Welcome to Meridian Magazine’s Come, Follow Me podcast. We are Scot and Maurine Proctor and we are delighted to be with you today. We’re going to be studying Numbers chapters 11 through 14, and chapters 20 through 24.
Now this is the only opportunity we have to study the Book of Numbers in the Come, Follow Me curriculum. And I was thinking, Maurine, about something that we have seen a number of times in Israel that is one of the most exciting things, I think, that’s ever been discovered. It’s called the Priestly Blessing, and it is located in the sixth chapter of Numbers verses 25, I believe, to 28. But the thing that was fun about this, this was only discovered in 1979 and the archaeologist who discovered it—well, it wasn’t really him who discovered it—but Gabriel Barkay was kind of working in the Hinnom area, the southern part of the valley of Hinnom, just south of Jerusalem. And he didn’t have any budget at all. And so, he was employing 12- and 13-year-old boys to work with him. And one of the boy’s names was Nathan and he had a hammer that he just happened to find.
And Professor Barkay was kind of saying, ‘would you kind of go on your way, maybe go over in that tomb over there and just work a little bit’ and he didn’t realize he had a hammer. So, he got kind of bored and he started pounding on the floor of this of this tomb and he broke a hole in it and he brought a perfectly preserved pot over to the professor to the archaeologist and they found that there is this repository of all these sacred items.
And one of them was the priestly blessing from numbers and it was 2800 years old. So, it became, and is to this day, as far as I understand, the oldest scriptural text that we have. It dates to 800 B.C. And it’s so exciting, because oftentimes they will have a display in the Israel Museum.
So, of course, that priestly blessing–it’s actually versus 24 to 26—”The Lord bless thee and keep thee,” you recognize these verses, “the Lord make his face shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace.” We’re all familiar with this. But there it is on this silver scroll, rolled up in a very tight thing that was found back in 1979. It’s one of the great treasures of Israel. Now we have a special guest with us today.
Yes, John Hilton III was born in San Francisco and grew up in Seattle. He served a mission in Denver and got a Bachelor’s Degree from Brigham Young University. While there, he met his wife Lani and they have six children. They have lived in Boise, Boston, Miami, Mexico, Jerusalem and China
John has a Master’s Degree from Harvard and a PhD from BYU, both in education. And he is a professor of religious education at Brigham Young University. John has published several books with Deseret Book, including Considering the Cross: How Calvary Connects Us with Christ. He is also the author of the video course and podcast, Seeking Jesus. And we run that podcast on Meridian every week. We just love it. We look forward to it when we see it. So, we’re so glad to have you here today.
And let’s first of all give a little overview for the Book of Numbers. Why is it called Numbers and what is this book about?
First of all, thank you Scot and Maurine for letting me join you. It’s a real pleasure to be here. I’ll be honest and a little autobiographical; I took a seminary for Old Testament in ninth grade and unfortunately, I do not remember anything from that year except one time I was naughty and got kicked out of class. And the other thing I remember is that we had a substitute teacher come one day and he suggested that a better title for the Book of Numbers would be “In the Wilderness”. I think we’re calling it the Book of Numbers because of the Census that takes place in the Book of Numbers. But that might kind of turn some of us off to think, “I don’t really like math. I’m going to skip the Book of Numbers.”
No, don’t skip the Book of Numbers because this is the story of what’s happening to the Children of Israel in the wilderness.
Well, what’s interesting about the covenant people is the Lord seems to thrust them into the wilderness a lot. We can think of a lot of groups that are cast into the wilderness. Of course, these Children of Israel that we’re studying right here in Numbers, but Lehi and Nephi and their family go into the wilderness.
Actually, all the patriarchs go into the wilderness, the Mormon pioneers went into the wilderness. So, what is there that is so important about a wilderness, that the Lord would have his people spend time there?
Well, that reminds me of another group to; the Jaredites who are out in the wilderness. And I think sometimes there are lessons to be learned that you can’t learn at home, in your own comfort of your own house.
And so, we probably see today, we are going into the wilderness metaphorically, because maybe that’s a way that God is stretching us or helping us to grow and learn things that we probably couldn’t learn any other way.
Well, it’s fascinating to me that the Lord really intends for his covenant people to have his qualities so that they can enter his presence. That is the essence of the covenant. We are one with him. He is our God. We submit ourselves to his training because we don’t want to stay as we are. We want to be something more.
