READ: Numbers 10-12, Psalm 44, Mark 16, Romans 16


The Holy Spirit is given for many reasons, one of which is to help bear the burden of leadership (Num. 11:17). Moses is overwhelmed by the needs of a complaining people, worn out by their incessant demands for former comforts. God responds by spreading His spirit among seventy elders, and those closest to Moses react.

The Purist: Joshua was worried about authority. He does not want the unapproved to move in the gifts of the Spirit and tells Moses to make the unsanctioned stop prophesying. Moses’ response is priceless: “Oh that ALL the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit on them” (Num. 11:29). Joel will repeat this desire when he prophesies the Spirit poured out on all flesh in the last days. Moses is not threatened by Jesus using others to communicate. This is true leadership of the Spirit: genuine rejoicing when God speaks through others, unthreatened, unconcerned about being replaced as God’s spokesman. 

The Pretenders: Aaron and Miriam were worried about authority. They did not think that Moses alone heard from God and, offended by his choice of a Sudanese wife, saw an opportunity to criticize. Their offense probably had some grounds (no second wife scenarios, even in the Old Testament, end well), but the point is not Moses’ flaws, it was their presumption. Even while we should not restrict others from being used by the Spirit, we should not assume our worth or intrinsic right to prophesy. Moses again seems unconcerned and it is God who intervenes and rebukes Aaron and Miriam. Moses, again, responds in humility and prays for his sister to be healed.

It is easy in this narrative to condemn Aaron and Miriam but the point of the text is that Joshua was equally wrong. There are two equal and opposite errors when it comes to the prophethood of all believers. One (Joshua’s) is to be protective, possessive, defensive, and overly worried about the abuse of spiritual gifts. The other (Aaron and Miriam’s) is to take offense when our flawed friends move in the gifts of the Spirit and we are then unable to receive from God through them because their feet of clay stop up the ears of our spirit.

The prevention and cure for these twin mistakes is humility. Moses models it for us. He is neither worried about the young prophets nor defensive at the criticism of his peers. He allows God to defend Him (which God is skilled at doing) and he encourages a liberal spreading and sharing of the Spirit. May we also encourage and empower all God’s people to be prophets. May we be humble enough to hear the Spirit from the young and from the flawed friends around us. This humility is the only thing that legitimizes the Spirit to speak through us – for we, too, are fatally flawed.

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