Tuesday 26 May 2015

Bible Book:

“Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit on them!’” (v. 29)

Numbers 11:24-35 Tuesday 26 May 2015

Psalm: Psalm 68


This is a very curious little passage from the account of whenthe people of God were wandering in the desert. It is worth readingthe narrative that immediately precedes it in chapter 11, becausethe context is significant. The story goes that the Israelites,once having longed for freedom from their bonded labour in Egypt,found that journeying in the desert also turned out to have itshardships and times of tedium, especially from the point of view oftheir diet. They may have been sent manna from heaven to keep themalive, but there wasn't a lot of variety, compared with "the fish,… the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic"they were used to (v. 5). So they moaned, and Moses, the hero ofthe Exodus, lamented to God in prayer, "I am not able to carry allthis people alone, for they are too heavy for me" (v. 14). Many whoexercise leadership today, including ministers, may be able toempathise with him.

In the story, God responds by inviting Moses to gather 70 pickedelders around the tent of the Lord, and then pours out God's ownSpirit upon them too, not just upon Moses himself. It is as if theelders share the burden and the ecstasy of God's Spirit so thatthey can help to "carry" the people. (We may notice that accordingto Luke's Gospel, Jesus later also picked seventy disciples tocarry his message around, Luke10:1-21). But something anomalous takes place. Two men, namedEldad and Medad, who did not gather around the tent but stayed incamp with the rest of the people, also received God's Spirit andprophesied, much to the consternation of Joshua (Moses' chief ofstaff). He wants Moses to forbid them (verse 28). In the Bible,there are many narratives which bear witness to the way that God'sSpirit cannot be contained, or God's power limited to those whohave 'officially' been authorised as prophets, or disciples, or'proper' Christians (those who were casting out demons in Jesus'name, Luke 9:49; the Gentiles in Acts who receivedthe Holy Spirit without first becoming Jews, Acts10:44). Moses, Jesus, and even (after some wrangling) the earlyChurch recognise the 'unauthorised' reality of what God isdoing.

The last thing that Christians should be is 'jealous' of God'sHoly Spirit, desiring to be the only beneficiaries. It will oftenbe the case that this power spills out in places that we are notexpecting to see it, and we should learn to recognise it andrejoice.

To Ponder

  • Have you ever witnessed the power of God's spirit at work in anunexpected place or among unexpected people? How did youreact?
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