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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:God's grace generates Moses' passionate Pentecost prayer
Text:Numbers 11:29 (View)
Topic:The work of The Holy Spirit

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 146
Psalm 51:1,2,4 (after the law)
Hymn 38
Hymn 36:1,3,5
Augment Hymn 8 (The Spirit Came, as Promised)

Reading: Numbers 11
Text: Numbers 11:29
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,


More, more, more.  The world around us sings it with fervour.  Everyone wants more, everyone needs more.  Marketers and advertisers draw out and build on the discontent in our hearts.  We’re not satisfied with what we have, we need more.  That’s actually “want” more, but “need” is the word we use to rationalize our wants. 


The Bible sings a different tune.  You hear this song from Paul in 1 Timothy 6:6-7, “...godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”  Or take what he writes from prison in Philippians 4:11, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances....I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”  Remarkable words from a man in a tough situation.


How could Paul say such things?  What did he have that the world around him didn’t?  Of course, he had Christ, and he had the Holy Spirit of Christ living in him.  At Pentecost, the Spirit had been poured out and he also eventually came to dwell in Paul’s heart.  Paul’s contentment was Spirit-driven, a fruit of Pentecost. 


This morning we’re looking back long before Pentecost to a tumultuous time in the history of God’s people.  This was a time marked by great deeds of God contrasted with astounding sinfulness on the part of God’s people.  These people are so hard to impress, or rather they’re easy to impress for a little while, but so soon they forget.  They’re hard to impress in any kind of permanent way.  God does all these wonderful things for them and they’re praising, thanking and loving him for a while, but then they start grumbling and whining and being discontented.  That sounds a bit familiar to me and I imagine it does to you too.


Numbers 11 is a roller-coaster ride of emotions, up and down.  Through it all God reveals something about himself and he also leads his people to long for a better day.  He aims to teach them contentedness in him, but also a proper form of discontentedness, a holy discontentedness.  In verse 29, Moses utters this prayer.  This prayer doesn’t come out of the blue, but out of the interaction between God and his people in this chapter.  We’re going to see this morning that it is God’s grace that generates Moses’ passionate prayer that anticipates the day of Pentecost.  There is zeal evident here and we’ll see that there is misdirected zeal and then redirected zeal.


The chapter has a fiery beginning.  The people of Israel were complaining about their hardships and this aroused God’s wrath and so he sent fire which destroyed some of them.  This was a form of chastisement, a discipline sent to point the people in the right direction again.  But they still didn’t get it.  The non-Israelites amongst the people start whining and get everyone else going too.  This time it’s about the food. Egypt had fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.  In the desert, all they get is manna day in and day out.  They’re used to the buffet and now all they get is a menu with one item.  You could cook it in a pot or make it into cakes, but that was about it.  Boring. 


They all sat outside their tents moaning and groaning about this.  Yahweh heard it and became angry.  Moses heard it and became troubled.  These people were impossible.  So Moses went to God and complained too.  His complaint was just as brazen as that of the people.  He asked God why.  Why do I have to lead these people?  I didn’t ask for this.  Why are you doing this to me?  He’s doubting God and his choices for Moses.  Leading these people is too much for him.  Then he reaches a personal all-time low in verse 15, “If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now – if I have found favour in your eyes – and do not let me face my own ruin.”  Moses is so disillusioned and discontented that he has this death-wish.  Some commentators say that Moses is verging on blasphemy here.  Here’s the leader of the people, the mediator-figure, and he’s questioning God and even asking God to put him out of his misery if this has to go on.  Some great spiritual leader he is.  He’s as lost and confused, as messed up as the people are.  His failure as a mediator reminds us of the need for one greater, one who would never whine and complain, but faithfully and joyfully do God’s will.  Our Lord Jesus would be the mediator that Moses could never be, the one who could gladly bear the burden all on his own.      


What would you expect God to do with Moses at this point?  If you didn’t already know what follows, you might think that God in his holiness and justice would oblige Moses’ death-wish.  Perhaps Aaron could take over, maybe Joshua.  Surely God could find someone else willing to take over from this whiny Moses.  Moses is obviously deficient and not up to the task.  Never really has been for that matter, always the reluctant leader right from the start. 


