When we talk about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, most think about the New Testament, right? Something that happened after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus (Acts 2). Yet, God’s Spirit came upon certain individuals in the First Testament. Some of those we have already seen in our weekly Scripture readings.
- Joseph was filled with the Spirit (Gen. 41:38)
- Bezalel was filled with the Spirit (Ex. 31:3; 35:31)
As we continue reading through the Old Testament, we find it again and again.
- Joshua was filled with the Spirit (Num. 27:18)
- Balaam was filled with the Spirit (Num. 24:2)
- Othniel was filled with the Spirit (Jdgs. 3:10)
- Jephthah was filled with the Spirit (Jdgs. 11:29)
- Samson was filled with the Spirit (Jdgs. 13:25)
- King Saul was filled with the Spirit (I Sam. 10:10)
- King David was filled with the Spirit (I Sam. 16:13)
- Azariah was filled with the Spirit (II Chron. 15:1)
- Daniel was filled with the Spirit (Dan. 4:8; 5:11-14; 6:3)
The Holy Spirit came upon some; it limited itself to certain ministries. Sometimes the Spirit would indwell someone and then leave. Numbers 11 is one of those Spirit-filled narratives.
The nation of Israel finally leaves Sinai and begins their journey into the wilderness. Before long, the people started complaining. Get used to it, they do this a lot! At the beginning of the chapter they are grumbling about their hardships (11:1-3), which could have been water, food, or the threat of violence. The author doesn’t say. A few verses later (11:4-15) they are complaining about the manna God sent each day. Despite being supernaturally fed, they whined. They wanted meat (I don’t know if I can blame them).
It must have been like driving through a desert with a bunch of ungrateful kids in the back seat, but on a much higher level. And the Father is ready to pull the car over!
The God of Israel wasn’t happy. The text says His anger burned (v. 1) and He was very angry (v. 10). Even Moses is provoked by these people and complains to Yahweh that he is not their parent. He does not want the responsibility. He cannot do this alone. No one was having a good time.
God tell Moses to bring a select group of 70 elders to the Tabernacle. Something fascinating was about to happen:
Numbers 11:17, Then I will come down and speak with you there. I will take some of the Spirit who is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you bear the burden of the people, so that you do not have to bear it by yourself. (emphasis mine)
Numbers 11:24, Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. He brought 70 men from the elders of the people and had them stand around the tent. Then the Lord descended in the cloud and spoke to him. He took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed the Spirit on the 70 elders. As the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they never did it again. (emphasis mine)
That’s right, the Holy Spirit, that was already dwelling in Moses when it came upon these 70 elders. Spirit-filled leaders were given to help Moses with these miserable people!
There are many things packed into this narrative that we are not going to explore, such as the significance of 70, stuffing the people with meat, a plague, etc. Instead, I want to zoom in on something else that happened.
Two of the selected 70 had not gone to the Tabernacle for this divine meeting. We are not told why, only that they received the filling of the Holy Spirit (11:26) while they remained in the camp. A young man came and reported that these two men were in the camp prophesying! Joshua was not happy about it. He tells Moses to stop them! (It reminds me of the narrative in Mark 9:38). This is when we find this beautiful statement by Moses:
Numbers 11:29, But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the LORD’s people were prophets and the LORD would place His Spirit on them!” (emphasis mine)
Moses longed for a different kind of community. Not one that was led by a few good leaders and laws, but by the Spirit of God! Moses isn’t finished with this idea. As he is bringing the Pentateuch to a close, he writes:
Deuteronomy 30:6, The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live. (emphasis mine)
Moses had just prophesied Israel’s future would be difficult (Deut. 29:16-29). Because they would violate God’s instructions, they would be taken into captivity in a foreign land (Deut. 28:36, 64-68). But now, he looks to a distant time when they would be redeemed and turn back to the Yahweh. When that day arrives they will be given a brand new heart that will love God with all their being and live.
In both of these narratives of Moses, we discover something big that was coming – the promise of a new humanity. A time when the Law would be written on the heart (Jer. 31:31-34). The prophets Joel and Ezekiel were given visions of this day, when the Spirit of God would be poured out on all humanity (Joel 2:28). A new heart and a new spirit will be given. Yahweh will place His Spirit within you (Ezk. 36:26-27). The result will be a community who carefully follows the ways of God.
That is the community Moses longed for in Numbers 11, and that is the community that begun at Pentecost (Acts 2). It would not only be made up of Jews, but also Gentiles (non-Jews) of every nation! Their inclusion was highlighted by the Holy Spirit being poured out on them (Acts 10:44-48). And like the 70 elders, these Gentiles were given a supernatural ability as a sign to others it was indeed the Spirit of God.
Israel now had 70 more Spirit-filled leaders among them, but it did not stop their complaining, rebellion and idolatry. They too needed the Spirit, and so does all humanity. As great as it would be to have Spirit filled leaders in the offices of our government and churches, what we really need is for the Holy Spirit to come upon all people. We don’t need greater moral laws in our world, as wonderful as that would be, we need the Law of God written on our hearts.
That is where true transformation happens.
*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible
*Blog resource: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer