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 11:28–29)
“Stop them!” – Leaders, like Moses, are easily threatened by
sources of activity and energy that are “outside the camp”, beyond their control, unauthorised, unpredictable. The temptation is to assert one’s authority, to be (seen to be) in charge, to ensure all things are in good and – we are ever so certain – godly order.
For surely good and godly order and keeping one’s finger on the pulse are important, surely outbreaks of activities without prior delegation reflect poorly on one’s leadership.
So understandably, Joshua ben Nun, Moses’ understudy, wasn’t going to let this happen to his boss! He urges Moses to clamp down on the rabble, those renegades. You can almost catch Joshua’s anxiety: “Who knows what they’ll be doing next Moses? You simply can’t let them get away with this! Stop them!!!!!”.
Thankfully, Moses had the wisdom, the humility, the courage, to discern that here, in this moment, on this periphery, was something not diabolical but of God; this was “innovation” and not “audit and risk”.
It takes wisdom to pick the difference between the disequilibrium that brings life and the chaos that brings distress.
It takes humility to pick the difference between insubordination and enthusiasm.
It takes courage to say No to those who are gunning for a show of strength.
And it takes a theologically dense understanding of the Spirit of God’s participation in all of human life to realise that “the face of God” – as the Spirit is sometimes depicted – appears wherever God wills; we (really) don’t know to whom The Gentle One has just appeared and we (really) don’t know who will be encountered next.
The Spirit of God is thus radically free: fundamentally, thoroughly, drastically free. Free to bring life, free to bless outsiders, free to touch lives, free even to bring the very disequilibrium at times we so deeply need, in order to awaken into the contentment and shalom that only God can furnish.
And so: Amen.
The Rev’d Canon Dr Matthew Anstey is Principal of St Barnabas College. He teaches and researches in Biblical Hebrew, Old Testament studies, theology, and homiletics. He is on the Doctrine Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia. Follow him on Facebook.