God’s response is remarkable.  He doesn’t oblige Moses’ death wish.  Doesn’t start over.  Instead, he bends down to Moses to lift him up and strengthen him.  He tells him to gather seventy elders together, seventy of the older men who already function as leaders in their families.  They’re to come to the Tent of Meeting and there something special will happen.  God will speak with Moses and he’ll also take of the Spirit that is on Moses and give that same Spirit to them.  Then they will move forward and help Moses with the leadership of the people.  Moses will no longer be alone.  He will have these elders to shoulder the load with him.  Look at God’s grace here towards Moses.  Moses is a wreck.  He’s upset and even blaming God.  Generally speaking, that’s a dangerous thing to do.  The last time people did that, there was fire from heaven.  But here, there is grace.  God doesn’t merely avert punishment for this rebellious child, he instead provides him with blessings.  Loved ones, this is amazing and should impress us and grab our hearts.  After all, isn’t this also God’s way with us through Christ and through the gospel?    


As for the people of Israel, if they wanted meat, God would give them meat.  They would have meat coming out of their noses.  When Moses heard that, he again responded in an unbelieving way.  You would think that God’s gracious provision of these elders would humble him somewhat and put him in a different frame of mind.  But no, he still questioned God’s power and ability to provide.  Unbelievable, really.  And even more astounding is God’s answer.  God seems to have unlimited patience with Moses.  He just said, “Is the LORD’s arm too short?  You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”  Just you wait and see, Moses.    


So Moses went out and told the people what Yahweh said.  The elders were brought together and they stood around the Tent of Meeting, another name for the tabernacle.  God spoke with Moses and then it happened:  the Spirit that was upon him was also put on the seventy elders.  Then they prophesied.  What does that mean exactly?  It’s difficult to nail it down in terms of what exactly they said and did.  We can say that this means that they were giving communication from God.  Whatever was it that came from their lips was exactly what God wanted to be said at that moment.  Through their prophesying God was providing three things:  legitimacy for these elders as assistants for Moses, instruction and guidance for the people of Israel, and thirdly, encouragement and support for Moses.  We’re going to be coming back to that last point in a moment.


This special prophesying only happened this one time.  The Spirit continued to rest on them after this, but they only prophesied in this special on this one occasion.  It’s also important to note that their partaking of the Spirit upon Moses in no way diminished the presence of the Spirit in Moses.  Someone once compared it to candles which are all lit by the light of one candle.  That one candle lights all the others, but it’s own light isn’t diminished because of that.  When the Spirit is poured out here, and then also at Pentecost later, no one is losing out.  Of course, that’s because the Holy Spirit is not a substance, but a person, one person of the Holy Trinity, someone who is the infinite God who cannot be diminished in any way.


Two men remained in the camp.  Eldad and Medad hadn’t gone out to the tabernacle.  All we can do is guess as to why they didn’t go with everyone else.  They should have been there, but weren’t.  Jewish tradition says that this was because they felt inadequate.  That could be true and if so, it makes all the more beautiful that the Holy Spirit also comes to them and rests on them and causes them to prophesy.  Whatever the case may be, the Spirit cannot be bound.  He works when and where and with whom he pleases.  At the tabernacle, outside of the tabernacle, with the elders there, with the elders here.  It doesn’t matter.  He will sovereignly do his work as he wishes.  With the Spirit resting on them they prophesied in the camp, providing instruction and guidance for the people there, as well as indicating their authenticity as leaders for the people.


Meanwhile, Moses was back at the Tent and a young man came running with a report about what Eldad and Medad were doing.  Joshua had been a helper for Moses for a long time and he feels compelled to say something.  His words show respect for the old man.  Moses was well over 80 years old by this time.  So calling him “Adoni,” “my lord/master,” was appropriate.  But then he says, “stop them” or more literally, “shut them up!” 


Joshua continues the pattern here of strong emotions that are entirely misdirected.  His response is along the same lines of all the human beings in this chapter up to this point.  They all have these intense, zealous sentiments that are pointed in the wrong direction.  They’re all lost and confused.  Whether the people of Israel, Moses, or Joshua all of them are drifting along, carried along by their sinful hearts.  In previous instances this was directed inward towards self-pity, but here with Joshua it does move in a different direction, but still a wrong direction.  Here the zeal is directed outwards towards Moses.  Joshua is concerned that Moses’ authority is being challenged by what’s happening with Eldad and Medad.  They’re supposed to be at the Tent of Meeting, not in the camp.  They have no right to disobey Moses and then try to make it look they’re actually legitimate, authentic leaders of the people with him by prophesying.  Joshua takes an all-too human perspective on what’s happening here and so his zeal is misdirected.


But then look at what happens in verse 29.  First of all Moses addresses that misdirected zeal of Joshua.  Moses, the same man who just a few verses ago was bitter and wanting to die and questioning God, suddenly he’s challenging Joshua’s take on things and doing it in the right way.  Something has changed with Moses by this point.  He takes on Joshua’s effort to stop Eldad and Medad.  He says, “Are you jealous for my sake?”  In other words, “Are you looking for my best interest, is this about me?  Are you zealous for me, campaigning for me?”  The “for me” is critical here.  Joshua thinks this is about Moses.  If he had been observing Moses for the last while, it’s understandable how he could have reached that position.  Moses’ inward-looking self-pity is contagious.  It’s a disease that can easily be passed on to others and Joshua seems to have contracted it.  Meanwhile, Moses has been healed and it’s no longer “for me” that has grabbed his heart.  Moses has been reoriented and now he wants to reorient Joshua too. 


What reoriented Moses?  What happened to dispel the fog of unbelief, doubts, questions and self-pity?  It was the prophesying of the elders.  There was something there that God used to straighten out Moses and redirect him and his affections, thoughts, and will.  When the elders prophesied through the Spirit, the Spirit spoke and gave Moses exactly what he needed to come back to his senses.  This too was a matter of grace for Moses. 


In times past, preaching was often referred to as prophesying.  In the sixteenth century the early English Puritan William Perkins wrote a popular textbook on preaching and he titled it, The Art of Prophesying.  It makes sense.  Preaching is bringing the Word of God to bear on people’s lives.  Speaking in accordance with the Word of God, preaching is the Word of God and the Spirit uses it.  He uses it to reorient us and to redirect our zeal and reconfigure our lives, shaping us into the image of Christ.  Brothers and sisters, our text points us to our need for preaching, for the instrument that God has graciously ordained for changing us in our day, for graciously directing us to Christ and for his Spirit to work transformation in us.                                

God’s grace generated that redirected zeal of Moses.  God’s mercy reoriented him and produced this brief prayer that we find here.  Moses said, “I wish that all the people of Yahweh were prophets and that Yahweh would put his Spirit on them.”  Three things are readily evident from these words.


First, as I just mentioned, it was a positive thing for Moses that the elders prophesied.  He was glad for it.  It was encouragement for him.  As a result of it, he now sees clearly.  This was a gift of God for him that he needed at that moment. 


Second, he would be even gladder and rejoice even more if all the people would go and do likewise.  If God would pour out his Spirit on all the people, that would be the best thing that could happen.  He wishes for it, he prays for it.  He longs to see it!  This is the kind of discontentedness that is good and holy.  A longing for a closer intimacy to God for all his people. 


Third, the Spirit that Yahweh placed upon them was not something that originated with Moses.  It wasn’t as if this was somehow a part of Moses’ soul or something like that.  The Spirit that was upon Moses was the Spirit of Yahweh, his Spirit.  In other words, this is the one whom we come to know as the Holy Spirit, who is revealed to be one person of the Holy Trinity.


Moses uttered this prayer, but it would not be answered in his day.  It would be answered, though.  Even in all his weakness, Moses was a man who looked in faith to God’s promises.  For an Old Testament believer, that was the same as us looking to Christ.  They trusted in what God said about a coming Redeemer, we trust in the Redeemer who has come.  Through faith we are counted righteous.  Through faith Moses was a righteous man in God’s sight, even though he continued to be a sinner.  What does it say about the prayers of the righteous in James 5:16?  “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  So it was with Moses. 


Centuries later the prayer of Moses in Numbers 11:29 would resonate through the words of the prophet Joel.  Look at Joel 2 with me for a moment.  Look at verse 28, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”  And verse 29, “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”  God is speaking there and he says, “I’ve heard Moses’ prayer and I’m going to answer it.  The Spirit will be poured out on everyone and all my people will be prophets.”


But before that happens, someone must come.  He would be anointed with the Holy Spirit to be a prophet, our chief prophet and teacher.  As we heard a couple of weeks ago, he would send another comforter, another Paraklete to be with us and to lead us and instruct us.  The Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, but did not leave us as orphans. 


Please turn to Acts 2 with me.  We read about the pouring out of the Spirit in verses 1-4 (read).  And then we have the response of the Jews.  They wonder what it means.  Some think that the believers are drunk.  Then Peter explains everything in verses 14 and following.  Moses’ prayer isn’t mentioned there.  But the promised response to Moses’ prayer in Joel 2 is mentioned.  The day of Pentecost was the answer to Moses’ prayer.


Moses prayed for us that we might be prophets and that we might have the Spirit of Yahweh rest upon us.  In his grace, God heard that prayer and made it happen.  Today, we are all prophets, called to confess the great name of our God and Saviour.  With an eye to our text, we need to ask why has God done this?  Why has he poured out his Spirit on us and called us to be prophets?  To redirect and reorient us.  To turn us outward rather than inward.  To direct our eyes upward rather than downward.  So that we would prophesy, speak the truth of God’s Word, so that we would prophesy rather than pout.  Strengthen rather than sour.  Build up rather than break down.  God has poured out his Spirit on us so that we would be his instruments to strengthen those around us and to reorient them.  Think of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:3.  After saying that prophesying is what all believers should eagerly desire, he adds, “...everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”  And the truth that we speak has to be grounded in the gospel of what Christ has done for us – his perfect sacrifice covering and forgiving all our unrighteousness, his perfect obedience given to us for our own.  God’s grace in the gospel is what reorients us, and our zeals and our affections, what we’re passionate about.  Our Spirit-filled prophesying will testify to that grace of God for us and for others.  


Loved ones, grumbling, discontent, and unbelief are contagious.  As I mentioned, they’re easily passed along to others like some sort of nasty virus.  But faith and a redirected zeal for God, prophesying of our commitment to him and our love for him – that can also be contagious.  People can pick it up from us.  That can happen in our homes as we model it for our children.  It can happen at school or in the workplace or anywhere.  Think about it:  who are you going to infect this week?   Keep in mind that this redirected zeal and passion for God and his grace is much like the common cold.  You don’t pick it up from a distance, but from close personal contact, through relationships.  Through relationships, the Spirit who’s been poured out on you will work to spread a new life, a new creation.  That’s the way he works.


The ultimate result of all that is in two things.  First of all, there is the glory of God.  That’s what we were created for.  That’s why the Spirit has been poured out.  That’s what prophets are about:  amplifying, magnifying the honour of God Most High.  Through the Spirit we’re turned outward and become eager to have him made much of by ourselves and everyone.


Second, there is also a realization that things are not quite yet what they should be.  The Spirit is described elsewhere in Scripture as a down payment, a first instalment.  He is the promise of even better things yet to come.  We can find much contentment and joy in his presence with us today, but remaining sin in our lives reminds us that it’s not yet the way it should be.  In the age to come and only then, we will be the best Spirit-filled prophets that we can be.  Thus we still continue to pray for the return of our Saviour and the new heavens and earth. 


Discontent and grumbling, misdirected zeal, all these things are signs that we live in a broken world.  And we know these things are not just outside us, but also inside.  It’s not just a broken world, of ourselves we’re also broken, dead even.  Loved ones, so we look in faith to Christ, our perfect Mediator, his perfect sacrifice through which all of this is forgiven.  We look to Christ, the one who perfectly obeyed God’s law and whose obedience is ours.  We pray for the continuing work of his Spirit in our lives, that he would continue to renovate our hearts and lives until the day that the project is complete.  AMEN. 




Yahweh, our faithful God,


We praise you for answering Moses’ prayer.  We praise you for pouring out your Spirit on all your people, young and old, men and women, people from tribe, tongue, and nation.  We thank you Holy Spirit, for making your home with us in our hearts.  Please continue your work in our hearts and lives, constantly direct us to Christ our Saviour.  Please graciously reorient us and what we love and what prioritize.  We want to seek the glory of our Creator, Redeemer and Renewer in everything and we want our desire to be contagious.  O God, please help us to have opportunities to share our faith, to prophesy of your great name and your great deeds.  Please give us the opportunities, but also the will and the love for those around us who might not know you in a saving way.  Please use us for your glory in this world and the advance of the gospel.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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