Our family scripture reading has accidentally lined up with this year's Sunday School curriculum (at least for now), so I seem like an awesome Gospel Doctrine class member because I've read the lesson ahead of time. Anyway, as a result of reading the same chapters twice in the past week--once with my family and once for the Sunday School lesson--and then hearing a lesson about them, I have some thoughts. I'm not claiming they're original or correct or anything, but they are of interest to me.
First, I am struck by the make-believe nature of the great and spacious building. It "stood as it were in the air" (8:26) and is "on the other side of the river of water," a river we are later told is "a great and terrible gulf" (12:18). We are also told that the building represents "vain imaginations" and pride, which are also make-believe items. And I noticed that nowhere are we told that those who set off for the building ever reach it. Instead, they are lost.
Basically, we can pursue worldliness and gratification of pride, but we can't ever actually reach it. We are divided from it by the justice of God. Those who leave the path don't actually get the items that enticed them off the path.
Second, I am intrigued by the placing of the end of the rod of iron. Notice that, in both 8:24 and 8:30, people are described as first "pressing forward" and then catching hold of the end of the rod of iron. In other words, there was a period of the journey where they were advancing but had not yet reached the iron rod.
This might be meaningless, just the result of Lehi's or Nephi's or the angel's or Joseph Smith's word choices. But it also might mean something. Does this correspond to the beginning of Lehi's vision, when he's in a dreary waste without guidance? Does this help explain new converts who quickly fall away? Does this correspond to the period between baptism (getting on the path) and the reception of the Holy Ghost, which must be sought after?
These are the two things that stood out to me on this reading, that the great and spacious building as actually an unreachable mirage, and that part of the journey along the path happens before reaching the rod of iron.