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God’s Word for You

Numbers 11:18-25 The seventy

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, August 9, 2021

18 “Say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves to be ready for tomorrow. You will eat meat because you have wept and the LORD has heard you say, “Who will give us meat to eat? Yes, things were good for us in Egypt.” Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat. 19 You will eat not just for one day, for two days, for five days, for ten days, not even just for twenty days, 20 but for a whole month, until meat comes out of your nostrils, and you begin to loathe it. This will happen because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and you have wept in his presence, saying, “Why did we come out of Egypt?”’”

This began as a complaint from the people that caused Moses to ask the Lord for help. The Lord does not forget; he listens to everything that is prayed to him, and he alone knows what is in our hearts (1 Kings 8:39; Matthew 9:4). He answered Moses’ request for help, and he was also planning to answer the complaints. Here we have God providing his law and judgement for those who need chastising and correcting and also gospel and encouragement for one who needs it.

The Lord builds up the length of time with an ascending “not one, or two, or five, or ten, or twenty.” He calls it “a month of days” (EHV “a whole month”), long enough that the people would begin to loathe the meat they craved.

Had they asked without complaining, had they humbly acknowledged the Lord’s wisdom and care, he might have given them the very same response without making them hate it. But both law and gospel come from the Lord through his word. The law reveals our sins to us, to show us our guilt and what we deserve because of our sins. By the law, God drives us to despair of ever gaining God’s favor, forgiveness, and eternal life through our own efforts. Isaiah called this God’s “strange work” (Isaiah 28:21), using the law to lead us to the gospel of this forgiveness and salvation. I spent several of my younger years as a painter, and it still often occurs to me that the law is like the painter’s task of washing, scraping, sanding and preparing a surface, and the gospel is like the painting itself. The gospel is the desired message, the message of consolation and peace.

21 Moses said, “I am in the middle of a people with six hundred thousand foot soldiers, and now you say, ‘I will give them meat, and they will eat for a whole month.’ 22 If flocks and herds were slaughtered for them, would that be enough for them? If all the fish of the sea were caught for them, would that be enough for them?”

Moses’ question is no different from that of the disciples when Jesus proposed that they feed the five thousand. “That would take eight months of a man’s wages,” they said. “Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” (Mark 6:37). Moses wonders whether they should slaughter every animal they have? Or should they go throw nets into the eastern arm of the Red Sea (the Gulf of Aqaba)? Would they empty the sea of its fish by doing that? The Lord’s answer reminds us of who the Lord truly is:

23 The LORD said to Moses, “Is the arm of the LORD too short? Now you will see whether what I have said to you will happen or not.”

When Abraham was commanded to offer Isaac, the Lord provided a substitute, a ram with its horns caught in a thicket (Genesis 22:13). Was the arm of the Lord too short? When a widow was running out of flour and oil, the Lord made sure that her flour and oil did not run out as long as the famine lasted (1 Kings 17:14-16). Was the arm of the Lord too short? When Elisha needed to feed a hundred men, twenty small dinner rolls and some heads of new grain were more than enough for them to even have some left over (2 Kings 4:42-44). Was the arm of the Lord too short? Jesus fed five thousand (John 6:10) and another four thousand (Matthew 15:38). The arm of the Lord is never too short. He made the heavens and the earth. He created the grain in the fields to appear and the birds of the air to come into being. He said, “Let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky” (Genesis 1:20) and where there had only been fields, mountains, grass and trees a moment before, a hundred thousand winged creatures leapt into the air and flew for the first time—birds, moths, butterflies, insects, and everything that can take to the sky with wings (Genesis 1:21). Could not the same creating God bring meat to his people in the desert with the power of his word?

24 Moses went out and told the people the LORD’s words. He gathered seventy men from the elders of the people and had them stand all around the tent. 25 The LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him. He took from the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do it again.

We understand this to mean that the seventy elders stood all around the front of the tent (in something like a semicircle), not all around and behind the tent. The vast towering cloud of the Lord’s presence descended, and God spoke. What God had given to Moses he now shared with the elders, and they prophesied. By this we understand four things:

1, The seventy were now given a special measure of the Spirit of God to grant them wisdom and insight, to understand the spiritual needs of the people and supply them with the word of God and with encouragement.

2, They prophesied, and by this we understand that they passed along the word of God from God to his people. That is to say, they preached the word of God. The content of this message is not directly given, but in the context of the chapter we can assume that it was the message God had just given to Moses about the month of days and the meat that the people would loathe. God’s prophetic servants do not get to pick and choose the messages they will deliver.

3, This episode of prophetic preaching did not repeat later on, but the seventy remained of service to Moses and the people as the elders who would help Moses listen to the needs and complaints of the people.

4, We should not think that each man received a percent of Moses’ Spirit, and therefore 70% of the Spirit was removed from Moses (with one given to each elder), leaving him with only a 30% share. The gift of the Spirit that Moses had did not decrease because of this incident. When fire is shared, it does not diminish. If I light one candle with another, they do not both burn at half strength.

When we speak of the spirit “growing faint” within us (Psalm 77:3, 142:3, 143:4), that doesn’t happen because God removes it, but rather sin corrupts and diminishes us and causes doubt to grow. Then we yearn for God, “my soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (Psalm 143:6), and we pray, “In your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation” (Psalm 69:13). For God does not give his gospel to some of his people but not to others. His prophets do not receive half-shares. When the word is preached, the whole message is delivered. And as for Moses and his spirit, “He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25). Praise and bless God for the good things he gives. Don’t be afraid of his Spirit being removed, but rejoice that every time you share the gospel of the Lord, it doesn’t decrease in you at all. Instead, it grows stronger each time you share it.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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