Prophets in the Camp

By Michael Smith

Reading from Numbers 11:24-35

24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

26 Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” 30And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

31 Then a wind went out from the Lord, and it brought quails from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, about two cubits deep on the ground. 32So the people worked all that day and night and all the next day, gathering the quails; the least anyone gathered was ten homers; and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague. 34So that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had the craving. 35From Kibroth-hattaavah the people journeyed to Hazeroth.


Moses was burdened by the responsibilities the Lord had given him in leading the chosen people to the Promised Land. In response to Moses’ cries for help, God called seventy elders of the people to assist their leader. The elders were to assemble outside the camp at the tent of meeting where God poured a portion of the spirit given to Moses onto the seventy. As a manifestation of this outpouring, they prophesied, uttering the voice of God to the people. Now, it seems that two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, failed to assemble outside the camp as instructed, but remained at home in their tents. Nonetheless, they also received the spirit and prophesied. What was Moses’ response when someone reported this irregularity to him? “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” There is no controlling the Spirit of God.

There are things going on in our lives and world today that make us uncomfortable and fearful. We are painfully aware that we are not in control. I do not know if the coronavirus pandemic is a judgment from God or part of a broken creation or a random occurrence, but I see the Church adapting and changing to be faithful in a new environment. That is a work of the Spirit. I see white people demonstrating their belief that black lives truly matter and that racism is a sin that must be repented. That too is a work of the Spirit. We may not be in control, but I believe that the Spirit of God is moving in unexpected ways and able to bring good from evil, health from disease, and freedom from slavery. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

The Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith served as Bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma. He and his wife, the Rev. Lisa White Smith, are the parents of three grown children and grandparents of nine.

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