Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Hold Fast to the Iron Rod

Posted by BrianJ on November 11, 2007

Guest Post by NathanG


In Lehi’s vision of the tree of life he describes two different groups of people and their approach to the scriptures (clinging to and holding fast to the iron rod; Cf. 1 Nephi 8:24-25, 28, 30). He also describes two groups of people and how they partake the fruit of the tree (become ashamed or fall down and partake). A number of years ago, a friend of mine connected the two parts, pointing out that those who were clinging to the iron rod were the same that became ashamed when they ate the fruit. Those who held fast were those who fell down at the tree and ate the fruit.

I immediately thought of my own experience when I climbed the Grand Teton in high school. There is a section of the climb called “the catwalk” because it is a narrow ledge (3-5 feet wide) with a 1,000 foot+ cliff below and a sheer mountain wall above. In my group we were roped together, and slowly, I made my way forward, clinging to every rock I could hold. As we slowly made our way forward, a man who had already reached the summit and was coming back down passed by. He was not roped to anyone, rested his hand on the mountain wall as he walked, and had as much concern as one would have taking a walk in a park. I have never returned to climbing; I’m sure he has.

I paralleled my climbing experience with clinging and holding fast and decided the difference was moving with fear versus moving with confidence. The confident person had familiarity and experience. The fearful person (me) was unfamiliar and lacked experience. The confident approach to the scriptures involved having constant, regular scripture study. A familiarity with the scriptures would then help one move forward with confidence. The fearful approach wasn’t clear to me, but I figured it would be the approach people new with the scriptures, or sporadic studies would take. That wasn’t a satisfying explanation.

Recently I started thinking again about this. I thought about the words “cling” and “hold fast.” (Disclaimer: I am nowhere near a linguist and just relied on common usage of the terms). I thought that “cling” is often used in a negative connotation: there’s static cling where clothes stick to you and feels a little uncomfortable; sometimes people cling to others (not necessarily mutual and also a little uncomfortable). I remembered clinging to that mountain wall. I was fearful for my life. I wanted to save my life.

People can approach the scriptures this way. They hold to it as though the scriptures are the source of life. Not necessarily a bad thing until you complete the story. A person clings to the iron rod and pushes forward. When they make it to the tree and partake of the fruit of the tree of life, they begin to feel ashamed. It’s the tree that gives life, not the scriptures. More specifically, it is Christ who saves our lives. If we look to the scriptures for life we may be using them in a way they were not intended to be used. I wonder if this is wresting the scriptures—making the scriptures something they are not meant to be. I immediately began finding ways that I had unknowingly been wresting the scriptures

What of the word “fast” in hold fast? It made me think of fasten. The first thing I thought of was seatbelts and car seats. We fasten those to make ourselves secure. To be secure is important. With seatbelts to become secure you take two or three parts and connect them as one. A secure approach to the scriptures should result in the scriptures becoming a part of our lives.

I thought I had really gotten somewhere with understanding the scriptures at this point. Then I started thinking about what Lehi or Nephi would have thought of when they understood the iron rod was a representation of the word of God. As good Jews I imagine they would have thought about the Law of Moses. Suddenly it made a lot of sense how someone could cling to the Law of Moses, but when brought to Christ would reject the fruit and wander away. We have numerous scriptures describing just that. The opposite is also described of people keeping the law, but letting Christ be the focus of their lives.

In the church today, there is a danger of getting so caught up in what we are told to do to be good members of the church that we miss out on Christ (looking beyond the mark seems to apply). Being able to focus on Christ seems to be the essence of the change of heart that King Benjamin’s people had.

I realize I have yet to include many other parts of the vision of the tree of life, but I thought it was fun reviewing the evolution of my own scriptural interpretation. It helps me realize that I can learn things now and still expect that there is more to learn tomorrow.


Guest Post by NathanG

29 Responses to “Hold Fast to the Iron Rod”

  1. Joe Spencer said


    I really like the Law of Moses reading you offer here. That deserves careful thought.

  2. Matthew said

    Interesting. I enjoyed reading.

    One could take your argument a step further.

    If the way one holds onto the iron rod while approaching the tree of life ultimately determines whether one will stay true to it or whether one will be ashamed and leave, one should be able to guess whether someone else will stay true to the gospel based on how they treat the scriptures.

    What do you think? In your experience is “clinging to the scriptures” a good indicator of whether one will stay true to the gospel? I’m skeptical.

  3. NathanG said

    There are a couple of things that make it hard for me to answer your question. When are we partaking of the fruit? Should we read the vision as a chronological representation of our lives with a final destination being the tree and that being a one time event? I saw one artist’s depiction of the vision placing the tree at some intermediate point where people then continued on a path to some grand destination (which I think either represented the Celestial Kingdom or the temple). We could remove the chronological aspect and view ourselves at every point (i.e. I’m constantly considering how I partake the fruit, hold to the rod, follow the path, listen to or ignore or even join those in the large and spacious building, etc.).

    Without a good answer to the above question, I would say that at any given point in time I couldn’t predict who will stay true to the gospel based on how they approach the scriptures. I don’t know who will have a change of heart and put Christ in the forefront of what they do.

  4. Very nice Brian.

  5. Matthew said

    Good point. Nice response. Thanks.

  6. JakeW said

    If the rod is described as the word of God, then couldn’t the rod represent Christ (Word of God)? Or would any sane Nephite think in those terms? And of course, what then would the fruit be? The Covenant?

  7. NathanG said

    I’ve had the same thought, and I don’t know completely what to do with the thought. I wonder about the path also being an extension of Christ (I am the way, the truth, and the life). If both the path and the rod are representations of Christ, or at least an extension of Christ, it makes it more ironic or more tragic that people could follow this and never know what they are following. I catch a sense of D&C 93:19 in this problem, in that we need to understand both what and how we worship (I know that’s a very simple look at a very deep passage). It’s also similar to Paul in Athens describing ignorantly worshipping the unknown God.

  8. JakeW said

    One curious thing I find, is that the entire travailing the rod experience is represented (or could be read) as quite a personal journey. It is only when people reach the fruit (or at least when Lehi tastes of it) that he wishes others to come and do the same. But I’m almost certainly positive that people don’t need to have some sort of qualifying manifestation of God’s love for people to preach Christ to the world. Or maybe they do? I don’t know. I’m just intrigued by the journey of the rod being portrayed as some kind of struggle (like climbing a mountain), the end result being God’s love. The linear chronology of events confuse me.

  9. BrianJ said

    I’ve been anxious to comment, but since I got this ahead of time I wanted to let others speak first.

    Nathan: I also really liked how you tied this into the Law of Moses. I also liek the imagery of the experienced hiker feeling at ease where you felt so exposed. How do we relate that to the scriptures? Should we ever feel at ease with them, or should they always evoke some “fear and trembling”? There are also some people who show confidence with the scriptures like they are a lion tamer: they act confident, but it really is an act; let your guard down for a moment and the lion will have you.

    Eric: I just want to give Nathan due credit; this was all his work.

    JakeW: I don’t like that reading because “Word = Christ” seems like such a Johannine concept. I think you are right to question whether any Nephite would have thought in those terms.

  10. Robert C. said

    Nathan, great post, I hadn’t really noticed this difference in wording before. Although “clinging” doesn’t seem to show up in the KJV Bible, these passages are interesting in how they use the phrase “hold fast”—esp. Prov 4:13: “Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.” I think this would make a fascinating paper topic, if someone hasn’t already written about it, the “path” or “way” (cf. Prov 4:11) of instruction that leads to wisdom, as it is described in wisdom writings, and how it compares with Lehi’s vision.

  11. BrianJ said

    RobertC: …and whether Lehi/Nephi would have been familiar with that passage in Proverbs as they tried to understand their dreams.

  12. NathanG said

    I like your comments about confidence with the scriptures. Maybe a better comparison is that the climber had hope, which seems to carry an feeling of confidence, but the hope is in Christ. On the other hand the confidence you describe reminds me more of what I felt was wresting the scriptures or clinging. Here’s my own experience about why I say this:

    I was thinking about my approach to repentance. I would always think of my sins in terms of “weakness” or “natural man”. I knew the components of repentance as described in the scriptures, but I really wasn’t getting anywhere. I found a sort of justification in my sins by thinking of them as weakness. Then I read that the natural man is “an enemy of God.” and “ye have set at defiance the commandments of God” (Alma 5:18). What happened to me when I thought I might really be an enemy of God? It was an awful thought. It started me on a path of humility. And then I came to Alma 5:38 “the good shepherd doth call you”. I had not approached repentance as an invitation to come unto Christ, rather it was a process of methodical self-reflection and self improvement based on scriptures that I understood (just not the scriptures I needed to understand). Most importantly, I was going to change myself. I figure I was wresting the scriptures, and it led to pride rather than humility.

  13. brianj said

    “I had not approached repentance as an invitation to come unto Christ, rather it was a process of methodical self-reflection and self improvement based on scriptures that I understood….”

    Well said.

  14. cherylem said

    This is a thoughtful and well written post. I am reminded of a conversation I had just this evening that in order for us to be one with Christ, all things have to point to Christ. I think the point you make regarding this is very insightful.

  15. brianj said

    Cheryl: I just want to make it clear that this post was by NathanG.

  16. Cherylem said

    Ah yes. Thank you NathanG!

  17. Jim F. said

    NathanG: Thanks very much for an insightful and important reminder. This is a teaching we need to encounter more often.

  18. Joe Spencer said

    Is the Johannine so distant from the Book of Mormon? Krister Stendahl argued that Johannine theology is the very meaning of the Book of Mormon…

  19. NathanG said

    RobertC and BrianJ #10 and #11
    I read through those Proverbs verses, and then Proverbs chapters 3-5. There is so much similar wording between these chapters and the vision of the tree of life. One phrase that struck me was “My son…”. This is numerous invitations to a son to learn some lesson. I have often wondered what Lehi was praying about the night he had his vision. I’m pretty comfortable thinking that this wasn’t a random revelation that he received (I can’t think of many revelations from our dispensation that weren’t preceded by a lot of thought and prayer). I get a sense that Lehi’s predominant thought was Laman and Lemuel, and he begins telling about his dream by addressing Laman and Lemuel. (Contrast to Nephi who learns a lot about the whole world, and particularly about his posterity). Perhaps these chapters in Proverbs struck a chord with Lehi who was struggling with his own sons, and it then led to receiving this vision.

