24 So Moses went out and told the people the LORD’s words. He assembled seventy men from the people’s elders and placed them around the tent. 25 The LORD descended in a cloud, spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and placed it on the seventy elders. When the spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but only this once. 26 Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the second named Medad, and the spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they hadn’t gone out to the tent, so they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
28 Joshua, Nun’s son and Moses’ assistant since his youth, responded, “My master Moses, stop them!”
29 Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the LORD’s people were prophets with the LORD placing his spirit on them!”
30 Moses and Israel’s elders were assembled in the camp. (CEB)
Seventy and Two
I had a plan for my life. Didn’t you have plans? I wanted to be a scientist. First, I was thinking astrophysics because I love astronomy. Then, I realized I’m not very good at math, so that wasn’t going to work out. But I thought some other kind of science would be great. So when I was accepted at The University of Findlay, I declared my major to be Environmental and Hazardous Materials Management. I loved it. I got to study chemistry, biology, geology, hydrology, and play with chemicals that could melt the tables in the chemistry lab if I wasn’t careful. It was exciting stuff!
Then the Holy Spirit ruined my plans. The whole week leading up to this moment, I had heard little promptings of the Spirit: promptings that I recognized because I’d heard them on and off since my youth. I always pushed them aside and did my best to ignore them, but this time the prompting wouldn’t go away. The Spirit refused to be ignored. Finally, the Sprit decided that it had had enough of my attempts to push the promptings away. I was studying my chemistry on Saint Valentine’s Day when God’s Spirit came crashing into me and wrecked everything. In that moment, I heard an inescapable call: it was as audible as a stereo exploding at full blast but I couldn’t quote what was said; it didn’t quite feel like a demand yet there was a finality to it that removed all doubt as to what I was supposed to do. In that moment, the Spirit shouted at me loudly and clearly that I was going into ministry.
So, I did what any normal person would have done. I shouted back. I pushed my book aside, threw my pencil across the room and shouted my disagreeable agreement. I probably could have reacted better, but I was a little ticked off. I was a good Christian boy, I had plans and God was screwing them all up. I didn’t want to be a pastor. Sometimes I still wonder what in the world God was thinking. My call to ministry still feels like an ongoing argument with God that hasn’t quite been resolved. Sometimes I feel like Jonah grumbling all the way to Nineveh with the rancid smell of fish vomit still clinging to my skin. My call to ministry has been a continual thing. It’s been a kind of Spiritual evolution rather than just a moment in time. It’s every day. God has added new elements to my call, such as writing. What we are right now is not necessarily who we will be when God is done with us. God’s Spirit keeps moving and prompting us in fresh ways. In fact, I would argue that God is never really done with us.
The Spirit moves in ways that we find disconcerting. If we can expect one thing of the Spirit, it’s that it will do unexpected things. We find comfort in our walls, in our definitions, in our plans, and even in our ability to determine the outcome of whatever it is we’re doing. But the Spirit has a way of frustrating our best attempts at maintaining our comfort zones.
Take this story about Moses for example. Numbers 11 tells us about a leadership crisis, whereas the section we read is one of those little extra bonus stories. The background is that the people are complaining. They’re grumbling that they don’t have any meat to eat: all they have is this dad-gum manna. Manna in the morning. Manna for lunch. Manna for dinner. Manna, manna, always manna: no vegetables and no meat! They’re ready to go back to slavery in Egypt just so they can get some real food.
Then Moses complains to God that he’s been turned into a single mother for an entire nation of whiney, moaning children and he can’t do this by himself. So, God immediately finds a way to give Moses some relief from this burden of leadership. God has Moses choose seventy elders from among Israel and place them around the tent. Then the Lord descended and took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and gave it to the seventy, and they began to prophesy. The Spirit of God falling upon these seventy legitimized their role as leaders of the community. They would share Moses’ burden.
