“Tradition holds that that piece of cloth is from Adam’s garment in paradise.”
I spun around. “Excuse me?” One of Dunvegan Castle’s caretakers had watched while I carefully read the placard and then stood for a long time studying the tattered fabric delicately hung on the castle wall. This was the supernatural Fairy Flag. Was there more to the story?
I’m not sure why she chose to reveal Christian ties to the flag to me, but the caretaker approached and simply described how the cloth’s ancient origin stretched beyond Scotland into the barbaric Norse lands, and before the Vikings, it came from Syria. And before Syria?
She said the clan believed it was part of the garment Adam received in paradise, passed down from father to son. The cloth physically held actual powers. When the hunter Nimrod had it, all the creatures bowed before him.
When the MacLeod chieftains raised it, they never lost a battle. Clans battled clans for possession of the flag. Whoever possessed it, even tattered and threadbare, became unconquerable in battle.
Apocryphal stories substantiate claims that whoever held the garment of Adam had dominion over men and beasts. Noah cursed Ham for taking it from him. Nimrod’s hunting expeditions proved successful because of it, purportedly initiating the enmity between man and beasts.
Scripture stories flashed through my mind. There is a rich history of physical items with seemingly supernatural powers. Our culture looks at “things” differently now. But noticing the many divinely or supernaturally powerful “things” in the scriptures brought a new awareness to my scripture study.
What are these “things”? Why are they recorded? Why didn’t the Lord just work the miracle without things? What am I supposed to take away from the stories? How does this apply to me in the 21st century?
Items With Supernatural Powers
When I started looking for inanimate objects gifted with supernatural powers, I was surprised at how many examples I found. Below are a few of many objects that with the Lord’s blessing conveyed some supernatural power.
Brass Serpent — After poisonous serpents infested the camp of Israel, the bites of which were deadly without intervention, Moses prayed to God for help. “The Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and … every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole….” And everyone who looked at that brass serpent lived.
Moses consulted the Lord, then created a brass serpent which healed people. Jesus compared the brass serpent to Himself “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Moses’ Rod — When God called Moses to free Israel, one of the signs He gave Moses included Moses’ rod. When dropped, the rod became a snake.
The power of God in the rod also parted the Red Sea. “But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.”
The rod also provided water when the people thirsted. The Lord told Moses “Go…and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it.”
The Egyptians also had rods that became snakes. But in that case, Aaron’s rod/snake swallowed all of the Egyptians’ rods/snakes.
Samson’s Hair — Raised as a Nazarite, Samson never cut his hair. He told Delilah “if I be shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”
An angel visited Samson’s parents giving guidance on how to raise Samson. The Lord’s direct involvement seems to occur after Samson’s birth. “And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the Lord blessed him.”
Even though Samson foolishly revealed his strength, his strength returned when the hair returned. “Howbeit the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven.” And blind Samson, standing between two pillars, called on God and destroyed the building killing 3,001 people.
The Ark of God — After the Philistines captured the ark of God, they put it in the house of their idol god, Dagon. The first night, the large statue of Dagon fell face forward onto the ground in front of the ark of God. Perplexed, the people repositioned their idoll. The next night, Dagon fell face forward on the ground again, but his head and hands were cut off and “only the stump of Dagon was left to him.” Having the ark around also gave the Philistines tumors and boils.
While bringing the it back to Israel, Uzzah steadied the ark. And he died.
The Ephod — Designed by Jehovah, the priestly ephod or breastplate had set stones representing each tribe of Israel on its front and two onyx stones on each shoulder with the names of the tribes inscribed so that as God looked down from heaven, He would see those names written. The ephod was to be worn while the priest officiated in the tabernacle.
David used the ephod to discern the Lord’s answer to his prayer. “David said…bring me hither the ephod. And Abiathar brought thither the ephod to David. And David inquired at the Lord, saying, Shall I pursue after this troop? shall I overtake them? And he answered him, Pursue: for thou shalt surely overtake them….”
Liahona — Lehi opened his tent door one morning to find a brass ball with two spindles “and the Lord prepared it.” This curious compass worked based on faith. When it detected faith, the Liahona provided GPS tracking through the wilderness. “Therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done.”
Shining Stones — When confronted with traveling across the sea in darkness, the Brother of Jared asked the Lord to remedy that situation. The Brother of Jared created 16 stones, liquefied out of a rock and cast in a mold, white and clear. The Brother of Jared then prayed mightily requesting the Lord to touch the stones with His finger, permanently lighting them, to provide light while they crossed the sea.
“Therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.”
Noah set a precedent for shining stones. The footnote in Genesis 6:16 teaches us that instead of “window,” the word actually means “precious stone that shone in the ark.”