    Robert, I look forward to your paper on the subject:)

  20. […] Clinging (1 Nephi 8:24), and Continually (1 Nephi 8:30).” Are all of the C’s good things? NathanG on the Feast Blog challenges the idea that clinging to the rod is a good thing, given that those who did so ate the […]

  21. Kevin Fletcher said

    Brian excellent insight. By the way I love climbing the Grand Teton.

    When I think of those clinging to the rod, I think of the reformation phrase “Sola Scriptura.” The scriptures (Word of God) are really a means to a greater destination. To cling to the word of Christ without doing anything else is not enough. I imagine when this group got to the tree they realized a big part of “The Love of God” is in loving God and loving others, and this takes the principle of work.It is interesting to note that when Nephi uses the phrase “press forward” in 2 Nephi 31:20, he first says to press forward with a hope in Christ, a love of God and of all men, he secondly says to press forward in feasting upon the word of Christ. To use an Elder Oaks thought, it is good to read the scriptures, it is better to understand the scriptures, it is best to use the scriptural principles to bring us eternal life.

  22. Spencer Smyth said

    While I realize that I have come to this discussion long after the bulk of it has taken place, I had a thought or two that might prove helpful. Let me first say to Nathan that He has made some very insightful points, especially with regard the Law of Moses. When we think of the rod of iron as being the equivalent of the word of God (whether or not we establish in our own minds that the word of God may be speaking of Christ), for too many that is where it starts and ends. Perhaps we might look at the rod of iron and the path that runs alongside it in slightly different terms. I have a tendency of viewing these symbols in terms of how and why we apply gospel principles we find in the scriptures or from the example of Christ. For instance, in the scriptures we find the principle of prayer taught frequently. To anyone who reads the scriptures, there can be no question that we need to pray. However, how and why I apply this principle in my life will largely determine whether I am holding fast to the rod of iron or merely clinging to it. One may pray simply because they know that is what they are supposed to do. With that attitude, we might expect those prayers to be somewhat repetitive and unproductive. However, that person derives both blessings and comfort that they are doing what they are supposed to do. For another, they may feel the need to pray because they understand how much they need the help of the Lord in their life. Those prayers would be strikingly different from the prayers of the person who does it out of duty. Those prayers would produce a greater degree of faith and hope within the heart of the individual praying out of need.

    All of this really boils down to the principle of consecration, or what we are willing to become. We may be willing to do all sorts of things, but if we do them for the wrong reasons or without real intent, are we going to be able to stand firm in our faith? When the world ridicules us or the allurement of worldly things entice us, will we have the faith to live the sacred and important principles taught in the scriptures if we do not have an attitude of consecration? This idea really underscores the difference between Laman and Lemuel, and Nephi. Nephi was willing to become what the Lord wanted him to become no matter what. Laman and Lemuel were willing to do what was asked of them until pride or the enticements of the world caused them to turn away. Though each had experience (albeit to differing degrees) the love of God (or the fruit of the tree), it was why and how they applied the gospel in their lives, what they were willing to become, that determined their level of faith in the Lord.

  23. Julian said

    I don’t agree at all. Look at the footnotes for the word clinging. It says diligence and perseverance. I think it was the fact that they cared what the world around them thought, not how they were holding to the rod. I personally think that diligence and perseverance are good things.

    • NathanG said

      With all deferance to the footnotes, here’s a recent Ensign article from Elder Bednar
      While he draws a different conclusion about the meaning of clinging than the original post, his conclusion still differs from the footnote.

    • NathanG said

      I would add as a side, the footnotes are a study aid, not the interpretation.
      When I was in seminary, my teacher gave an example of clinging to the rod as a positive example of how to hold to the scriptures and it was meaningful and helpful to me for many years. When I began thinking through this other way of looking at clinging, it became something that was meaningful and helpful to me in my life. The spirit directs our understanding of the scriptures to what can be helpful in our lives and then we have the opportunity to share what we have learned with a hope to be helpful.

    • BrianJ said

      It is quite ironic that a post about clinging too much—perhaps out of extreme literalism?—to the scriptures would generate a comment that favors a footnote over thoughtful analysis and explanation.

      • Julian said

        You don’t think that the footnotes also came from thoughtful analysis?

      • BrianJ said

        What I might think about the nature of this footnote is mere speculation since we are not privy to any information about it, whereas here we can read NathanG’s analysis for ourselves and interact with NathanG for additional explanation. NathanG argues his case; the footnote does not and cannot.

  24. blair said

    the iron rod represets that you should hold on to this iron rod all else you will walk into the darkness of the fog. and you should always hold on to walk towards the tree of life.

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