Bible Readings for May 4th
The resting of the Spirit on the seventy elders of Israel is a fascinating example of the expansion—and limitations—of the Holy Spirit’s ministry under the old covenant. In Numbers 11, Yahweh instructs Moses to gather seventy elders of Israel, explaining that “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” (Num. 11:17).
This event sounds similar to the story we read in Exodus 18, where Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, gives Moses advice to split out the work of judging the disputes of the people by appointing men as chiefs over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens (Ex. 18:21), so that only the cases that are too difficult for those judges would ever make it to the hearing of Moses. This marked a wise transition in the way that Moses led his people, and we see a beautiful example of common wisdom in that story.
But here in Numbers 11, we see that Yahweh himself (not Jethro or any other human being) initiates this change, and not only that, but he promises to put a portion of his Spirit on these seventy elders. So, let’s put this in perspective of the larger development of salvation history. God’s holy presence dwelt freely in perfect communion with Adam and Eve until they sinned, and God expelled them from the Garden of Eden. Then, God announced a further withdrawal of his Spirit from humankind immediately before the flood (Gen. 6:3). No longer would Yahweh’s Spirit interact generally with the whole world, but he only dealt with specific mediators, who prophesied to the world on God’s behalf—first Noah, then Abraham.
For many years, Moses has been the only covenant mediator, speaking face-to-face with God, but now Yahweh calls seventy other elders into a direct experience of his Spirit. More than that, even Eldad and Medad received the Spirit, despite the fact that they remained in the camp. We see in this passage a clear expansion of the number of people with whom Yahweh is dealing directly.
And yet, the roles that Yahweh gave each group of Levites are still fixed in place, and the priests are still the only ones in all of Israel (aside from Moses) who are allowed into the tablernacle. Later, when Korah and a few others rebel against Moses in Numbers 16, claiming that all in the congregation are equally holy, Yahweh is so offended that he opens up the ground to swallow them whole. Even the high priest Aaron cannot presume to speak for Yahweh as a prophet, as we will see tomorrow in Numbers 12.
In light of this, what does it mean to know that all Christians have been baptized in the Spirit since Pentecost (1 Cor. 12:13)?
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.