Numbers 11:4-34 has a lot to teach us about leadership. Read the passage and then consider the principles listed below:
Numbers 11:4-34 (NIV) 4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!
5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” 7 The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. 8 The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a handmill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into cakes. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. 9 When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down.
10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled.
11 He asked the LORD, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now–if I have found favor in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin.”
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. 18 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The LORD heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” 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?”‘” 21 But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ 22 Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” 23 The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”
24 So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the Tent.
25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, 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. 26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp.
27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 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!” 30 Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
31 Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. 32 All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they spread them out all around the camp. 33 But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. 34 Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food.
Leadership involves listening. Moses needed to acknowledge what was being said throughout the camp. He needed to hear what was being said so that he could address it. He could have listened and redirected the people to remember all God had done for them and how bad it had really been in Eqypt. If he had, perhaps this story would have had a different ending. People need us to listen not only because they need us to care, but also because they need taught. Sometimes people need us to challenge their thinking. What they were upset about reflected a problem in their thinking and in their hearts. Leaders need to help people think correctly and in a way that is in their best interest. The text reads as if Moses sort of overheard what was being said, but intentional leaders would do well just to ask what is on people’s hearts and minds to get a feel for how best to lead and support them.
Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely. God’s solution for Moses’s burden was people who would share the work load, people he could trust. In verse 16 we read that God asked Moses to select people who were known to him: Known to be good folks, reliable people who had the ability to lead. Leaders who excel are people who surround themselves with other quality, faithful, capable, responsible and trustworthy leaders. As you lead, look around you and ask yourself who you see potential in, who you can invest in, who you can tap and equip to help you. Equip people to help you do tasks that drain you or that need to be divided and conquered.
Leaders don’t leave. They find a way to lead. They find a way to stay committed to the task. In verse 15, Moses even said to God, “If this is what leadership is going to entail, I’m out. Strike me dead.” In that moment, he thought he would rather check out than be the God-ordained leader he was supposed to be. God didn’t give Moses an option. Listen, when you serve and follow the Lord, He will always make a way for you to do what needs to be done. Always. Don’t quit because of frustration or a need for a cultural change where you are. Don’t quit because people are self-centered, negative or petty. Stay the course and find a way, with God’s help, to turn the tide. If you are called to lead, there isn’t always an easy button. You have to do what needs to be done, but you can do it with God’s leading in your life.
Leaders lean on what God can do. When God told Moses the people would be eating meat for an entire month, Moses went berzerk. Moses was like, “There is no way we can pull that off. We don’t have enough protein to slaughter.” Rather than respond in faith and great expectation Moses thought up all of the reasons why God’s plan wouldn’t work. Leaders need to leave room for God to do the miraculous. Godly leaders don’t lean into the doable, but they lean into the impossible because they lean on God.
Leaders let God settle the score. Verses 33 and 34 tell us God was angry with the complaining Israelites. They were not just rebelling against the leadership of Moses; they were rebelling against God. He, not Moses, was responsible for getting them out of Egypt. He, not Moses, was directing them toward the Promised Land. He, not Moses, was providing for their needs during the journey. When they complained, they incurred his wrath. Moses stayed out of God’s way and let God do what God was going to do. Ultimately, Moses let God have His way, and guess what, though it was severe, God took care of the complainers, didn’t He? It’s not a leader’s job to ever get revenge. People may try to undermine you. People may try to discredit your leadership, but ultimately, our credibility, our reputation, our futures are in the hands of God and no one can mess with that.
Leaders welcome others to lead. Moses didn’t get all nervous because other people were being equipped to lead. It didn’t threaten his position or what God had called him to do. He welcomed the help. Godly leaders understand that they don’t have to try to control everything. They don’t have to control all of the processes and the outcomes because quite frankly, they can’t. Besides that, leaders aren’t the only ones with gifts and abilities. God has gifted us all to lead in some capacity and we need to be identifying, celebrating and empowering others to help shoulder the load even if they do it differently than we might do it.