Preached: October 7, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit provides for our spiritual needs is Numbers 11
The LORD said to Moses, “Bring together for me seventy men from Israel's elders whom you know as elders of the people and leaders. Take them to the Tent of Meeting and let them station themselves there with you.”
Moses went out and spoke the LORD's words to the people. He brought together seventy men who were elders of the people and had them stand around the tent. The LORD came down in a cloud and spoke to him. He set aside a portion of the Spirit which was on Moses and placed him upon the seventy elders. The Spirit rested upon them. They prophesied, but not again.
Now two men had stayed in the camp. One was named Eldad; the other Medad. The Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered but did not go out to the tent. They prophesied in the camp.
A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses' aid from youth, answered, “My lord, Moses, stop them!”
Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for me? Would that all the LORD's people be prophets, and the LORD place his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:16, 24-29).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
How much they had seen the past two years! What a change they had gone through! Just a few years ago they were slaves, forced to build Pharaoh's cities. Matters became worse when they had to meet the same quota but no longer were given the straw that was necessary to make the bricks. In addition to all their other work, they now had to gather the stubble left in the fields to try to get the straw they needed.
But how that all changed! Plague after plague hit the Egyptians, sent by the Lord God himself through his servant Moses. Blood, frogs, gnats, flies, disease, boils, hail, locust, darkness, and finally death of the firstborn. With what eager anticipation they ate that first Passover! The blood of the lamb marked the door so that death passed over. They ate the unleavened bread, ready to leave.
When the command came the children of Israel left, and the Egyptians gave them much gold, silver, and clothing. But then Pharaoh changed his mind. He pursued Israel to slaughter them in the desert pinning them against the Red Sea. But the angel of God, with his pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, moved between them, bringing light to Israel but darkness to Pharaoh. And the Lord dried up a path through the Red Sea for his people to cross safely. When Pharaoh's army tried to pursue, they drowned. What a victory! “Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and the rider he has hurled into the sea” (Exodus 15:21 NIV84), the people sang.
Over the next couple of months he provided them with manna six days a week and with water from a rock when there was none to be found. He protected them when the Amalekites attacked. Then they came to Mt. Sinai, the mountain of God. On the designated morning, thunder and lightening, a thick cloud, and a deafening trumpet blast covered the mountain. The Lord God came down in smoke and fire, the mountain shook, and the trumpet blast grew louder and louder. Then God himself spoke to the people. He spoke his Ten Commandments. Overwhelmed with fear and trembling in terror, the people pleaded with Moses that he speak to them as a go-between so that they would not hear God's voice directly.
Moses was on Mt. Sinai for forty days and forty nights. During that time the people forgot the Lord. They thought Moses dead and had Aaron, Moses' brother, build a golden calf for them, and they partied around it. Moses pleaded for the Lord's mercy and forgiveness for the people, so that the Lord's name would be glorified. The Israelites repented.
After this, the people followed the Lord's direction and built the Tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, the altar for burnt offerings, and other furnishings according to the plans the Lord gave Moses on Mt. Sinai. Aaron's family was consecrated as priests to offer the sacrifices and take care of the Tabernacle with the help of the Levites.
Now about a year after having come to Mt. Sinai, it's time to head out again toward Canaan, the land promised to their ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the land where the Savior would be born. But it doesn't take long and they start complaining. They long for the good old days in Egypt. “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost -- also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” (Numbers 11:5 NIV84). God was still giving them manna six days a week and there was several different ways to prepare the manna, but they wanted something more. They wanted meat. Maybe they did get free food in Egypt, but apparently they chose to forget all the slave labor beaten out of them in exchange.
Moses does not know what to do. All the work over the past year and more, all his efforts and struggles for these people, it all seems pointless. Why bother trying anymore? He calls out to the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now -- if I have found favor in your eyes -- and do not let me face my own ruin” (Numbers 11:11, 13-15 NIV84).
The Lord in his mercy answers Moses' cry for help. You heard in the text that the Lord told Moses to gather seventy elders. They would help him bear the burden of the people. And just as the Lord empowered Moses, so he would be with these leaders as well. He would give them the Holy Spirit to enable them to do this work with Moses. He showed this in that amazing way. When they gathered at the Tent of Meeting, they all began to prophesy. Even Eldad and Medad, who had been listed among the elders but hadn't made it out to the Tent of Meeting -- they too prophesied where they were in the camp.
What does this prophesying refer to? The form of the word used in the Hebrew is not the regular form. The normal work a prophet did was to proclaim God's message. When you look throughout the Old Testament, a prophet usually proclaimed God's message that called the people to repentance and pointed them to the promise of the Savior. That normal kind of prophesying was very similar to what we think of a faithful pastor doing today, namely, preaching God's message of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus.