But the wilderness is a very harsh place to be.
I think one of those lines that I love from the wilderness journey of Lehi and his family, is that the Lord says to them, “and ye shall know that it is by me that your lead.” And I think that that’s one of the key elements of the wilderness journey is that we come to know that it is God who leads us along and who is if he’s not with us, we are left in our own strength and we have pretty much nothing going for us.
But when he is with us, we can do all things. And I think that’s one of the great lessons, at least that I observe, in the wilderness journey.
And I think in the simplest form, the wilderness journey starts at home where there’s some kind of problem. For our people here, the Children of Israel, they were in bondage.
For Lehi and his family, Babylon is about to destroy Jerusalem. So, they are also needing to leave and the Lord will pull the righteous out. He’ll send prophets, in most cases. In Egypt, of course, he sent Moses to free them from bondage, but he is working to save his people by getting them out of the circumstance they’re in and lead them to the promised land. But you can’t inhabit the promised land, you can’t be a citizen of the promised land if you are not a sanctified person. And so, the wilderness seems to be that opportunity to become sanctified.
But it is a tough, tough place to be. John, what are some of the things we see in our very first chapter here, of our reading in Numbers 11, about how tough the wilderness is to be in?
Let’s just take a look at the first verse in Numbers 11: “And when the people complained, it displeased the Lord, and the Lord heard it.” And they’re complaining about the food that they have to eat. If you remember they’ve been having manna, which seems like it was an amazing blessing.
But then in verse five, we read the Israelites saying, “we remember the fish we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic.”
And I think that there’s some interesting lessons that we see, just right off the bat. One is that today’s miracles can turn into tomorrow’s entitlements.
When they first had manna, this was a miracle, they were grateful for it. It’s amazing. But now it’s like, ‘I’m sick of this mana every day. I wish I could get those delicious foods back in Egypt.’
And maybe that’s one reason why sometimes we go into the wilderness because we’ve forgotten how good we have it. And so, the Lord is trying to help us see some of the blessings that maybe we’re starting to take for granted.
I also just think it’s so interesting how it says, “the people complained and the Lord heard it”. And that makes me think about my own life. Am I complaining about certain things and the Lord’s hearing that saying, ‘Really John? You’re really complaining about that?’ So, those are just a couple of some initial thoughts that I have. What are some of your thoughts?
Well, I do agree with that entitlement idea. I think we want the Lord to respond a certain way–our way–to our prayers, to our wishes, to our desires. We want Him to make the road sometimes straighter and easier than it is for us. We want to be simply lifted from whatever hardship we have, immediately.
He always hears, but he doesn’t always lift those things from us because enduring well; being strengthened by his spirit; being held to a higher level of responsibility, is so important for our own growth. We would be babies if we got everything we wanted when we wanted it.
One of the quotes that has really stuck out to me in recent years came from elder Richard G. Scott, who gave a general conference talk in 2009. And he shared some of the trials that he’s had and I’ll just be a little bit of excerpt from this talk. He says,
Fourteen years ago, the Lord took my wife beyond the veil. I love her with all my heart, but I have never complained because I know it was His will. I have never asked why but rather what is it that He wants me to learn from this experience. I believe that is a good way to face the unpleasant things in our lives, not complaining but thanking the Lord for the trust He places in us when He gives us the opportunity to overcome difficulties.
And then he goes on to talk about the death of a child. And after he talks about the death of that child, he says, “we should never complain, when we are living worthily, about what happens in our life.”
And I just think it’s powerful to see over and over again. He shares these challenges that he’s had, but then says, I have never complained. Don’t complain. And it’s a reminder that sometimes these trials–although we don’t seek for them–in the long run, can be for our blessing and to teach us and help us grow.
One of the things that strikes me about the wilderness experience, here, with the Children of Israel, is that this is a miracle that they’ve been provided for. I mean, this is a large group. We learned in numbers that there are more than 600,000 footmen. Now, we don’t know what that translates to as far as numbers. Some estimated two plus million people that are going through the wilderness. I have to say, I’ve taken scout trips into the wilderness with 16 boys and that is plenty. And I think with hundreds of thousands, even over a million over two million people in that kind of wilderness experience–first of all, the miracle of the manna is an unfathomable miracle. Because the Lord is feeding this entire population every night. He provides this that comes as the dew and they gather it, and they have food sufficient for their nutritional needs in that particular environment. That just blows me away. It’s so exciting. That environment is extremely harsh.
We’ve spent some time in the Sinai desert and all the way up to Jordan. And it is harsh in the Sinai desert itself. There is simply no vegetation except for acacia trees that have that single taproot that goes way, way down to gather any water that could be there.
But it is a difficult, difficult place to be. And I can’t imagine what would be required. It would be impossible without the Lord’s beneficent giving and generosity to them.
But here they are complaining. We want what we want, and we want to advise God on what he should give us. And we know, in theory, that he has a wonderful plan for us; that it’s just absolutely as it should be. But in our day to day lives, it’s very tempting to be like the Children of Israel and just say, ‘I’d rather have ice cream than manna.’
In their case, they’d rather have the fruits of Egypt. And it’s so odd, because don’t they remember the bondage they were in in Egypt?
No, they just have erased that and they’re longing for different food.
I think you can really sympathize with Moses as he’s trying to deal with this situation. So, in verse nine, there’s the manna comes on the ground and in verse 10, Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly and Moses was displeased. So, in verses 11 through 14, Moses basically offers a prayer and says, ‘Lord, am I like a father to all these babies? Like I’m having to nurse them all? This is this is impossible. There’s so much complaining, I can’t do this.’
And actually, that’s going to lead in verse 16, to the Lord telling Moses to gather 70 men who will then be helping him and assisting him, in the work. But again, I think we can see that some of the struggles of leadership. You guys have both had many different leadership positions and sometimes there’s a lot of complaining and that makes it challenging as a leader.
I think Moses is a great example of working through and turning to the Lord, even when you’re faced with these types of difficulties in leadership.
I’m very taken by the fact that the Lord offers the same spirit that’s been upon Moses to each of these 70 men. So, he places that same mantle upon them. They have the mantle of stewardship, but they have the commensurate spirit to help them in their now very large responsibilities.
So, I think it’s so interesting that Joshua comes to Moses and he wants him to forbid these others from having the Spirit and doing some prophesying. Moses says this incredible thing. He says, “enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them.” So, what does he think that means?
That kind of reminds me of the story when John the Baptist’s disciples come to John the Baptist and they say, ‘hey, Jesus is starting to baptize.’ You can tell they’re kind of jealous on his behalf but they’ve missed the point, John the Baptist says he must increase, but I must decrease. Here, Joshua appears to be jealous on Moses’ behalf and he’s saying ‘no, I actually want everyone to rise up and to have the same type of spirit and power so that all can be drawing closer to God.’
So, in response to their complaints about the manna, the Lord sends quail. In fact, quail that is three feet deep in this desert. It says, “a wind blows” and brings these quail in. And it’s interesting to see their response again.
Yeah, Moses at first, can’t believe that the Lord will do it. The Lord says, ‘I’m going to send you so much meat, it’ll last you for a month.’ And he was like, ‘I don’t know if you can do that.’ In verse 23 the Lord says, “is the Lord’s hand waxed short.” I love these powerful one liner phrases. And so, the Lord is telling Moses, ‘no, I can do anything.’
And here it seems like sometimes you’re sorry when you get what you ask for, the people have all this meat, but then that brings a plague upon them. So, by the time we end chapter 11, this this round of complaining is over, but we don’t have to go very far before we get more complaining in chapter 12.
I think it’s really interesting how the Children of Israel are described as a “mixed multitude”. And that mixed multitude means that there are rebels among them. There are people of different dispositions among them regarding the covenant. And the Lord really is trying to create a people who can ultimately live the laws of Zion. He’s bringing them to the promised land for a completely different experience that is more than this world can offer.
And yet, even among them as they’re crossing through the wilderness, there is this rebel, a mixed multitude. And I find it fascinating that you can’t plant and get a good harvest with mixed seed. And it’s the same thing with this mixed multitude in terms of their desires for righteousness.
I just read the book The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, who’s actually Mary Ann Evans, and one of the things she said was just a very short sentence. She said, “mixed seed, mixed harvest.” And this is what we’re seeing here. And even Aaron and Miriam start to complain against Moses because of his marriage.
And I love the insight that is given here in chapter 12 verse three: “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” That really gives us a sense.
Sometimes we think Moses is harsh to the people because he’s very black and white about the commandments or perhaps he’s too strict or whatever. But he’s said here as the most meek of all the men that were upon the face of the earth.
It’s worth exploring meekness a little bit here, because obviously all these scriptures are for us. We don’t want to just look at all of the Children of Israel or at Moses and say, “I sure don’t want to be like the Children of Israel, and those guys were sure dumb”, or “they were sure slow to respond to the Lord.” But what does that mean to me?
I love Elder Bednar’s recent general conference talk on weakness and that would be a great resource for listeners to go and take a look. Just a little portion of that talk, he said,
“Meekness is a defining attribute of the Redeemer and is distinguished by righteous responsiveness, willing submissiveness, and strong self-restraint.” And there’s a reminder that meekness is not weakness but it does have a kind of connection to humility. But yet a powerful speaking with boldness is needed.
I really like that too. And it seems critically important to understand that God is a God of high expectations and it’s for our sake. It is because living with the weaknesses that are inherent to mortals, would never make us happy eternally. We think it’s kind of nice when not much is expected of us, but we don’t become what we can become. And the Lord is about high expectations in this. So, meekness, in what elder Bednar said, this righteous responsiveness, what a wonderful term. What does that mean?
For me, righteous responsiveness has to do with the willingness to do God’s will. Part of that meekness is that I’m going to do what God says, even if it’s hard, even if it’s challenging, I will respond not in a way that is defiant or arrogant, but spiritually powerful.
And I think it’s interesting here that Miriam and Aaron have found some pretext, some excuse to argue against Moses. And it makes me think that it’s very dangerous territory to start complaining about a prophet, or picking and choosing what you will follow that a prophet says. And that seems to be much the mode these days. There do tend to be people who say, “well, I like this, but I don’t like that.”
What’s wrong with not being all in behind the prophet? Or with the prophet, maybe that’s a better term.
One of the things this brings to my mind, Maurine and John, is that in the preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, we see clearly how the Lord feels about this. He says, “what I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken and I excuse not myself, and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my words shall not pass away, whether by my own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.”
So, if we decide that we’re going to complain against the prophet were really essentially complaining against God himself.
Scot, since you mentioned a verse in the Doctrine and Covenants, maybe one other one is Doctrine and Covenants 21 where the Lord says in verse four, “thou shalt give heed to all his words and commandments, which he shall give”. So, clearly following the prophet is a key belief and it is easy to complain. And we see that even Moses’ own brother is complaining against him. But there’s an opportunity for us to learn from that experience and then say ‘Lord, is it I? How can I not follow that example?’
It’s an interesting implication here, because it implies that somehow, we know better;
Our very limited experience, and are very limited exposure to ideas, versus what God has told the prophets. That seems pretty pathetic when you line it up like that as if we know so much, but we don’t know so much. We know a very tiny amount of what there is to know. We can hardly see beyond our time and place. If you follow trends, you’ll find that some things are very popular at one point and then they’re unpopular at another.
Like is salt good for your diet? You look that up and you’ll find yes for a certain number of years and no for the next number of years and yes again. And it’s just interesting how we trust in the trend of the time and repeat it and become that. Whereas the prophets teach about something that comes from the Lord and has a perspective that we cannot match in any way.
Well maybe we can turn to Numbers 13. This is one of my favorite accounts and I never heard this story—probably because I was a naughty seminary student—until my mission when my mission president just gave us what I thought was a beautiful explanation of Numbers 13 and 14. And just to kind of summarize the story, they’re about to enter the promised land, and they need to spy out the types of inhabitants of the land and find out, you know, are there fewer many are the people weak or strong? Is the fruit thereof? Is it big or small?
And so, in Numbers chapter 13, Moses sends 12 spies. One from each of the 12 tribes into the land to spy these things out. So, the 12 spies go out and 10 of them come back and they give a somewhat mixed report.
In verse 27, they say, ‘well, the good news is the land flows with milk and honey. This is the fruit of it. Nevertheless,’ here’s the bad news. ‘The people are strong, their cities are walled, they’re very great.’ And in verse 33 they say, ‘we looked as though we were grasshoppers compared to
So that’s the report of the 10. But there’s two; Caleb and Joshua, who give a positive report. Verse 30 Caleb stilled the people and said, let us go at once, we are able to overcome it. And I think this gives us a really great perspective in our own lives. Are we the 10 or the two? All 12 spies saw the same thing. They saw the same good fruit, but also the wild cities and the dangers and some focused on the positive and others focused on the negative.
It reminds me of a story, you might remember, President Uchtdorf told in general conference a couple of years ago. It was the story of a waiter who asked a customer if he had enjoyed the meal. The man said, “oh, it was great, but it would have been better if you had given me more than two slices of bread.” The next day, when the man came to eat again, the waiter gave him four pieces of bread. The man still wanted more.
So, the next day the waiter gave him eight pieces, but the man still wasn’t satisfied. So finally, on the fourth day, the waiter was so excited, he took a nine ft long loaf of bread, cut it in half, served it to the customer with a big smile. But then the man looked up and said, “well, the food was good as always. But I see now we’re back to only two slices of bread.”
And you know, it’s just this idea of whatever is going to happen to us is going to happen and what really matters is how do we see it.
We can choose to see the good fruit or we can choose to see the wild cities. We can choose to see, oh, it’s only two pieces of bread, or its two giant pieces of bread. We can be like the 10 or we can be like the two. And I think that’s a really powerful lesson from these chapters here in Numbers 13 and 14.
A companion lesson to me there is that those two trusted the Lord because the Lord has been telling them that He is taking them to this promised land and that He would accompany them and be their watchword in this promised land.
And instead, the 10 say, “Oh we’re nothing. We can’t even have this land because it already is full of giants.” Whereas the two, have some trust in the Lord and they say, “well, the Lord has said that this will be ours” basically. There’s the assumption behind it. And I think that so often, we are in a position to decide whether we trust the Lord or we don’t trust the Lord because trusting the Lord, it will not always look like the best course necessarily to us.
It will look scary sometimes, it will look like it demands too much of us. It might even seem counterintuitive, what the Lord asked us to do. But I think one of the great things about our experience on earth is if we trust the Lord, He’ll teach us how to trust him more. And so, we get to the point of this loving, trusting relationship that sees us through. But it’s a process for sure.
I just wanted to explore the context, for a second, of one of the parts of this report that this was a land flowing of milk and honey. Sometimes we think, what does that mean? Is that the rivers of milk and honey? What does that mean?
And I think from being in the Middle East a lot and understanding the tribal view of this, this really means a land that has place for goat herds and there are lots of date palms. Date palms are the sweetest thing in the desert. They are just, in fact, if you try the dates in Jericho, I’ve never had dates better than the Jericho dates and that’s right down in that Jordan River valley and the places for goats to be, that causes them to have much milk for their people. So, sometimes we think a land flowing with milk and honey is something different than what it really is. It’s a place where goat herds can be raised and where there are lots of date palms.
Well, I’m really interested that at this point in Numbers 14, the Children of Israel are murmuring to the point that they start to want to go back to Egypt. It’s not just that they want the food of Egypt. Now they want to go back. It’s interesting what they say in verse three, “and wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey. Were it not better for us to return unto Egypt?” And it’s really interesting to me that fear has to be overcome in our covenant journey as well. So, if we can’t overcome that fear, then fear becomes our God.
If we can worship God, then he can help us learn to abandon fear and they are just full of fear now before these ‘giants in the land.’
One of the things that’s sad in this story is that–in most of our stories when we have this fear, we’re struggling, we can repent, we can return to God–but in this case, there have been so many times that the Israelites have done this that the Lord says, ‘you know what? We’re kind of out of chances here.’
So, if we jump over to verse 22 the Lord says, because those men which have seen my glory and my miracles which I did in Egypt in the wilderness–you saw these 10 plagues, you saw us cross the Red Sea–but now 10 times you haven’t hearken to my voice. Wherefore they shall not see the land which I swear to their fathers. And as a result of this experience in Numbers 13 and 14; that’s why the Children of Israel are going to wander in the wilderness now for decades until everyone has died from this adult generation until the only two that are left are Joshua and Caleb and then those who are younger at this time. So, it is a reminder that sometimes there are real consequences to our choices.
I come back to that whole thing about learning to trust the Lord, learning and knowing that it is by Him that we are led. It kind of brings me actually to the Book of Mormon for a second. And that is, when Enos was out praying and praying into the night. And then finally, he hears the voice of the Lord and he’s trying to retain a remission of his sins and the Lord’s voice speaks to him and says, “Enos, my son, thy sins be forgiven me.”
And I love what he says now he says. “And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie. Wherefore my guilt was swept away.” So, this whole idea of trust is so important. It’s one of the attributes of God, He is absolutely trustworthy. He cannot lie. And if we can exercise faith in that alone, that He absolutely will not and cannot lie then our whole faith increases, and that’s what’s not happening here with the Children of Israel. And it takes this whole generation to die off, the older generation, for them to be able to enter the promised land. It’s a big trust issue in the Lord.
It’s interesting to me too that in the covenant, learning to trust the Lord is a critical part of that path, of that covenant journey, because fear is always easy. We feel fear over all kinds of things every day of our lives; one thing or another. We’re concerned about the future; We’re concerned about our health; We’re concerned about our loved ones; We’re concerned about our wellbeing; many, many things kind of leave us with tension and worry and fear.
And the Lord is basically saying, ‘trust me, you’re not insecure, you only think you are’.
And I think, for me personally, one of the most important things is going back to this idea of the 10 and the two, is where do I place my focus? If I place my focus on the challenges of family members or the challenges of the economy, if that’s what I’m seeing and looking at, then the fear will grow. But in a later chapter, which we’ll talk about in a few minutes; the Children of Israel, when they focus on the brazen serpent symbolizing Jesus Christ, then they’re healed. And so, in my life, if I focus on the Savior, then I will find the healing.
And I think that’s one important way to be like the two is, not only just seeing the positive in life, but remembering the ultimate positive of Jesus Christ.
That really brings us to that whole scene; the Lord sends a plague upon the people of these fiery flying serpents.
Now we’ve been in the Middle East, and in the deserts of the Middle East, a lot. And I remember one time, we went to the place where Nephi built the ship in Oman. Now this is quite a ways from the Sinai, but it’s a similar kind of environment and Maurine and I had been there for about a day and a half, and we were very tired and Maurine suggested that we just take a nap. And right before the nap she said, do you think there are any snakes around here?
And I said, oh I don’t know, there might be. And as soon as she said that I thought, my job is to protect her during this nap. And so, during that nap, I did see a cobra that went by. And so that was kind of exciting, to say the least.
But these snakes that were coming upon the people Maurine, what kind of snakes were they? Do you do we have a clue from the environment, the indigenous snakes that are living in this area?
Well, there are many candidates. People have worked on this for a long, long time and, of course, just come up with speculations, but one of the candidates is the deadly Egyptian cobra. And you have to remember that this is an area that’s very rocky that they’re traveling over now.
It’s in the Valley Arava, probably, and it’s very rocky, very difficult to traverse. They’re exhausted. And then you add to this these serpents. So, one possibility is this Egyptian cobra and the Egyptian cobra is well known because it is, not only deadly, but it would be a symbol of Egypt still plaguing them, which is interesting.
But the idea that the Egyptian cobra could be interesting, but there are also more deadly snakes even than that in that area. And some of those snakes will cause your blood to coagulate. So, it is a slow death. It’s a painful, slow death and their bites cause that fiery stinging sensation on your skin, as well as, it could be a description of the snakes themselves. So, it’s pretty fascinating that whole idea of the snakes.
Well, there is the saw scaled viper and the puff adder and the Asian cobra and Russell’s viper. Those are all indigenous to that area. And we’ve seen a number of these vipers and they’re very, very aggressive. But nevertheless, the more important thing is, John, what does Moses do and how does this heal them?
So, the Lord tells Moses to put a brazen serpent on a staff and lift it up and whoever looks will be healed. And I think it’s interesting that if all we had was the Old Testament, we wouldn’t see Jesus Christ in this story. He’s not directly mentioned in the Old Testament itself, but in John chapter three, the Savior references this event. In verse 14 He says, And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
John often uses this phrase lifted up as a reference to Christ’s crucifixion. Then Jesus continuing says, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son. That whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” I think that’s one of the most famous verses in the bible and it’s in the context of this episode we’ve been discussing, that Jesus lifted up on the cross. And as we look to him, we find everlasting life. This also appears several times in the Book of Mormon.
Let me just read one verse from Helaman chapter eight, Nephi is speaking to the people and he also references this event. He says did not this verse 14 of Helaman 8:
Yea, did he not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come.
And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal.
One of the things that I’ve been just thinking about as I’ve been preparing for this podcast opportunity with you is, what does it mean to look upon Christ for you and me today? In this experience with Moses, it’s pretty obvious right? You know, you go and maybe if you might have to walk a little ways, if you’re in the back of the wilderness camp, but there you can go and you can see this staff, but what does it mean for you and me to look to the son of God?
This is actually a phrase that appears multiple times in scriptures; “Look unto the Son of God.” “Behold, behold him, Jesus says, look unto me in every thought, doubt not fear not.” And I’d love any thoughts that you guys have of, what do you think it means for us today to look unto the son of God?
One thing that I am reminded of too, you referenced Helaman 8:14-15. I also look at 1 Nephi 17, when Nephi is talking to his brothers and he refers to this as well, and he said, “the Lord sent fiery flying serpents among them and after they were bitten, he [the Lord] prepared a way that they might be healed, and the labor which they had to perform was to look and because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there were many who perished.” So, we do have reference to the fact that there were many who just wouldn’t look.
They said, “I can’t, there’s this snake, I’ve got this snake bite, I’m starting to feel sick. No I can’t, I can’t. I’m just worried about my snake bite,” you know, and then they would perish. So, it just makes me think, how many things do we have in our own lives that we focus on that are keeping us from looking to the Lord. And looking to the Lord means that we look to
Him and follow him that we look to Him and obey Him, that we look to Him, and follow His prophets. That we look to him and go to the temple; all of these things are part of looking to him.
I’ve often thought too, that if they are indeed fiery flying serpents that the Children of Israel were spending their time maybe trying to keep them away or feeling like they needed to look down and if they looked up or came from the back of the camp to see the staff, maybe that they would be exposed to more snakes who were there and constantly upon them. It reminds me of all the distractions that we have in our lives that keep us from looking to Christ. And that looking to Christ changes everything, everything is more calm. Everything is less dangerous.
You feel somehow altogether better if you can look to Christ by having His word in your mind; by taking it very seriously to come to know Him; by having those private times with Him in prayer; and by trusting what He lets you experience in this life instead of complaining, or being quick to complain, which I think we do sometimes.
Well, Scot, Maurine, I’m enjoying our conversation and I could probably continue for another couple of hours. There are so many interesting things in this chapter, but maybe this is a good spot for us to end on, with this question of what does it mean to look?
And I love both your insights, Scot, that if we look at what Nephi said, maybe it’s easy. It’s not complicated. I don’t need to think of as complicated formula of how I can look to the Son of God. It’s going to be some easy methods.
And Maurine, I love your insight on distractions and maybe I could just think in my own life; Okay, well I’m going to spend some time listening to my 80s playlist today, can I also spend some time listening to a playlist centered on Jesus Christ? Maybe I’ll watch a movie with my kids this weekend, but will I spend some time watching a movie or something else with my kids that’s focused on the Savior?
And maybe it’s as simple as just trying to do some rebalancing in our lives to see is the focus of my life really on Jesus? Or is Jesus more at the periphery? And the more I can bring a focus on the Savior to the center, to really look to Him in every thought, then the greater peace and healing I’ll find in my life.
I think too, you begin to feel His presence and of course through the Holy Ghost you begin to feel it more often. You feel it as something solid and warm and light inside of you that comes over time with really truly seeking. But there it is, He will be found of us.
So, it’s a beautiful thought that we need to look unto Christ and get to look under Christ. What a rejoicing thing.
We have delighted being with you today in this Come, Follow Me podcast. This is Scot and Maurine Proctor, and we’ve been here today with John Hilton III, a BYU professor and a dear friend. We’re grateful to have this time together.
Next week, we’ll be studying Deuteronomy 5-8,15, 18, 29 to 30 and 34 in a lesson entitled “Beware lest thou forget the Lord.”
We’re always grateful to Paul Cardall for the music, which accompanies this podcast, and we’re grateful to our producer, Michaela Proctor Hutchins.
Have a great week, and we’ll see you next time.