79. Lifting the Burden

Meditations in Exodus: 79. Lifting the Burden

Num 11:16,17   The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.

Moses has just cried out to the Lord that he’s had enough, he can’t cope with this people.  The Lord’s response is to raise up a wider Spirit-anointed leadership, seventy of the elders. Moses is to choose men known to him as leaders and officials and they are to come to meet God and receive the Holy Spirit. That was going to be Part 1 of the problem being solved, but there was still the matter of the need for food but we’ll leave that until the next study.

The anointing of the leaders goes almost to plan: So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the Tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.” (v.24,25) When the power of the Spirit came upon them they prophesied, such was the anointing.

Now here is the bit that didn’t go according to plan: “However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” (v.26,27) For some reason these two men did get to the meeting place. We don’t know why, we don’t know if something just delayed them but they were among Moses’ seventy chosen men, But the fact that they are not with the main body of elders doesn’t matter, the Spirit of the Lord came on them and they prophesied.

It was this that upset Joshua, “Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” (v.28) Joshua clearly has worries about two random elders prophesying back in the camp, I mean decency and order must be maintained, surely?  “But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.” (v.29,30) Moses has a good response – I wish all God’s people were prophets. Wow!  Moses knows that you don’t prophesy unless the Spirit of the Lord is upon you.

His response reminds me of the apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy.” (1 Cor 14:5)  There is an endorsement of spiritual gifts if ever there was one. Is it a coincidence that just yesterday I had someone from our past ring up to ask about prophecy and Scripture. “I’ve never heard of it,” she said over the phone. “Read 1 Cor 12 and 14,” I suggested. “I just have,” she replied. Now I am in the process of reading R.T.Kendall’s book about wisdom and he has a big chapter how we can have blind spots. I couldn’t help thinking of that as the phone call drew to an end and I had offered to do a mini-school of prophecy for them and she replied, “I don’t think our vicar is ready for that yet.” Blind spots.

How different from a leader I recently heard who said about the whole church learning to listen to the Lord, “My people know it is not me leading the church, it is the Lord. Who leads the church? The Spirit of the Lord; you have to be listening for the Lord.”  Joshua was worried about improper prophecy. Moses said, ‘I wish everyone was doing it.’ Paul said, ‘I wish you were all prophesying.” The more prophecy there is in a church, the more likely it is that someone will get it wrong, but that is why you have checks and balances to make sure that the ‘enthusiast’ doesn’t get carried away.

Suppose over a couple of weeks ten people prophesy and one of them gets it wrong. How do we respond?  The unbelieving Christian grumbles about abuses of prophecy but, hey, nine people heard God for the edifying and building up of the church. It’s a bit like praying for the sick. I was at a big conference fairly recently where people were called out for healing near the end of the session and they were asked, “If you have been significantly healed would you put your hand up.” Only about a third of those prayed for put their hands up. The negative Christian grumbles about abuses of ministry. Hey, in a group of about three hundred, three out of every ten got healed – got healed! So yes, we pray again for the others but our bad attitudes can quench the Spirit.

One of the biggest complaints during our experience of the Toronto Blessing back in the closing years of the twentieth century was that “it’s frivolous”.  Our church didn’t go looking for it but the Lord just turned up and stuff happened, sometimes weird stuff happened and people heard  and people came to observe. I remember one Sunday morning when the Lord was moving and there was a group of visitors who had ‘come to see’ and they sat there like a little black cloud thinking, ‘this is frivolous’. Well all I can tell you is that my people (and especially young people) became more and more hungry for the Lord, started reading their Bibles like the Second Coming was about to happen and couldn’t wait to get to the prayer meeting and couldn’t stop gossiping it around. Life abounded!

Life was abounding in these seventy leaders – even in two still back in the camp. It was the life and power of the Lord. How can we live without it? You may note in your Bible a footnote after the words of verse 25 which reads in the text, “When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.” The footnote adds an alternative – “prophesied and continued to do so.” I find that slightly bizarre that they could be totally opposite possible meanings to this verse. I suspect that as scribes copied it  down through the centuries a tiny mistake was made so the end result is now open. Perhaps it is a one off – that happens.

If I run a school of prophecy with say ten people, on average three or four will continue exercising the gift regularly, three or more less regularly, and two three never again. They will on the night when the Spirit comes on them but they just don’t have the ongoing gift from the Lord which is fine by me because they will probably have some other gift from Him. But perhaps they did carry on prophesying and a prophetic community of leaders was raised up. Excellent! But how does this Holy Spirit talk leave you feeling? Don’t hold it heavily. If it’s not where you’re at today, that’s fine – you may be there in six months – or not. Rest in the goodness of God’s provision, to whatever extent His faith is given to you today. Rejoice in it.


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