Sermon for Sunday, September 26th, 2021, the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

The Lessons: Psalm 19:7-14; Numbers 11:4-17, 24-29; Mark 9:38-48

The Text: Numbers 11:4-17, 24-29

The Topic: God gives the Holy Spirit for effective ministry and leadership.


“I’ve become more convinced than ever that God finds ways to communicate with those who truly seek him, especially when we lower the volume of the surrounding static,” says write Philip Yancey.

Yancey talks about reading the account of a spiritual seeker who interrupted a busy life to spend a few days in a monastery. “I hope your stay is a blessed one,” said the monk who showed the visitor to his cell. “If you need anything, let us know, and we’ll teach you how to live without it.”

– Based on Philip Yancey, “What 147 Elk Taught Me about Prayer,” Christianity Today (March 2006)[1]


The Israelites in the wilderness and the “mixed multitude” (Numbers 11:4) were growing tired of the manna God was providing as their only food. Though far from Egypt, they were longing for the variety of vegetables that they had enjoyed there, even while they had been mistreated as slaves to the Egyptians. They felt that they could no longer tolerate such a plain diet, with the result that they all complained to Moses, asking for meat to eat (Numbers 11:4). Yellowish white in color, and spherical like coriander seed, manna was what God gave them to eat on their wilderness journey. This manna when ground was used as flour for baking cakes of bread. From God’s perspective, His word was more necessary than even the manna with which He fed them:

And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.

(Deuteronomy 8:3, KJV)


This diet of the word of God and manna was part of the discipline of God for his special children, his people, and at this point, they were refusing to accept it. The Lord became angry at the sound of all the people weeping in their tents for better food, and it displeased Moses, until he complained to God that the burden of carrying the people of Israel spiritually was too much for him to bear alone (Numbers 11:14). Moses thinks of himself as overburdened by the weight of carrying Israel as a nursing father (Numbers 11:12). If God is treating him like this, he reasons, then he may as well die and not see all his misery (Numbers 11:15). Of course, Moses’ complaint arises from his sense of weakness in the face of the people’s complaints about food. Where can he find meat for all these people to eat? Centuries later, the Lord Jesus Christ asks his disciples  (Matthew 14:16) to provide food for a multitude of five thousand people, and the only food they have then is five loaves and two fishes, but from this small amount, the Lord Jesus feeds them all, with leftovers to spare. Moses learns two lessons here – firstly, the resources from which God can provide for his people are vast. Secondly, he learns that God will share the Spirit of God with the seventy elders of Israel so that he does not have to be the only one to lead the people of Israel and listen to their complaints.


If we are looking for a passage in the Old Testament which shows the Holy Spirit coming upon leaders to inspire them with God’s gifts and wisdom to exercise their ministries, here it is. Moses calls together the seventy elders of the people and sets them round the tabernacle (Numbers 11:24). Then the Lord descends in a cloud, takes some of the Spirit that rested on Moses, and distributes it to the seventy elders. Immediately they begin to prophesy, and they “did not cease” (Numbers 11:25c, KJV), which means that they had this gift for the rest of their lives. From then on, the knowledge of God and his wisdom would guide them in their ministry of leadership.

The account of Eldad and Medad, who belonged to the company of elders but were not at the tabernacle when the Spirit was distributed, is instructive, reminding us that the gift of God’s Spirit is not limited by place or time. Eldad and Medad also prophesied, though they were in the camp and not at the tabernacle (Numbers 11:26).

Moses’ servant, Joshua, son of Nun, was concerned about Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp, to the point that he wanted Moses to forbid them to prophesy. Moses’ reply to Joshua both shows his own generosity of spirit and reveals God’s purpose one day for all his people, for Moses replied:

Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!

(Numbers 11:29b, KJV)

Centuries later, St. Paul wrote:

I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.

Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?

(1 Corinthians 14:5-6, KJV)

Prophecy is the inspired wisdom and knowledge that proceeds from the Holy Spirit. It may include the prediction of the future, but often it shows us the right way of living, what is the perfect will of God for our lives, or for the lives of others. This is certainly the gift that those seventy elders needed to help Moses bear the burden of leadership by giving counsel to those who had complaints or disputes with others in the community. We can conclude from Moses’ wish that all God’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them all, that God has this purpose for his people, that they all should be filled with his Holy Spirit and be prophets, in the sense of giving wise guidance, counsel, and encouragement to others!


Is it not time that each of us asked God for more of his Holy Spirit, that we may be effective both in our witness and in the use of prophetic gifts to direct ourselves and others to the perfect will of God for their lives?

[1] p. 400, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.

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