Numbers 11:24-30 (The Day of Pentecost—Series A)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
May 31, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is recorded in Numbers 11:
24And Moses went out and spoke to the people the words of Yahweh. And he gathered seventy men from the elders of the people, and he placed them all around the tent. 25And Yahweh came down in the cloud and spoke to him. And He took some of the Spirit which was upon him and put [the Spirit] upon the seventy elders. And it happened that as the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did not do it again. 26Now two men remained in the camp. The name of the first was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them. Now they were among those who had registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, so they prophesied in the camp. 27And and youth ran and declared to Moses and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!” 28And Joshua, son of Nun, Moses’ assistant from his youth, answered and said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for me? I wish that all the people of Yahweh were prophets, that Yahweh would put His Spirit upon them!” 30And Moses returned to the camp, he and the elders of Israel.
It was time to leave Mt. Sinai and continue their journey toward the Promised Land. Moses had received the Commandments from the Lord on the mountain. He had received the covenant that God made with His people. Three days into the trip, the people started their complaining again. “Then the Lord heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire died down” (Num. 11:1–2 ESV).
But did that stop the murmuring? No. “Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at’” (Num. 11:4–6 ESV). Obviously, the food that the Israelites brought with them out of Egypt a year earlier was now long gone. But God had provided for them bread in the desert in the form of the manna. Now they are no longer even thankful for the gift of free bread in the middle of the wilderness. And Moses is reaching a breaking point. Numbers 11: “Moses said to the Lord, ‘Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness’” (Num. 11:11–15 ESV).
Moses is exhausted in leading this “rebellious people.” He is frustrated. He is angry, angry with God. He believes the vocation given him by the Lord is too much for him to endure anymore. He lays it out before God in prayer, “I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.” I think it would be honest of us to say that Moses is burned out. And we can relate to Moses. We understand the effects of stress and the toll that both daily life and job take on us. During this pandemic, we’re certainly seen burn out and other mental, emotional, and physical problems rise drastically. People are trying to keep their families safe. They are trying to maintain some sense of normalcy for their children and themselves. Many are now out of work and simply trying to pay the bills, afford the mortgage and put food on the table. The kids are at home, bored, trying to learn in a new way online. It’s a mess. It’s stressful. Like Moses, many people reach the breaking point. They just can’t do it alone. And by the grace of God, they do not have to.
The Lord came to the aid of His weak and distraught servant. He would lighten Moses’ task by the appointment of 70 elders of Israel who would “bear the burden of the people” with Moses (Num 11:17). God would also provide meat for the people of Israel, giving them quail to eat, so that the immediate cause of their irritating weeping would be removed. And this is the message that Moses went out and told the people in our reading today. All of this background culminates in God’s grace to Moses and ultimately to all people in Jesus Christ.
The seventy elders of the people of Israel were gathered around the tabernacle, the tent of meeting. In a theophany, which means a “manifestation of God,” Yahweh comes down in the cloud. He takes some of the Spirit that was on Moses and gifts the Spirit to the seventy elders. These elders of the people were endowed with the same spiritual gifts as Moses in order to help him in carrying out God’s will for the people of Israel. Seeing this and hearing them prophecy, the people received visible proof that these elders had received the Spirit of God. They were Moses helpers so that Moses was not alone in his leadership. They had the authority required to carry out their new vocation.
But the narrative takes an interesting twist. Eldad and Medad, who were supposed to be at the tabernacle, were not there. They received the Spirit and prophesied in the camp. A boy ran and told Moses, and Joshua, Moses’ assistant, was ready to put a stop to it immediately. He was afraid that Eldad and Medad were assuming authority in competition with Moses. But that’s not the case at all. Eldad and Medad and the rest of the elders of Israel were not in competition with Moses to usurp his authority. They were rather given some of the Spirit for the same purpose as Moses, to help and to lead and to serve the people of God. This is by God’s design, according to His grace. Notice what Moses says. “Are you jealous for me? I wish that all the people of Yahweh were prophets, that Yahweh would put His Spirit upon them!”
Moses’ desire is that all of God’s people would receive the Holy Spirit and serve Him and one another. That is also God’s own desire. The prophet Joel, quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, recorded God’s Word, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit” (Joel 2:28–29 ESV).
On the Day of Pentecost, God poured out His Spirit upon the chosen disciples, just as the Lord Jesus had promised. Christ promised another Helper, the Spirit of Truth. He kept His promise and He continues to give the Holy Spirit to His Church through the proclamation of the Good News of His own perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection from the dead. It is the Holy Spirit, then, who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith” (Small Catechism). You are not alone!
Moses needed helpers in his God-given task. The Spirit equipped 70 men of the elders of Israel to help him. You need help in your God-given vocation as Christians. Jesus promised in John 14, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . . . But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:18, 26–27 ESV). Even though Jesus has ascended into heaven, He comes to You through His Spirit. You are not alone. The Holy Spirit equips you for the task of being children of God in this crazy, stress-filled, sinful world in which we live and serve Christ as the people of God.
Through the Gospel, God the Holy Spirit invites and enables you to believe in Jesus as your Savior from sin, death, and hell. He created saving faith in you that takes hold of Christ and gives to you the gifts Jesus won for you on the cross—forgiveness of sins and eternal life. By means of the Spirit’s gifts of the Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, He makes known Christ to you and delivers His gifts to you personally through these Means.
God our Father graciously gives us the Spirit through Christ because we cannot do life alone, without God, without the power of the Holy Spirit delivering Christ to us, giving us forgiveness and new life, and strengthening our faith so that we trust God to be for us in the times of stress and trouble and difficulty. In accordance with His will and promise, the Spirit has been poured out so that the Word of Christ is yours. The forgiveness won by the Savior on the cross is yours. The strength of Christ and the power of His Spirit is yours by grace through faith. You are not alone in this life. In fact, “there is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. . . . And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastor-teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:4–12).
You are a part of the Church, the whole people of God in Christ Jesus. As Moses had the seventy elders filled with the Spirit, you have a pastor and he has you, the people of God with faith in Jesus Christ. Together, as the Church, we are the people filled with the Spirit and His gifts, who love, support, care, strengthen, and are with one another in all times. We bear one another’s burdens. As we have opportunity, you and I do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:10).
Our Lord Christ promised, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20 ESV). He is with us through the Holy Spirit whom He has given to us. You are not alone. The Spirit has called us around Word and Sacrament to be the Body of Christ, His Church. We are together the people of God, temples of the Spirit, who are nurtured in faith and holy living through the Gospel and the Sacraments. We are not alone. And this is by God’s design for our blessing, comfort, and strength. Amen.