Summary: The Sovereign Holy Spirit does not always operate where, when, how, with what, or with whom we may expect. Such things are not open to debate.
PROPHESYING IN THE CAMP
Chips (French Fries) for tea every day seemed a good idea for a Ship’s Company of 180 Cadets in their teens. But chips every day??? We rebelled - and our chips were replaced by some fluffy artificial instant mashed potatoes which made us yearn anew for the days of the chips.
Manna was a miracle, yet the children of Israel eventually grew tired of it, miracle or not (Numbers 11:6). God was angry (Numbers 11:10), and He therefore gave the people something akin to what they wanted (Numbers 11:33). The people wanted fish like they had in Egypt (Numbers 11:5), but the LORD gave them poultry - poultry in abundance, until it came out of their nostrils and made them sick (Numbers 11:19-20).
Sometimes the punishment for our ingratitude is to be granted the very thing which we desire, even when what we desire is bad for us (cf. Romans 1:24). It turns out that God, after all, does know best.
Moses was feeling the burden of leadership, and laid out his own complaint before the LORD (Numbers 11:11). Moses’ father-in-law had long since advised Israel’s leader to delegate some of his judicial responsibility to able elders (Exodus 18:21-23): but it was no good Moses having a team of elders if he was not using them.
Now, about a year later, the LORD appointed a time and place when He would take of the Spirit which was upon Moses, and place it upon seventy men of the elders in order that they might share the burden with Moses (Numbers 11:16-17).
This is exactly what happened in today’s text. Seventy elders of the people were gathered around the tabernacle, and the Spirit came upon them, and they prophesied (Numbers 11:24-25). But what is of interest here is not the seventy, but the two: two who remained in the Camp who also prophesied (Numbers 11:26).
Why the two remained in the Camp we cannot tell. Perhaps they were somehow ceremonially unclean, or sick, or were detained by urgent legitimate business. There are times when we cannot reach the place where the LORD is expected to manifest Himself, and He does not fault us for it.
Furthermore, although there was a time and place appointed, we cannot limit the workings of the Holy Spirit. He is Sovereign, and will work when and where - and with whom - He pleases. People may ask (and they will ask), ‘Is Saul also among the prophets?’ (1 Samuel 10:11; 1 Samuel 19:24) - but the LORD appoints whom He will, when He will, and it is not open to debate.
It is hardly surprising that this matter was reported to Moses (Numbers 11:27). One cannot blame the young man for telling tales. After all, it did seem somewhat irregular.
Perhaps, however, Moses’ servant Joshua - great man that he was going to be - was on this occasion in the wrong when he said, “My lord Moses, forbid them” (Numbers 11:28). Moses certainly interpreted his zeal as misplaced, if not downright idolatrous: “Are you envious for my sake?” (Numbers 11:29).
This puts us in mind of another incident, when the disciple John informed Jesus of ‘one casting out devils in Your name; and we forbad him because he follows not with us’ (Luke 9:49). Denominationalism is as old as the hills! Jesus’ answer then, in that particular context was, ‘Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:50).