Nothing is known of these two men beyond the incident recorded in the Book of Numbers; but this is so remarkable and significant, that it well repays careful study.
The Israelites had been once more displaying suspicion and ingratitude. Turning with loathing from the manna, they whimpered, like spoilt children, for the fish and flesh they had enjoyed in Egypt, and murmured against God and against Moses. The patience of their leader, under this new provocation, completely broke down, so that he went so far as to accuse God Himself of being a hard taskmaster, who had laid too much upon him. With infinite forbearance, allowance was made for the manner in which Divine counsel and help had been asked for, and the promise was graciously fulfilled, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee. He will never suffer the righteous to be moved." God dealt with his servant as a father at his best will deal with his child who runs to him, hurt and bruised, in a passion of tears. Instead of beginning with an angry rebuke, help and relief are first given, and then in a few calm words the needed counsel is proffered. It was in a spirit of patient love that God appointed elders from among the people to help his over-wrought servant and share his heavy burden.
Moses was, no doubt, justified in saying, "I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me." Indeed it was well for him, as it is for us all, to feel the need there is for human sympathy and Divine aid. Self-contained, self-reliant men are not the highest type of humanity, and they are sometimes for their own good visited by anxieties and responsibilities which compel them to cry, "Lord help me." Thus was it with Moses. Indeed, our Lord Himself shared that experience, when for our sakes He became man. He chose comrades who were a blessing to Himself, although He was a far greater blessing to them. He took them with Him when he went forth to confront the crises of His life -- on the Mount of Transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, where His sorrow was intensified by their failure to watch with Him. He had three specially intimate friends. He called twelve to be apostles, and sent forth seventy as missioners -- an arrangement in which we see the New Testament counterpart of the choosing of these seventy-two elders, to rule and judge the Israelites, and thus share the responsibility of Moses.
The account given us of their appointment is singularly interesting. Six men out of each of the twelve tribes were summoned to the Tabernacle, solemnly set apart and filled with the Spirit -- but two of the men -- Eldad and Medad -- were absent "They were of them written to" is the exact phrase -- and the fact that they received a written summons denotes a higher and more general culture among that ancient people than is generally imagined to have existed. Yet it is what might be reasonably expected, for they had come out of Egypt, the most civilised power then in the world, a country where the usual writing materials were exclusively made. Though the Israelites had been only slaves there, they would doubtless be familiar with the art of writing, for the men of that race have never yet lagged behind any people among whom they have lived.
Seventy of the men thus summoned came together promptly, and were ranged in a semicircle before the Tabernacle. Then, in the sight of all the people, the cloud descended, wrapped them all in impenetrable mist, as a sign that the chosen men were being mysteriously baptised with the Spirit, and when again they emerged they began to prophesy. It was the ancient counterpart of the day of Pentecost, when the disciples met, and the Spirit came upon them as a mighty, rushing wind, and they began to speak with other tongues, as men chosen and inspired by God.
In the 25th verse of the eleventh chapter of Numbers, it is said that "the Lord took of the spirit that was upon Moses, and gave it unto the seventy elders." Some conclude from this statement that, as a punishment for his intemperate prayer, the wisdom of Moses was thus lessened, while others were enriched at his expense. But wisdom, and all gifts similar to it, are not diminished by distribution. If we impart information, we do not lessen our own store of knowledge. If we give of our love lavishly, yet affection is not lessened by such outpouring. The spread of fire over what is inflammable increases its intensity. Though we light a thousand candles from one which burned alone at first, it still burns brightly as before. So is it with the Spirit of whose fulness we all receive. No Christian man is poorer because his brother is enriched with grace, nor was Moses. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth."
It is time that we turned to the two men, Eldad and Medad, who, although summoned with their brethren, did not come to the assembly at the Tabernacle. They may have been absent from their tents when the papyrus letter was delivered, and would not be quickly found in the vast camp. Be this as it may, what followed is evidence that they did not wilfully disobey the summons, and that their absence was not due to any bad motive. For some reason unknown to us they failed to put in an appearance at the critical time, when others of the elect were receiving the mysterious but efficient grace of the Spirit. Yet, at one and the same moment, they also were inspired while walking together, as they probably were doing, in some far-off part of the camp. To the amazement of the people, and doubtless to their own amazement too, they suddenly began to prophesy, and crowds of listeners quickly gathered round them, as on Pentecost they ran together to hear the inspired apostles. This unique experience was given by God, and received by the people as convincing evidence that Eldad and Medad were divinely appointed, and divinely qualified, equally with their brethren nearer the Tabernacle. It is true that Joshua exhibited some jealousy and suspicion, and would have silenced them because the blessing had not come through Moses; but the great law-giver, with characteristic insight and generosity, would not heed the request -- "My lord Moses, forbid them." Calmly, yet decisively, the answer rang out, "Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!"
In the experience of these two men there is imbedded valuable and permanent truth. We regard it as an evidence, the more remarkable because given under a ceremonial regime, that God did not intend to institute any order of men outside the limits of which there was to be no liberty of prophesying and no fitness for it. Nor is there any exclusively sacred place, be it tabernacle, temple, synagogue, or church, where alone such gifts can be conferred. We believe that outside all sacred places, outside the churches of our own faith and order, and of any other churches, there are men, and women too, equally called of God with those within such limits, and the evidence that they are so called lies in the fact that in them also the Spirit of God is resting, and through them the Spirit of God is working.
This lesson, which still needs to be enforced in our own day, is perhaps best deduced from an incident so early and so simple as this. Just as we may learn more of the way in which an engine really works from a simple model -- say of George Stephenson's -- than from one of the complicated machines of the present day, so we may gain the more instruction from this incident, because of its very simple character, while its antiquity keeps it out of the confusion caused by modern controversies.
