There is a great deal to learn from the story in Numbers 12. It is a short story so I start by recalling it. Aaron and Miriam speak against Moses for taking an Ethiopian woman to wife. The Lord has all three come to the tabernacle. A cloud covers the tabernacle (vs 5,10) and the Lord speaks to them.
Numbers 12:4 And the Lord spake suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam, Come out ye three unto the tabernacle of the congregation. And they three came out.
5 And the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.
6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.
7 My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.
8 With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?
Miriam is then immediately smitten with leprosy. Aaron asks Moses to heal her and Moses asks the Lord. The Lord’s responds that she will be cast out of the camp for seven days at the least.
This has some great teachings in it.
The first is the Lord’s discussion of prophets. The Lord states “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.” There have been many prophetic dreams and visions, and the Lord doesn’t hesitate to call such individuals prophets.
But then the Lord makes an interesting distinction.
“My servant Moses is not so….with him I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold”
So while prophets who the Lord “makes himself know unto” through a vision and dream are definitely still quite clearly prophets in the Lord’s eye, the Lord makes a distinction between those prophets and Moses. The distinction is that Moses is so faithful (vs 7) that the Lord doesn’t just make himself know unto Moses in a vision or dream, but speaks with Moses mouth to mouth in person, and Moses will behold his similitude.
After pointing out how Moses is unusual among prophets, the Lord states “wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?”
This is a great story because the Lord makes some distinctions that we are not used to making.
One is not to criticize the prophet.
One is the degree of plainness in revelation. The Lord is plain that learning from him in dreams and visions is nowhere near as clear as speaking with him mouth to mouth and beholding his similitude. By comparison he calls dreams and visions “dark speeches”. He is speaking comparatively there. We don’t generally refer to the visions and dreams in the scriptures as “dark speeches”. They are only dark by comparison to the marvelous light of speaking to the Lord in person.
Thus we also see not all prophets are equal.
Yes, the Lord distinguishes among them. But that doesn’t excuse us from not following the Lord’s prophets in our day. Moses was the head of a dispensation. It is not uncommon for the head of a dispensation to not only be a prophet, but to be a prophet among prophets.
In Christ’s day he was the head of the church. Then he was killed, was resurrected, and ascended into heaven leaving Peter as the head of the church. No matter how great Peter was, he wasn’t as spiritually insightful as Christ. But here is the point. Even if Peter had not come to the point of the church leader that preceded him, he was still the Lord’s chosen prophet. He could receive revelation for the church. He was entrusted with the keys that open and close the doors of heaven to individuals on the earth.
When Christ was taken, even though Peter was less than Christ was, he was still a prophet and the Lord could still lead his church through Peter. The Lord can govern his church through the Holy Ghost and that is still revelation. It is still his church. It is still being led by Christ.
And that is still true even though Peter’s access to revelation was based on his own personal righteousness, and his personal righteousness was less than Christ’s.
Brigham Young faced this same difference clearly. I don’t know what spiritual experiences he had, or didn’t have, but he clearly considered himself to know much less than Joseph Smith. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t still a prophet, and that the Lord couldn’t lead his church through Brigham Young.
But once again, Brigham Young’s access to revelation was based on his own personal righteousness. Whom he could receive revelation for was based on his calling, but his ability to receive revelation in the first place was the same whether he was the prophet or someone with no calling at all.
The same is true now. Whether our current prophet speaks face to face with Christ or learns through dreams and visions or simply listens to the guidance of the Holy Ghost is no matter to us. The Lord can lead his church by the Holy Ghost just as he can lead it by his own voice.
Is there a difference? Well, yes, according to the Lord, yes there is. And it is always better to stick to what the Lord says, even if it doesn’t match our own inclinations.
But does that difference change whether or not this the Lord’s church. Does it change whether or not it is led by revelation. Does it dampen our need to follow the living prophet? No, it is still the Lord’s church, precisely because it is still led by revelation. The Lord did not hesitate to call those who he manifested himself to in dreams and visions “prophets” and neither should we. We must stick to the living prophet.
Joseph Smith taught, “No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.”
Can the Lord also manifest himself to regular members? Of course he can. Take the sisters, for example. They aren’t called to preside in the church, but that in no way restricts the Lord’s ability to manifest himself to them.
Joseph Smith taught the Relief Society “If you live up to your privileges, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates. Females, if they are pure and innocent, can come in the presence of God; for what is more pleasing to God than innocence; you must be innocent, or you cannot come up before God; if we would come before God, we must keep ourselves pure, as He is pure.”
From the Lord’s discussion with Aaron, Miriam and Moses we see that there really isn’t more that the Lord offers than coming up into his presence. As that is among the privileges of sisters, then it clearly doesn’t matter what your calling is or what authority to preside you have when it comes to the Lord’s willingness to manifest himself to you.
In fact, Joseph Smith taught “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them”.
But the Lord chooses who to call to preside and one is can never instruct someone in higher authority than oneself by a statement of revelation. Consequently revelation for the whole church comes only through the head, the living prophet. There is no cap on what a regular member can know, but there is a cap on each but the prophet himself on who we can receive instruction for.
We should be terribly hesitant to criticize the prophet Joseph Smith, of whom the Lord could have said, as he said of Moses, “My servant Joseph Smith is not so….with him I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold…wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Joseph Smith?”
All prophets are not created equal. They have their own spiritual progression. In fact, they may progress to greater spiritual understanding during the time they are the prophet. Didn’t Moses know more after his Moses 1 experience than before? All members who are faithful continue to progress.
The Lord still considers them to be his prophets whether they are like those who he speaks to only in dreams and visions, or like those who see his face. He calls them all prophets, even if he is plain that those who are prepared to speak to him face to face know him much better than those who don’t.
We should not criticize the living prophet. He is the living seer on the earth.
We should know better than to be learning “lessons” from the scriptures which involve believing the prophets in the scriptures really aren’t acquainted with living the gospel at the same level we are. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone talk about Peter’s lack of faith because the Lord reproved his lack of faith. Yes, Peter lacked faith compared to what the Lord wanted of him. No, Peter didn’t lack faith compared to the regular membership of today. Measured by the standard of us regular members, Peter’s faith was a monument.