Numbers: Elders and Quail

Sermon by on June 20, 2007

Numbers 11:16-30

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Wednesday Evening

June 20, 2007

Numbers 11:16-30

“Elders and Quail”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Numbers, chapter eleven. Tonight we’re going to be looking at verses 16-30.

Now, to God’s word. If you have your Bibles, let me
ask you to cast your eyes back earlier in the chapter (Numbers 11), because the
last time we were together in Numbers, back at the first Wednesday night of June
a couple of weeks ago, we were looking at Numbers 11:1-15. And it’s a passage
that is a living illustration of what Paul was talking about in I Corinthians
10.

In verses 1-3 of Numbers 11 we see the complaint of
the people against God; in verses 4-6 we see the influence of this rabble that’s
amongst the people of God complaining — sort of sowing seeds of discontent that
spread throughout the camp of Israel until all the people are complaining. In
verses 7-9 we see a description of the manna that God sends. In spite of the bad
attitude of the people, God in His kindness sends manna for them to eat, and
it’s described in verses 7-9. And then, in verses 10-15, we get a pretty strong
expression of the discouragement that Moses was feeling. In verses 11-15, Moses
pours out his complaint to God in prayer.

We said Numbers 11 is a study in contrasts with the
end of Numbers 10. The closing verses of Numbers 10 stress God’s sovereign
providence, His care for, His protection of, His provision for the children of
Israel; and you get into the opening verses of chapter 11 and it’s like Israel
has forgotten all of that. They have been in bondage in slavery for over 400
years, and they are only three days into the journey and they’re all complaining
and saying ‘You know, wish we could get back to the good old days in Egypt.’ And
it’s a study in contrasts. Suddenly, from the end of Numbers 10, celebrating the
sovereign providence of God, to Numbers 11, complaining that God has forgotten
them.

So what lessons do we learn from this passage? Four
things in particular, if you look at Numbers 11:1-15. First of all, in verses
1-3 we learn that whenever we complain of our circumstances, what we’re actually
doing is denying that God cares for us…whenever we complain of our
circumstances, what we’re actually doing is denying that God cares for us.

Number two: If you look at verses 4-6, and also verse
10, we learn that whenever we complain we tend to spread a spirit of complaint
amongst the people of God. It’s not just us that our complaining affects. It
affects everyone around us, and it’s often very contagious.

Thirdly, we said when we looked especially at verses
7-9 that when we complain we undervalue the rich provisions of God.

And then, fourth, in verses 10-15, we learn that
whenever those in leadership complain of the load of caring for the people, they
have forgotten whose people they are, and whose job it is to carry them.

Now, it’s actually those last four verses (from
11-15) that set the stage for the passage that we’re going to read tonight.
We’re going to read Numbers 11:16-30. [I know it says 16-35 on your sheet, but
actually all we’re going to cover tonight…when I sketched this out originally, I
said, “Now, Missye Rhee, I’m going to preach all Numbers 11 in one sermon.”
We’re already on the second sermon on Numbers 11, and I think it’s going to go
to the third sermon on Numbers 11 next week. But that won’t surprise you, since
I can’t seem to find my way out of Philippians 1:21 in less than three sermons!
So, bear with me, dear friends!]

Let me outline the passage as we’re going to read
it tonight
, because we’re going to concentrate on the sections that deal
with the elders, and then the section that deals with the elders who prophesy,
in verses 16-30.

Here’s the six-point outline to the passage:

If you look at verses 16-17, you will see God’s
kind answer to Moses’ complaint in prayer.
In verses 11-15, Moses complains
to God in prayer, and in verses 16-17, God gives him a kind answer. That’s the
first part of the passage we’re going to read.

Secondly, if you look at verses 18-20, you’re
going to see God’s furious answer to the people’s complaints against Him.

Isn’t it interesting? Moses complains and God is kind in His answer to Moses;
the people complain and God is furious. Now you’ve got to be asking yourself why
does God react the way He reacts to Moses and then react in a totally different
way to the people. There’s a message in this passage about that.

Thirdly, if you look at verses 21-22, you’ll see
Moses himself unbelievingly question God’s power.

