They were about 410 days into their march from the Red Sea to the Jordan river. The surroundings every day were the same. Sand. Desert. Bareness. The walk across the Sinai had been rough and not an ounce of gratefulness was left in Moses’ people, even though there was virtually no sickness and their clothes did not wear out. By day 410 the people could not stand it anymore. They wretched out their grief to God. Suddenly Israel’s elders were alerted to the fact that hundreds of people, their people, were being consumed by fire on the edges of camp.
As usual Moses was praying with ferocity to God for mercy. Over a million Israelites had become an abomination to God. And Moses too was nearly to the edge of insanity. But God relented from further destruction as the elders of Israel witnessed the work of Moses and their Creator. In the presence of God’s manifest glory the elders of Israel were in the crucible of becoming leaders – leaders in the same vain as Moses.
As the elders returned to their duties of leadership and oversight, they were accosted with yet more wailing and discontent from the people. It is probable that the elders were not deaf to the outcry and it is also probable that they were not dumb to the fact that trouble sent by God would come with the complaints. They had just witnessed whole families consumed by fire and their leader Moses’ frantic prayers of intercession.
The people wanted meat to eat and they were quick to declare their discontent. Their own animals, with the constant travel, limited grazing and watering had not produced enough off spring to be used as food. Every elder in the camp would probably have been bombarded with these facts as their people hungered and lusted after the old Egyptian menu.
Pressure was probably exerted on every leader and officer to turn back. The people seemed to have no boundaries when they wanted to bring pressure and force against the elders and Moses. It is possible that they were looking to develop a break away nation or establish new leadership. Anything would have been acceptable to get them back to their homes where life had been a comfort and a pleasure. The horror of living as Egyptian slaves was over 400 days behind them. It is likely that all of these incidences prior to their actual ascension into office, made the elders of Israel wary of the volatile people they would soon lead.
Not long into the 413th day Moses asks God to kill him. He considers it a favor. He prefers to not see the end that will come to all of the hard hearted people. The rant before God is that of a man who is fed up with the pressure of dealing with rebellious and ungrateful children.
It is Moses that God hears and feels compassion for. He says to “call for the elders.” God wants seventy men, elders who are known as leaders and officers over the people. I praise the Lord for the beauty of these men, especially for the sixty-eight who actually step out. They must be aware of the solemnity of the job they are accepting as God directs Moses to “gather” them to the tent of meeting.
I praise God for the faith of elders, both in this age and in the age of the Old Testament. Consider that then the qualification to be an elder was not published or defined, but as often happens in the Bible, the men were chosen. After choosing the men for the office then God qualified them: Numbers 11:25: And the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him [Moses], and took of the Spirit that was upon him [Moses] and put It upon the seventy elders; and when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied [sounding forth the praises of God and declaring His will]. Then they did so no more. [Amplified Version]
As the power of the Holy Spirit works within these newly anointed elders they praise God in the power. They praised God and declare His will and His glory. As often occurs in the life of the great elders of our time and those of the long ago past, it was their best day ever. It would be their last.
In the course of that meeting with Him, God does send meat. As a result many of the people die of the plague. Miriam and Aaron several days later speak against Moses and Miriam is struck with leprosy. Five weeks later the spies sent into Canaan come back with a negative report and the news for all the people, elders included, is that only two people out of a million are going to enter the promised land. Caleb and Joshua. The rest are condemned to wander in the wilderness for the next forty years.
Imagine the day for those who are newly anointed for leadership, to be elders to fully participate with their tribes and clans as judges and officers. They would be destined to become familiar with the desolate wastelands as the prime of their life would be endured as nomadic desert dwellers. Their lives would be lived in the shadows and regret for what should have been. It wasn’t just the loss of a new job, or a promotion or a loved one. It was the full abduction of a dream and destiny. God’s promise was yanked away forever. For all of the lack and suffering they had experienced thus far, they could now add to that the impotence and depression of knowing that there would be no other glories in their lives, forever.
Where is the heart of the elder when adversity strikes his home, his community, his nation? He is anointed as shepherd and the appointment cannot be revoked. The elder is one with the people he has been chosen to serve. His destiny is tied directly to their destiny. For the elders of Israel there is only one chance for redemption out of the Sinai debacle. They must invest all of their newfound oneness with God and community into the next generation.
It was through the work of the elders, with God’s direction, that a new generation of men and women would be prepared to inhabit the promised-land. It was the elders who taught, mentored and equipped that next generation. Those who would go into claim the promise of God would be prepared to know Him, and to worship Him and serve Him. In the day that Israel lost their inheritance there was no other hope. Not for the people and not for the elders. The last mission of the elders of Israel was to prepare the next generation for the life that will please God.
Hundreds of years before this day in Israel, elders functioned as the wisdom and culture keepers of the tribes. They served the community in order to maintain the ways of peace, prosperity and continuity. They performed in ways that served their people and by way of gratitude from those they served, themselves.
On the 410th day in the desert, within a new nation of squabblers, rebels and malcontents, the LORD created a union of leaders called elders to surround Moses and help perform his duties. The elders became a central part of preparing the next generation for the taking of the lands on the east side of the Jordan River – the promised-land.
I rejoice in the goodness of God that in the present day church of the Lord Jesus Christ, elders of the church still have the critical role of preparing the next generation. Like the seventy in the time of Moses, present day elders all over the world are anointed to prepare young people and new believers to serve in the Kingdom of the Most High God.