Read Numbers 11:24-30
There is the story of the hands on the cattle drive being short-handed. Who were they short?
Well, the cook had died a few days into the ride. None of the hands wanted to cook. They would rather drive herd than cook, but somebody had to cook.
So Joe, the youngest hand on the drive, volunteered for the job.
He said, “I will do it on one condition. As soon as somebody complains, I’m finished and they can have the job.”
Joe did his best. There were some burnt biscuits here and there and the seasoning was never quite right, but nobody complained.
After a couple weeks, Joe got tired of having to scrounge up the food, draw water, keep the coffee going, and clean up after a bunch of cowhands, so he decided to get himself out of the job.
One day he added five times as much salt to the rabbit stew as a man could stand, but nobody complained.
The next day he made the coffee so strong you could chew it, but nobody complained.
Joe realized his plan was not working so the next day he gathered up some hot and steamy cow patties during the day and served them up that night.
As the men ate their supper, one of the old timers couldn’t handle it anymore and he blurted out, “This tastes like manure.”
Joe smiled thinking his ploy had worked and he could pass the job to someone else, when the old timer realized what he had done and added, “But good!”
Somehow people can always find a way to complain about the food or not complain about the food.
And so God’s people are out in the wilderness. They have been there about a year. They are out of slavery but the things that they could count on in Egypt were not so readily apparent in the middle of what was pretty much a wasteland.
In Egypt they had fish and salad and cucumbers—a heart healthy diet for sure—but in their freedom there were no Walmarts nearby.
The evening discussion was not Rib Crib, Taco Bell, or even Subway. Egypt surely had more to offer.
But they had left all of that. They spent some time in the Sinai and soon would head to Paran, where they would be close to the Promised Land, but you remember how that came out the first time.
The tribal leaders told Moses it was too hard, but that is getting ahead of the reading.
The people are out of Egypt and in the wilderness and they are fed daily with Manna. This nourishment from God comes with the evening dew.
The people collect it, grind it, cook it, and surely they had a Manna Cookbook that the women’s group sold during fellowship meals.
But somebody decides it is time to complain about the food. Somebody says, I could sure go for some meat right about now.
And the people want meat. It is their new complaint. These people may not yet know how to be God’s Chosen People but they do know how to complain.
And so God tells Moses that he will provide meat, meat, and more meat. He says that you will have meat coming out the nose.
Moses wonders if God wants this group of complainers to slaughter all of their livestock. Moses, who led the people across the Red Sea on dry land wonders if feeding all of these people meat for a day or two wouldn’t be too hard a thing even for God.
It seems that Moses has a complaining streak of his own. He wonders how he can bear up under all of this pressure. Really, nobody cares for this many children and it’s not like they are his own kids.
And now promising meat? Really? Where would it come from?
Moses will have almost another 39 years to see and understand how God cares for his people, but in this instance, the Lord replied:
Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? (NKJ)
Is the Lord’s arm too short? (NIV)
So, do you think I can’t take care of you? (MSG)
“Is there a limit to my power?” the Lord answered. “You will soon see whether what I have said will happen or not!” (GNT)
And a strong wind comes and brings quail. This wasn’t just a covey or two, but enough to surround the camp for a day’s walk in any direction.
The people gathered quail up to their waist. They had quail coming out of their nose.
The Lord—SURPRISE—had delivered on his promise.
I’ll bet the guy with the Montreal Quail Seasoning Store was raking in the profits. How many ways can you fix quail?
Fried, boiled, broiled, grilled, steamed, dried, quail gumbo, quail salad, QLT—quail, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, perhaps without the lettuce and tomato.
God had delivered on his promise—a promise made to a bunch of complainers—but he delivered.
But the story here lies between the Manna and the quail. The story lies with God’s Spirit.
Moses is telling God that his burden is too heavy. How can he deal with so many people? His father-in-law had some advice that is addressed elsewhere, but this is what the Lord told Moses to do.
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.
God’s Spirit rested upon these 70 men. They prophesied but for a short time, but God’s own Spirit had rested upon them.
We don’t know anything of the prophecies. Maybe they just went out and told their people to get ready to eat some meat. Prophecy is an immediate message from God and the message was perhaps less significant than the fact that God poured out his Spirit on 70 men all at once.
The people did not fully understand that the Lord was with them. He provisioned them. Mentally and emotionally these people were still slaves.
There was comfort in slavery.
You don’t have to worry about profit and loss, customer relations, or bidding new jobs. If you don’t have anything to eat, you can complain that it is because you are just a slave.
You don’t have to take ownership of any problems; therefore, you are not responsible for any solutions.
There are no Individual Retirement Accounts or College Savings Accounts to worry about. You don’t worry about commodity prices on the market for you are a commodity yourself.
As it turned out, you were fed pretty well too. There was some comfort in slavery.
But God’s Chosen People had yet to understand what it was to be God’s people. They did not understand that nothing was too hard for their new Master.
And while God worked in the Manna and he worked in the quail, he connects with his people by his Spirit.
In a day, these 70 men were back to normal. It was surely something to talk about, except the talk had turned to two men who were not assembled to receive the Spirit of the Lord yet were out prophesying.
Eldad and Medad were elders but they had not gathered at the tent; yet, God’s Spirit had rested upon them and they were prophesying.
Joshua comes to Moses sure that these men who had not gathered with the rest had to be stopped. They, after all, were not at the Tent of Meeting when the Lord’s Spirit came and rested on the 70.
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.”
These words might give us a little insight into the frustration Moses was feeling, but they also give us insight into God’s plans.
For the days are coming when we will see more and more of God’s Spirit being poured out.
The world may grow worse and worse, but God’s Spirit will be poured out upon men.
Love of many will grow cold, but God’s Spirit will be poured out.
