Numbers 11: A Preview of Pentecost

Numbers may not be the most entertaining book in the Bible, but that does not mean that there is nothing worth reading and we should just skip to Deuteronomy. To see what I mean, look at Numbers 11:25:

25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, 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. But they did not continue doing it.

Numbers boring? Think again. This preview of Pentecost is tucked away in a story about the Israelites complaining about not having anything other than manna to eat. Moses seems to come to his wits end and tells God he can’t take it anymore – he cannot bear the burden of leading the people all by himself. God’s response is profound:

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.
What a fascinating solution! God takes some of the Spirit that is on Moses and puts it on the elders of Israel! The result is even more astounding: they start prophesying! This is like a mini-Pentecost centuries before the Spirit is ever poured out in the upper room. I just love this story because it shows so powerfully what happens when the Spirit of God comes upon a person regardless of whether they live under the Old or the New Covenant. The Holy Spirit empowers and in this case causes the elders of Israel to prophesy!

The section ends with a beautiful prophecy from Moses. Two elders are not present at the occasion described above but start to prophesy anyway – even though they are outside the tabernacle at that time. When Joshua then tries to stop them, Moses answers by expressing a wish that sounds very much like a prophecy. I love this:

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

Centuries later, this comes to pass when the Holy Spirit is poured out at Pentecost. But it was Moses, tucked away in that dry book of Numbers, that prophesied it would happen! Isn’t that awesome?
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