“Divining Rods,” Church History Topics
Joseph Smith and his contemporaries lived in a culture steeped in biblical ideas, terminology, and practices. Biblical accounts, such as the story of Moses and his brother Aaron, described the use of physical objects such as rods to manifest God’s will (see Exodus 7:9–12 and Numbers 17:8). Many Christians in Joseph Smith’s day similarly regarded divining rods as instruments for revelation. They believed these rods could help them find underground water or minerals.1
Early versions of the revelation in Doctrine and Covenants 8 state that Oliver Cowdery had “the gift of working with the sprout” or the “rod of nature,” indicating that he used a divining rod at some point. The Lord acknowledged Cowdery’s gift, declaring that “there is no other power save God that can cause this thing of Nature to work in your hands.” When Church leaders prepared this revelation for inclusion in the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835, they called Cowdery’s gift “the gift of Aaron,” reflecting its similarity to Aaron’s rod.2
Other sources likewise suggest that Oliver Cowdery, as well as Joseph Smith Sr. and Joseph Smith Jr., had likely used divining rods. But the revelation does not clarify how Cowdery employed his rod. It does indicate this was only one of several gifts available to Cowdery. In addition, the revelation taught Cowdery how to obtain the gift of translation through study, prayer, and the aid of the Holy Ghost.