Numbers 11:10-16, 24-29
10 Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11So Moses said to the Lord, ‘Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child”, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? 13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, “Give us meat to eat!” 14I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.’
16 So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you.
24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then 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 when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
26 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. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them!’ 29But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!’
This reading is one of the lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, the 17th Sunday after Pentecost. In reading and meditating on this passage a bit this morning in lectio divina (“divine reading” – a medieval form of reading, studying, praying over and contemplating Scripture), a couple of things stuck out for me.
The first is that Moses, that imposing figure I tend to think of as the confident, deep-voiced Charlton Heston of The Ten Commandments, cannot do the work alone. In a moment of what seems like utter exhaustion and stress, Moses cries out to God, “hey! Lend me a hand here!” He even gets quite sassy and sarcastic and I actually appreciate this passage for portraying that very human side of this legendary figure. I can relate to the exhausted and exasperated Moses. Well, maybe not because I’m also trying to lead people through the wilderness, but because some days, things just become incredibly overwhelming. Running from class to work, to a meeting or choir, to more class or commuting…it all seems to take its toll after a while.
So when Moses cries out to God for help, I hear some echo of my own prayers; “Lord, just help me get through today!” In this passage though, God responds in a very powerful and practical way, instructing Moses to gather trustworthy helpers from his own community. Moses is to call on the community for strength and assistance in leading the people.
In reading this story, I hear God saying “you are not alone.” Not only is God with us and for us, but we have been blessed with people to help us along the way. As Galatians 6:2 explains, it is in bearing one another’s burdens that we fulfill the law of Christ. In assisting one another, we love one another with the love of Christ.
In thinking about this more, part of the song “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” by U2 comes to mind. The lyrics I’m thinking of specifically are:
Tough, you think you’ve got the stuff
You’re telling me and anyone
You’re hard enough
You don’t have to put up a fight
You don’t have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches
For you tonight
Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go it alone
Sometimes I think we, especially perfectionists and Type A personalities, just need a gentle reminder that it’s ok to ask for help – that it’s perfectly acceptable not to have all the answers. After all, as God tells Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “‘my grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”
The second thing that struck me about this reading in Numbers was that the Lord pours out the Holy Spirit on two people no one expected. The Spirit isn’t hindered by or constricted by our thoughts on who we deem worthy. Thankfully, the Spirit blows where it will and, as a result, God shows up in even the most unlikely of places. I hear this as a call for us to be open-minded – to see what God is up to in those places we wouldn’t dare enter and in those people we might shy away from engaging.
As I continue to think about and explore this passage, I’d like to sincerely thank all the others in lectio divina this morning for helping to shed some light on this marvelous section in Numbers.
© 2009. Annabelle Peake. All rights reserved.
Here’s the video for U2’s “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”: