Please turn in your Bibles to Numbers 11. So during this Year of Equipping we are looking at how to arm ourselves, from God’s Word, through the power of the Holy Spirit, with what we need to succeed, with what we need to live well, with what we need in order to lead others into a safe-keeping, life-giving relationship with Jesus. I want to sort of walk through the text with you and then I want to give you some leadership principles or takeaways from the text near the end of the message. As a piece of backstory here, in Numbers 11, you need to know that God had been supernaturally feeding the Israelites as they were traveling toward the Promised Land. Bread called manna, literally fell from the sky each day for them to consume. We don’t know exactly what it was made of, but whatever it was, was enough to sustain them and preserve them as they traveled. Well, the high carb diet got old, I guess. We pick up the story in verse 4:
Numbers 11:4 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!
How many of us understand that most problems begin when we start to crave “other” food. When we determine that what God has provided isn’t enough or isn’t good enough, and we start to complain about the status of our life as if God hadn’t already done more than enough to sustain us, help us, deliver, us and keep us. Well, that’s another sermon. We don’t have time for that one today.
Verses 5-6: 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!”
Are you seeing this? They remember the fish. They remember the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic, but they seem to have forgotten the little issue of slavery, how they had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years! They seem to have forgotten the harsh treatment. They seem to have forgotten that the entire Hebrew nation was in an oppressive and unwanted situation, one that had caused them to cry out to God for deliverance. Things were getting worse and worse for them as slaves. As their population grew, Pharaoh became increasingly aware that they would be able to rise up against and overthrow the Egyptians. He tried to make things as tough as possible on them, increasing their work load and even went so far as to kill baby boys that were being born, but somehow, through selective amnesia, the Israelites forgot about all of that and became obsessed with and bored with what was on the menu! Do we sometimes wonder why God puts up with any of us?
This is the bunch Moses is called to lead, and he has become the target of their anger. Welcome to leadership, Moses. If something goes wrong, it’s the leader’s fault. Has anyone had that experience before? Leadership can be tough.
There are some people who decline promotions because they don’t want to have to deal with the attitude and the drama created by the people they would have to lead. It is too much work. It is too much pressure. There are executives that sequester themselves in their offices and schedule themselves to work at home because they are shrinking from the call to lead. There are parents that have resigned their positions in the home because dealing with kids who are demanding or complaining becomes draining, and it is easier just to give in and let the children’s will rule. There are pastors who are checking out of ministry because they don’t know what to do when the people they are called to lead are focused on the wrong things and won’t get with the program because they want “other” food.
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. This was widespread complaining. It wasn’t just one person who was upset with the status quo. You know, sometimes people approach a leader and want them to know that they are representing “everyone” in the organization with their complaint when really it is themselves and their best friend. Often leaders have to discern what kind of situation they are legitimately facing. Well, this was a big problem that Moses had on his hands. It was a legit situation. There was going to need to be a change of culture, sweeping reform, a major boost of morale. He couldn’t sweep things under the rug. He couldn’t pretend everything was OK and just hope morale would change and that things would get better. So, he did what is natural for anyone who is overwhelmed with unwanted pressure: He blamed God.
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.”
The complaining spirit of the people had gotten to Moses. He had absorbed the negativity, and he in turn, he became unnecessarily burdened and bitter towards God. Listen, when leadership sours your relationship with God, you have a bigger problem than the one you have with the people you are leading. God is not to blame, but I am thankful He is big enough to handle our stupidity and our anger. One thing is for sure, God is never without a solution, and so in verse 16 he offered a solution first to Moses to take the weight of the burden off of him:
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.
Hang in there, Moses, help is on the way! The Cavalry is coming. The burden and responsibility wouldn’t be on his shoulders alone. The work would be shared. God would empower others to help lead.
God then had a word for Moses about the people in general: 18 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat.
Let me just say that people who walk with God are going to be given instructions to lead people spiritually whether they are overseeing people who stock shelves or who buy and sell stock. Whether they teach kids in a school setting or administer IV’s in a hospital. When God gifts you to lead, there will be a spiritual component to your leadership and there will be spiritual wisdom and instruction you will impart to those you are leading. In other words, Christian leaders don’t leave their Christianity and call to make disciples at home.
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?”‘”
God is pretty funny here, right? “You want meat? I’ll give you meat. Meat cereal. Meat sandwiches. Meat casseroles. Meat milkshakes. Meat, meat, meat.” Has God ever given you what you asked for to the point where you couldn’t take it anymore? To the point where you realized that what you asked for was from a selfish, spoiled, discontented heart and you realized your problem wasn’t that you were bored with manna, but you were enamored with yourself and your wants?
Moses heard what God said, but questioned if it was possible.
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?”
It was like Moses was saying, “Ok, we’ll switch from carbs to protein, but how in the world will there be enough protein to keep up the object lesson for very long, God? There aren’t enough flocks and herds and fish in the sea to do what you are suggesting.” Oh, Moses. The God who is more than enough, the God who proved He could provide by raining manna from Heaven, could cause sheep and goats to fall from the sky if He wanted, right? He could cause the fish to jump out of the sea and yell, “Eat me” if He wanted to. Here was God’s reply:
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.”
Sometimes leaders, even spiritual leaders, need to be reminded that God can and will do what God says He will do. I am so glad He is gracious to show Himself to us. He reassures us when we have let the demands of leadership shake our faith that He is more than enough.
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.
How that had to encourage Moses. He saw God empowering other people to come alongside him. He saw God equipping them in front of his very eyes. He saw evidence that God was at work. They started to prophesy. People who had never had the authority to speak for God started speaking His truth.
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.
Isn’t it cool that God allowed two of the new leadership team to remain at the camp and for the people to also see the Spirit of God, the power of God, falling on them as well? Listen, when God does a work, when God is truly leading, when God moves and pours out His Spirit and raises up leaders, He will allow others and sometimes everyone to see it so that the entire culture of an organization or a home can be transformed. While Moses was watching God work at the Tent of Meeting and while Moses was getting to see what God was preparing the people for in that 70 people were going to become a leadership team rather than Moses continue to be the Lone Ranger, God was also allowing the nation of Israel, back at the camp, to see the change God was making. It wasn’t as if Moses was going to have to come back to the camp and sit all of the Tribes down and make a big announcement like, “OK, some things are going to be changing around here. Folks, we are moving to a new leadership model.” God made the change obvious. I’m not saying he didn’t communicate what happened at the Tent of Meeting with all of Israel or do some explaining, but God was also preparing the way by allowing His Spirit to come upon Eldad and Medad in plain view and was enabling them to lead as Moses had led.
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!”
Joshua had been Moses’ sidekick, right? He was being groomed to take over one day. Do you think he was really concerned about Moses feeling like his leadership was being threatened? Do you think he was worried that Eldad and Medad were going to form a coup and try to take over? Perhaps he was personally threatened because he didn’t want anyone moving into his leadership seat? I don’t know, but Moses quelled any drama there by saying, “Look, Joshua, we need help. I wish more people were equipped by God, gifted by God to help us move this ball down the field.” I’ll just go ahead and “amen” myself there!
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.
Well, that chapter was closed, right? Lesson learned. The desire for that which God hadn’t provided led to their demise. God was the leader. They needed to follow His lead, follow His leaders and be content with what He was providing. So, we have about seven minutes to learn something that can help us as we seek to lead in our various settings:
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.
So that’s it. If you are here today, and God has placed you in a leadership role at work or in your neighborhood or in some facet of the community or here at church and you want to lean more on God as you lead, I invite you to come.
If you are here today and have been looking for ways to get more involved, to use your gifts, to step up into leadership in the church or community, I invite you to come.
May God pour out His Spirit on us as we attempt to lead His way.