As I said, this appears to be a different kind of prophesying. They're still proclaiming God's message, but the Holy Spirit, you might say, has taken control of them. Their words and actions are not controlled by their will but by the Spirit. We're told of a similar situation later in history. David is fleeing from King Saul and goes to Samuel. When Saul comes to kill David, the Holy Spirit overcomes Saul so that he prophesies in this special way in which the Holy Spirit is in total control even over unbelieving Saul.
Now back to these seventy elders. Notice that for them this special kind of prophesying only happens once for a short time. “When the Spirit rested on them, the prophesied, but they did not do so again” (Numbers 11:25 NIV84). Even though Moses was so unique in the way the Lord used him in Egypt and at Mt. Sinai, yet these seventy would be able to help him. This special prophesying was a sign. The Holy Spirit would empower them to do so.
And what about the meat the people craved? The Lord told Moses to promise the people enough meat not just for a day or two, but for a whole month. Even Moses wonders how this could be, but he trusts the Lord. The Lord sent a wind that brought so many quail the entire camp, extending a days' walk in any direction, was covered. The people greedily gathered as much as they could, no one had less than sixty bushels of quail. And as they ate, the Lord struck them with a severe plague. Many died. They named the place Kibroth Hattavah, meaning Graves of Craving.
That's the background and summary of Numbers 11 from where today's text comes. No doubt as we've listened and thought about this account, many lessons and applications come to mind, lessons about contentment and greed, about selfishness and thankfulness, about despair and prayer, about leadership and respect to those the Lord has placed over us, and more. But let's narrow our focus in the few minutes we have left here to the lesson the theme summarizes: The Lord has put his Spirit on you.
Notice Moses prayerful wish: “I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29 NIV84). We, dear friends, we live in that time. The Lord has put his Spirit on you.
You have the Lord's promise. Through the Prophet Joel the Lord promised, “And afterward I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your son and daughters will prophesy” (Joel 2:28 NIV84). The Apostle Peter quoted these words on Pentecost, for after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension this period began and will continue until the sun is turned to darkness at the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord, the Last Day. We live in this time.
“But I haven't been overcome by the Spirit and uncontrollably prophesied like those seventy elders did.” But what happened when you were baptized with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Jesus calls baptism a rebirth of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). The Apostle Paul calls it “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5, 6 NIV84). Romans 6 says that in baptism we died with Christ and were raised to live with him through the glory of the Father. In Baptism the Holy Spirit powerfully overcame my inborn, sinful self and created a new person in me, just as he did in you. For through the water and word of Baptism, the Holy Spirit was poured out on you just as the prophet Joel promised.
In the eyes of the unbelieving world that demands a supernatural display, this does not appear all that miraculous. But which is the great miracle: That the Holy Spirit takes control of somebody's body as he apparently did for the seventy elders for a brief time, something that even evil spirits have done? Or that he takes a heart dead in sin and makes you alive in Christ for eternity, something only the Holy Spirit does? What a supernatural miracle happened when you were baptized with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
And you, dear Christian, are a prophet. The Holy Spirit has given you the same message to share as the prophets had. You don't need a special vision or dream or revelation from the Holy Spirit to know what God's message is. You already have the words of the Holy Spirit written down for you. The people in Moses' day did not yet have this. You have God's written message. That's what the Bible is. That's why we call it the Holy Scriptures. “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21 NIV84), the Apostle Peter writes as he describes the Scriptures. Jesus promised in John 6, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63 NIV84). You have his word recorded in the Scriptures. Paul calls the word of God, “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17 NIV84). Hebrews 4 says “the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12 NIV84). Yes, through his word the Holy Spirit is powerful at work.
You have that powerful message of God written down for you to believe and to share, just as the prophets shared God's message. It's basically the same message as they proclaimed. Just as the prophets of old called people to repent of their sins and pointed them to the Savior, so also do you and I speak that same message. The only difference is that the prophets in the Old Testament pointed to the Savior who was yet to come. We point to the same Savior who has already come to pay for sins and who will come again to judge the living and the dead. When you share God's word you are speaking God's message about the past, present, and future. That's the work of a prophet.
So, dear Christians, do not doubt the power of the Holy Spirit at work in you. The Lord has put his Spirit on you. He has poured out his Holy Spirit through Baptism, through his Word, and, as the Scriptures also add, through the Lord's Supper, about which we don't have time to go into detail now. Don't run after outward displays that appear to be miraculous or seem to measure up to human wisdom's standards of spirituality. Look no farther than Baptism, the Scriptures, and the Lord's Supper. But just don't glance over those three and simply go through the motions, thinking “I got them; I've got the Spirit.” The Spirit's power runs deep. Dig deeply so that his power fills you as he focuses your heart and mind on Christ alone, Christ crucified for you. The Lord has put his Spirit on you. Make use of him. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.