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Numbers 11 and a Pentecostal Theology of Church Leadership

I want to propose, based on careful study of Numbers 11, the following principles for us as leaders among God’s people today. My hope is that the Holy Spirit will use this to stimulate your thinking in this area and that you will refine what I present, contribute more principles and communicate them with me. My greater purpose is to encourage you to do the same kind of biblical theological principlizing of Bible passages in your ministries.

The first truth or principle I see in this text is that there will be problems on our “journey” for the Lord. Various hardships and challenges to basic needs will arise. God’s people may turn on the leader and, out of fear or greed, make unreasonable demands. One common pressure will be the apparent discrepancy between the work needing to be done and the workers and resources to do it. The answer, as we have seen and will discuss further, is the gift of God’s Spirit.

We must keep turning our eyes away from the circumstances and ourselves back to God.

The second principle is that, in these problems among God’s people on the journey, leaders are often tempted to focus on themselves for the answer. However, the text teaches that the answer is not in our resources or us but in God and his Spirit working in and through us. It may sound simplistic, but Numbers 11 says the answer to the problems of our ministries is Pentecost. God’s ministry and mission are always accomplished by the working of his Spirit (as we affirm from Zechariah 4:6). But what does this mean in practical terms? It means that we must keep turning our eyes away from the circumstances and ourselves back to God and never lose the sense of awe and dependence on his power and wisdom, and never let go of our belief in his goodness. In good Pentecostal tradition, we need to listen to God’s voice, get a word from him and obey it in faith. Such a word will be in line with what he has already revealed in the Scriptures and will honor him for his holy character.

Third, the text teaches that all who are called by God have his Spirit at work in them. This is the implication from the sudden reference to the Holy Spirit here. According to Numbers 11:17, Moses had the Spirit on him all along to enable him to accomplish God’s purpose even though nothing was said about the Spirit and Moses before this. Perhaps we should have picked up that this was an ancient assumption from the references to Joseph in Genesis 41:38 and to Bezalel and Oholiab in Exodus 31:3; 35:31. They were said to have God’s Spirit given to them for wisdom and ability to carry out their important, leadership functions. Later passages, such as 1 Samuel 16:3, show that God sent his Spirit upon those he established as his leaders. Thus, we should realize that whether the Bible explicitly mentions the Spirit or not God intends us to assume the Pentecostal understanding that his work is to be done in the power of his Spirit. Again, the description of this event in Numbers 11 seems to be intended as a paradigm/example of what should be expected for all God-ordained leadership.4 The experience of this will be discussed later.

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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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