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Numbers 11 and a Pentecostal Theology of Church Leadership

The Bible should be read as precedent for what God wants to do in our lives today.

However, the inevitable trials and testing of their faith began in chapter 11 with some unspecified hardships. The people complained and were dealt with by God. Moses interceded, and the judgment ended. Then, stirred up by the dissatisfaction of some non-Israelites among them, the people wailed about the food they left in Egypt and the manna the Lord was graciously, miraculously providing for them in the wilderness. The Lord became very angry, and Moses, responding to both God and the people, became very troubled.

Moses, as the leader, began to focus on the pressures from the people, the circumstances and his own ability. In both Moses’ and the people’s complaints, the Hebrew uses the same word behind the NIV words “trouble” and “ruin.” In their experiences of pain and hardship, leader and people had become complainers against the goodness of God. Moses listened to the demands of the people, looked at his own ability and resources, and concluded that the burden on him was too great and he would rather die than continue toward his “own ruin” (verse 15, NIV). He described it as a parent or nursemaid carrying all Israel like babies through the wilderness. His sense of divine calling and enabling for mission forgotten, Moses even expressed disbelief that the Lord could provide enough meat to feed the people.


God’s Answer—Pentecost

God’s answer was not simply to send meat, although he did so by a wind from him, which is the same word as spirit. Neither was it to answer Moses’ request to kill him. The Lord’s answer was to put his Spirit, which was on Moses, on seventy other leaders. They were to help him bear the burden of the people, so they could continue on their mission. When the Spirit came upon the seventy, they prophesied, but did not continue to do it. Moses exhorted Joshua not to be jealous for him when two of the seventy leaders received the Spirit apart from the rest. Then he expressed the wish that all God’s people would receive the Spirit and be prophets.

Biblical theology is the culmination of good interpretation.

This is the first extended reference to the Spirit of God in the Bible. Contained in it is the only wish expressed by Moses, perhaps the only wish in the Old Testament for God’s people’s spiritual endowment: “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11: 29, NIV). The biblical idea of prophets was people who were privileged to have such intimate contact and communion with God that they were used as his spokespersons. Thus, this passage describes a significant interconnectedness of the Spirit of God and leadership and the ministry of God’s people and prophetic activity. The result is that in Numbers 11, we have one of the most significant references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the whole Bible. Numbers 11 should be viewed as the foundational Pentecostal/charismatic passage in the Old Testament, even though commentators generally have given little attention to it.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Summer 2009

About the Author: Roger D. Cotton, S.T.M., Th.D. (Concordia Seminary) and M.Div. (Assemblies of God Theological Seminary), is Professor of Old Testament at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri since 1987. He is the author of a commentary on Leviticus in The Complete Biblical Library (World Library Press, 1995) and the chapter on the laws of the Pentateuch, “God Reveals Himself to His People,” in They Spoke from God: A Survey of the Old Testament (Logion Press, 2003). He was an associate pastor at West County Assembly of God in St. Louis from 1983-1987. He is a member of The Institute for Biblical Research and the Society of Biblical Literature.

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