Moses was sick to death of the children of Israel. That is almost literally true. They had complained, and moaned, and groaned. Nothing was ever enough for them.
God gave them freedom from slavery. They wanted food and water. God gave them manna and water from a rock. They wanted meat and vegetables. And when they wanted more, where did they go? To Moses.
“Why can’t we have more meat? Why don’t we have any vegetables? How much farther is it? Are we there yet?”
And Moses can’t take it. So where does Moses go when he needs to complain? He goes to God. “God, I am done. These people are too big of a burden.” Moses compares the people of God to this great, big, heavy, load of stuff that he is lugging around on his back. They are too heavy. They are too big. He can’t carry them anymore.
God, if I have found favor in your eyes, just kill me now. He really says that. Moses is so oppressed by the complaints of Israel that he wants God to put him out of his misery.
While the Lord does get angry with the people for complaining about all the gifts that He has given them (we should all take that to heart), He does not grow angry with Moses’ complaint. Rather, He hears Moses’ cry for mercy and God answers.
70 elders are chosen from among the people. 70 men are picked to be leaders along with Moses, and they are brought into the Tabernacle, the tent of worship, where God is going to come to them. God appears to these men and He places His Spirit on them.
The Spirit was already on Moses, but God now takes it and places it on all 70 elders, and they prophesy. We don’t know what they said. They could have been praising God, speaking in foreign languages as on Pentecost, predicting the future—we just don’t know.
What we do know is that now there are 70, where before there was only one. Now there are 70 men to assist Moses, to hear complains, to judge disputes, to administer the affairs of this mass of people moving through the wilderness. The burden of God’s people is lightened for Moses.
Then comes Joshua. Joshua is worried because two men in the camp, two stragglers who were supposed to be at the Tabernacle but didn’t make it, they also received the Spirit of God, and they too started prophesying.
The seventy were hidden in the tent, but these two guys were right out in the open. What would the people think? Would they want to follow them rather than Moses? Joshua tells Moses about Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp and Moses’ response is, “So what?! I am glad. Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit on them!”
Moses had received a gift from God. He had his burden lightened. He has been given 70 assistants. But He wants more. He is not complaining. He is simply praying, longing for the day when all of God’s people will be filled with His Spirit, not just a select few.
Well, it took almost 1500 years for God to answer the prayer of Moses, but it happened. The reason it took so long is that God does not simply pour out His Spirit on people. They must be consecrated first. They must be made holy.
The 70 elders had to go through a stringent process of ceremonial cleansing. And even then they do not continue to prophesy. It is as if the Spirit comes upon them, marking them as leaders, but then He leaves again.
Jesus is the one upon whom John the Baptist tells us the Spirit of God descends and remains. Jesus does not prophesy once and then quit. Every word that pours forth from His mouth is the life giving Word of God. And Jesus carries that Spirit with Him, and the Spirit carries Jesus along.
They go to the cross together. On the cross of Calvary Jesus Christ sheds His holy blood to make the world holy. He sacrifices His flesh so that He might remove every barrier, every stain, that makes a person unworthy of God’s Spirit. He washes away the whining and unjustified complaining of all people. He forgives ungrateful and selfish hearts.
Jesus dies, and in doing so He unleashes the Spirit of God onto the world, a world cleansed from sin and made holy to receive the Spirit of God. The Spirit lays low until Jesus ascends in power and glory, but He reveals Himself fully at Pentecost.
Moses’ prayer is answered at Pentecost as the Spirit comes with fire and the people of God open their mouths and utter forth the Word of Christ, the Gospel that leads to salvation.
The first thing that Peter says in his Pentecost Day sermon is to reassure the people that this is not some form of depraved drunkenness, but the fulfillment of Moses’ prayer and God’s plan: “I will pour out my Spirit on 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 on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.”
The Holy Spirit has been unleashed upon a world redeemed from its sins. He is poured out that people would prophesy, that they would call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. The Spirit is let loose on the earth to produce faith in Jesus Christ.
And it continues to this day. Each one of us has received the Spirit of God. How do you know? Are you baptized? Have you received the Lord’s Supper? Have you heard the Gospel? Then you have received the Spirit. And He is working in you, calling to life faith, calling you to call on Jesus, calling you to prophesy.
Prophesying is, in this sense, not something that predicts the future, or is even proclaimed from a pulpit. It is spoken from the lips of a Christian. It is calling on Jesus for salvation, trusting in Him as your Redeemer, confessing Him as the only one who gives life to the dead.
And it happens in two places: the heart and the lips. The heart of the Christian cries out to Jesus Christ in repentance, asking for and receiving forgiveness and the assurance of life everlasting. It is called faith. No one else may ever see it. In fact no one else can see it or hear it. God alone sees and hears the faith in our hearts.
Yet faith also speaks through our lips. We raise our voices praising God in songs and hymns for Christ’s sacrifice. Faith confesses before the whole world that God raised Him from the dead. The faith in our hearts produces prophecy on our lips so that all people may come to know Jesus Christ as God and Savior.
When a child is baptized, we have no idea what he may become. He may very well become a pastor, preaching the gospel to hundreds, thousands week after week. The baptized one may be a teacher, or nurse, or farmer, or secretary, or politician, or custodian.
We can know one thing, however. By the power of the Holy Spirit that baptized child will be a prophet. They will call on Jesus, with the heart, and with the mouth, just like you.
Moses’ prayer has been answered. The burden of God’s people no longer rests on the shoulders of one mere mortal. It no longer rest on the shoulders of 70 men. It rests on the sturdy shoulders of Jesus Christ and His Spirit.