Moses and Paul: A Common Heart for Prophecy

Ran across a verse in Numbers recently that I don’t remember having seen before, regarding prophecy. It gave Moses’ perspective, but also reminded me of a Pauline quote that I’ve often pondered. Taken together, they show a common desire for prophecy to be among the people. I wonder if this has application today.

And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” Numbers 11:27–29

In this passage, a number of men had gone to a location outside the camp to receive the Spirit in order to help Moses. A result of this was that they started prophesying. However, two men were back in the camp prophesying. When approached about stopping them, Moses gave an interesting reply. Not only did he have no problem with their actions, but he went on to wish that everyone were prophets.

In Paul’s case, he was addressing the issue of tongues in the assembly, and used the gift of prophecy as a point of comparison.

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.

Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
1 Corinthians 14:1, 5

Throughout chapter 14, Paul makes the case for the superiority of prophecy. In the end, he desires that everyone would prophecy, similar to Moses. Paul also specifically points out that a key function of prophecy is to edify others. The result would then be an increase in wisdom for people to draw on, resulting in a growing and stronger church.

Now, the subject of prophecy is quite rich, but in my opinion the heart of it consists of hearing from God and sharing what He has said. He may speak of the future, which would be “foretelling”, or the present, which would be “forthtelling”. But in any case, it is a work of the Spirit, implied by Paul and clearly stated by Moses. So in essence these men were wishing that people would have close, Spirit-led experiences with God, and be empowered to share what they learned.

Now, it’s not really possibly to prophesy without first walking closely with the Lord. So a part of what these men were hoping for was that many others would have such close walks with the Lord that they would be able to speak words from Him. This almost implies that a lack of prophesying means a lack of people hearing from God, which implies a lack of relationship. It’s no wonder that Moses and Paul would have such a desire, because they both obviously desired their people to be close to God!

It is interesting that both men desired prophecy to be a common experience available to everyone, not limited to a select few. It almost echoes Jesus comments about not calling each other “Rabbi” (Matthew 23:8). Clearly they desired the hearing of God to be a broad experience among the people.

Where is that heart today among our leaders? It seems that in today’s “TV” culture, we are often content to sit back while someone else seeks God’s heart, and to let them proclaim it for us. Whether this is from TV, radio, podcasts, or the pulpit, simply listening to other people must seem easier than listening to God ourselves.

For many, this passive behavior is human nature. For others, a different aspect of human nature causes them to guard the position of proclaiming God’s wisdom, and not encourage others to seek for themselves. The result from both is overall spiritual passivity in congregations. But not necessarily worldly passivity — it’s certainly possible to build growing, exciting churches with spiritually passive individuals (see Revelation 3:1).

Today’s culture promotes such passive behavior, so we need leaders who have the heart of Moses and Paul. Leaders who are willing to actively encourage others to walk with the Lord. To allow their position to serve as example, not replacement. Teachers should go beyond just filling their students’ minds with understanding, and teach them how to hear from God themselves.

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