A few people have requested that I give general outlines of my lessons on here, so I created this thread. I don't want to monopolize it by any means, so others who are teaching (or who are not) should feel free to post here too.
Because of ward conference earlier this year, we're a week behind most other wards. This week was Lesson 5: This is the Spirit of Revelation. The focus is on Sections 6, 8 and 9.
Last we talked about Oliver Cowdery a lot, and we've already established that he had some prior experiences seeking for religion and spirituality. Oliver has only known Joseph a few days or weeks at most during these sections. Oliver, as we know left the church (actually was excommunicated) but was rebaptized just before he died of tuberculosis at the home of David Whitmer. In between, he studied law, became a successful lawyer, and ran for office several times, most of the time losing only when his ties to the Mormons came up. Well educated before he met Joseph, he's clearly a very intelligent and spiritually minded young man.
So it's no surprise that he wants to translate and is fascinated by the process. And it looks like it's pretty simple: he's offered it on a silver platter (D&C 6:25-28). See also D&C 8:1-3 and 10-11, and notice that last bit about Moses, the Red Sea, and the Spirit of Revelation in verse 3.
Side note here: this really underscores the egalitarianism that Joseph had with a lot of his early church. If he could have this power, why couldn't anybody else? Revelation is not limited to one person.
But as we know, Oliver didn't translate. We get the studying out in the mind versus, where all of a sudden just asking isn't enough. See D&C 9:7-9. Jeff and Jacob pointed out the discrepancy here - what gives?
Think about that for a bit while we go back to Sections 6 and 8. 6:10-12 tells us that Oliver has another gift, a sacred gift. Section 8 hints a bit more, and especially verse 7: the gift of Aaron. Now this is prior to the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood, so that can't be the gift - what is it? Well, the original manuscript of the revelation tells us: the word "gift" is "rod". The Rod of Aaron is the gift. This is a clear reference to Oliver's practice using divining rods. We've already talked about the folk magic practices that Joseph had, and his preference for his old seerstone over the Urim and Thummim, the autumnal equinoxes and Moroni's visitation, the general superstitions that pervaded the northeast (and elsewhere) at this time. This is part of that.
So let's talk about Aaron, Moses and their rods (rimshot optional). Exodus 7:10: Aaron turns his rod into a serpent. Exodus 7:19: Aaron turns the Nile to blood with his rod. Exodus 17:5-7: Moses takes the same rod and strikes the rock to get water. And remember D&C 8:3? Moses splits the Red Sea with...you guessed it, his rod! This is the spirit of revelation?
Now, do you know why Moses doesn't get to see the promised land? Turn to Numbers 20:10-12 to find out. Moses faces the same whiny Israelites asking for water again, and he asks the Lord. The Lord tells him to take that same rod, that same rod, and go to the rock and not smite it, but speak to it. Now, do you think by this point Moses might be enamored with his rod (again, optional rimshot)? Maybe he is forgetting where the real power comes from - remember the Lord telling Oliver in D&C 8:7 that the power has to come from God? Maybe he's trusting a lot in this thing, this thing through which God has worked before. It's his spiritual crutch, and he can't put it away, so he smites the rock - and doesn't get to enter the promised land as a result.
The rod at this point may have become a magic artifact, a talisman, if you will, to Moses, and God is telling him to trust Him, not the magic, but the source of it. And Moses fails.
You see this pop up all over the scriptures. Mosiah 8 - the urim and thummim are magic translators. Moses and Aaron and their rods. Joseph Smith and his seerstone, the urim and thummim, Oliver's rod, even the golden plates. These are talismans, spiritual crutches underlying a lack of faith, physical tools through which God works, but they are not God Himself.
We don't know how Oliver tried to translate, but no doubt he took whatever magic thing - maybe the seerstone, maybe his rod, maybe the urim and thummim - and thought having the magic talisman and asking was enough. Poor Oliver - the magic is not in the thing, but in God.
Now turn to Ether, Chapters 2 and 3. Here's the Bro. of Jared trying to build these boats, and first he just asks - Lord, how are we going to travel? Lord, how are we going to breathe? And he gets simple answers. Then he says, Lord, how are we going to see. And the Lord comes back with something different this time - what do you want me to do? Study it out in your mind, kid, and then come back with some ideas.
So the Bro makes his own talismans, his own magical things, and brings these not-yet-magical rocks to the Lord to touch, except this time he sees the finger of the Lord and then the Lord himself. He's passed the point of his talisman - he has a direct relationship with Jesus now. The stone are useful for light, but they are not a source of spirituality. He has that directly. He's moved passed the item into the relationship.
Towards the end of his life, Joseph gave one last revelation at Hyrum's request. Now, look at all the Section headings of the D&C, and see how many of these are given through Joseph's talisman, the urim and thummim. Hyrum even asks Joseph to use the U&T for this revelation. But Joseph refuses, saying more or less, "I got this". He'd moved past his own talisman to the direct source - it was unnecessary.
The key here is the personal relationship with Jesus, something which we should all seek and to which we are entitled. What talismans do we have holding us back? What are our magic things that interpose themselves in the relationship? I have mine, as do we all.