So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself.
So 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. Then 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.
Two 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. And a young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them!’ But 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!’ — Numbers 11:16-17, 24-29 NRSV
The Israelites are still wandering around, but the bloom is clearly off the rose insofar as their joy at being freed from the bondage they had in Egypt. In the part of the reading that was omitted, the people moaned and groaned, griped and moaned some more about being so tired of eating manna. They wanted meat, lots of meat. What God promised them was that they would have meat, indeed, they would have meat so plentiful and so often that they would literally have it coming out of their noses. That part always makes me smile, but it isn’t part of today’s lesson.
Moses had found that being the go-to guy for this group had its drawbacks. Not only was he on call with God but it seemed everybody else wanted his ear (as well as his attention and his judgment — in their favor, of course). Moses probably felt like he was losing his mind. But then came the brilliant plan to delegate; any good businessperson worth their salt today comes pre-programmed to do that but for Moses and the Israelites it was a new concept. Instead of Moses being the sole arbiter, now there were seventy elders who were given the authority to be the go-betweens, solving the problems where they could, and bringing the big stuff for Moses to discuss with God. Moses must have felt a huge weight off his shoulders.
But then there’s almost always a fly in the ointment. Two of the designated had stayed in the camp instead of attending the conclave. Worse yet, they were actually prophesying in the camp, something that evidently at least one person thought was beyond the pale. “Moses, Moses, those people over there are doing something they shouldn’t be doing.” Joshua was all for rushing back to the camp and taking care of the problem right then and there, but Moses stopped him. “Let them alone. They are doing what they should do and I would to God there would be more like them!”
This story reminds me of the one about Jesus’ disciples who griped about people who weren’t part of their group doing the same things the disciples were — preaching, teaching and healing. Jesus and Moses both responded in pretty much the same way, “Let them alone. They are doing what they should do.”
Nobody really likes a snitch, and often the snitch ends up getting the worst of it because the boss often agrees with the snitch-ees rather than the snitch-er. Too often it’s micromanagers and disgruntled people who run to management and complain about someone else’s (real or perceived) flaws, faults and shortcomings, often to cover or redirect attention away from their own. I know I’ve been guilty of it, and I suspect I’m not alone in that boat.
Ken Blanchard is credited with coming up with the phrase “Catch them doing something good.” Instead of focusing on what is wrong, give folks a pat on the back for doing good things, right things, positive things. Like most parents, I didn’t praise my kid enough for doing the right things because I was busy trying to get him to fix the things he did wrong. I’ve worked for people who are pretty much the same — much more focused on pointing out every error while never really saying much about the 99 things I did right. I realize now how focusing on the wrong thing affected my son, because I see how it affects me in my daily life and work. It does make me a bit more aware of fault-finding and the destructiveness of a constant diet of negative feedback where a little positive feedback might be a whole lot better.
Jesus and Moses might not have had a handy phrase for what they wanted the disciples and the elders to model, but I think the general idea was there. Clean your own house before you start cleaning someone else’s. Don’t be quick to judge another’s doings because they might just be doing precisely what they were supposed to do. Even if you aren’t part of the inner circle, take the example Moses and Jesus set and follow them to the best of your ability.
Now there’s a business concept. I think I’ll have to try that at work next week, at least try a little harder to look for the good and catch someone doing it. And I have the perfect place to start looking… just don’t tell my boss!