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Numbers 11 and a Pentecostal Theology of Church Leadership

Never lose the sense of awe and dependence on his power and wisdom, never let go of our belief in his goodness.

The fourth principle I see here is that it is no problem for God to distribute the burden among others beyond us (and the rest of the weary 10 percent who typically do 90 percent of the work of the church) and enable those others to carry the burden with us. He called for seventy elders to provide the help Moses needed. That number was probably symbolic to them of the full representation of the group of people involved (see Genesis 10 and Exodus 1:5). God wants us to realize he can empower the full number we need. Perhaps he waits until we realize our need and are willing to relinquish our exclusive hold on the power, just like waiting to create Eve until Adam felt his need. We also must realize we lose nothing when God does this; we only gain.

The fifth principle, then, as we read on in the Lord’s instruction to Moses here, is that leaders must gather the workers God wants from those already known to be leaders among the people. God did not force on the people new leaders who were strange to them. God calls us to recruit and to use wisdom in our organization of his people for effective ministry and mission. Note also that, throughout most of his ministry, Moses was mentoring Joshua to be his successor.

The sixth thing I see about God’s answer is that it was not a quick fix for the immediate felt need but the long term solution to all such stresses in the ministry and missionary journey of his people. He did meet the immediate need but dealt with their sin with judgment. However, the focus was on the greater need—Spirit-empowered infrastructure.

The seventh principle is that God’s leaders and people should expect the Pentecostal experience of prophetic empowering for his mission. Numbers 11 amazingly prefigures Pentecost. The Lord put his Spirit on the seventy, and they prophesied as he publicly established them in their support ministry with Moses. The prophesying was an observable sign to all the people that God was working supernaturally by his Spirit in their lives and had chosen them for this ministry. In this passage, the verb nab’a, to prophesy, is not in its usual form but in the hitpael stem. This form of the verb was used of visible, physical demonstrations of some kind, involving prophetic speech, with no mention of the content. As in 1 Sam. 10:5-6, 10; 18:10; 19:20-24; and 1 Kings 18:29, the observable experience testified to contact with God’s presence. Milgrom, Ashley, Walton and Matthews have observed that the choice of this form of the verb in Numbers 11 strongly suggests God used a visible, Spirit-empowering, prophetic event to confirm his authorization of,5 power upon,6 and intimate involvement in these leaders’ ministries To Wenham and Walton, the experience sounds much like that of the 120 at Pentecost in Acts 2. Wenham goes so far as to say, “As with Saul, the prophecy described here was probably an unintelligible ecstatic utterance, what the New Testament terms speaking in tongues.”7 That seems to be a viable possibility here. However, the clear point is that some kind of observable prophetic experience was a known sign of the Spirit’s empowering for leadership ministry.

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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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