Bowls of wrath being poured out on this planet gets people’s attention but God’s Spirit will be poured out on this world first.
Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday. We read of the Spirit coming in a wind and resting upon those disciples gathered together as flames on their heads.
Wind and fire—powerful and elusive images for sure—are how we visual and conceptualize the Spirit of the Living God.
Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.
But will we return to the world wondering about where our Manna will come from? Will we complain when we ask for meat and have quail coming out the nose? Will we complain that there is just too much on our plate to manage?
Are we focused on the wilderness around us or on God’s Spirit being poured out upon us?
Are we looking backwards to a time that we remember as “comfortable” or are we living in this very moment connected to God at the purest level?
Some of my most enjoyable times came in the worst circumstances. Bonds grow strong as people endure hardship together.
As a Marine I walked up some hills and mountains that didn’t seem to ever run out of up.
I have been on the roughest of seas.
I have been in places where people with guns didn’t like us very much.
But sharing the danger and the experience and the challenge with other Marines made it all worthwhile. I know bonds and kinship that others will never taste.
For the past several years, my wife and I have been driving to the east coast for summer visits. We used to fly, but now we enjoy driving more.
One summer, we decided to get from Beaufort, South Carolina to Branson, Missouri in a day. It was going to be at least 16 hours worth of driving.
We would share the driving. By that I meant that I would drive half of the time while my wife was awake and half of the time while she was asleep. The best route according to the map and my GPS went northwest out of Memphis.
I would be able to avoid the parking lot disguised as an interstate around Little Rock and shave quite a few miles. We were making great time, at least until the last 50 miles.
Then highway numbers started changing more frequently and straight sections of the road were measured in 10ths of a mile.
It was dark. We were tired. The display of my GPS looked more like a map of the small intestines than one of a paved highway.
The winding road was surrounded by trees, except we were at tree top level and the lights of the houses were far below. It gave these last miles an eerie sort of feeling.
I decided we needed to stop and recompose ourselves and ask if we really were on the right road or had ventured into the Twilight Zone. So I said, “What’s the next town on the map?”
Tek-um-say was the phonetic answer.
It was dark and my wife was reading the map by flashlight but that sure was a strange name for a town.
I bounced the syllables around in my mind for a quarter mile and replied, “If we were in Oklahoma would we call that ‘Ta-kum-sa’? Tecumseh made perfect sense in broad daylight but after a long day that was growing more stressful by the minute, that little town in the middle of nowhere, Missouri would forever be known as Teck-um-say to us.
We stopped in a little store and asked what the best way to get to Branson from here was. The answer was not, “You can’t get there from here,” but it was pretty close.
There ain’t no good way from here, as if everyone knew that and if they didn’t they knew not to ask.
We got there, finally, enjoyed a couple days in one of our favorite towns, and then went on to our next stop.
I don’t remember any of the shows that we saw. I can’t think of a single Branson souvenir that I bought. It was a fun time but the memories that stick with me are going through the tougher times with my wife on those last few miles.
Looking back and laughing, enjoying the moments not advertised on the billboards, and really living the journey, is that not life itself?
God is pouring his Spirit out on us now more than any other time that we know of. God is very much on the journey with us.
We could look around and say, “Who is speaking in a language they don’t know? Who is prophesying? Who has flames dancing on their head?”
Or we could open our eyes.
We could have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Jesus came into this world and lived and died and rose again as a man, but he was truly God with us.
He shall be called Emanuel. His name means God with us.
But Jesus told his disciples before he died that he was going away and sending the Spirit to be with us.
God’s Spirit is with us.
God is with us.
The Spirit of the Lord is being poured out upon us.
We know the Spirit like no other people.
Not even 100 people experienced the Spirit in the wilderness between the Manna and the quail but everyone who has professed Jesus as Lord is given the Spirit.
God is with us in this journey.
It is not that we need to finish the journey to get to see God. He is going with us. His Spirit is upon us. His Spirit is being poured out all around us. His Spirit rests upon us.
Do we not comprehend that what 72 men experienced in the desert is happening to us right now? God’s Spirit rests upon us, and not just for a day.
Are we still complaining about the food or about how hard it is to be in charge?
Are we looking back to a better time or more comfortable time or just any other time?
God’s Spirit is right here in the here and now.
Moses had some clear insight in the middle of his complaining.
I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them.”
We are the Lord’s ambassadors.
We are letters from Christ.
We are missionaries.
We are witnesses.
We bring glory to God.
We seek his Kingdom first.
We proclaim the gospel.
In so many ways we take a message from God to the people. That’s what prophets do.
That message might look like a PB&J, chips, and a banana in a brown bag delivered with a message that says, “God loves you.”
That’s our message. In so many ways it is prophecy. Just because there was no fire or wind or smoke, we still have a message from God.
And God’s Spirit is upon us!
His Spirit is upon us.
On this Pentecost Sunday, I challenge you to go into the world with the Spirit of the Lord walking beside you, dwelling within you, and resting upon you.
God is with you.
God is with you in your times of joy and sorrow.
He is there when the streams of abundance are flowing and when you are found in the desert place.
He is there if you are eating PB&Js or roasted quail.
How about we enjoy the journey that we are on with God.
How about we live with eyes to see and ears to hear that God is with us.
He is with us in Tecumsah and in Tek-um-say.
God’s Spirit is resting upon us.
Let’s quit complaining about the provisions and enjoy the journey.
Let us live full of God’s Spirit and shout like prophets.
Jesus is Lord!
Repent and believe the good news!
You Lord are enough!
Moses could not envision a day when all of God’s people would shout like prophets, but we live in that day.
We have the Spirit of God within us and we have a message of good news to proclaim to the world around us.
Let us be filled with the Spirit and let us all shout like prophets.