In my last blog post, we talked about the 70 elders receiving the same spirit as Moses upon them to help Moses with the burdens of the people and their complaints. Today we are going to talk about sanctification and all that it entails. Let’s go over the two complaints first.
The first of the two complaints that the people brought to Moses, and then Moses brought to God, was solved. It wasn’t solved the way Moses thought it should, but it was resolved nonetheless.
Moses thought that God Himself should take on the burden of these ill-tempered Israelites; God said ‘I have a better idea. I’m going to give the same spirit I gave to you, to 70 other men, and you, Moses, together with them shall carry the burden’.
The second complaint is that the people wanted meat.
“And tell the people to purify themselves, for tomorrow they shall have meat to eat. Tell them, ‘The Lord has heard your tearful complaints about all you left behind in Egypt, and he is going to give you meat. You shall eat it, not for just a day or two, or five or ten or even twenty! For one whole month you will have meat until you vomit it from your noses; for you have rejected the Lord who is here among you, and you have wept for Egypt.’” Numbers 11:18-20 TLB
They were tired of eating Manna. And, the Lord, righteously provoked, responds, ‘you want meat? I’ll give you meat. So much meat it’ll make you vomit. In fact, the unbelievable amount of meat that the Lord is somehow going to provide them will not be the blessing they had hoped for, but a curse.
However, as a preparation for receiving the meat the people are told to sanctify (purify) themselves. Being sanctified is a requirement to get prepared for, and be in the Lord’s presence.
The Hebrew word used is Hitkaddesh, and it is the physical act of both bathing one’s body AND washing one’s clothing, and once this happens all the rules of ritual purity apply meaning that if one touches a dead body, they lose that necessary virtue. No sexual intercourse would be allowed until after the event for which the process was ordered and complete; otherwise, the purity was defiled.
We’re going to find this term of “sanctify yourself” in many forms in the Old Testament, and one very memorable one is when the Israelites are camping on the eastern bank of the Jordan they are told to hitkaddesh in preparation for being led by the Lord into the Promised Land.
Another interesting fact is that this term is ONLY applied to laypeople. And this is NOT the term used when priests do ritual bathing; that term is either rahats (wash) or taher (purify).
Here’s what we need to take from this: this hitkaddesh form of sanctification is something that (while a holy endeavor) is not officiated by a priest or performed by a priest. It is quite literally SELF-sanctification.
The thing to notice though is that what this sanctification involves is a purely physical act, the washing of body and garments. Of course, done in devotion to God.
I think we can identify with the concept of the difference between following the Law for SELF-sanctification that attains a kind of SELF-righteousness versus putting on the blood of Jesus for a divine spiritual sanctification that attains a kind of God-righteousness that is not physical nor can a man attain it for himself under any circumstance.
The thing is that modern Evangelical Christianity says that the latter has replaced the former. I think that is most incorrect; these two types of sanctification (self-provided and God provided) are for two different purposes. Obedience to the Law brings a kind of righteousness that is demanded of God and pleasing to Him; but at the same time, it cannot and does not bring with it an internal spiritual sanctification that has been performed by the Lord, that we call Salvation.
The spiritual sanctification that can ONLY be apprehended by trust in Jesus (a work of God) is the ONLY kind of sanctification that saves. That does not negate the need for a sanctification of our behavior (obedience to the Law) that by definition is a physical matter. It seems to me that this hitkaddesh is a demonstration of this God-principle.
Unbelief – Moses Is Skeptical
But Moses said, “There are 600,000 men alone besides all the women and children, and yet you promise them meat for a whole month! If we butcher all our flocks and herds it won’t be enough! We would have to catch every fish in the ocean to fulfill your promise!”
Then the Lord said to Moses, “When did I become weak? Now you shall see whether my word comes true or not!” Numbers 11:21-23 TLB
In response to the Lord’s concession of providing meat Moses (skeptical as always) responds: how are you going to provide meat, out here in the middle of nowhere, for 600,000 men?
Remember the 600,000 numbers is simply the size of the Israelite army, men of fighting age. Add to that women and children and feeble and lame and elderly and we likely are nearing 3 million people. And, it’s not just meat for a day or two, but God says He is going to provide meat for one full month!
So Moses left the Tabernacle and reported Jehovah’s words to the people; and he gathered the seventy elders and placed them around the Tabernacle. And the Lord came down in the Cloud and talked with Moses, and the Lord took of the Spirit that was upon Moses and put it upon the seventy elders; and when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied for some time. Numbers 11:24-25 TLB
Now that the Lord has stated how the resolution of these two problems is going to be, He sets about to accomplish it. The 70 elders are brought to the Wilderness Tabernacle. And, then, in a cloud, it says that the Lord descended and “He drew upon the spirit that was upon Moses and put it upon the 70 elders”.
Even more, when it happened, the 70 began speaking “in ecstasy.” Your Bibles may say, “prophesied” instead of speaking in ecstasy. My only qualm with using the word “prophesy” is that for us, today, and really for the remainder of the Bible, prophesy communicates something different than what went on here.
Here, they were not teaching the Word of the Lord, which is one meaning of the term “prophesy,” nor did they speak of the future, another meaning of the term “prophesy.”
Rather, it was some very passionate speech; what it was we don’t know. What we DO know is that these 70 did NOT become prophets, and we have no indication of these elders ever being involved with this experience again.
In fact, explicitly stated in verse 25 that whatever ability or meaning there was to this short period of ecstatic speech “did not continue” in these men. The idea of all this is that their strange, excitable speech validated that indeed they had received the Spirit of God.
Now, does any of this sound the least bit familiar to you? Was there another time when the Holy Spirit descended upon people, and they began speaking in a particular way?
How about at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended, and those Jewish Believers who received the spirit started “speaking in other tongues”?
Seven weeks had gone by since Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the Day of Pentecost had now arrived. As the believers met together that day, suddenly there was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know, for the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. Acts 2:1-4 (TLB)
Once again it seems that the entire concept of the Spirit of God descending upon men, with the result being some special kind of speech as proof, was NOT a brand new NT revelation after all. But rather the repeat of a pattern set down 1300 years earlier, told of in the Torah, here in Numbers 11.
Suddenly, in verse 26, the scene shifts.
But two men had remained in the camp: the name of one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them. Now they were among those listed, but who had not gone out to the tabernacle; yet they prophesied in the camp. Numbers 11:26 (NKJV)
Two men, Eldad and Medad who were nowhere near the Tabernacle, nor apparently part of the 70 that were selected, had the Spirit of God rest upon them! There is no explanation for this at all.
But, what is interesting is that it says they “remained in the camp.” Now, what is implied here (and indeed Oral Tradition says this was the case), that often when camping in a place for only short periods of time, perhaps for just a few days, the Wilderness Tabernacle was set up OUTSIDE of the camp, rather than at the center of it?
Perhaps it was that it took too long for this enormously long column of people, which would have spread out for many miles as it traveled, to finally form up and become a regular camp round about the Tabernacle.
So, the Tabernacle was merely set up at some convenient place within the column of Israelites. It is easily imaginable that the beginning of the column was at least one day’s journey, and possible two days journey in front of the people who marched at the end of the column.
So, here we get this picture of the Holy Spirit descending upon people (in this case, two men) inside the camp of Israel and 70 men outside the camp of Israel. The obvious symbolism is that the Holy Spirit was not just intended for the higher classes or dignitaries.
Rather, the Holy Spirit could be bestowed to someone of any class, those who were within the camp of Israel, or even others who were outside of it. God would cross boundaries to give the Holy Spirit to those He deemed as His.
There could be no clearer pattern or message here than what the Lord intended to do in times future, with Jesus as the means and the messenger of this plan that the Holy Spirit would be available to all.
And, fittingly, the Israelites noticed that Eldad and Medad had received the spirit, some people start yelling, “Moses, some people got God’s Spirit, but they shouldn’t have.”
Some young men ran and told Moses what was happening, and Joshua (the son of Nun), one of Moses’ personally chosen assistants, protested, “Sir, make them stop!”
But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I only wish that all of the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!”
Then Moses returned to the camp with the elders of Israel. Numbers 11:27-30 (TLB)
Joshua, who would eventually take over for Moses, even pleaded with Moses to tell Eldad and Medad to stop speaking their ecstatic language because he just couldn’t fathom how this could be possible let alone appropriate.
Moses, with the same attitude, as our Lord and Master Jesus would display, says, “I wish ALL of the Lord’s people were prophets…I wish the Lord would put His Spirit in ALL of them!”
Let’s not miss a chance to connect the dots again between this Torah experience and the NT. Listen to Paul in 1Timothy.
Here are my directions: Pray much for others; plead for God’s mercy upon them; give thanks for all he is going to do for them.
Pray in this way for kings and all others who are in authority over us, or are in places of high responsibility, so that we can live in peace and quietness, spending our time in godly living and thinking much about the Lord. This is good and pleases God our Savior, for he longs for all to be saved and to understand this truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4 (TLB)
Moses, the Savior of Israel, desired that all men would receive the Spirit; Jesus, God our Savior, wants all men to receive the Spirit (to be saved).
Moses, despite his flaws, was such an exceptional human being. Joshua was all concerned that these two men, Eldad and Medad, who received the spirit completely apart from Moses being in charge of the process, might show up Moses.
In fact, they were just standing around probably combing their hair, far away from Moses and the 70 at the Tabernacle, when it happened. Moses had no interest in personal power or in being seen as special. Nor did it matter to him that others were given gifts from the Lord that rivaled even his own. He only wanted what the Lord wanted for the people, whether he understood it or not.
Now THAT is a Godly leader. Is it any wonder that the Jewish people revere Moses to this very day?