March 09, 2010

Elitism rejected


re you jealous for my sake?” asked Moses. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

Many of us avoid the Old Testament book of Numbers. It has a ton of numbers in it (go figure) and it employs massive literary repetition. Reading Numbers can seem quite tedious. But the book of Numbers has some very interesting things in it, and we miss those things if we don’t pay attention while we read.

This morning I read Numbers 11-13 and found an interesting interchange between Moses and his executive assistant Joshua the son of Nun. In Numbers 11 Moses gathers 70 of the elders of Israel around the tent of meeting and the Lord’s Spirit prompts them to begin prophesying. Two elders remained in the camp—they began prophesying as well, except these two were inside the camp where other people could hear their prophecies.

This turn of events disturbed Moses’ assistant, so a greatly disturbed Joshua the son of Nun went to Moses and plead, “My lord Moses, stop them.” In Numbers 11:29 Moses responds to Joshua, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”

Numbers 11:26–30

Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

So often we forget that whatever authority we have within the local church was given to us by God. We begin to become territorial and we hold onto our perceived authority with a tight grasp. This puts us in natural opposition to anyone else who may be able to do the same job we are doing. You see this when music leaders try to keep musicians out of “the spotlight,” for lack of a better term, thinking that if folks get to know the other person the music leader may lose some degree of authority. It is seen when pastors try to quash ideas from the people in the pews, thinking that as the spiritual authority of that local congregation, the pastor must be the “idea person.” It is seen when bible study leaders don’t want to turn the teaching reigns over to another person—even when they are out of town for the week. It is seen when the newsletter publisher rejects offers of editing, design, or publishing help. In fact, this problem is probably spread throughout all areas of responsibility within the church. We humans tend to hold tightly to what we think is “ours.”

But Moses did not react this way. When Joshua came to him with this concern Moses said, “I think this is great. In fact, I wish everyone were doing this same thing.”

It’s a good lesson for us all—especially me. I tend to hang on to any web design duties with a territorial bent, and that is not a good thing.

But the story doesn’t really end there. In Numbers 12:2 Miriam and Aaron say, ”Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?” So even though Moses was not territorial about his leadership, the accusation of territorialism still arose against him. And it arose from two people who were very close to him.

So did Moses oppose these two when they made this power-play? Not at all. In verse 3 we are told that “ Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.”

In the following verses God deals directly with Miriam and Aaron for their accusations and usurpation. In fact, God gave Miriam leprosy and after Moses plead for her life God allowed Miriam to be quarantined outside of the camp for seven days. She then returned and Israel was able to get back to their nomadic move to the wilderness of Paran.

I take from this that I should not hold so tightly to those areas of ministry God has blessed me with, thinking that somehow I have earned them. And that if others show jealousy or try wrest my ministry from me, I should leave it in God’s hands. God knows the right time for me to retire from my ministry and pass it to another and he knows the hearts of all of the people involved—including me. He will set things right.


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