At the family reunion of Moses, his wife Zipporah and their two sons with his father-in-law Jethro, Exod. 18, Jethro was concerned about the amount of work which Moses was doing. So he set out a plan whereby the responsibility that God had given Moses would be shared in the management of the affairs of the congregation, otherwise Jethro feared that Moses would “wear away” in his labours. This arrangement was to be according to the command of God, v. 23. Later we read of the appointment of the seventy elders in Numbers 11. Here we find the spirit of Moses crushed beneath the ponderous responsibility which developed upon him, and he gave utterance to the anxiety of his heart.
“And Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness”, Num. 11. 11-15. In this we see Moses desiring to retire from a post of honour. If God was pleased to make him the sole instrument in managing the assembly, it was so much the more dignity and privilege conferred upon him. True, the responsibility was immense; but faith would own that God was sufficient for that. Here, however, the heart of Moses failed him (blessed servant that he was), and he said “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me”. He was not asked to bear them alone, for God was with him and they were not too heavy for God. It was He that was bearing them. Moses was but His instrument. Moses might just as well have spoken of his rod bearing them; for what was he but an instrument in God’s hand, as the rod was in his? It is here that the servants of Christ often fail, and the failure is all the more dangerous because it wears the appearance of humility. It seems like distrust of self and deep lowliness of spirit to shrink from responsibility, but all that we need to inquire is, has God imposed the responsibility? If so, He will certainly be with us in sustaining it, and having God with us we can sustain anything. With Him, the weight of a mountain is nothing; without Him, the weight of a feather is overwhelming. It is a totally different thing if a man, in the vanity of his mind, thrust himself forward to take a burden upon himself which God never intended him to bear nor fitted him to bear. We may, then, surely expect to see such a man crushed beneath its weight; but if God lays it upon him, He will qualify and strengthen him to bear it.
It is never the fruit of humility to depart from a divinely appointed position. On the contrary, the deepest humility will express itself by remaining there in simple dependence upon God. It is sure evidence of being occupied with self when we shrink from service on the ground of inability. God does not call us to service on the ground of inability, but of His own ability (our God is able). Therefore, unless we are filled with thoughts about self, or with a positive distrust of God, we need not relinquish any position of service or testimony because of heavy responsibilities attached to them. All power belongs to God, and it is just the same whether His power acts through one agent or seventy; the power is still the same. But if one servant seeks to complain, God will not force him to stay in such a place of service if he cannot trust Him to sustain him. The way lies open for him to step down, and sink into the place where unbelief may put him. Thus it was with Moses. He complained of the burden, and the burden was speedily removed, and with it the dignity and privilege of being allowed to carry it.
And the Lord said unto Moses, “Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. 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. 16-17. There was no fresh power introduced. It was the same Spirit, whether in one or seventy; there was no more value or virtue in the efforts of seventy men, than in the effort of one man; “It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing”, John 6. 63. There was nothing in the way of power gained, but a great deal lost by this complaint of Moses. The man who shrinks from responsibility on the ground of his own feebleness is in great danger of calling into question the fulness and sufficiency of God’s resources. This entire scene teaches a most valuable lesson to every servant of Christ who may be tempted to feel himself alone or overburdened in his service. Let each of us bear in mind that where the Holy Spirit is working, one instrument is as good and as efficient as seventy; but where He is not working seventy are of no more value than one. Everything depends on the energy of the Holy Spirit. With Him one servant can do all, endure all, sustain all; without Him seventy servants are powerless. Let the lonely servant of God remember, for the encouragement and comfort of his sinking heart, that provided he has the presence and power of the Holy Spirit with him, he need not complain of his burden nor sigh for a division of his labours. If God honour a man by giving him a great deal of work to do, let him rejoice in it and not murmur; for if he complain, he can quickly lose his honour. God is not at a loss for chosen vessels. He could from the very stones raise up children to Abraham, and He can from the same source raise up the necessary servants to carry on His glorious work.
Oh for the heart to serve Him! A patient, humble, self-emptied, devoted heart! A heart ready to serve Him in company or ready to serve alone, a heart so filled with love to Christ that it will find its joy – its chief joy – in serving Him, let the sphere or character of the service be what it may. This certainly is the need of the day in which our lot is cast. May the Holy Spirit stir up our hearts to a deeper sense of the exceeding preciousness of the Name and Person of Jesus, and also to enable us to yield a fuller, clearer, more unequivocal response to the changeless love of His heart! “Blessed be the Lord, who daily beareth our burden”, Psa. 68. 19 r.v. At the same time, we must be thankful that God’s will that work should be shared is sometimes manifested in spite of complaints about burdens and overwork, Acts 6. 1-6, for He always has His spiritually-minded servants ready for all service.