My wife and I have two sons who are insulin-dependent diabetics.  The depth of our gratitude for the scientists at the University of Toronto who discovered insulin and its applications in 1921-22 is beyond description.  The icy reality of where our sons would be without that discovery is chilling.

But that discovery does not mean anything at all unless those boys of my mine are filling syringes and taking injections.  Only the use of insulin can prevent fatal complications.

Israel in the Wilderness

The Israelites had crossed the Red Sea and were making their way around the land of Edom on their way to the promised land.  The country was desolate.  Photos of the area of modern-day Edom show a country barren almost beyond description.  Moses tells us that “the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way” (Numbers 21:4).

And not because of the terrain alone—the diet of these wanderers was monotonous.  The Israelites told Moses that the trip was killing them, and then complained, “there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread” (Numbers 21:5).  In one of our less-prosperous periods as a family, we were given about sixty pounds of carrots.  My wife was delighted by this blessing to our budget, but within a few days, I think our family felt about these vegetables the way Israel felt about manna.

This was not their first complaint.  From the moment Moses and Aaron appeared and confronted Pharaoh, and Israel had been compelled to make bricks without Egyptian straw (Exodus 5:7,8,21), the Israelites had rebelled and resisted the work of God.  When these wanderers began to complain on the borders of Edom, they “spake against God, and against Moses.”  The Lord reminded them of their covenant at Mt. Sinai and sent a warning to them about the dangers of their disobedience. “And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:5 – 6).

The people, who had become proficient at instant repentance during their journey, came to Moses: ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us” (Numbers 21:7).

The remainder of the biblical account of this event is pretty straightforward:  “And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that 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 it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. And the children of Israel set forward . . .” (Numbers 21:7 – 10).

That serpent on a stick was insulin for snake-bitten Israelites.  But it was even easier to use.  If someone got bitten, “when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”  But there is more to this story, and those additional details demonstrate profoundly the difference between having access to the solution for a problem and using it.

The Simpleness of the Way

We are told in the Book of Mormon that the Lord “sent fiery flying serpents among them; and after they were bitten he 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” (1 Nephi 17:41).  This is almost incomprehensible.   All they had to do to live was to look.

But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished.  Now the reason they would not look is because they did not believe that it would heal them.”  But “if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly? (Alma 33:20,21).

I guess we can understand their skepticism.  I have a friend who had an encounter with a timber rattler on a construction project in Arizona.  We took him to the doctor in the back of a pickup, his leg swelling moment by moment as we raced down dirt roads and into town.  The physician had a sign in the yard of his clinic which included the caduceus—an engraving of snakes on a staff.  I suspect that David would have been incensed if the doctor examined him and told him to go look at the sign.  “Doctor!” he might have cried.  “I don’t need advertising.  I need drugs.”

We live in a world of grave danger.  There are terrifying spiritual diseases among and around us.  Poisonous serpents infest our homes and our neighborhoods.  We are opposed in every righteous endeavor by an implacable enemy who “seeketh that all men might be miserable” like he is (2 Nephi 2:27; see also 2 Nephi 27:18).

Our enemy, “the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  He is proficient at what he does. Since the episode of the tree in the Garden of Eden, he has had about six thousand years to perfect his craft, and the world’s history is littered with the stories of miserable people, communities, and nations.

Using the Means Provided

In a critical time of warfare and national danger, a military commander in the Book of Mormon wrote to the leader of the people with a demand for additional supplies and for reinforcements.  In the text of his epistle, he asked a question which brings to mind diabetics refusing to inject themselves with insulin, and Israelites refusing to look at the brazen serpent. “Do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?” (Alma 60:21).

Our concern is not with an advancing enemy attacking with scimitar, sword, and spear, but rather with Peter’s “roaring lion,” who is walking around looking for a meal.  But in that battle as well, the Lord has provided us with means to protect and deliver ourselves, the armor of God, and we ought not to “suppose that the Lord will still deliver us” if we “do not make use of the means” He has provided for us.

I have reflected extensively on those means.  What has the Lord made available for us to use in this eternal conflict?  What are the weapons we must employ to protect ourselves, our families, our congregations, and our communities from the misery our enemy wants to inflict on us?

A class or a congregation or a family might spend an hour to make a list of “the means the Lord has provided.”  That list would contain things like the scriptures, prophets, prayer, meeting attendance, repentance, family worship and instruction, blessings, sacred music, the fellowship of the saints, and perhaps most important of all, the Holy Spirit . . . I suppose that the length of the list would be amazing!  God has given us the armor of God designed to withstand “all the fiery darts of the adversary” (1 Nephi 15:24; D&C 3:8).

The Hedge

In the book of Job, Satan complained to the Lord that the man from Uz was untouchable.  “Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side?” (Job 1:10). In Isaiah, the Lord spoke of a hedge surrounding all the house of Israel, a hedge he was about to remove: “I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down” (Isaiah 5:5).

I am confident that hedge is not a divine agricultural effort, put in place without our involvement.  Rather, it is planted and nourished and allowed to flourish by our use of the means the Lord as provided for our protection.  That hedge has plants of scripture study and meeting attendance and family home evening and prayer and repentance and temple worship, and many others.  But when one of those bushes is allowed to die, an opening appears, through which fiery darts and roaring lions can enter.

I believe the Lord has given us every weapon we will ever need to with the battles that occur around us.  But we must make use of them.

The Armor of God

These means—these weapons—are not nuclear.  Rather, they are spiritual.  They do not work like a Tomahawk missile.  They must be utilized over the span of lifetimes, day by day and week by week, so that the hedge can be rooted and grounded in love (see Ephesians 3:17) and in Christ (see Colossians 2:6,7).   A leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told this story.

“A friend of mine recently wrote to me, confiding that he was having a difficult time keeping his testimony strong and vibrant. He asked for counsel.

“I wrote back to him and lovingly suggested a few specific things he could do that would align his life more closely with the teachings of the restored gospel. To my surprise, I heard back from him only a week later. The essence of his letter was this: ‘I tried what you suggested. It didn’t work. What else have you got?’

“Brothers and sisters, we have to stay with it. We don’t acquire eternal life in a sprint—this is a race of endurance. . . .

“Too often we approach the gospel like a farmer who places a seed in the ground in the morning and expects corn on the cob by the afternoon” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Ensign)

Scripture study and family home evening and the other means the Lord has provided generally won’t work in a week.  We must put on “the whole armour of God, that [we] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11), and we must put it on every day.

When we hear the roar of the approaching lion, or feel the spreading poison from those fiery serpents in our spiritual veins and arteries, we must examine our lives to insure that every part of the hedge is in place, and that we are making use of all of the means that the Lord has provided—and that we have truly put on the armor of God.

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