Passage: Numbers 11:24–30, Acts 2:1–21
Pastor Ray Lorthioir
Trinity Lutheran Church
W. Hempstead, NY
Based on the First and Second Lessons for the Sunday of Pentecost, Numbers 11:24-30; Acts 2:1-21
The Day of Pentecost 33A.D. In all earth’s history there have been only a few days greater than this one — namely the day of Christ’s birth; the day of His sacrificial death; the glorious day of Christ’s Resurrection which is the Queen of all days, and the glorious day of His Ascension to the Right Hand of God the Father. Only these can be counted greater than Pentecost.
Yet, Pentecost is ignored by the general public. Did you see any Pentecost sales this week? Have any stores been selling toys or candy to celebrate the day? And like this year, Pentecost frequently falls on the U.S. Memorial Day weekend — the official start of summer recreation in the U.S. To the general public, that’s a much more pressing celebration.
What’s so special about this day? It’s the day that the reconciliation of Yahweh with all sinners was first announced. It’s the day when the suffering Messiah was first preached. It’s the day when the gates of heaven were thrown open to repentant sinners. It’s the day when Yahweh began separating the wheat from the chaff and gathering the wheat into His barn. It’s the day when He graciously poured out His Spirit on all flesh so that we might live with Him forever in His righteousness. It’s the day when Yahweh began to restore Eden and overcome Babel.
There remains only one other great day to come — the Day of the Lord, the Day of Messiah’s return, bringing the general resurrection of all the dead and the judgment of all the earth. That will be this earth’s final day and the beginning of an entirely new age. Scripture predicts that every eye will see this final day of Yahweh’s triumph over His enemies. It also predicts that Messiah’s elect — Yahweh’s chosen ones will eat with Him in the great marriage feast of the Lamb on that Day.
According to the Law of Moses, Pentecost should always fall on a Sunday. It’s always fifty days after the first fruits offering that is made to the Lord on the Sunday that falls within the Passover week of Unleavened Bread. However, because the Sunday in Passover week now marks Messiah’s Resurrection and Pentecost on a Sunday marks the beginning of His Church, for centuries the rabbis who reject Jesus as Messiah have been counting off the fifty days in a different fashion. So for them, Pentecost can fall on any day of the week instead of Sunday. Therefore, the Orthodox Jewish community around us celebrated Shavuot (Pentecost) this week. But here we are on a Sunday, as it’s supposed to be.
The living God, Yahweh, the Creator of heaven and earth, has revealed Himself to be a triune being — the only such being that exists. He is three distinct persons. Yet, He is one in essence. There are not three Gods. There is but one. Yet His multiple persons are shown in action from the very beginning of the Bible to the end. We say that Yahweh is three persons in one being.
Scholarship has shown that the Judaism of Jesus’ time recognized Yahweh as a multi-person being because of what is written about Him in Moses and the Prophets. However, because of pressure from Christianity, the rabbis who resisted Messiah Jesus established a new doctrine. They said that Yahweh is a unitarian being. He is only one person in one being like we human beings are. At the end of the first century A.D. the rabbis made it heresy to teach otherwise. And so Judaism is officially unitarian to this day.
Islam is also officially unitarian. The Koran says that Allah has no son. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a movement within Christianity revolted against the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, Unitarianism was born. There’s a Unitarian Church in Garden City. Interestingly, there are even unitarians among the Pentecostals. They call themselves the United Pentecostal Church. They’re sometimes known as the Jesus only people.
Unitarianism is easier to believe than Trinitarianism for one particular reason. We are all unitarian beings. It’s impossible for us to imagine what it would be like to be a trinitarian being. Therefore, since we’re much more comfortable imagining a unitarian supreme being, we want to make the trinitarian being just go away. But there is no way anyone can make the living God to be what they want Him to be. He even says so in His name: I AM WHO I AM. It means you can’t make me who you want me to be. You can only say of me, You are who You are. So, because ancient Judaism accepted a multi-person Godhead, the Apostles could preach Messiah Jesus and the Holy Spirit to a Jewish audience on Pentecost 33A.D. without getting stoned to death for blasphemy.
