June 4, 2017 “On Us All” – Numbers 11:24-30

Numbers 11:24-30
“On Us All”
June 4, 2017 – Pentecost

Fishermen like their secrets. Last fall I was floating down the Quinault River in Washington in a drift boat with a native guide. Another boat came down the river past us, and the guide in that one called out, “Have many have you caught?” We hadn’t even had a bite, but my guide didn’t miss a beat when he yelled back, “Enough!” I’m sure the answer would have been the same had we already caught and released a dozen.

Many fishermen go out of their way to hide and protect their secret spots, brushing away footprints or tire tracks behind them. Or if a particular fly is producing hits, he’ll cup his hand over it when another fisherman approaches. Everyone knows that if word gets out, then that pool that always has fish in it will soon be empty, or if too many people are casting that killer fly it will become familiar to the fish and they’ll quit taking it.

It’s human nature to want to hide and protect the things we value. We assume that getting those things we desire is a what theorists call a “zero-sum game.” If somebody else gets something, then there is less for the rest of us. If he catches fish, then I’ll catch less. If she wins, then I lose.

Unfortunately, life is often just like that, zero-sum. If he gets the job, then I won’t. If they get the house, then our family will have to keep looking. If she wins the scholarship, then I’ll have to take out loans for college. If he gets that parking place, I’ll have to keep driving around. So we guard what we have found, protect the resources we’ve discovered. To share them would decrease our share.

That’s the spirit we find in Moses’ assistant Joshua in our text this morning from Numbers 11. Meat is scarce for the children of Israel and they are complaining. Just before our text, in verses 18 to 29, God promised Moses to give them a month’s worth of meat. In verses 21 and 22, Moses doesn’t believe it, “We’re talking 600,000 people, Lord. There aren’t enough flocks and herds or fish in the sea to feed that many.”

God’s reply in verse 23 is about the meat, but it’s also the key to our text. God asked Moses, “Is the Lord’s power limited?” The answer, of course, is no. God doesn’t have to play a zero-sum game. On God’s court or field or game board, just because someone wins it doesn’t have to mean someone else loses. As Psalm 50 verses 10 and 11 say, every animal in the forest and the cattle on a thousand hills and every bird in the air belong to God. He has plenty.

It’s Pentecost, so more important than fish or any sort of meat, more important than houses or jobs, we are talking about God’s gift of His Holy Spirit. And already here in Numbers, long before Jesus arrived, God taught His people that spiritual life is not a zero-sum game. God has plenty. When God pours out His Spirit, there is more than enough to go around.

Here in Numbers 11:24, it’s about a spiritual gift of leadership for “seventy elders of the people.” God told Moses back up in verse 17 to bring them together and God “will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them.” And Moses was O.K. with that. He did not try to protect his role as leader of all Israel. It’s partly that he was worn out and exhausted with the responsibility and needed help with the load. But as we heard in what we read together, Moses was also genuinely ready not to play zero-sum with his spiritual gift.

So the scene is that Moses gathered those seventy elders around the tent, the Tabernacle that held God’s presence. Then in verse 25, God did just what He said. He took some of the spirit of leadership that was on Moses and put it on those seventy. And “they prophesied.” That means they went into some sort of spiritual ecstasy, maybe dancing and praising God, maybe speaking in tongues. It was God’s sign that these people would be leaders alongside Moses, and would share in the gift of leadership from the Lord’s Holy Spirit.

The problem is that two elders didn’t show up for the meeting, not that different from our church meetings today. We don’t know why, but they stayed back in the camp. But the Holy Spirit found them there anyway. Verse 26 says that “the spirit rested” on Edad and Medad and they prophesied right there in the camp instead of in the official gathering around the Tabernacle.

Joshua was just like my guide, just like most of us when we’ve got something that other people don’t have and we don’t think there’s enough to go around. He didn’t want to share the secret, share the spiritual gift with a couple of guys who couldn’t even bother to show up for the meeting. So in verse 28, Joshua asked Moses to stop them, to put an end to this squandering of Holy Spirit power that was going leave less for the rest of them.

Moses’ reply in verse 29 shows that he had learned some real lessons leading his people out there in the desert and listening to God. He had already accepted the fact that God was going to take some of the spirit of leadership from him and give it to seventy others. Now Moses was totally ready for that spirit to be handed off to a couple more people. In fact, the leader of Israel was ready for exactly what we are celebrating today.

Moses asked Joshua, “Are you jealous for my sake?” In other words, Moses wasn’t jealous. He had already worked through the issues of sharing leadership. So he didn’t need someone else to be jealous for him. But then Moses lived up to his own spiritual role as leader and prophet of God’s people. He expressed a desire that was only going to be fulfilled centuries later on the day we are commemorating this morning. He said, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

God doesn’t play a zero-sum game with us. Moses discovered that out in the desert there between Egypt and the promised land. He looked forward to the day when everyone would know it, when the Holy Spirit of God would land on anyone who wanted to receive Him. That day came when Jesus had died and risen again to remove our sins and make anyone who believes in Him fit to receive His Spirit. That day came when a rushing wind swept through Jerusalem and the Spirit came down on twelve men who went out into the streets to share that gift with anyone who would listen.

In our Gospel lesson from John 7, Jesus said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” Then He said, “Out of that one’s inner being shall flow rivers of living water.” Then John explained that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit. For anyone who has the Spirit, there are rivers more to share. The Spirit poured out on someone else does not mean there is less for you.

This morning as we wear red and hear all those languages and then eat some church birthday cake with red roses on it, I invite you to remember that your life in Jesus and His Holy Spirit resting on you is not a zero-sum. There is plenty to go around for this church and for all the churches down this street. There is enough for God to pour out His Spirit on thousands and thousands more in this community. There is enough for the whole world.

We are living in days when we feel a spirit of scarcity. That’s what the immigration thing is all about. If we let too many people in, then there won’t be enough resources and jobs in this country for the rest of us. That’s the spirit behind discussions of climate change too, on both sides. On the one hand, people fear polluting and ruining the limited resources of this planet. On the other hand, people fear that if we don’t burn our fuels and profit from them, then some other country, some other people will do it and get ahead of us. It’s all from that zero-sum spirit, that protective jealousy like Joshua had, that makes us want to guard and save all God’s gifts for our own benefit.

That zero-sum spirit is also a spirit of fear. We saw that in what happened in Portland last week. Fear of having to share with people outside our own circle drove a man crazy enough to kill for it. That spirit of fear drove extremists to attack innocent people last night in London. Our Lord’s Holy Spirit is not like that. No one need fear Him. He is enough for anyone, for everyone who wants to receive Him through Jesus Christ.

I don’t know how to deal with all the painful scarcities of life in this world, whether it’s food or jobs or housing, whether it’s energy or medical care. I don’t know what to do about all the evil spirits loose in this world driving people to violence. What I do know is that God’s Holy Spirit is a spirit of abundance and peace, of life shared rather than life guarded and protected on every side. I want to live in that Spirit, in the Spirit of Jesus Christ who gave up everything for us, sharing even His life for us rather than trying to hold on to it. That’s the Holy Spirit I want to rest on me. And with Moses I pray that it would rest on all of God’s people, on all of you. There is plenty of that peaceful Holy Spirit to go around.


Valley Covenant Church
Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
Copyright © 2017 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj