When Moses said these words, he was at a crisis point in his ministry (one of many). The people were complaining. They wanted meat and not just the manna God was providing. Moses was overwhelmed and he told the LORD as much:
Numbers 11:13-15 (ESV)
(13) 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.’
(14) I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.
(15) 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.”
God was angry with the people for their complaining, but He had compassion on Moses:
Numbers 11:16-17 (ESV)
(16) Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you.
(17) And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.
So, seventy men were chosen and sixty-eight showed up at the Tabernacle on the appointed day, and just as He’d promised, “the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to [Moses], and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied” (Numbers 11:25b, ESV).
But two men did not show up at the tabernacle. They remained in the camp: Eldad and Medad, and they prophesied in the camp (v. 26). When word came back to Moses that this was happening, “…Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them’” (v. 28, ESV). And that’s when Moses replied: “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit on them” (v. 29b, ESV)!
Joshua, meaning well, thought that Eldad and Medad were somehow in violation. They weren’t at the Tabernacle like they were supposed to be, and they were prophesying in the camp. Moses’ reaction was a lot like Jesus’ reaction to His disciples in Mark chapter 9:38-40. There, the disciples saw someone, not of their number, casting out demons in Jesus’ name and the disciples tried to stop him “because he was not following us” (v. 38). To which Jesus replied: “[T]he one who is not against is for us” (v. 40).
The reactions of Moses and Jesus are telling. What godly leaders and God Himself both desire, is a congregation that is mature enough to prophesy – know and apply God’s Word – for themselves. It’s true that a pastor is supposed to minister to his flock, but the flock has a responsibility to minister to its pastor, and the best way to accomplish that is to be mature in the Word and yielded to the Spirit. Moses did not rebuke Eldad and Medad, and neither did God. If only there were more like them!
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