For centuries Christians have been celebrating Pentecost as the Day the Holy Spirit was poured out on all of humanity. This is because Peter declared the strange phenomenon of the Apostles declaring the wonders of God in many languages to be a fulfillment of a prophecy found in Joel 2:28-32. The parts of the prophecy that especially pertained to the Pentecost event are these words: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people;” and “. . . everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
What are we to expect when Yahweh says that He will pour out His Holy Spirit on all humanity? Part of it is found in the prophecy itself as quoted in: Acts 2:17, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
Let’s examine the subject of dreams and visions by turning to an event in Numbers 12:1-8, “1 Miriam and Aaron [Moses’ sister and brother] began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 ‘Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?’ they asked. ‘Hasn't he also spoken through us?’ And the LORD heard this. 3(Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.) 4 At once the LORD said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, ‘Come out to the Tent of Meeting, all three of you.’ So the three of them came out. 5 Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, 6 he said, ‘Listen to my words: When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. 7 But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. 8 With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?’”
It’s interesting that Yahweh literally stands at the door of the Tent of Meeting to address all three. But, ignoring that, note the difference between how Yahweh communicates with a prophet versus the way He communicated with Moses. With Moses, it was face to face, clearly and not in riddles — riddles meaning difficult to interpret speech. On the other hand, with a normal prophet, Yahweh communicates with dreams, visions and words difficult to interpret. Have you ever noticed the difference between reading Numbers and say, Ezekiel? Everything is plain and straightforward in Numbers. On the other hand, there are all these strange visions and riddles in Ezekiel. And if you think Ezekiel is difficult, try the New Testament book of Revelation.
So, what is the purpose of dreams, visions and riddling speech from heaven? In the present time, it’s mostly a way of letting us know that the Lord Himself is definitely real. It can be Yahweh breaking through the unbelief inherent in the present world systems that we live in and inviting us to consider Him further. Scripture tells us that it’s Lord Holy Spirit who does these things because He is the person of the Godhead assigned to work actively among us in the present age. For instance, out of the Muslim world an increasing number of testimonies have come from muslim’s who have seen Jesus in a vision or dream and then became believers in Jesus through being taught about Him from Scripture.
Now, as we’ve already seen, Moses was the most humble man on earth in his time. The Hebrew word translated humble can also be translated as meek. It’s puzzling how a great leader could be meek. But we get a clue if we look at Jesus’ statement in the Beatitudes: Matthew 5:5, “‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’”
God’s earth belongs to whoever He gives it to. He created and gave this present, wondrous earth to a race of beings who rebelled against Him — namely us. However, Jesus made it clear in Matthew 5:5 that in the future, the promised new heavens and new earth will belong to just one segment of the present rebellious population. In the resurrection of the dead, the new earth will belong only to the meek and humble of this present earth.
In this time that’s so influenced by the Marxist categories of “power”, “oppressed” and “oppressor”, it’s unfortunate that the terms “meek” and “humble” are often associated only with those who are oppressed and powerless. And while the Bible can use meek and humble in that sense, it uses these terms most usually in another sense. In Scripture, the truly meek and humble are also the righteous. It’s because they do what is right in God’s sight that they can be oppressed by those bent on doing evil. In the biblical world view, therefore, mere powerlessness does not make one righteous. That’s Marxist nonsense. Rather, righteousness makes a person avoid participating in arrogant, oppressive evil. Yahweh’s righteousness gives something called godliness to a person. Godliness is participating in the righteous ways of Yahweh, our Creator God. Therefore, Yahweh’s righteousness is what makes a person humble and meek in the Lord’s eyes.
Here’s Moses exercising that humility and meekness when he said to Yahweh in Exodus 33:12-13, “12. . . ‘You have said, “I know you by name and you have found favor with me.” 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.’” Teach me your ways. That’s the heart and soul of a godly, meek and humble person. Like Moses, such a person can be a great leader. But what makes them humble is doing things God’s way instead of their own.
Unfortunately, the Lord’s ways are difficult for us sinners born in the original sin of the original rebellion in Eden. For sin is rebellion against Yahweh. If Yahweh says, “do this because it is right in my sight,” we sinners will absolutely and always do something else that’s right in our own sight. As it says in Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” And that’s our wretched situation.
Thus, if it’s sin that prevents us from being meek, humble and able to walk in Yahweh’s righteousness, then something needs to be done about sin. And the only one who can do anything about sin is Yahweh Himself.
