Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Numbers 11:4-29 4 Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. 6 But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” 10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the LORD blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. 11 Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.” 16 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 23 And the LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.” 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25 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 as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. 26 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. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” 29 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!”
“Now,” said the prospective father-in-law to the nervous suitor, “how do you plan to support my daughter in the manner to which she’s become accustomed?”
Sorority dues, a sporty little car, credit cards at Saks and Macy’s. Or Sunday brunch, beer and brats, Dockers. Whatever our lifestyle, our standard of living, we not only want to keep it, but we also want more. We’ve become quite used to our little luxuries, however big or small they really are, and we’d hate to have to become unaccustomed to them. That’s what Israel was facing now that they’d come out of Egypt, and they didn’t like it either. But in our text, the Lord shows Israel and us that
By Giving the Spirit, God Gives Life Well Beyond the Manner to Which We’ve Become Accustomed.
We’re quite accustomed to our manner and standard of living. We are accustomed to our weekly night out for dining and a show or dance. We are accustomed to air-conditioned houses and cars and couldn’t live without them. We’ve grown accustomed to eating meat at least once a day if not for every meal; and to fruits and vegetables shipped in, imported from other countries so we can have them any time of the year whether they are in season or not. We have become accustomed to driving our cars everywhere we go instead of having to walk or rely on public transportation. We love our comfortable, cushioned beds, and couldn’t even sleep on a cot or mat on the floor like many of the people in the world. We wouldn’t know what to do if we didn’t have running water in our house and had to carry water from the local river or well, or cut firewood to cook supper, or didn’t have a sit-down toilet that you can flush. We have grown accustomed to cell phones, instant communications with friends and family around the world, information on every topic at our finger tips via the internet. Yet every one of the examples I just mentioned are enjoyed by just part of the people in the world today. (For this reason we should pray for our missionaries and thank God for their willingness to do without many, if not all, the luxuries I just mentioned in order to bring Christ to the people of the world.)
Israel was no different from us. Once they were living in the desert, they remembered the manner they’d lived—and eaten—in Egypt (vv 4–6). Oh, they’d forgotten the slavery part. And now they grumble that their diet is not as rich as it was in Egypt. Selfishness and boredom with God’s providence led Israel to grumble. And it leads us to grumble too. In fact, even with the standard of living and luxurious life style that we have, we also grumble, bored with the standard of living God provides for us. We enjoy going out to eat every week, or having fast food available instantly at any time of day or night, but after enough time, it gets boring. We can get so attached to our Nintendos, our Play Stations, and game boards that it becomes boring and we’re always looking for the next version hoping that it will be even more exciting. Great America and other theme parks are constantly working to design faster and scarier rides and rollercoasters because eventually we got bored and need to take the thrill to another level. We just can’t seem to get enough. Whatever God has given us, we always want more.
Meanwhile, back in the desert, Moses was getting fed up with God-given duties, which were much heavier than the life to which he’d become accustomed (vv 10–15). He’d spent forty years off by himself, just tending a few sheep, when God suddenly put him in charge of a nation of millions. Now they’re grumbling, and Moses complains about carrying the burden of all those people.
We also complain, fatigued from carrying our burdens. The constant burden of having to get up every morning and go to work. The constant burden of classes and homework in school that never seems to lighten up. The boredom of the routine, the same ol’ thing day after day. The burden of bills and taxes and expenses that put constant pressure on us.
Then God acts to help Moses, but Joshua’s accustomed manner of living is upset (vv 16, 24–28). Joshua was accustomed to the God-ordained order of his “boss,” Moses, unchallenged head. So Joshua tries to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying as a challenge to Moses. Well intentioned, perhaps, but misguided. But it shows just how hard we work to protect our turf, our accustomed manner of living too, jealous of others and their gifts. We are afraid someone else will get what we have, the fame, the power, or the position, or the paycheck.
But God gives a different manner of life by giving the Spirit. God shows his people that life can be quite different from the accustomed manner of life. By that I mean He doesn’t give better food, a sabbatical from duties, or confirmation of leadership, or more luxury, or greater excitement, but he gives us the Holy Spirit. God’s answer is to give greater life in the Spirit—spiritual life. A life of walking in the Spirit of God.
In Moses’ case, He did it by putting his Spirit on seventy elders. Not better food! The manna to which they were accustomed was already quite tasty (vv 7–8). Not time off! But Spirit-filled men to aid Moses. There was no need to turf-protect! The Spirit works in manners well beyond our accustomed (v 29).
Likewise, God shows us an unaccustomed lifestyle too. Life is more than food, ease at work, affirmations that “You’re the man!” More than fast cars and luxurious homes. Life is given by the Spirit, “the Lord and giver of life” (Nicene Creed). That life is the life earned for all people when the One who gives the Spirit, the eternal Son of God, laid down his life on the cross.
Now that statement in itself is a shocker. No one is accustomed to gaining life by losing it, but that’s exactly what Jesus did—for Israel, for Moses, for Joshua, for you who through the Spirit believe in him. By his death he gave you life. By his cross he gives life.
It’s the life given by the Spirit in Baptism. Those who enter the Kingdom are born again of water and Spirit (Jn 3:5). Your Baptism gives life because it is the washing of rebirth in the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4–7). Your baptism gives you life because by baptism you are united with Christ in his tomb, in his death. And if you die with him you shall also be raised with him.
It’s the life given by the Spirit in Holy Communion. In the divine service on Sunday morning worship we are joined to his cross and given life as we partake of his body and blood which he sacrificed on the cross. That is why the divine service is the center of the Christian’s life. From the death of Jesus comes our life and we are joined to his death when we partake of his body and blood which give us new life.
And this new life in the Spirit is well beyond that to which we’ve been accustomed. It’s the life poured out ever since Pentecost. The outpouring of the Spirit here points to the Spirit poured out on Jesus’ apostles on the Day of Pentecost. Since they received the Spirit, word of Christ’s saving death has been going to all the world. Thus the Spirit is being given not just once to seventy elders or even just to one whole nation, not just to one leader as Joshua thought, but as rather Moses envisioned: “Would that the Lord would put his Spirit on all his people!”
It’s the life so much richer than that to which we were accustomed. A greater life than that which is found in this world—greater than wealth, comfort, fame or popularity. Instead, you have the life of Christ in you, with you, providing everything he knows best. Instead of a diet of rich and mouthwatering food that sustains your life for a few days, He gives you the food of eternal life so that you shall hunger no more.
It’s the life that has no end!
As Moses came to see, God is, by giving the Spirit in Christ, providing for us very well beyond the little manner to which we’ve become accustomed. Amen.