Nephi taught that we should liken the scriptures unto ourselves. This means we need to apply the lessons from the scriptures to our own lives. A living prophet has given us a new law to live in ministering, and we should each examine our attitudes to determine whether we are like Joshua and Caleb or like the children of Israel who were punished to wander for forty years because of their disobedience.
The lesson to learn from
Let’s start by reviewing the story that put Joshua and Caleb’s names in the scriptures. All this takes place in the book of Numbers in the Old Testament. (Note: to speed up the story you can just read what I have written and skip the actual scriptural verses. If you want the full story, be sure to read the scriptural account as well.)
Moses has performed the miracles in Egypt. He has lead the people through the Red Sea, performing mighty miracles for them almost daily as he lead them to the promised land. At last they arrived at the promised land, and he sent in spies to bring a report of what they found in the land they were to inherit from the Lord. Moses chose one leader from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. These twelve men went into the promised land and spent forty days searching through the land to see what type of people lived there and what the land had to offer.
In Numbers 13 the men return to the camp with the fruit and bounty of the land, which was impressive to behold. A single cluster of grapes they brought back was so large it had to be hung from a pole and carried by two men. This is where the lesson to be learned begins.
Ten of the spies thought like mortals who knew nothing of God. Here is their report to the camp of Israel as found in Numbers 13:31–33.
31 But the that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.
32 And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.
33 And there we saw the , the sons of Anak, which come of the : and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.
These men were afraid of the inhabitants of the land. Their urgent recommendation was to choose leaders other than Moses to lead them back into the land of Egypt immediately. They preferred the conditions of their captivity over the fear with which this new land threatened them. They thought, ‘Better to live a slave than to die free.’ That was as far as their spiritual sight could carry them.
But two of the spies, gave a good report of the land. They had faith in the Lord. They had taken note of all the miracles God had wrought in their behalf, and they urged Israel to claim their birthright. Here is Caleb’s report as found in Numbers 13:30.
30 And stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.
Joshua and Caleb had faith in the Lord. They trusted that if the Lord wanted them to inhabit the promised land it didn’t matter if they were large men, or had great walled cities. They believed the Lord would still give them the victory.
Punishment for lack of faith
After all the Lord had done for the people – all the miracles He had performed for them to demonstrate his power of deliverance and his commitment to their happiness – they wanted to abandon His designs for them and return to their old ways. In Numbers 14:1–3 Moses records their reaction this way.
1 And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.
2 And all the children of Israel against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!
3 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 into Egypt?
Note Israel’s wish in verse 2. They would rather die in the wilderness than fall by the sword in the promised land. And remember that the Lord grants to His children the desires of their hearts.
Joshua and Caleb plead with the people in Numbers 14:6–9.
6 ¶ And the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:
7 And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.
8 If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
9 Only not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them, and the Lord is with us: them not.
One would think this would sway the people to be more favorable to the task at hand. But no, they wanted to stone Joshua and Caleb. The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle (the temple in the wilderness) and the Lord said he would disinherit the lot of them in Numbers 14:11–12.
11 ¶ And the Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people me? and how long will it be ere they me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?
12 I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make of thee a greater and mightier than they.
The prophet intercedes
Moses, as a type of the Savior who was to come, pleads with the Lord, reasoning with Him on behalf of Israel. In the end the Lord grants Moses his petition to spare the people, but He fulfills their wish to die in the wilderness (Numbers 14:27–34).
27 How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, which against me? I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against me.
28 Say unto them, As truly as I live, saith the Lord, as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:
29 Your shall fall in this ; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, which have murmured against me,
30 Doubtless ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware to make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.
31 But your little ones, which ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have despised.
32 But as for you, your carcases, they shall fall in this wilderness.
33 And your children shall wander in the wilderness years, and , until your carcases be wasted in the wilderness.
34 After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall my breach of promise.
Lessons to be learned
Israel had no lack of evidence that the Lord could and would fight their battles for them if they would put their faith in Him. He had shown them his power on many occasions. At one point he even refers to the 10 miracles He performed for them while they were still in Egypt. How many times would He need to demonstrate His love for them before they would be willing to believe Him and exercise faith in that love?
These people had lived relatively free of the demands of the gospel for more than four hundred years during the time of their slavery in Egypt. Now the Lord wanted to show them something mighty, a better way to live. He wanted them to find happiness and safety in His covenants. He had already tried to give them the fulness of the gospel, but their love of idols and earthly delights required that He give them a lesser law to live by. It seems that every effort He made to bless them was thwarted by their reluctance to receive His kindness. They simply liked being the way they were, and were not interested in making the changes necessary to receive the greater blessings the Lord wanted to offer them.
Our present circumstance
In the April, 2018 General Conference two momentous changes were made in the structure and operation of the restored Church. The first change made happened during the Priesthood Session with the consolidating of the Melchizedek priesthood quorums into just the elders quorum, instead of the high priests and elders quorum. The second change happened in the Sunday Afternoon Session with the retiring of home/visiting teaching and the implementation of ministering. I can’t think of a bigger, more deeply influential change in the structure of the Church in the last 120+ years.
In some respects the change from home/visiting teaching to ministering, and the consolidation of the elders quorums was like the opportunities presented to the children of Israel when they first arrived at the gates of the promised land.
President Russell M. Nelson described ministering in this way.
For months we have been seeking a better way to minister to the spiritual and temporal needs of our people in the Savior’s way.
We have made the decision to retire home teaching and visiting teaching as we have known them. Instead, we will implement a newer, holier approach to caring for and ministering to others. We will refer to these efforts simply as “ministering.”
This is where I need you to do some thinking deeply. When Moses brought the children of Israel to the gates of the promised land, what opportunities were presented to them by sending in spies to learn more about the inhabitants of the land? Yes, it was to see what they were up against, because they came to the promised land in order to wage war with them. That is why they had to send in spies. But what were the spiritual opportunities being offered to them? Might those opportunities have had something to do with the people of Israel learning to put their faith in that God who had done so much for them? Wasn’t this their time to “shine?” They had received, and received, and received. Now the Lord wanted them to demonstrate some semblance of faith in all they had been given. He wanted them to learn to exercise trust in His promises to them.
God was offering to make of them a mighty nation, blessed above all other nations of the earth. Unfortunately, the Israelites were not willing to accept what God wanted them to enjoy. Because of their refusal to accept and believe in God’s promises to them, it was more than a thousand years before Jehovah, who gave the law of Moses, personally came as the Savior and gave them a higher law that would greatly bless the people.
Our ministering performance
I certainly cannot pronounce how we, as a Church, are living up to the blessings the Lord has in mind for us with this move to ministering. But I think we do need to look at our attitudes towards ministering and think about how the attitudes of the children of Israel affected them when offered blessings by the Lord all those centuries ago.
Here are some questions to help you make a self-evaluation.
Do you personally know who your ministering companion is?
Do you know who you have been assigned to visit?
When was the last time you met with your companion and ministered to your people together?
When was the last time you prayed for any one of your ministering people by name?
How long has it been since you pled with the Lord to bless their lives and to help you serve them in the best possible way?
How often do you think of those you have been called to minister to?
Since changing from home/visiting teaching, how often have you visited your people?
How long have you gone without a visit from a minister, either from the elders quorum or from the Relief Society?
The Lord wants us to embrace a “holier approach to caring for and ministering to others.” I need to ask myself if I, like the children of Israel, would rather die in the wilderness than accept what the Lord is offering me? Am I willing to minister to others as taught by His prophet, or do I prefer to “return to Egypt” by going back to the days of accountability under the old program?
Are we missing the point of this higher and holier way of blessing others? Are we experiencing in our own home the blessings of becoming involved in the lives of those we have been called to serve? Are we including our children in our service? Do we rewrite the commandments and practice “free-range” ministering, but ignore those we have been assigned to serve? Do we think the Lord will not hold us accountable for neglecting our callings to uplift and bless those we have been assigned to serve?
Have we had revelation that has lead us to bless others? Has the Spirit directed us in bringing our ministering families/individuals to Christ? How many of the questions in the performance section of this article could we answer positively and feel good about how we have performed our ministering efforts before the Lord?
Ministering is a whole new level of spiritual development for us as children of God. This is new territory. Well, it seems like new territory. It shouldn’t be. When we practice the pure religion, as outlined in the New Testament, we routinely visit the widows, and orphans. We take in the homeless and visit those in prison. I am not being just literal here. The definition of pure religion is an attitude that tells us to always be on the watch for anyone we can bless. The Savior never lost an opportunity to serve someone in any way he could.
We can’t go back to a “spiritual Egypt.” We have been lead out of that land to a land flowing with milk and honey. There are unmeasured blessings awaiting us as a people. Are we willing to wage the personal battles that will teach us greater faith in Christ and trust in His promised blessings, or are we prepared to “die in the wilderness” because we refuse to step foot in the land of promise and receive the blessings awaiting us? Are we willing to become a Joshua and Caleb by seeing the opportunities before us and exercising our faith in God to claim them?