Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30 • Psalm 104:24-34, 35b • 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21 • John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
Nestled in the several reading options this week is a great story, seldom read, about leadership. The text is from Numbers – not an obvious name for a book with some pretty good stories, complete with all the details. Here's the set-up. The Israelites, stuck in the wilderness, tired of the same food every day and thinking about the advantages of returning to Egypt, are making their grievances known. Moses has had about all he can take of their complaining, asking God to go ahead and kill him (Numbers 11:15), rather than make him continue to lead this group of whiners.
This was not Moses' first leadership challenge. His father-in-law, Jethro, had noticed earlier (see Exodus 18) that Moses was getting stressed out by the many responsibilities he faced. Jethro had told him to get organized, select some emerging leaders as impartial judges/decision-makers over the ordinary struggles of daily life, divide the people into groups, and register a leader for each group. Unusual or bigger problems were still referred to Moses, but much of the burden of his role had been spread out among these elders.
As this week's reading begins, God has just told Moses to gather the elders and take them out to the tent of meeting. The tent of meeting was a portable dwelling, set away from where the people lived. Generally, Moses would go into it to pray, sometimes with the Israelites gathered right outside, but ordinarily with them watching from the camp, where they could see God coming 'in a cloud.' This time, Moses brought the elders with him, and they stood around the outside of the tent while he went in.
Usually, the spirit of God rested only on Moses. This time, though, some of the spirit was placed on the elders. The elders prophesied, indicating that the spirit had brought them the energy, inspiration, and skill they would need for the long wilderness road ahead of them.
Back in the camp, two elders – (Eldad and Medad, and I'm not making this up) - who for some reason had not gone with the others to the tent of meeting, also began to prophesy. When Joshua, Moses' right-hand man, finds out that this is happening, he tries to get Moses to stop them. Moses quickly ends all talk of this, saying "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!" (v. 29).
How quickly a person can become jealous! How quickly an in-group (oh I was at the tent of meeting it was amazing) wants to maintain superiority to the out-group (we didn't get to go, poor us). Emotions like jealousy – shorthand for fear – drive an inability to share not only the burden of our difficulties, but also the energy available for working together towards a common goal like trying to reach the promised land. The ability to get interested in how another person sees a problem, what their solutions to it might be, begins with seeing others as assets: capable people rather than as threats.
Eldad and Medad were interested, inspired thinkers back in the camp where no one else was prophesying or otherwise feeling it. It takes a certain courage to speak one's mind in an environment where others disagree or, sometimes worse, are disinterested. When everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid, it's easy to be part of the excitement. When one is the lone enthusiast, it's a completely different story. In a sense, Eldad and Medad stand for the capacity to see the truth and live into it, regardless of what others are doing. The person with this integrity becomes an elder, regardless of age, leading others wherever she might be.
Morning: What is a common goal I have with others? When might I be aware of group pressure today?
Evening: When did I see or experience a sense of inspiration? Where was it a challenge today to be myself? When was I jealous?
Psalm 104:33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.