Numbers 11:16-30 – The Seventy Elders


Numbers 11:16-30


In response to Moses’ prayer for help, God appoints seventy elders, putting upon them “some of the spirit” that was upon Moses.


The tradition knows that there is no prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 34:10), but it also knows that God will raise up a prophet like Moses when such is needed (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). This story makes a similar point: though Moses remains Israel’s unparalleled leader, he is not alone. The same spirit that empowers Moses, making him a prophet of God, can be given to others. Moses, burdened by “carrying” the people, cries out to God in distress (Numbers 11:11-15), and God appoints 70 elders (a large, full number) to assist in Moses’ prophetic work. Though their “ordination” is temporary, they are a sign that God’s leadership will endure even beyond Moses. God’s spirit goes where it wills! Two men who had not gone out to the tent of meeting with the others also receive the spirit and prophesy.

Joshua complains, but Moses answers, “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” (v. 29). Precisely this is announced much later by Joel, who envisions a time when God will pour the “spirit on all flesh” and “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2:28-29). Jesus echoes Moses’ welcome of the unexpected prophets when he forbids John from stopping an unknown exorcist who was said to be “not following us.” Like Moses, Jesus is open to God’s work through many sources: “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:38-41).