Numbers 11:17 provides profound revelation about Moses that we are not given in any of the preceding accounts about Moses in the Pentateuch. It appears also to give us important insight about how we are to bear one another’s burdens.
God’s Provision of Seventy Elders to Assist Moses
Numbers 11 begins with a report of God’s judging His people for their complaining about some unspecified hardships that they were experiencing (Num. 11:1-3). Following that sobering account, Moses tells of how the mixed multitude and the Israelites complained about their no longer having some of the foods that they used to enjoy in Egypt (Num. 11:4-6).
After three verses describing the manna and what the Israelites did with it (Num. 11:7-9), Moses records how he himself complained to God about the difficulties he was having to endure because God had laid the burdens of all these sinning people on him (Num. 11:10-13). He told the Lord that he was unable to bear all these people alone because the burden of doing so was too heavy for him (Num. 11:14).
Moses even asked God to kill him because the strain was so great upon him (Num. 11:15)! The Lord responded by instructing him to gather unto him 70 elders from Israel and bring them into the tabernacle with him (Num. 11:16).
The Lord then made a striking statement about what He was going to do so that Moses would no longer have to bear the burden of the people by himself:
“And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone” (Num. 11:17).
Saying this, He revealed key information about Moses that merits close attention for several reasons.
The First Revelation in Scripture That the Holy Spirit Was Upon Moses
Scripture first speaks of Moses in Exodus 2. From Exodus 2 to Numbers 10, Scripture provides far more information about Moses than about any other person—Moses is mentioned by name 394 times in these 76 chapters.
In spite of that wealth of Scriptural revelation about Moses, we are not told that the Holy Spirit was upon Moses until the statement recorded in Numbers 11:17. Undoubtedly, the Spirit was upon Moses and others long before the incidents that are recorded in Numbers 11 took place (cf. Is. 63:9-14), but for reasons about which we have no information, God chose not to reveal that fact in Scripture until this point.
The Holy Spirit Was the One Who Had Been Enabling Moses to Bear the Burdens of the People
Numbers 11:17 does not just teach us that God’s Spirit was upon Moses; it also shows us that the Spirit was upon Him to enable him to bear the burdens of the people. Sound theological reasoning would imply this truth even if we did not have this statement, but these words make that truth clear.
Moreover, because God had decided that He would provide 70 additional people who would help Moses bear those burdens from this point onward, He said that He would take of the Spirit that He had put upon Moses and put Him on them as well. Through their also having the Spirit upon them, they would have the enablement necessary for them to help Moses bear the burden of the people so that he would not have to do so alone.
The Holy Spirit Is the One Who Enables Us to Bear the Burdens of Others
The teaching of Numbers 11:17 reveals that the 70 men who would help Moses bear the burden of the people would do so through the Spirit’s being upon them. Based on that teaching, the closely parallel New Testament teaching in Galatians 5-6 suggests the same is true for us, as follows.
At the end of Galatians 5, Paul commands believers to walk in the Spirit so that they will not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). He reiterates that teaching with a mutual exhortation to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).
He then commands those who are spiritual to restore anyone who is overtaken in a fault (Gal. 6:1). The flow of thought from 5:16-25 and the nature of this ministry to fellow believers requires spiritual in 6:1 to mean more than just a person who is a believer.
Rather, it means someone who is walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25), being led by Him (Gal. 5:18), and manifesting His fruit in his life (Gal. 5:22-23). Only such a person is able to restore those who have yielded to temptation (implied in Galatians 6:1 by the words, “lest thou also be tempted”), even as the Israelites spoken of in Numbers 11:1-10 had fallen into complaining against God.
To such spiritual people, Paul further commands, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). This command appears to parallel conceptually the role that the 70 elders had in aiding Moses.
Through the Holy Spirit, We Must Bear One Another’s Burdens
Numbers 11:17 in its context compared with Galatians 6:1-2 in its context points to the key to our being enabled to bear one another’s burdens—the fullness of Holy Spirit’s work in us. Let us actively care for those who have been overtaken in faults by being the people of the Spirit that God commands us to be (Gal. 5:16-6:5)!