But the problem is that there were these two other guys who were not placed around the tent. They were out in the camp. But the Spirit spilled over into the camp and landed on Eldad and Medad. And they, too, began to prophesy. Then, some little tattle-tale runs to Moses and tells him about the problem. “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”
The problem is that these two weren’t authorized by Moses for this job. Verse 24 tells us that Moses assembled and then placed seventy elders around the tent. Eldad and Medad weren’t among them. Joshua is certain that God made a mistake. Maybe God wasn’t carrying the cup with two hands and spilled some Spirit on these two guys accidentally. Who knows? But Joshua sees this unexpected movement of the Spirit as an affront to Moses’ authority because these two weren’t among the elders chosen by Moses. If they had been, then Joshua wouldn’t have been upset about it. Joshua wants to get the situation under control so he starts hollering, Moses! Stop them! The Spirit got away from us again!
I can almost see Moses shaking his head as he responds, “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets with the Lord placing his Spirit on them!” Moses was exasperated. He’s ready to take all the help he can get, so if the Spirit got dumped on two extra elders, fine by him. They can help shoulder the burden of leadership, too.
And one of the things we miss here is that the Spirit was placed upon these elders, not for their blessing, but so that they would share Moses’ burden. The anointing of the Spirit is burdensome. The prophets were often ready to give the burden up. But the shared burden becomes a blessing for the community.
Because the movement of the Spirit is unpredictable, there will always be course corrections, new discernings, and adjustments along the way. So we have to make room for each other to fulfill the call that God has placed and continues to place on our lives.
On the Day of Pentecost we celebrate the time God got extremely sloppy with the Spirit. God dumped the Spirit out on all kinds of people. And the Spirit continues to be poured out on the church and the world today. We have our rituals, our means of grace, and our sacraments where we know the Spirit is working and being poured out. We know the Spirit is poured out on us in baptism, in confirmation, in Holy Communion, in our prayers, in our study of Scripture, in our gathering together to worship. We know the Spirit is here, right now, breathing into our hearts, whispering into our minds, tugging at our wills. We call today the Day of Pentecost, but in some ways what happened on the Day of Pentecost has never ended. We live in a continual Pentecost where God’s Spirit is continually poured out on us and the world around us.
We have to keep in mind that the Spirit is also being poured out beyond our walls. Sometimes the Spirit gets really sloppy, at least from our perspective. We sometimes think we are the proprietors of the Spirit because we’re the church. But the Spirit is already at work inside and outside of our faith community. We don’t have a monopoly on the Spirit, nor do we dictate where the Spirit goes.
Tom Heaton told me about one of his plane trips to Guatemala, on which he saw a mission team wearing t-shirts that said, “Bringing God to Guatemala.” And Tom being Tom confronted the leader of the group and told them that he’s lived in Guatemala for years and found that God has been working in and among the people there for ages, long before this missionary team ever put on their extraordinarily arrogant t-shirts. The Spirit is moving everywhere, my friends, long before we even think about it.
Pentecost was only the beginning. It didn’t fix all the church’s problems any more than the pouring out of the Spirit on the 70 Elders plus Eldad and Medad fixed everything for Israel, or any more than our own Confirmation or joining the church fixed everything for us. We still have problems, arguments, and things we need to work out. We need the Spirit to be poured out upon us again, and again, and again. Pentecost needs to be a daily event for us or we’ll get lost in the unimportant and fail to see and hear where the Spirit might be trying to lead us. When the Spirit crashes into your mind and says, “You need to do this! You’ve put it off long enough. No more excuses! Get to it! Now!” Well, what will you do, even if it’s not a call you expect?
In what ways is the Spirit of God tugging on your heart? Every one of us needs to listen and keep watch because God’s Spirit calls us and is poured out upon us in unexpected ways. We don’t know where or how the Spirit will be poured out today or tomorrow, or upon whom. But the Spirit of God is the purveyor of Holy Chaos, so we can be sure that we’ll be surprised.
I pray that, in your life and in mine, God will not hold the cup with two hands, but will let the Spirit be spilled out all over our lives. God never makes a mistake. When the Spirit is poured out, be assured it is no mistake. Answer the call. Take on the burden of the Spirit’s calling no matter what it is. Remember that Pentecost is not an end. Your call and the calls that will yet come, whatever they might be, are not ends. These things are continual, and the Spirit offers course corrections along the way as God makes all things new.
So listen to the Spirit. Be watchful. Who knows what the Spirit will do next?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!