of Commandments, section 7 2. D&C Section 8
DC 8:8 you shall hold it in your hands.
How could Oliver Cowdery hold the gift of Aaron in his hands? A review of the first edition of the Book of Commandments makes this verse more clear. In the original, the preceding verses read as follows:
"Now this is not all, for you have another gift, which is the gift of working with the rod: behold it has told you things: behold there is no other power save God, that can cause this rod of nature, to work in your hands, for it is the work of God." (Melvin J. Petersen, "Preparing Early Revelations for Publication," Ensign, Feb. 1985, 20)
Oliver held this rod (symbolic of the rod of Aaron and the gift of Aaron) in his hands. Oliver was in possession of a rod-an instrument for divining the Lord's will which worked much like a Urim and Thummim. The possession of such a rod explains why the next verse says, 'you shall hold it in your hands and no power shall be able to take it away out of your hands.'
"It seems evident that the Lord entrusted Oliver with a sacred instrument through which he could translate by the Spirit of revelation. Having received instructions on the use of the sacred instrument which he possessed, Oliver Cowdery sought to translate from the Plates of Mormon, probably through the instrument which had been entrusted into his care. But he failed." (Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrinal Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1967], 6.)
"Rod of Aaron" has been used since at least the 1700s to describe divining rods. Stephen Davis ("The Old Rodsman") lived in Palmyra, NY in 1813 a few years before the Smith family arrived. An account of his treasure seeking activities states:
From the earliest ages there has been an implicit belief in the powers and virtues of the Divining Rod - either for the discovery of water, mines, or hidden treasures. This belief, it would seem, has originated from the wonderful powers of the miraculous rod in the hands of Moses and Aaron, imparted to it by the Almighty. "The United States Democratic review."
Gift of Aaron
The phrase "gift of Aaron" does not exist in common Old Testament translations based on Masoretic Hebrew texts. However the Septuagint uses the phrase when speaking of the anointing of Aaron to the priesthood, "Moreover the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, This is the gift of Aaron and his sons, which they shall offer to the Lord, on the day when thou shalt anoint him." [Lev 6:19-20] Some evidence suggests Joseph Smith had access to the Septuagint.
It seems evident from 18th and 19th century historical use of the terms "rod," "sprout," "hidden things of nature," "nature's rod," "natural rod" and "rod of Aaron" that the various titles of Oliver's gift point to the divining rod commonly used in treasure seeking. Like the revelations' discussion of Oliver's gift, "hidden things of nature" implies a natural and spiritual component. D&C 6 and 8 caution Cowdery to use his gift properly. Perhaps instead of seeking for buried riches and treasure, he is instead to seek after spiritual riches and treasures. "Seek not for riches but for wisdom." "[D]esire to lay up treasures for yourself in heaven." [D&C 6:7, 27]
While "Rod of Aaron" is not used in the text of the revelation, a reasonable implication can be made that Oliver had a (or the) Rod of Aaron in that the various titles of his gift are tied to divining rods, that "Rod of Aaron" was also a title for divining rods, and that the final title of his gift is "gift of Aaron." Note also that Oliver's gift of the rod is the topic of these verses and that the final title's use of "gift" is redundant. A variant reading could be that Oliver's gift (rod) is "of Aaron."
The following is taken in its entirety from the Gospel Doctrine study Guide:
DC 8:6 the gift of Aaron
Joseph Fielding Smith
There was another gift bestowed upon Oliver Cowdery, and that was the gift of Aaron. Like Aaron with his rod in his hand going before Moses as a spokesman, so Oliver Cowdery was to go before Joseph Smith. Whatever he should ask the Lord by power of this gift should be granted if asked in faith and in wisdom. Oliver was blessed with the great honor of holding the keys of this dispensation with Joseph Smith, and like Aaron [Ex. 4:10-17], did become a spokesman on numerous occasions. It was Oliver who delivered the first public discourse in this dispensation. (Roy W. Doxey, comp., Latter-day prophets and the Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 1: 82.)
Brigham Young explained why some alterations were made in the Book of Commandments: [rod to gift]
"When revelations are given through an individual appointed to receive them, they are given to the understandings of the people. These revelations, after a lapse of years, become mystified to those who were not personally acquainted with the circumstances at the time they were given." (Journal of Discourses, 3:333.)
NOTES from Rocky: