Should All Christians Prophesy?

Eldad and Medad began prophesying in the camp (Numbers 11).  Joshua was alarmed and cried out for Moses to make them stop.  Joshua, apparently, viewed prophesying to be a gift specific to Moses, the commander and leader from God.  He felt threatened by the appearance of prophecy among the laity.  He seemed afraid that the increase of prophesying would decrease Moses’ authority.

But it was not so.  Far from feeling threatened, Moses was glad that these two were prophesying.  And not just these—Moses preferred that the Spirit would be poured out on all of Israel.  Moses’s attitude was one of “Let the prophesying begin! Bring on the gift for everyone.”

Yet, before we go too far following the prophesying parade and the charismatic appeal for spiritual gifts, we would be well-served to look a bit more closely at the text.  Moses was not an early full-gospel, charismatic preacher.  Those who would make his appeal the model for the modern day tongues and prophecy parades should stop for a closer look at Numbers 11.  Far from Numbers 11 being an appeal for God’s people to be drunk with the Spirit, this text actually demands sobriety before God.

It is true that Moses responds to Joshua’s concern about Eldad and Medad by saying to Joshua, “Are you jealous for my sake?  Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!”  What is also much more profoundly true is the reason Moses longed for the spirit to be given the people of Israel.

Moses, in the beginning of chapter 11, is pictured crying out to the Lord under the burden of caring for and directing the people of God.  In fact, Moses actually begs to die under the awful load of the leadership of God’s people.  He says, “I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.  If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”

The grace of God does not kill Moses.  Instead, God gathers 70 elders on whom he gives a portion of his Spirit.  You can see easily why Moses is glad to hear that others in the camp were receiving the Holy Spirit.  The more people receive the Spirit, the less burden he has.  The Spirit directs people in the way of God.  Oh, that God would indeed pour out his Spirit on all flesh!  Then, people would avoid the awful sins which wreck marriages, families, and generations of children who are left to reap the rotten fruit sown in the soils of sinful rebellion.

Moses had to deal with life and death every day.  He had to lead a people in the ways of God; yet, those people were often stiff-necked rebels against the way of God (and against Moses).  Moses wanted them to receive God’s Spirit so they would all prophesy to each other and thereby follow God’s ways without his having to constantly plead with them, warn them, rebuke them, and thanklessly model for them a faithful life.  That God would pour forth his Spirit indeed!  Then people would feel the weight of eternity and obey gladly the author of life.

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