Bible Tuesday for Pentecost, 2017
24So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. 26Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” 30And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
This passage is from a longer story of murmuring by the Israelites against God and God’s representative, Moses. When Israel left Egypt, other non-Jewish slaves of Egypt fled with them, as stated in Exodus 12:38. This particular episode of complaining is started by these non-Jews, but quickly spreads to everyone. A party confronts Moses, kvetching about the food. “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat free in Egypt, and the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Numbers 12:4-5) How quickly their memories have romanticized their years of slavery!
Moses takes this complaint straight to God and God responds with two actions. First, quail. In Exodus, God sends quail in the evening and manna with the morning dew. But in Numbers, God sends the quail in answer to, and as punishment for, complaint. Second, RUACH. In Numbers 11:21, the reader is told that there are 600,000 men who escaped Egypt and are in the Israelite camp. That figure is men only, so the population of people whom Moses is leading could easily be 4X that. What a huge number of people for Moses to lead and for whom to arbitrate. God tells Moses to call the tribal elders, 70 in number, to make them arbitrators of their own claims, leaving Moses to focus on leadership. What makes these 70 qualified to arbitrate between their clansfolk? RUACH. Ruach means breath in Hebrew. In this context, it is the Breath of God. This is the same Breath that brooded over the waters during creation as told in Genesis 1. When God called Moses to lead the Israelites, God promised to be with him, and was in many forms, including through the Breath of God. Now that God is equipping 70 arbiters, God endows them with the Breath of God as well. In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which was the Bible read by Jews in Jesus’ day, God’s RUACH is written as hagia pneuma or Holy Spirit.
“Prophesied” – In the Hebrew scriptures there are several occasions where certain people are said to be “prophesying” but no “Thus says the Lord…” follows. In these cases, “prophesy” doesn’t mean to “proclaim the word of the Lord”, but rather to experience the Lord through religious ecstasy.
24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
27 These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
28 when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
This psalm praises God for perfect creation. All creation fits together in balance and harmony, glorifying God and providing all living beings with sustenance.
Leviathan: “In Ugaritic literature, Leviathan (Lotan) was a beloved of the deity, EL, a plaything.” (Jewish Study Bible) Since Israelites were never sea faring people (beyond fishing the inland lake called the Sea of Galilee) this reference is likely not to whales, but rather to this legendary creature handed on to them from another culture.
Verses 28-30 expound on all of creation’s complete and utter dependence on God.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out 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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Last week’s Acts reading concluded with mention of a “crowd numbered about 120 persons” consisting of the twelve apostles and over one hundred disciples, including Jesus’ mom and his siblings. These were all gathered together in Jerusalem, waiting there to receive that which Jesus promised he would send. Jerusalem was teaming with Jewish pilgrims for the Feast of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, a spring harvest festival of First Fruits. Acts 2:8-11 lists all sorts of people in Jerusalem for the Festival. While the city of was overflowing with pilgrims, it may have been that not all the lands listed in Acts 2:8-11 were actually represented. Some of those listed were ancient peoples who lived long before the time Acts was written. Luke may also be employing poetic license, rather like me referring to the people of modern Norway as Vikings.
Despite the festive mood of the city, Jesus’ followers were huddled in anticipation, suddenly the Holy Spirit descended in a big way. Wind blasts through the place where the 120 were staying and fire-ish somethings alit above each of their heads, compelling them out into the streets to proclaim! Since the RUACH is breath, the Hebrew Scripture usually describe its appearance as either wind or cloud, and fire.
Out in the streets, the pilgrims from all over the “known” world heard these Galilean people speaking the words of God in their own languages. That is the miracle of Pentecost: the coming of the Holy Spirit and the hearing of the word of God in native languages.
Peter, ever the bold spokesperson of the group (“the rock on which I will build my church” says Jesus in Matthew) stands up and preaches. His sermon cites Hebrew scriptures prophecies which are being fulfilled by God through the Ruach and the Lord and Messiah, Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth.
Saved: sozo in Greek. This word means “to be restored”, “to be made whole”, in this context “to be made right with God.
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’
Easter Sunday, after sundown, the eleven and other disciples are in a house with the doors locked, no doubt discussing all the events of holy week, and the news that Mary brought them this morning of the empty tomb and her face-to-face with Jesus. And in a heartbeat, Jesus stands with them in the flesh. Jesus has to say, “Shalom” to them a couple of times before they settle down enough to believe what they are seeing. While the gospel of Luke tells of the disciples receiving of Holy Spirit at Pentecost, John tells of it happening here, on Easter evening. Note that Jesus breathes onto the disciples and the eleven with the words, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Then Jesus gives instructions as to what they are to do by this power. “Forgive and retain sins.” The eleven and the disciples are sent out to do the work of Jesus.