Healing Staffs, Clothing, Handkerchiefs — Elisha sent Gehazi running to the Shunammite woman’s dead son, instructed to “lay my staff upon the face of the child.”
The woman with an issue “came behind [Jesus], and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.”
Paul sent items to heal the sick and possessed as well. “And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.”
Joseph Smith sent Wilford Woodruff on a healing mission with a handkerchief. “After healing the sick in Montrose, all the company followed Joseph to the bank of the river, where he was going to take the boat to return home. While waiting for the boat, a man from the West, who had seen that the sick and dying were healed, asked Joseph if he would not go to his house and heal two of his children who were very sick. They were twins and were three months old. Joseph told the man he could not go, but he would send some one to heal them.
He told Wilford Woodruff to go with the man and heal his children. At the same time he took from his pocket a silk bandanna handkerchief, and gave to Brother Woodruff, telling him to wipe the faces of the children with it, and they should be healed; and remarked at the same time: ‘As long as you keep that handkerchief it shall remain a league between you and me.’ Elder Woodruff did as he was commanded, and the children were healed.”
Prelude to Idolatry
Realizing how often people used objects with divine approval and power helped me understand why people turned to and created idols so quickly and easily.
Is this why Rachel stole her father’s images when she left for Canaan? Or how the children of Israel justified building a golden calf? Gideon’s ephod became an idol to him and all Israel went whoring after it. Micah the Levite created his own graven image, ephod, teraphim, and molten image which were stolen by stronger guys than he.
When chastised for idolatry, the Lord often rebuked the creator of the item by saying that He was the Creator. The Lord actually gave life and power to the creations. This distinction, something blessed and created by God with life, seems to be the most important defining characteristic of things with uncharacteristically supernatural powers.
According to Alma, everything on Earth testifies of God. “[A]ll things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” So ultimately, according to design and need and man’s faith, God infuses life into things to act as witnesses to His work and glory.
Relics in Christianity
Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodoxy treasure relics. Relics include bones of venerated Saints, piece of clothing, items purportedly used by holy people, and even personal effects of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.
Some items are thought to have divine power infused, but other things emanate holiness because of contact with a holy person.
Supernatural Infused Power in Things Today
In ancient times, many of the things infused with divine power related to life and vitality or the ability to see and discern. What about today? Does God bless and infuse power into otherwise ordinary things?
Among many things, two come to mind—the Sacrament and the temple. In and of themselves bread and water, stone and glass remain unremarkable. But infused by His covenant, He promises the things act as conduit to His power.
The Sacrament — Jesus instituted the Sacramental ordinance reinforcing that the bread symbolizes His body and the water represents His blood. During the Sacramental prayers, the bread and water are both blessed by someone with the Lord’s priesthood authority to be sanctified or holy to the recipient. Both prayers promise the companionship of the Holy Ghost–the ultimate infuser of vitality and vision.
When administering the sacrament to the Nephites, Jesus promised “He that eateth this bread eateth of my body to his soul; and he that drinketh of this wine drinketh of my blood to his soul; and his soul shall never hunger nor thirst, but shall be filled. Now, when the multitude had all eaten and drunk, behold, they were filled with the Spirit.”
Elder Melvin J. Ballard noted the power present in the act of partaking of the bread and water. “If we have sincerely repented and put ourselves in proper condition, we shall be forgiven, and spiritual healing will come to our souls. … I am a witness that there is a spirit attending the administration of the sacrament that warms the soul from head to foot; you feel the wounds of the spirit being healed, and the load being lifted. Comfort and happiness come to the soul that is worthy and truly desirous of partaking of this spiritual food.”
Elder Robert D. Hales highlighted general benefits of partaking of the bread and water. “I testify that the sacrament gives us an opportunity to come to ourselves and experience ‘a mighty change’ of heart—to remember who we are and what we most desire. As we renew the covenant to keep the commandments, we obtain the companionship of the Holy Ghost to lead us back into our Heavenly Father’s presence. No wonder we are commanded to ‘meet together oft to partake of [the] bread and [water]‘ and to partake of the sacrament to our souls.” Elder Robert D. Hales
The Temple — In its dedicatory prayer, the Kirtland Temple was sanctified and consecrated through the glory of God. Blessed by God, the saints anticipated the temple’s effects on them. “And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them.”
President George Q. Cannon, at the Logan Temple cornerstone dedication declared “Every foundation stone that is laid for a Temple, and every Temple completed according to the order the Lord has revealed for his holy Priesthood, lessens the power of Satan on the earth, and increases the power of God and Godliness.”
He that is ordained of God and sent forth, the same is appointed to be the greatest, notwithstanding he is the least and the servant of all. Wherefore, he is possessor of all things; for all things are subject unto him, both in heaven and on the earth, the life and the light, the Spirit and the power, sent forth by the will of the Father through Jesus Christ, his Son.