Hey! You’re not allowed to do that!

If you’re like me, then even after you hagah (roar like a hungry lion and then devour) the scriptures, they’re still bouncing around in your head. After I posted the shorter version of this post I called my friend Bryan Nix and we shot ideas back and forth and in the process came up with some very cool links in these two passages and I wanted to share them.

The blog post that follows is almost all of the text of part 1, but much more in-depth.

Scratching the Surface

We start in the gospels with a story about one of Jesus’ disciples, John, telling Jesus about something he (and some other disciples) did.

38“Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

39“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

–Mark 9:38-41

Notice the general layout of the story: someone is doing something miraculous, disciples tell them to stop, disciples are rebuked by their master. There’s much more going on here than meets the eye anyway, as this saying of Jesus’ in verse 40 is extremely close to something that Hillel said, but that’s an entirely different post (one which has been sitting, unfinished, in my “drafts” section for around 9 months…sorry).  It’s an important detail (for later) to note that the disciple who tells this to Jesus, John, was probably around age 10 to 12 at the time of this story.

So, what’s going on in this passage?  Where is this story coming from in the text?  I believe the answer comes from the Book of Numbers.

24 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. 25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.

26 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. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”

29 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!”

–Numbers 11:24-29

Joshua was “[Moses’] young aide” (Ex. 33:11) and as we saw in this passage had been Moses’ aide since youth.  So notice the same general layout of the story: someone is doing something miraculous, a young disciple tells them to stop, disciple(s) are rebuked by their master.  What is the writer of Mark saying by including this story and framing it in this manner?  I believe the main point is this:  Jesus came to be a prophet like Moses, a leader who would set his people free from slavery and bondage.  So it’s natural to think that the writers of the New Testament would frame him in such a manner, but unless you dig into the text, you don’t see it.  And that’s just the surface level.  Let’s dig deeper.

The Spirit on the Nations

Because these two stories are so heavily linked, we can dig into the Moses story and mine out meaning for the New Testament story.  The first thing that jumped out at me is that Moses took 70 elders to the tent.  Moses had earlier appointed 70 elders to help him in his work, and this is where the rabbis derive rabbinic authority from, passed down from generation to generation.  But numbers to a Jew (rabbinically speaking) are not primarily quantity.  I have learned from two different rabbis that the number 70 always stands for the Gentile nations because in Genesis 10 (the Table of Nations) the number of nations adds up to 70.  So the number 70 became a picture for them.  Here’s an example:

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water.

–Exodus 15:27

Do you think they actually ran around and counted the number of palm trees so that they could faithfully report the number to future generations?  I doubt it.  Now…do I believe that there were 70 palm trees?  Of course.  But the quantity is not the focus.  The point here is that the 12 (tribes of Israel) water and give life to the 70 (nations).  Israel’s mission, from the beginning was to be water in the desert for the world.  Pretty cool, huh?

So what’s going on with the 70 in Numbers 11?  Here is the explanation we arrived at:  the 70 at the tent represent the nations of the world and the 2 who stayed in the camp represent the 2 nations of God’s people, Judah and Israel.  This is a very real foreshadowing of the Spirit of God being poured out on the nations (Acts 2) while Judah and Israel stayed behind “in the camp”.  When Joshua tells Moses to make them stop, Moses asks Joshua: “Are you jealous for my sake?”  Much later, Paul would write, speaking of Israel’s failure to accept the Messiah:

13Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.

–Romans 11:13-14

Speaking specifically to Gentiles, Paul writes that he is hoping to incite his fellow Jews and make them jealous.  Jealous of what?  For one, the Spirit which was poured out on the nations.  Do not read me wrong – I am not saying that Judah and Israel did not receive the Spirit, because scholars such as Flusser make an excellent case that there were tens of thousands of Jewish followers of Jesus in the first century.  What I am saying, however, is two-fold.  The first is that the Spirit would be poured out on the Gentiles which is foreshadowed in the Numbers passage.  The second is that the Spirit would be poured out on the Jews and it would be different than for the Gentiles – and that difference is okay.  Today many Christians are bothered when they learn that Jews who accept Jesus retain their love for the Torah and still endeavor to keep it.  Just because the Spirit rested on us Gentiles in a different way we have no right to tell them to stop.

Further supporting this idea is that in the Markan narrative, John says that the one who was driving out demons was “not one of us.”  Some scholars think that this means the person was a Gentile.  So we have a reversal: in Mark, this time it’s the 2 (figuratively speaking) who are telling the 70 (figuratively speaking) to stop.

Like Children

In the Numbers passage that parallel’s the Markan narrative, Moses says:

“I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

–Numbers 11:29b

In the Numbers passage, the LORD’s spirit on someone caused them to prophecy.  This really sounds like what Paul writes:

5I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified….I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.  20Brothers, stop thinking like children.

–1 Corinthians 14:5-6, 18-20

In the Jesus story in Mark, John qualifies as a child if he is as young as 10, which some scholars have suggested and we’ve already made a link to Joshua being young (though we do not know just how young).  So we see another connection here about prophecy and acting like children.

The Meaning of Names

In the Numbers story we are told specifically the names of the two elders who stayed behind in the camp.  The average Westerner reads over this and thinks “okay, thank you for that random bit of useless  knowledge.”  The Jew (rabbinically speaking) reads those names and asks “Why are those names given?  Why not the names of the seventy elders at the tent?  Why not the name of the young man who ran to tell Moses?”  The answer may surprise you.

The rabbis have commented that Eldad and Medad hold more significance than merely being mentioned as two guys bucking the trend.  According to Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Numbers 11:26, they also predicted a war with Gog and Magog who would be defeated by the Messiah.  Even early Christians recognized their significance by mentioning the pair in the deutero-canonical book Shepherd of Hermas (Visions) 2:30.

In the Tanakh (Old Testament), names are almost always an indicator of who the person will be.  So in one sense, you can read the name of an individual and know what they are going to do before you read the stories about them.  Examples: Jacob means “he grasps the heal” or more figuratively, “usurper”.  Jacob usurped his brother’s birthright and blessings through trickery and lies and never once is recorded to feel guilt or repentance over it.  Suddenly we know what sort of a person Jacob would grow up to be.  Even the name Jesus in Hebrew is Yeshua which means “God’s salvation” and so from the moment the angel appears and says that Mary will have a son and will name him Jesus, we know what Jesus will do.  There are many more examples of this.

So what do Eldad and Medad mean?  Eldad means “Loved by God” and Medad means “Loved”.  This immediately struck me as being in relation to a different portion in scripture.

Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter. Then the LORD said to Hosea, “Call her Lo-Ruhamah, for I will no longer show love to the house of Israel, that I should at all forgive them. 7 Yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them—not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the LORD their God.”

–Hosea 1:6-7

The name Lo-Ruhamah means “not loved” and we see a stark contrast to the two, Eldad and Medad who represent Israel and Judah.  Notice, however, the messianic overtones of the quote from Hosea.  God will save them, but not by force or military power, but “by the LORD their God,” which again brings us back to Jesus.

Conclusion

In the end, it’s up to you to decide what you think of all of this.  However, whether or not there is any hard connections to the other passages I have brought up in this post isn’t the point.  The point of the study is this: there are heavy themes running through both of these stories and lead to, point to, and connect with other Biblical passages.  The Bible is not a document that was meant to be read (blandly), closed, and then put on a shelf.  It’s a book that you are meant to hunger over and devour every single word.  Sure, the “big picture” stuff is important to get and let’s not miss that by studying minutiae, but there’s power in the small details too.  The Bible, as it was meant to be studied, should start you off in a passage of scripture and lead you from scripture to scripture to scripture as quotations and echoes of other passages come to you.  Each verse is not isolated, and the Bible does a remarkable job of building upon itself over and over again.  This article is just one example of that.

I hope you enjoyed reading this study as much as I enjoyed hagahing over it. :)

Peace to you,

James

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3 thoughts on “Hey! You’re not allowed to do that!

  1. I also came across the reference of aleph (the one) and aylin (the 70), reading a book about Michaelangelo & the Sistine Chapel. All the characters on the ceiling are from the Old Testament, because 1. he was insulting the popes & 2. he was sypothetic with the Jews, being raised & taught by them in the house of de Medici. There is some really cool stuff on the Sistine Chapel ceiling!

  2. Thank you , the number 70 is used quite often. The first place I noticed it recently as I read about the 70 prophets was 70 of Jacob’s household went down into Egypt. Interesting comments about 70 prophets, 12 springs, 70 palm trees, but I think Eldad and Medab representing Judah and Israel may be a stretch. Maybe to do with law calls for two witnesses? Probably not. Just searching.

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