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. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.
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. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”
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!” Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp. (New International Version)
My dad was on the local schoolboard for many years when I was a kid. I remember him telling me that he could predict was the Superintendent of Schools was going to do. Dad would introduce a motion (an idea or action to take) knowing that it would be struck down by the Superintendent, who then would introduce the same motion months later as if it were his own idea.
We all have likely had the experience of other people taking credit for our work, or at least spinning a situation to make it appear like the person was more responsible or in charge of something good than they actually were. After all, most of us want to look good in the eyes of others. So, leaders sometimes (most of the time?) reinterpret and bend situations to make their leadership shine, especially when it isn’t shining at all.
But Moses was a different sort of leader. He is described in Holy Scripture as “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3, NIV)
Today’s Old Testament lesson illustrates for us what humility and meekness truly look like. And the leadership of Moses had an authentic shine to it which resulted from being close to God. (Exodus 34:29-34; 2 Corinthians 3:12-18)
What is a meek and humble leader?
In a world enamored with issues of power and authority, Moses was a counter-cultural leader who understood his position and embodied the true nature of service to both God and people.
Humility acknowledges that the leader is not the one who is truly in charge. Ultimately, God is, and not any of us. The Holy Spirit is totally sovereign and acts in whatever way the Lord wills. The Spirit will not be stereotyped, nor can anyone really discern or predict what the Spirit will do or not do.
For sure, a life of prayer, faith, and holiness are necessary for the Christian life. Yet, we must not therefore assume that our spiritual disciplines somehow guarantee particular outcomes. It’s plain arrogance to suppose that somehow we can maneuver or manipulate God for our own purposes – which is why we need to cultivate a life of humility and meekness.
The reply of Moses to Joshua’s concern about the Spirit being manifested in an unexpected way illustrates a gentle and generous spirit of heart. Far from silencing the two men prophesying apart from the others, Moses instead longed for such a blessing to be extended to all the people.
Good and godly leaders are such because their sole passion is to honor and glorify the Lord. For them, it doesn’t really matter whether they’re personally involved in the great and spiritual thing happening, or not. That’s humility, my friends.
If there’s a distinction between humility and meekness, it is this: The humble person is self-aware enough to know they can only do anything by the hand of God operating within them; and the meek person is socially aware enough to understand that, in their lowliness, they are unable to look down on anyone else. Therefore, pride, arrogance, and hubris are nowhere to be found.
To have divine validation is all that’s needed for the godly leader; and when one is content with what they need and want most, there’s no need for human accolades and constant attention.
Far too often, we equate meek with weak. If someone is meek, some folks wrongly reason they must be a washrag, or overly introverted, and maybe not taking proper initiative in life. Of all the leadership qualities we may aspire to, I doubt that meekness would make any leader’s top ten list of desired character traits.
Why would I want to be meek?
Jesus, an unquestioned leader, described himself as meek. Yet, many English translations steer clear of the word. For example, “Come to me,” the New International Version of the Bible says, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Only the King James Version translates the word as “meek,” instead of “gentle.”
What does it mean to be meek?
“Meek” is a word used in other ancient Greek literature for breaking a horse. It’s the change from being a wild stallion who wants to go his own way, to a broken horse who is able to be guided and used, allowing others on his back without bucking.
At the crucifixion, Jesus was naked, exposed, and vulnerable to the idle curiosity of the crowd and the vulgar frivolity of the soldiers who were having a party around his suffering. “If you are the king of the Jews,”they taunted,“save yourself.” (Luke 23:35-36)
The extraordinary thing is there was no spirit of revenge with Jesus. Christ did not curse his tormentors, but instead prayed, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)
What characterizes a meek person?
- The meek have a desire to put other’s interests ahead of their own, because they know it is not all about them. They practice healthy rhythms of giving and receiving with others, without prejudice or favoritism.
- The meek are more concerned with edifying and building up their brothers and sisters than justifying themselves. They don’t care who gets the credit. And they receive criticism well.
- The meek are truly egalitarian and do all things with equity and inclusion. They make no distinctions between rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, intelligent and cognitive deficits, black and white, gay and straight, Democrat and Republican, or insider and outsider. In the meek person’s mind, every person is created in the image of God and therefore deserves respect, attention, and justice.
How do I live as a meek person?
Perhaps repentance is in order. It could be that too many people have made much more of themselves than what they truly are. Maybe we have adopted a stance of shaming others, believing that some people need a bit of guilt from a leader in order to change their obnoxious ways.
Moses did not retaliate against the prophesying men or squelch what the Spirit was doing. Non-retaliation happens whenever we understand that we’re flat on our backs before God, and there is no place to look but up. And it also means there is no ability to look down on others. It is to be broken and moldable before God.
Most importantly for the spiritual person, Moses had regular and extended times of meeting with God. It’s what kept him humble and maintaining a perspective on life that is healthy and helpful.
This day, almighty and holy God, be within and without me, lowly and meek, yet all-powerful. Christ as a light; Christ as a shield; Christ beside me, on my left and my right, I walk with you in humility of heart in the strength of the Holy Spirit. Amen.