In Moses’ case, Yahweh had put His Holy Spirit upon Moses. That’s what made Moses the human being most able to walk in Yahweh’s ways — the most humble man on earth. Unfortunately for Moses, Yahweh put him in charge of a stiff-necked and rebellious people — Israel. Yahweh had delivered this people from slavery in Egypt. He had destroyed their enemies by drowning Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea. Yahweh had brought Israel to His holy mountain where he appeared in glory to them and spoke commandments to them. But even then, at the foot of Mount Sinai, Israel rebelled and worshipped a golden calf they made for themselves during a forty day period when Moses was with Yahweh on the top of the mountain. Yahweh miraculously fed Israel with manna from heaven for forty years and they got tired of the stuff. In every troublesome situation, Israel always wanted to go back to Egypt instead of following Yahweh into the Promised Land.
Indeed, the context for today’s first lesson is that Israel was in one of these “we want to go back to Egypt” moods because they hadn’t had a good steak in a while. Because they were rebellious about it, Yahweh said in Numbers 11:18-20, “18. . . ‘Now the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month — until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it — because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”
Moses was in the middle of all this and was having a difficult go of it. For this reason we read in Numbers 11:16-17, “16 The LORD said to Moses: ‘Bring me seventy of Israel's elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.’”
So, seventy men were chosen. But when it came time for them to be ordained into the eldership, only 68 went out to the tent of meeting. For some reason two guys named Eldad and Medad did not go to the ordination. They stayed in camp. Nevertheless, even in the camp the Lord anointed them.
We read what the mark of anointing was on each of the seventy in Numbers 11:25, “Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him [Moses], and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.” These guys prophesied. And they only did it once.
Here we have to ask, what is prophecy? One important part of the definition is found in the incident at the burning bush where Moses complained to Yahweh that he wasn’t a good public speaker. In response Yahweh told Moses that his brother Aaron was a good public speaker. So, Yahweh said to Moses in Exodus 4:15-16, “15 ‘You shall speak to him [Aaron] and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He [Aaron] will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.’” From this we can conclude that a true prophet is a mouth for Yahweh.
From the entire career of Moses as a prophet of Yahweh, we can also conclude that a true prophet speaks the will of Yahweh to His people and teaches them the ways of Yahweh. From Jeremiah 23:21-22 we can conclude that a true prophet turns people from their evil ways. From 1Corinthians 14:3, we can conclude that a true prophet speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort so that they may walk in the ways of the Lord. So, that’s prophesying.
We still have prophets today — Moses, the Prophets, the Apostles and the Evangelists. A preacher preaching true doctrine is a prophet in the sense that preaching is acting as a mouth for God.
Now, what the 70 elders said as mouths for God is not recorded. But that the 70 briefly acted as mouths for Yahweh confirmed their ordination with the Holy Spirit. Notice also that the Apostles acted as mouths for Yahweh on Pentecost because the crowd heard them “declaring the wonders of God” and then heard the gospel through them.
Of the seventy, these guys Eldad and Medad caused a stir because they were prophesying in the camp instead of out at the tent of meeting. Someone ran out to tell Moses about it. And so we read in Numbers 11:28-29, “28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses' aide since youth, spoke up and said, ‘Moses, my lord, stop them!’ 29 But Moses replied, 'Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!’”
Well, on the Day of Pentecost 33A.D., and ever since, Moses’ wish has come true. The thing that distinguishes those filled with Lord Holy Spirit is that the Word of the Lord abides in their very being. They love the ways of God and are careful to live by His commandments. And what is the primary commandment? Jesus put it this way in John 6:29, “. . . ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’”
Yes. The Son of God was sent to make atonement for sinners with His suffering, death and with His blood. Isaiah 53:5, “. . . he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” And since all our transgressions are covered by the blood of Jesus, the redeemed can live for the Lord by the power of the Spirit. Romans 8:5, “. . . those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Romans 8:13-14, “13. . . if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
Only Lord Holy Spirit can enable the person who has heard the Word of the Lord to believe it and so be transformed by the power of the Spirit. This is the thing that Moses longed to see happen to Israel. For, if all the Israelites had had Lord Holy Spirit on them and in them, it would have made Moses’ job of leadership much easier.
When the people of Christ’s Church submit to the Spirit through their baptism into Christ Jesus, then it makes the Lord’s job of leading them much easier. For they not only hear the Word, they live in it. This is the power the Lord Jesus poured out upon His Church from the right hand of the Father after He had been crucified and resurrected. For this, we are most grateful. Amen.
All Bible quotes are from the NIV.