Eldad and Medad were men called of God to undertake holy service for the good of His people. In their case the call was manifestly inward rather than outward. Though truly chosen, they were not in the Tabernacle, nor were they wrapped in the cloud, and they received no ordination from the laying on of hands by Moses and Aaron. The evidence of their call lay in their fitness for the work, and their fitness was due to the gift of the Spirit. Yet all this occurred under a dispensation which was far more strict in ceremonial law than that under which we live.
What does it teach? It surely confirms our belief that the word of God is not bound. The exposition and enforcement of Divine truth is not to be confined to those who have received priestly ordination by some outward rite. No man therefore has the right to forbid any preacher from exercising his functions on the ground that his orders are not regular, or because he has not been recognised by an Episcopate, a Presbytery, a Conference, or a Union.
To put the same truth in hortatory form, I would say to any one who has knowledge of Divine truth, who has experienced the graces of the Holy Spirit, and who has the gift of utterance: You are called upon, by the fact of possessing these qualifications, to serve God as opportunity comes. You ought not to be silent on the claims of Christ, nor should you refrain from leading others in prayer, while on every other topic you are fluency itself. "Neglect not the gift that is in thee," whether it came by laying on of hands, or in some other way. Every true convert should sometimes feel as the prophet Jeremiah felt, when he said, "The word of the Lord was within me as a burning fire shut up in my bones. I was weary with forbearing and could not stay." The work assigned too often exclusively to the minister is really the work of the Church.
Happily, speech is not the only mode in which men can serve God. It is clear from the Hebrew narrative that Eldad and Medad, like their brethren at the door of the Tabernacle, did not receive an abiding gift of prophecy, but a transient sign which seemed adequate to convince the people that they had been chosen and inspired. Unfortunately, the Authorised Version gives us a phrase which is the exact opposite of the meaning of the Hebrew phrase in the twenty-fifth verse, rendering it thus, "They prophesied, and did not cease." The Revised Version sets this right in the phrase, "They prophesied, but they did so no more." In other words, the singular manifestation of power soon passed away. It was not a permanent possession.
This is in harmony with the experience of the early Christian Church. The miraculous power given to the apostles, as evidence of their Divine commission, was not always at their disposal. The gift of tongues bestowed on them, and on others, soon ceased; for it was intended to show the supernatural origin of Christianity until written evidence was available, and then it was withdrawn. The Holy Spirit still remained in the Church, and was revealed in a diversity of operations. His presence was proved by the changed characters of converts more effectually than by abnormal gifts -- and similarly the religious ecstasy of Eldad and Medad and their comrades was soon exchanged for their abiding spirit of wisdom and justice.
Christians who at one time spoke for Christ are not always to blame if they speak publicly no more. They may have withdrawn from Sunday School teaching, for example, but only to serve God in another form. Their matured experience may be quite as valuable as their once fervent zeal. The river which near its source noisily rushes over the pebbles, is not lessened in value when, full and deep, it silently glides onward to the sea.
Happily, there are diversities of operations, though they are all under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and if we are faithful to our special calling, we may hope to receive our Lord's "Well done," just as did these seventy-two men, who sustained and aided Moses, though they left no record of their steady, useful work. Indeed, there are those who in actual service can do very little, whose gracious and benign influence is the best proof of true inspiration. Such was he of whom Cowper sings:
"When one that holds communion with the skies
God calls us to Himself before He calls us to His service. The same Divine Spirit who qualifies for religious work, creates men anew. Of every one so created, it may be said he was "born of the Spirit."
In this, also, neither place nor circumstance is essential. Eldad and Medad were both away from the Tabernacle, somewhere in the unconsecrated camp; yet they received the same blessing which their brethren were enjoying at the door of the Tabernacle. And we rejoice that some who are now outside a place of worship -- outside this or that denomination -- outside Christendom, do receive the Spirit who transforms them into the likeness of Christ.
In confirmation of this, we recall the fact that our Lord spoke more often in houses, and fields, and boats, and streets, than in the Temple. And the apostles who were called to follow Him were engaged at the time of their calling in their ordinary occupations, at the toll-office or in the fishing-boat. Saul was converted on the road to Damascus, the jailor of Philippi in prison, Lydia by the river side. All this reminds us that though our power may be limited by time and place, God's power is not; though our work is contracted, His is broad. The Holy Spirit is no more confined to a place than the wind is, which bloweth as it listeth over land and sea, over desert and garden.
It is a comfort to remember this when we grieve over some prodigal, who has gone beyond the reach of religious observances; who never attends worship, or reads the Bible. We may hope about him, believe in him, and pray for him still, because the Spirit of God can reach him as He reached Eldad and Medad, "who went not up to the Tabernacle." The old promise is not exhausted yet: "I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams."
It is this divine afflatus, this outpouring of the Spirit, which is the great need of the age we live in. The Church seems to be lying listless as a sailing ship, due to leave harbour, but still waiting for a breeze. Her masts are firm, the canvas ready to be stretched, and her equipment complete. The helmsman stands impatient at the wheel, and all the sailors are alert, but not a ripple runs along the vessel's side. She waits, and must wait, for a heavenly breeze to fill her sails, and till it comes she cannot stir. Like that ship the Church is wanting impulse, and we ought to be waiting for it, and praying for it. The power we need can only come from heaven, the breath of God must be our real moving force, and we should be wiser, stronger, and more hopeful if we entered into the meaning of the old, oft-repeated verse:
"At anchor laid, remote from home,