25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again.
26 But two men had remained in the camp: the name of one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them. Now they were among those listed, but who had not gone out to the tabernacle; yet they prophesied in the camp.
27 And a young man ran and told Moses, and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
28 So Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, one of his choice men, answered and said, “Moses my lord, forbid them!”
29 Then Moses said to him, “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!”
It had taken them a year to move across the Sinai and to the southern edge of Canaan. The Israelites had followed the pillar of cloud that went before them by day and the pillar of fire by night. They had seen the mighty hand of the Lord when He brought them out of Egypt, and they had seen His wrath not only against the Egyptian armies but also against those in their own camp who complained. And yet the Israelites still moaned about having been freed from Egypt, grumbled about not having their usual amenities, and they rebelled against the Lord and His chosen leader, Moses. For his part, Moses was fed up with the backbiting and complaining. He even asked the Lord to take his life so he wouldn’t have to deal with these ungrateful people. (Numbers 11:15) But rather than let Moses be further burdened in dealing with the people, the Lord decided to raise up seventy elders and give them the same Spirit that He had given Moses. (Numbers 11:16-17)
Reading this passage this morning, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that momentous scene at Pentecost when the Spirit of God descended upon the new believers in Jesus Christ.
1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.
2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.
3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them.
4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Nearly 1200 years before that scene in Jerusalem, we have a similar moment among the Israelite elders. No one among the people would probably have noted the event, since the seventy elders were supposed to be out at the edge of the camp, at the tabernacle with Moses. But Eldad and Medad had stayed behind–we do not know why–and the Spirit descended upon them and they prophesied right in the midst of the people. Like the people of Jerusalem who were amazed at Christ’s disciples speaking in tongues, so must the Israelites have been similarly amazed at seeing these two men doing something that they had thought reserved for Moses and the newly-formed priesthood under Aaron. What was a mere elder–a non-Levite–doing speaking the Word of God? What gave either of them the right? And weren’t the elders supposed to be with Moses so that they could communicate with God, not down in the camp speaking wondrous things among the common folk? I am sure these and other questions must have been racing through the minds of those who saw Eldad and Medad prophesying. No wonder someone ran and told Moses and Joshua what Eldad and Medad were doing: it was scandalous for someone to be speaking the Word of God outside the tabernacle!
But God didn’t see it that way.
The Israelites had been afraid of God’s voice ever since they had first heard Him at the base of the mountain when He handed Moses the Ten Commandments. They had always feared His might and His wrath, and so even when they had opportunity to hear the Lord their God, they had told Moses to act as their go-between to keep them safe. (Exodus 20:19) And then here they were complaining as usual, some folks having been consumed by God’s fire at the edges of the camp for their whining, and Eldad and Medad started speaking with the authority of God’s Spirit. I imagine many people who heard these things stuck their fingers in their ears. Others would have taken their children far away from those two elders. And still others might even have tried to cover the elders’ mouths so they couldn’t speak. Some may have been concerned that Eldad and Medad were trying to usurp Moses’ authority and the power of the priests. But one thing is sure: they didn’t want to hear the Word of God in their camp. So a young man ran to Moses to tattle on the two elders.
Rather than being offended, Moses must have been relieved. After we had seen Moses tell God to kill him rather than deal with the whining Israelites, we have to appreciate Moses’ response to the news that others were prophesying among the people:
“Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!”
In other words, “Thanks for thinking about my place as God’s chosen leader, but I sure wish ALL of you would hear and respond to the voice of God!”
And the implication is this: “If you all had the Spirit of the living God upon you, then perhaps you would see how zealous He is for you. You would see how much He loves you. You would know His will and DO IT. And rather than complain about empty bellies, you would feast upon the presence of the Lord your God!”
28 “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,
Your young men shall see visions.
29 “And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”
Today we are not limited to just seventy elders prophesying at the edge of the camp, nor even to just two among six-hundred-thousand within the camp. Today, because the Lord our God has sent His Spirit to dwell in those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (John 16:5-15), we ALL have a measure of the Holy Spirit, just as at the day of Pentecost, just as on that day among the Israelite elders on the edge of Canaan.
1 Corinthians 12:7-11
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:
8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,
9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit,
10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
So God may will that some of His people prophesy, that others may speak in tongues, that others may heal or work miracles, and still others will have wisdom and knowledge beyond their own abilities. The Lord distributes these gifts to ALL believers as He wills, and so we need not be amazed at two men prophesying in the midst of the camp. Here we have access to the Holy Spirit of God–the Helper, Comforter, Counselor–all on our own and also in the midst of the assembly of believers. We need not separate seventy elders from among the thousands, because now we all can experience the gifts that the Spirit brings.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
13 “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.
14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.
15 “All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”
We can all know a portion of the will of God, all experience a measure of His power, all exercise His authority over the world, all join together to edify and encourage each other with the great faith that is found through the Spirit of the living God. And even better is this: new believers can know this Spirit, too. It is not limited to seventy elders, not only to priests or bishops or deacons or prophets. As Paul said, “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to EACH ONE for the profit of ALL.”
Yes, there are some in today’s churches who will say that the gifts of prophesy and tongues, the gifts of knowledge and wisdom, and all the rest of the Spiritual gifts are gone, that they no longer exist beyond the time of the Apostles. But if that were so, how is it that we still experience healing? How can we even pray for healing and expect it to happen, if we do not also expect that the OTHER gifts of the Spirit exist? If one exists today, then they ALL exist today. There is nothing in God’s Word that says that the gifts were withdrawn. If we believe that the Spirit indwells all believers, then we must also know that the gifts of the Spirit accompany that indwelling.
Therefore, let us not be amazed that someone is prophesying, nor that someone is speaking in the tongues of men and angels, nor that someone is healing the sick or speaking with knowledge beyond our ken. Let us instead be encouraged by these manifestations. Let us pray that even MORE followers of Christ have the Spirit stirred up within them to do more for God’s kingdom. Let us join Moses in saying we wish ALL believers would hear and know and respond to the Spirit of God, and that they would shamelessly proclaim His Word among the people, to the glory of God and for the benefit of all.
“Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me!
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.”
Amen and amen.