We have here the performance of God’s word to Moses, that he should have help in the government of Israel.
I. Here is the case of the seventy privy-counsellors in general. Moses, though a little disturbed by the tumult of the people, yet was thoroughly composed by the communion he had with God, and soon came to himself again. And according as the matter was concerted, 1. He did his part; he presented the seventy elders before the Lord, round the tabernacle (Num. 11:24), that they might there stand ready to receive the grace of God, in the place where he manifested himself, and that the people also might be witnesses of their solemn call. Note, Those that expect favour from God must humbly offer themselves and their service to him. 2. God was not wanting to do his part. He gave of his Spirit to the seventy elders (Num. 11:25), which enabled those whose capacities and education set them but on a level with their neighbours of a sudden to say and do that which was extraordinary, and which proved them to be actuated by divine inspiration: they prophesied, and did not cease all that day, and (some think) only that day. They discoursed to the people of the things of God, and perhaps commented upon the law they had lately received with admirable clearness, and fulness, and readiness, and aptness of expression, so that all who heard them might see and say that God was with them of a truth; see 1 Cor. 14:24, 25. Thus, long afterwards, Saul was marked for the government by the gift of prophecy, which came upon him for a day and a night, 1 Sam. 10:6; 11. When Moses was to fetch Israel out of Egypt, Aaron was appointed to be his prophet, Exod. 7:1. But, now that God had called Aaron to other work, in his room Moses has seventy prophets to attend him. Note, Those are fittest to rule in God’s Israel that are well acquainted with divine things and are apt to teach to edification.
II. Here is the particular case of two of them, Eldad and Medad, probably two brothers.
1. They were nominated by Moses to be assistants in the government, but they went not out unto the tabernacle as the rest did, Num. 11:26. Calvin conjectures that the summons was sent them, but that it did not find them, they being somewhere out of the way; so that, though they were written, yet they were not called. Most think that they declined coming to the tabernacle out of an excess of modesty and humility; being sensible of their own weakness and unworthiness, they desired to be excused from coming into the government. Their principle was their praise, but their practice in not obeying orders was their fault.
2. The Spirit of God found them out in the camp, where they were hidden among the stuff, and there they prophesied, that is, they exercised their gift of praying, preaching, and praising God, in some private tent. Note, The Spirit of God is not tied to the tabernacle, but, like the wind, blows where he listeth, John 3:8. Whither can we go from that Spirit? There was a special providence in it that these two should be absent, for thus it appeared that it was indeed a divine Spirit which the elders were actuated by, and that Moses gave them not that Spirit, but God himself. They modestly declined preferment, but God forced it upon them; nay, they have the honour of being named, which the rest have not: for those that humble themselves shall be exalted, and those are most fit for government who are least ambitious of it.
3. Information of this was given to Moses (Num. 11:27): “Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp; there is a conventicle in such a tent, and Eldad and Medad are holding forth there, from under the inspection and presidency of Moses, and out of the communion of the rest of the elders.” Whoever the person was that brought the tidings, he seems to have looked upon it as an irregularity.
4. Joshua moved to have them silenced: My lord Moses, forbid them, Num. 11:28. It is probable that Joshua himself was one of the seventy, which made him the more jealous for the honour of their order. He takes it for granted that they were not under any necessitating impulse, for the spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets, and therefore he would have them either not to prophesy at all or to come to the tabernacle and prophesy in concert with the rest. He does not desire that they should be punished for what they had done, but only restrained for the future. This motion he made from a good principle, not out of any personal dislike to Eldad and Medad, but out of an honest zeal for that which he apprehended to be the unity of the church, and concern for the honour of God and Moses.
5. Moses rejected the motion, and reproved him that made it (Num. 11:29): “Enviest thou for my sake? Thou knowest not what manner of spirit thou art of.” Though Joshua was Moses’s particular friend and confidant, though he said this out of a respect to Moses, whose honour he was very loth to see lessened by the call of those elders, yet Moses reproves him, and in him all that show such a spirit. (1.) We must not secretly grieve at the gifts, graces, and usefulness of others. It was the fault of John’s disciples that they envied Christ’s honour because it shaded their master’s, John 3:26-36 (2.) We must not be transported into heats against the weaknesses and infirmities of others. Granting that Eldad and Medad were guilty of an irregularity, yet Joshua was too quick and too warm upon them. Our zeal must always be tempered with the meekness of wisdom: the righteousness of God needs not the wrath of man, Jas. 1:20. (3.) We must not make even the best and most useful men heads of a party. Paul would not have his name made use of to patronise a faction, 1 Cor. 1:12; 13. (4.) We must not be forward to condemn and silence those that differ from us, as if they did not follow Christ because they do not follow him with us, Mark 9:38. Shall we reject those whom Christ has owned, or restrain any from doing good because they are not in every thing of our mind? Moses was of another spirit; so far from silencing these two, and quenching the Spirit in them, he wished all the Lord’s people were prophets, that is, that he would put his Spirit upon them. Not that he would have any set up for prophets that were not duly qualified, or that he expected that the Spirit of prophecy should be made thus common; but thus he expresses the love and esteem he had for all the Lord’s people, the complacency he took in the gifts of others, and how far he was from being displeased at Eldad and Medad’s prophesying from under his eye. Such an excellent spirit as this blessed Paul was of, rejoicing that Christ was preached, though it was by those who therein intended to add affliction to his bonds, Phil. 1:16. We ought to be pleased that God is served and glorified, and good done, though to the lessening of our credit and the credit of our way.
6. The elders, now newly ordained, immediately entered upon their administration (Num. 11:30); when their call was sufficiently attested by their prophesying, they went with Moses to the camp, and applied themselves to business. Having received the gift, they ministered the same as good stewards. And now Moses was pleased that he had so many to share with him in his work and honour. And, (1.) Let the testimony of Moses be credited by those who desire to be in power, that government is a burden. It is a burden of care and trouble to those who make conscience of the duty of it; and to those who do not it will prove a heavier burden in the day of account, when they fall under the doom of the unprofitable servant that buried his talent. (2.) Let the example of Moses be imitated by those that are in power; let them not despise the advice and assistance of others, but desire it, and be thankful for it, not coveting to monopolize wisdom and power. In the multitude of counsellors there is safety.
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