Children of Eldad and Medad


by Doug Ward

A primary goal of the four Gospels is to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah whose coming is promised in the Hebrew Scriptures (John 20:31). Based on Deut 18:15-18, Jews during the Second Temple Period anticipated that the Messiah would be "a prophet like Moses." As a result, the Gospel writers tend to highlight the ways in which Jesus resembles-and frequently surpasses-Moses.


One way in which Jesus followed in the footsteps of Moses was in establishing a leadership structure for the people of God. In particular, there are a number of parallels between Numbers 1-11 in the Torah and Luke 9-10 in the Gospels.1 To investigate these parallels, let's go first to the book of Numbers.


Leadership at Sinai

As the second year of the Exodus began, the Israelites prepared to depart from the foot of Mount Sinai and travel toward the Promised Land. The preparations included a census of Israel's potential soldiers, men at least twenty years old (Num 1:1-3). To assist in the census, Moses and Aaron enlisted the assistance of twelve leaders chosen by God, one from each of the tribes of Israel (vv. 4-16).


Given Israel's calling to be a blessing to all nations (Gen 12:3), it is fitting that other nations were also represented in the camp at Sinai. Some of Moses' in-laws were among these additional people (Num 10:29-32), along with the "mixed multitude" that had joined Israel in fleeing Egyptian oppression (Exod 12:38). When this latter group bemoaned their limited dietary options (Num 11:4), discontent spread through the camp, and Moses begged God for help (vv. 10-15). God directed Moses to choose seventy elders, who would be equipped with the Holy Spirit to assist him (vv. 16-17). The number seventy in the Bible traditionally represents the number of nations in the world.


We are not told whether these elders were the same as the seventy elders who had shared a covenant meal with Moses, Aaron, Nadab and Abihu about a year earlier, and had a special experience of God's presence (Exod 24:9-11). In any case, these seventy prophesied briefly when they received the Holy Spirit (Num 11:25). Two men, Eldad and Medad, continued to prophesy after that (v. 26).


Interpretations vary on whether or not Eldad and Medad were two of the seventy elders. (In one retelling of the incident, Moses initially picked six men from each tribe, and then seventy were chosen from this group by lot, with Eldad and Medad being the two who were not chosen.) Either way, Moses' aide Joshua was disturbed that Eldad and Medad were prophesying outside the supervision of Moses (v. 28). Moses, however, was not concerned, and he expressed the wish that all of God's people would receive the Holy Spirit:  “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (v. 29)


This response of Moses shows both his characteristic humility (Num 12:3) and his wisdom. Indeed, it was God's plan that one day many would be led by the Spirit, as Moses and the prophets later would reveal (Deut 30:6; Jer 31:33-34; Ezek 11:19-20; Joel 2:28-29).


Proclaiming the Gospel

Now fast forward to the first century A.D., when Jesus chose twelve disciples to lead a renewed Israel. In the future these twelve will "sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:30). At that time, Jesus "sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal" (Luke 9:2).


The twelve and other disciples would eventually be sent to all nations. We are reminded of the difficulty of this task when we read that Jesus and his disciples were turned away from a Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56). Anticipating the future global outreach (Luke 10:2), Jesus set apart either seventy or seventy two additional disciples (manuscripts differ on this point) and sent them out in pairs to towns that he would soon visit (Luke 10:1-12). He empowered them for their task (vv. 17-20), as the seventy (or seventy two) elders were empowered at Sinai. These additional disciples did not experience the Transfiguration with Peter, John, and James (Luke 9:28-36), but they still were the beneficiaries of special revelation (Luke 10:24), like the seventy elders in Exodus 24.


Another miracle worker, not under the direct supervision of Jesus, cast out demons in his name. John, like Joshua, questioned his activities (Luke 9:49); but Jesus, like Moses, was in favor of his work. “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you,”  Jesus said (v. 50).


We find an additional set of parallels in the book of Acts. On Pentecost many were empowered with the Holy Spirit, an event recognized as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28-29 (Acts 2:14-21). The number of believers in Jerusalem grew rapidly, forming a community that included Jews from around the Mediterranean world. Soon the apostles received complaints from Greek-speaking Jews that their widows were being neglected (Acts 6:1). Following the examples of Moses and Jesus, the apostles set apart seven (rather than seventy) Spirit-led elders to assist them (Acts 6:2-6). Among the seven were two who might be called "sons of Eldad and Medad", powerful preachers named Stephen and Philip whose efforts were not discouraged by the apostles. Philip proclaimed the gospel in Samaria (8:4-8), preparing the way for the apostles (vv. 14-17) as the seventy two had prepared the way for Jesus.


Several lessons are suggested by these correspondences among Moses, Jesus, and the apostles. First, we are reminded that the Gospel writers often portray Jesus as the Messiah by emphasizing the ways in which Jesus is a new Moses. Second, we see that the early Church viewed its mission in continuity with that of Israel and looked to the Torah and Israel's experience for guidance. Third, we recognize that the Great Commission is a major assignment, requiring the participation of many Spirit-empowered believers-modern children of Eldad and Medad-in order to be accomplished. Heeding the instruction of our Master (Matt 28:18-20), we strive to do our part. In particular, we "pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Luke 10:2).


1See "The Ministry in the New Testament" by A. M. Farrer, pp 115-182 in The Apostolic Ministry: Essays on the History and Doctrine of the Episcopacy, Kenneth E. Kirk, editor, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1946.

Issue 31


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