Reading Time: 4 mins

Old Testament: Numbers 11:24-30 (Pentecost Sunday: Series A)

Reading Time: 4 mins

Through Christ we have the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit rather than the limited pouring out we see with Moses in our text.

What a great text to be preaching on Pentecost Sunday! Here you have the Holy Spirit poured out so the Word of God might move among the people. This text demonstrates God working directly through Moses and His appointed people. The reading has two main parts: Verses 24–25, which are a fulfillment of the previous verses 16–17, and verses 26–30, which give us the account of Eldad and Medad.

Since verses 24-25 are a fulfillment of 16–17, the vocabulary is very similar. In verse 25, though, a different verb is used to talk about how God “put” His spirit on the people. Verse 25 uses נתן (naw-than) rather than שִׂים (soom - verse 17). Using נתן (“to give”) emphasizes the nature and also the origin of the Spirit. It was a gift of God more than something that was set upon them (שִׂים).

The fantastic result of the gift of the Spirit was they prophesied. It means, literally, “To act the prophet.” In passages like 1 Samuel 10:6 and 19:24, the verb indicates how the elders were speaking God’s Word in some way that it was “counted to them” to be prophets. They had this only because of God’s Spirit, which had been upon Moses.

There is always a question that comes up in this text. It is hard to know what is meant in verse 25 when it says, “They did not continue to do so.” The verb with the negative means the action (here “prophesying”) did not continue beyond this one occurrence.[1] It may be reasonable to suggest a more typological approach to answering this question. To use the framework set out in the book of Hebrews which thinks of the Old Testament Type’s as fulfilled in Christ, we can come to a gospel-based answer to the issue. This momentary gifting of the Spirit was pointing to a more complete giving of the Spirit later in Christ. Moses was not the prophet who gives the Spirit we were looking for. We needed the prophet greater than Moses sent by God to be our savior (Deuteronomy 18:15; Hebrews 3:1-6) who promised the full (John 14:16-27; Acts 2:1-21) gift of the Holy Spirit.

This momentary gifting of the Spirit was pointing to a more complete giving of the Spirit later in Christ.

In the Old Testament, Moses is clearly a type of Christ. However, he is also always an imperfect type. If you want to emphasize this in your preaching, you can highlight Moses’ moments where he failed to fill the bill for Messiah. One very clear example of the imperfection of Moses as a type of Christ comes right before our assigned reading. Moses’ complaint (verses 10-15) is proof positive that he needed saving just like us. It puts into sharp relief the antitype, Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb which “goes forth uncomplaining” (Isaiah 53:7).

Once you begin to analyze the discrepancy between Moses and Christ, you really get a lot of material going for your sermon. For instance, Moses intercedes for God’s people just as Christ intercedes for us. God listens to Moses just as He listens to His Son. Moses claimed to bear many afflictions (Exodus 4:10; Numbers 11:11-15), but who has ever suffered or been afflicted like Christ has. Jesus was “smitten by God and afflicted,” “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows,” and was “wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4-55). Furthermore, the leading of all people and all “government was on His shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6; Daniel 7:13-14). What Moses suffered in a limited way, Christ actually endured fully on our behalf, through His incarnation, birth, life, ministry, suffering, death, and glorious resurrection and ascension! Then, through Christ we have the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-21) rather than the limited pouring out we see with Moses in our text.

Since these verses naturally lead to a question, you could use the Question Answered Structure. Using the definition, I have inserted in italics ways to approach this particular text:

“This structure identifies a significant question for the hearers (in other words, one that cannot be easily answered and that addresses matters that are significant to the hearers) and then theologically considers one or more feasible answers before arriving at a satisfactory resolution. The question is simple, memorable, and remains the same throughout the entire sermon (“Why did they not continue to do so?” verse 25). It cannot be answered with a “yes or no” but invites the hearers into processing various answers (exploring all the different interpretations of this verse and proving they all fall short, which leads to typology). The movement toward a faithful answer provides the dynamic progression of the sermon (showing how Christ is greater than Moses with multiple citations referenced). This progression could be a movement from partial answers to a full answer (we, like Moses, could not, but Jesus can and does for us). The preacher avoids trite false answers that will insult the hearers and he seeks to have a final resolution that proceeds from the Gospel. 

The sermon usually opens by depicting the human or textual dilemma (the temporary nature of the Spirit’s gift and the limits of Moses’ leadership) that raises the focusing question (why could they not continue to do so?). The answers are then arranged in a climactic scheme, offering more development to the later answers. In dismissing the false or partial answers, the preacher is clear about the theological reasoning (defining and teaching what typology is and how it helps us to understand Christ in the Old Testament) that guides the discussion and thereby teaches the hearers how to think through matters theologically. Along the way, the preacher is careful not to raise distracting issues or to change the question. Finally, the sermon concludes by proclaiming the satisfactory gospel-based answer.”[2]


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Numbers 11:24-30.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Numbers 11:24-30.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Numbers 11:24-30.


[1] Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), 213–214.