Leadership is a spiritual task. For all that there is a whole secular industry nowadays teaching leadership and management principles, the essence of good leadership – wisdom, humility, service, vision, empowerment – are things which reside in the nature and heart of God. It stands to reason, then, that the calling of true leadership is amplified and empowered by the Spirit of God.
This happens a lot earlier than we think in the bible. Well before King David, well before Gideon or Samson, or any of the Judges. You have to go back to chapter 11 of the book of Numbers. And, even more surprising, this gift of spiritual leadership was a corporate affair. No less than 70 people, along with Moses, were filled with the Spirit for the task of leadership.
The context? Moses is overwhelmed with the burden of leading God’s people. This has happened before (in Exodus 18), but this time, faced with another rebellion, Moses has had enough. ‘Kill me now!’ he says to God (v15), who wisely realises that this is a man at the end of his tether. So God provides Moses with 70 others to ‘share the burden of the people with you’ (v17).
What is fascinating is how God equips this leadership team: ‘I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them.’ (v17) The work of God needs the Spirit of God. Almost uniquely in the Old Testament, this work is shown to be something for many, not just for one.
And it is not limited to place, either. Two of the new leaders – Eldad and Medad – don’t get the memo, and miss the meeting. Yet, amazingly, they begin to prophesy too, out in the camp (v26). In a lovely foreshadowing of the sort of conversation the disciples have with Jesus, Joshua complains to Moses: it’s just not cricket! And, like Jesus, Moses says, effectively: ‘Calm down: you should be pleased. I wish everyone could receive the Spirit and prophesy!’ (v29)
The applications of this lovely story are numerous. We could reflect that leadership is a spiritual calling requiring spiritual equipping. We could rejoice that God is not limited to times and places, techniques and rituals. But let’s give thanks today that there’s plenty enough of the Spirit to go round. You might feel like Eldad and Medad – always missing the memo – but God doesn’t forget you. He can bless you and use you anyway.