Rev. Katherine Todd
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
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 son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, 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, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
Just before this part in Moses’ story among the people of Israel journeying in the wilderness, the people have been complaining. For though God has been supplying them with manna – simply forming on surfaces early in the morning – for which they had neither to plant nor reap, some among them are disgruntled as they recall how they ate in Egypt: the fish, leeks, garlic and chives,…and on an on and on. They feel sick of manna and want a change. They crave meat.
And this sends Moses into his own complaint to God. He rants:
“Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”
Moses doesn’t hold back all! This must be some trust – to be able to just throw his own tantrum on the floor, as it were, before God Almighty. But God responds with compassion toward Moses and a measure of anger at the behaviors of those disgruntled and ungrateful among the people.
God tells Moses his will to have others among the people to also help carry the burden of the people. Moses is to select 70 of the elders and officers over the people. They are to gather with the Moses in the tent of meeting, and God will speak with Moses there, putting some of God’s spirit on the elders.
And so this is what Moses does. He calls and gathers the elders and officers in the tent of meeting. And when God’s spirit rests on the elders, they begin to prophesy. This is the only time they prophesy.
But most surprising, two of those selected (but who do not make it to the tent of meeting) …they also began to prophesy…but in the camp, among the people. And so, a messenger is sent to tell Moses of the goings-on in the camp – how the two are prophesying. And before Moses could respond, Joshua, Son of Nun, is indignant on Moses’ behalf saying, “Stop them lord Moses!”
But to their surprise, Moses replies,
“Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”
“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” …
What a blessed desire.
Moses does not want to hoard or control the Spirit of God. If he has any controlling tendencies in his bones, the sheer emotional and physical exhaustion at bearing the weight of responsibility for all the people is flat wearing him out! He yearns for more to carry the burden with him. He yearns for others to also hear God, for others to also prophesy, for others to also speak truth, discern solutions, resolve dissent, and lead this wandering people.
And so God’s response of putting the Spirit on the elders is in direct response to Moses’ human desire and limitation. Moses needs help!!
So when this young man runs to alert Moses to the two elders in the camp, who are prophesying too, Moses is not threatened at all. He is elated. He only wishes ALL the people would be filled with the Spirit of God!
And how poetic, that this is exactly what God does, as Jesus returns to heaven. God sends the Spirit out upon all God’s children – children not by blood, natural birth, personal righteousness, or position, but God’s children because the undeserved grace and mercy, love and redemption of Jesus Christ. We have only to receive this unbounded gift, that we might enter into the joy and freedom and salvation of our God.
God pours out the Spirit on ALL God’s people.
I am struck by this story. For one, in all my years growing up in church and studying scripture, I’d never before noticed this passage.
- I love how Moses rants at God. I relate.
- Complaining, venting, and ranting are quite often looked down upon in our Christian culture.
- I am filled with gratitude that God does not shame Moses but helps him.
- I appreciate seeing how another servant of God reaches his own limitations. I also relate. Moses give us an example of asking for help.
- And in God’s response we see compassion and understanding. It gives me hope that we too can ask for help…even through our rants.
I love Moses’ response when Joshua wishes to restrain the Spirit, in order to preserve Moses’ status within the community. Joshua is concerned that this prophesying might endanger Moses’ respected position. But Moses is not at all concerned with this political move. He does not play the game. He does not grasp to control or restrain the Spirit. He doesn’t discredit the two men who begin prophesying outside of his purview. Rather, he is concerned that the people hear truth, receive guidance, and walk in God’s ways. The more true guides, the better. The more workers for the harvest, the better. The more who are led by the Spirit of God, the better.
Do you know how many generations of Christians have sought to restrain the Spirit of God? Though we might not call it that, that is exactly what we have done. We’ve attempted to define and control who is in and who is out, just as the earliest Jewish Christians did when some required that all Gentile believers be circumcised, refrain from eating meat, and observe all the holiness rituals. It is what Jonah did when he refused to follow the Spirit of God and sailed in the opposite direction, rather than go and preach repentance to the people of Nineveh. It is what Peter was tempted to do, when he was called by a Gentile family to come and preach the gospel among them. It is what the church has done, when it has placed ritual upon doctrine upon confession upon giving – as a requirement for salvation – diminishing the gospel, making it conditional, and in fact, not very good news at all!
Even if you and I, per say, have not participated in these particular efforts to quench and control the movement of the Spirit of God, our own Christian culture, our ancestors who came before, and generation after generation of believer has been tempted in this same way. And I suspect that when we are truly quieted and listening, we too will discover ways in which we have participated in efforts to limit the expansive love of God, and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. For God is moving through-out the world, to seek out and save the lost.
Are we listening?
Are we following?
Are we obedient?
Are there actions we have taken,
prejudices we’ve carried on,
things we have left undone,
words we have said or left unsaid
– even unbeknownst to us –
for which we need to ask forgiveness?
Will we set down our temptations to control?
Will we surrender our ego
and take on humility?
Will we take our cues from the movements of God by the working of the Holy Spirit, rather than expecting God to follow our strategic plans and secret desires?
“Would that ALL God’s people be prophets and that the Lord would put the Spirit onto them!” Moses imagines.
Thanks be to God!
For God has anointed you and anointed me!
God has put the Spirit into child and grandparent,…
Men and women and those non-binary,…
The powerful and the powerless,…
God has poured out God’s Spirit upon ALL flesh!
What wonder! What goodness! What honor! What opportunity!
May we take this long-desired, unparalleled gift – this pouring out of the Spirit of God – and may we be about the work of our God:
Grateful to share in this gospel work,
Shining our light into the darkness,
Proclaiming freedom to those oppressed,
Doing justice, and thereby ushering in the Kingdom of our God, and
Announcing the mercy and grace of our God.
Thanks be to God!