Fourth, in verse 23, you will see God in response
to Moses affirm His unlimited power.

Fifth, in verses 24-26, you will see Moses deliver
the message that God had told him to deliver, and then God Himself comes down.

Then, sixth, in verses 27-30, you’ll see Moses’
response to the reports that there are elders prophesying in the camp.

Well, let’s hear God’s word. Before we do, let’s
pray.

Lord, thank You for this word. Teach us from it,
we pray. Open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Law. We ask this in
Jesus’ name. Amen.

This is the word of God:

“The Lord therefore said to Moses, ‘Gather for Me seventy men from
the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their
officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand
there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take
of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear
the burden of the people with you, so that you shall not bear it all alone. And
say to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat;
for you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, ‘Oh that someone would give
us meat to eat! For we were well-off in Egypt.’ Therefore the Lord will give you
meat and you shall eat. You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days,
nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your
nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the Lord who is
among you and have wept before Him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’’’ But
Moses said, ‘The people, among whom I am, are 600,000 on foot; yet Thou hast
said, ‘I will give them meat in order that they may eat for a whole month.’
Should flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to be sufficient for them? Or
should all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to be sufficient
for them?’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall
see whether My word will come true for you or not.’

“So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also,
he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around
the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of
the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And it came
about that when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not
do it again.

“But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and
the name of the other was Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were
among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they
prophesied in the camp. So a young man ran and told Moses and said, ‘Eldad and
Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of
Moses from his youth, answered and said, ‘Moses, my lord, restrain them.’ But
Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s
people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!’ Then Moses
returned to the camp, both he and the elders of Israel.”

Amen. This is God’s word. May He add His blessing to it.

Tonight’s passage is prefaced by a serious
leadership issue, and Moses comes out looking both good and bad in the story.
And there are lessons in both the good and the bad for us.
Moses, as you
read in verses 11-15, was deeply discouraged by the people. And let me say, it
was right for Moses to be frustrated by the unbelief of the people. We know that
because God was angry about the unbelief of the people; so, in Moses’
frustration with the people, he had a godly outlook. They ought to have done
better than they did, and it was deeply discouraging to him. But he went too
far. He was looking only at the people, and he was forgetting the sovereign God
and what He is able to do. We know that because Moses makes it clear in verse 14
that he felt as if God had left everything up to him, and God never does that,
does He? Moses was deeply discouraged by the people, and he was overwhelmed by
his work. But again, even in the sinful aspect of Moses’ discouragement there’s
something good. What does Moses do? He does not complain about God; he complains
to God in prayer.

Now this is a rich passage and we really could spend
a long time on it, but I want you to see four things tonight. We won’t even get
through the six-point outline…just four things tonight that I want you to see.
Lesson one, look at Moses’ complaint in verses 11-15, and then look at the
Lord’s answer in verses 16-17.

Lesson one: When you are
overwhelmed and discouraged, take your complaint to the Lord in prayer rather
than complaining about the Lord to yourself and others…

Lesson number one: When you are overwhelmed and discouraged, take your
complaint to the Lord in prayer rather than complaining about the Lord to
yourself and others. Therein lies the difference between God’s response to Moses
in verses 16-17 and His response to the people in verses 18ff. The Lord is
incredibly patient and kind to Moses. Moses throws his hands up–‘Lord, have You
left me to carry this people by myself? Lord, how am I going to do this all on
my own?’ And you want to slap Moses around a little bit…‘Moses, you’re feeling a
little proud of yourself here, you know, as if the Lord has left all of this up
to you.’ But the Lord is incredibly patient with him. He says, ‘OK, Moses, I’ll
get you some help. Go out and amongst the elders of Israel, bring seventy of
them to Me. And I’m going to distribute the burden that you are carrying amongst
those seventy elders so that you do not feel alone, and so that you are
surrounded on all sides by men gifted by the Holy Spirit to help you in this
work, because I don’t want you to feel alone.’ It is an incredibly kind,
patient, loving, generous response.

But the Lord’s response to the people is furious.
Why? Because Moses had taken his complaint to the Lord, whereas the
people of God in the camp had only complained about the Lord. You know,
it’s quite amazing, isn’t it, that the Lord indicates here that He is ready to
be patient with all kinds of foolishness that we pour out to Him in prayer, but
He is ready to deal swiftly with the foolishness that we pour out to others
about Him but not to Him in prayer. The Lord is teaching His people ‘Bring your
complaints to Me. I can take it. I want you to hear from Me. I want to hear from
you. But I don’t want to hear about Me from you to others, or to yourselves.
Bring your complaint to Me.’ And when we are overwhelmed and discouraged, take
your complaint to the Lord in prayer, rather than complaining about the Lord to
yourself and others. And look, Moses gets an “A” on this. Moses gets an “A” on
this, and God is kind to respond helpfully to him. There’s the first thing.

Lesson two. Look at
verse 14, and then look at verse 21. Lesson number two from Numbers 11:16-30 is
this: God never calls us to do anything for Him that we are able to do.

I meant to say it that way: God never calls us to do
anything for Him that we are able to do, but nothing is impossible with God.
Now, we normally have a saying that goes like this: God never asks you to bear
more than you can handle–and of course there’s a certain truth to that, because
He’s holding you up. Or, God never calls you to do something He won’t equip you
for. But the way I want you to think about it for a minute is this: God never
calls us to do anything for Him that we are able to do, but nothing is
impossible with God.

Moses first cries out, ‘Lord, am I supposed to carry
all this people by myself?’ (Ah, Moses, if you’ll check your birth certificate
again, your name is Moses, not God. I didn’t ask you to carry this people.
That’s My job.) And then in verse 21, ‘Lord, You’re going to feed all this
people meat? Where do You expect me to get that from?’ (Ah, Moses, I think you
misheard Me. I didn’t ask you to provide them meat for a month. I said
for you to tell them that I was going to provide them meat to eat for a month.)

But there’s an important lesson in this. God is not
asking Moses in leading the children of Israel to do something that Moses is
able to do, and Moses needs to understand that up front, because burnout in
ministry and burnout in Christian service happens when we think that we by
ourselves are able to accomplish what God calls us to do in His work. We’re not.
What do we want to see through the ministry of our church and through our
ministry individually? We want to see people come to faith in Christ. We want to
see them grow in grace. We want to see them be able to conquer past sins that
have dogged them. We want to see them transcend broken relationships that hound
them. And you know what? As much as we want to see all that happen, we can’t
make any of it happen. We can’t save anybody. We can tell people the gospel. We
can share the word of salvation with them. But only God the Holy Spirit can
change them. We may want to see someone’s broken heart bound up and comforted.
We can’t do that. Only God the Holy Spirit can do that. We may want to see
someone get out of the grip of a sin that has dogged him or her for years. We
can’t do that. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. God never calls us to do
anything for Him that we are able to do.

I was…on the Sunday afternoon, the first Sunday
afternoon in June, Al and Betsy Chestnut have the leaders who are going to be
serving at Twin Lakes during the summer over to their home, and they feed them
lunch. And I popped in just to say hello and to thank Al and Betsy for doing
that–something that they just do because they love those kids that serve the
young people at Twin Lakes all summer long. And as I got there, Al was giving
them a little exhortation. This is what he was saying: “Remember, the Lord
doesn’t call you to do anything that you can do.” And I had to do a quick
double-take! The Lord doesn’t call you to do anything that you can do. His point
was that they would have to be totally dependent upon the Lord as they did their
jobs during the summer, because God never calls you to do something that you are
able to do on your own in His service.

Now Moses gets an “F” on this one. But notice, God is
gracious to him anyway. God says to him in verse 23, ‘Moses, My power is not
limited.’ It reminds you of an angel’s words to a young woman in the Gospels:
“Nothing is impossible for God.” It reminds you of something that someone once
said: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” God never calls us
to do anything that we are able to do by ourselves, but nothing is impossible
with God. Lesson two.

Lesson three. Verses 24 -26, and you could maybe
especially zero in on the second half of verse 25 and verse 26. Verses 24-26.

Lesson three:
The Lord equips His pastors for ministry by His Spirit, and He
certifies them for service to His people.

When the seventy elders are gathered, God comes down,
anoints them with His Holy Spirit, and they prophesy. Now what that is is that’s
a picture of God gifting them for the service that He has called them to, and
their prophesying is a testimony to the people of God that God has equipped them
for the service that He has called them to. The Lord equips His pastors for
ministry by His Holy Spirit, and certifies them for service to His people. Is it
any surprise, then, that on the Day of Pentecost the Spirit descends from the
outstretched hands of the Lord Jesus Christ at the right hand of God the Father
Almighty, pouring Him out on His people, and descends and lights upon His
disciples in tongues of fire, and they prophesy? It’s a picture of God gifting
His church for the ministry that He has called her to, and certifying to the
people of God that He has so gifted them.

Oh, there’s so much more to say about that, but we
must rush on.

One more thing. Verses 27-30, Lesson four. A young
man catches Eldad and Medad prophesying in the camp…two of these seventy elders
who had been chosen. And he thinks they’re up to no good…I mean, they’re clearly
trying to sort of one-up Moses, to usurp the unique loyalty that the people of
God are to exercise towards him as the mediator, and they go hoofing it back to
the tent to let them know that these two guys are out there prophesying. And
then Joshua hears about it. And Joshua has been Moses’ assistant from childhood,
and he’s jealous for Moses’ reputation, jealous for Moses’ authority, and he
says, ‘Moses, you’ve got to stop these guys from doing what they’re doing!’ And
Moses’ attitude is absolutely glorious. Moses is back to “A” level again. He
says ‘Stop them from prophesying? You’ve got to be kidding! Would that all the
Lord’s people were prophets!’

Lesson four: Wise
servants of the Lord are not jealous of the gifts of the Spirit to fellow elders
and pastors for ministry…

Wise servants of the Lord are not jealous of
the gifts of the Spirit to fellow elders and pastors for ministry. You know,
Moses really gets an “A” for humility here. He is not jealous in the least of
these other men that are doing what they are doing because they have been gifted
by God’s Holy Spirit.

Immediately, two things came to mind. One is a story
of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Some of you have used Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible
reading calendar for many years, that gives you a plan to read through the Bible
in one year…through the New Testament and Psalms twice, and through the Old
Testament once every year. He was one of the godliest ministers in Scotland, and
a revival happened in his church. But guess when it happened? It happened while
he was away. His church, his denomination, had sent him out on a mission trip to
Hungary and Rumania to do ministry amongst the Jews, and while he was away
revival broke out at St. Peter’s/Dundee. People were getting saved. People were
committing themselves for service and ministry and missions. And do you think
Robert Murray M’Cheyne was jealous about that – that he wasn’t the one preaching
when revival broke out? No. He was just glad that the Lord’s people had been
revived. People were coming to faith in Christ and people were growing in grace
before going out to serve. Just like Moses.

The same thing happened to the Puritan minister,
Thomas Craddock. While he was away, the little parish that he served in Wales
experienced revival. Eight hundred people came to Christ in a matter of weeks.
He was away! And he writes back to his people, and he says, “We should all
rejoice that the Lord has manifested His Spirit and is moving amongst His
people. It does not matter that I was not there; it only matters that the Lord
would be glorified.” Moses illustrates precisely this attitude. Wise servants of
the Lord are not jealous of the gifts of the Spirit to fellow elders and
pastors. No, they rejoice at God’s gifting.

Oh, there’s more to say about this great passage, but
time is gone. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. Thank
You for Your encouragement to us, for Your provision for Your people despite our
stubbornness and ingratitude and complaining. And grant that we would have an
attitude of trust in You; one that when we are overwhelmed and discouraged leads
us to take our concerns and complaints to You in prayer, rather than grumbling
to ourselves and to others. Help us to remember, God, that You never call us to
anything in this life that we can do without You, because apart from You, we can
do nothing. But we can do all things through Him who strengthens us, and in this
way You get all the glory. And Lord, by Your grace, we wouldn’t have it any
other way. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

[Congregation: The Doxology]

Grace and peace to you.

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