Toward the end of Numbers 11, Moses has had his little rant and feels good about his job again, especially after recruiting seventy elders to share the workload. This means no more late dinners and working til the wee hours for Moses. The seventy men share more than just the responsibility of leadership — they also get to share in the anointing.
When God takes the spirit that is on Moses and places it on the elders, I get the picture of a cape or cloak being placed over each one’s shoulders. This mantle represents the role, burden and responsibility of leadership. It is a covering, canopy and shield over the sheep, literally to protect them from harm’s way.
Like a good shepherd, God sets overseers over His people, not to control, oppress or restrain them, but to feed, lead and protect them. I’ve heard once too often the analogy of a shepherd breaking the leg of a sheep to keep them from wandering. While this may be true in practice, it is often taken out of context by an insecure leader afraid to release a better leader. He/she may be afraid for his own reputation or feel threatened by the talents of another. But holding back good leaders only holds everyone back, including you.
The scarcity mentality goes back to the playground where we believed that giving to someone else meant getting less for ourselves. But with God, that’s not how it works. As Pastor Tommy Barnett once said, “It takes teamwork to make the dream work.” It’s only in releasing to others that we are released.
As the elders gather around the tabernacle, God’s Spirit drops down into their midst in the form of a cloud. Somehow, in a miraculous way, the spirit that is on Moses is spread over the seventy like a blanket and immediately, they begin to prophesy non-stop. Both God and Moses watch like proud parents as they stretch and grow beyond their natural ability to accomplish what only God can do by His Spirit. As they step out into their God-given destiny, not only are they released, but Moses is released to do only the things that only he can do. If every leader could get this, we’d all be happier.
Right on the heels of this event, Moses hears a bling and checks his email. Two of the elders have chosen to remain in the camp, prophesying to the people instead of joining the others in the tabernacle. When word reaches Moses’ young protege, Joshua, he goes straight to the boss and demands they be shut down.
Moses’ answer is laden with wisdom. He challenges his up-and-coming successor to do some serious introspection. But instead of reprimanding Joshua, Moses asks him a weighty and thought-provoking question: “Enviest thou for my sake?”
If that doesn’t evoke an “ouch” from the congregation, I don’t know what would. Every time you point out the behaviour or actions of another, God points that finger right back at you. Ever-interested in your motives, God holds a mirror in front of your face and brings the conversation back home where it belongs. When He does this, His motive is love, both for you and for His people. He will not release you into leadership without first testing the motives of your heart.
Is your concern for God’s people and the greater good or is it more about you? Perhaps Joshua just wanted to be one of the elders at this point. After all, he had a calling on his life and no doubt, he was a very gifted young man. Seeing the seventy elders prophesy while he’s left out of the picture could give room to envy. When you’re waiting for a promotion and someone else gets it instead of you, it’s not only a challenge but an opportunity to develop your character.
God wasn’t setting Joshua aside. He was preparing him for something greater. Instead of being an elder, God wanted him to be the leader. But Joshua couldn’t see his future and for now, all he could see was his loss. Bored and frustrated in the starting blocks, Joshua’s leadership skills saw no place to be used.
Leaving Joshua to ponder, Moses goes on to say he only wishes all of God’s people were prophets and the Lord would put His Spirit upon every one of them. His words are purely prophetic, as he has no idea this dream will be accomplished in the fullness of time. Jesus reiterates this in the book of John, telling His disciples that He must go to the Father in order to send the Spirit to speak God’s words and prophesy things to come (John 16:7, 13). Every believer today has that power within them.
In the book of Acts, Paul reacted in a similar way to Moses. Addressed with an almost identical report of people preaching with less than pure motives, Paul challenges the tattle-tales, saying that he’s happy that someone — heck, anyone — is preaching the good news since his hands are tied. As long as Christ is being preached, he’s happy. God will sort out the motives in the end when each one of us stands before the throne of judgement and God examines our motives for doing what we’ve done, especially for those in ministry.
Moses is overjoyed that God is equipping and releasing His people. His motives are good and his eye is on the bigger picture. Whether it’s him or others doing the work, God is being glorified and that’s all that matters. If you will take others higher, God can take you higher, meaning He will give you more influence. It’s a win-win situation.
If you’re a Moses, don’t be afraid to release people. Even if their motives aren’t 100% sanctified, God can still use them and develop them as they grow. That’s the challenge of mentoring and equipping others.
If you’re a Joshua waiting for your opportunity to lead, know that God may hold you back for a season in order to release you into something better. Great leadership takes a long time to develop. Be patient and learn the lessons. God will use every opportunity to develop your character but your job is to keep your heart right. Keep humbling yourself. Keep submitting to God and don’t allow bitterness to set in. You can rise to the top with bitterness in your heart, but it will eventually take you back down.
If you’re one of the seventy being used in leadership, remain faithful to the Cause. Find someone you can begin to coach and mentor. It will accelerate not only their leadership ability, but yours as they in turn challenge you to be and do your very best.