God’s Word for You
Numbers 11:10-17 Getting help
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, August 6, 2021
10 Moses heard people from all the clans weeping, each one at the entrance to his own tent. At the same time, the LORD’s anger burned fiercely, and Moses was displeased. 11 Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your eyes? Why do you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people by myself? Am I the one who gave birth to them so that you tell me to carry them in my arms to the land which you swore to their fathers, just as a woman who is nursing carries a baby? 13 Where is there meat for me to give to all these people? Listen, they are weeping to me and saying, ‘Give us meat so that we can eat.’ 14 I am not able to carry all these people by myself, because that is too much for me. 15 If you are going to treat me this way, please kill me right now. If I have found favor in your eyes, do not let me see my own ruin.”
Moses’ prayer is not just an explosion of frustration. It’s actually a carefully written palistrophe or chiasmus, with similar thoughts occurring on opposite ends of the prayer:
A, (11:11) Treated badly
B, (11:11) not found favor
C, (11:11) burden of all these people
D, (11:12a) Did I conceive/give birth to them all
E, (11:13) Where am I to get meat?
D, (11:12b) as a nursing woman carries a baby
C, (11:14) carry all these people
B, (11:15) found favor
A, (11:15) Treat me this way
Oftentimes the burden of listening to complaints is more wearying than answering them. How many times will people say nothing at all or even act bored when things are going well, but at the least little bit of adversity begin shouting and crying as if the sky is falling? And if this is true in the secular, public world, don’t imagine for a moment that it doesn’t happen within the church as it did here for Moses. The prophet was so tired of it that he said, “If you are going to treat me this way, please kill me right now.” This was not Paul’s sympathetic and compassionate, “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” (Romans 9:3), but just “kill me; I’m through listening to them.” This was against the Fifth Commandment, but the Lord knew that it was also a legitimate cry for help. A man alone can only bear so much. What can a single mom accomplish for her children without help from her own mother, or some friends and neighbors, or a school and Sunday school, to help her? So it was with Moses. He felt like a nursing mother carrying two million babies, and he was showing his concern. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” (Isaiah 49:15). Moses knew that God’s compassion is even greater. “Lord, you quiet the hunger of those you cherish” (Psalm 17:14). And again, “The Lord remembers us and will bless us. He will bless the house of Israel, he will bless the house of Aaron, he will bless those who fear the Lord—small and great alike” (Psalm 115:12-13).
Elders Appointed to Assist Moses
16 So the LORD said to Moses, “Gather seventy men from the elders of Israel for me, men whom you know to be elders and officers for the people. Take them to the Tent of Meeting and make them stand there with you. 17 I will come down and talk with you there. I will take from the Spirit that is on you and will put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it by yourself.
The Lord had commanded Moses to assemble a group of seventy elders of Israel before, when they first arrived at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:1). This was while Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were still living (Exodus 24:9). At that time, Moses took Joshua to the mountaintop, and left the seventy along with Aaron and Hur so that “anyone involved in a dispute can go to them” (Exodus 24:14). Now, about a year later, Moses is commanded to gather seventy elders once again for a similar task and to give him spiritual support. It’s likely that the same, or nearly the same seventy men were selected. To find seventy worthy men who would not be greedy or who would not abuse such authority could not have been an easy task. Such men are as rare as a black swan, and the unqualified are as common as black crows. Our Seminary notes wonder whether this was “the beginning of the Sanhedrin?” I think it’s likely that the Sanhedrin, which was formed centuries later, was based on this group’s number, if not exactly on this group’s role. The later Sanhedrin stood primarily as a court and a ruling council (Matthew 26:59; Acts 22:30, 24:20), and was certainly more heavy-handed than Moses’ council of the seventy.
This passage teaches an important lesson to pastors and churches today. The pastor cannot carry the whole burden of spiritual leadership in any church, no matter how small it may be. I remember a mission congregation beginning from scratch in which the pastor asked his wife to teach Sunday school even though the whole mission numbered less than fifty people. So on the one hand, a pastor must be able to acknowledge that it’s good to share the ministry. And on the other hand, the members of a church must be willing to help with some of the tasks. When men and women are asked to help, they should be willing to serve, but they should not be burdened with too many demands on their time. A wife should not complain that her husband is gone so much that she has become a “church widow.”
But for everyone, pastors, elders, members and children of every Christian church, remember to rely on the Lord our God. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble” (Nahum 1:7), “he cares for those who trust in him.”
Pastor Timothy Smith