Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

A "story circle" at the Islamic Culture Center of Northern California during a production of "Othello", from What distributed leadership looks like. Photo © Cal Shakes/Hewlett Foundation

And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!
Numbers 11:27-29

In response to Moses' despair, God has momentarily held back some of the spirit of prophesy from Moses and distributed the spirit amongst seventy elders, who collectively participate in the burden of leadership with Moses. This is a one-time event, probably consisting in a show of ecstatic behaviour, a display of priestly solidarity.1 After it ends there are two men, Eldad and Medad, who leave the tent of sanctity and continue to prophesy in the midst of the Israelite camp, apparently without continued blessing from either Moses or God.2 This is what upsets Joshua. Such behaviour in public may rile people up, and new ideas may threaten Moses' designated leadership.

Moses' response to this situation is surprising: would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them! In other words, let leadership be distributed among the people, and not be consolidated in a single place, with a single person. The preceding episodes indicate that Moses is suffering under the weight of leadership and wishes for relief, but perhaps Moses also sees the folly of the one-leader model, and welcomes the idea that leadership could be distributed, the burden lightened and the wisdom multiplied. In this sense, Moses has an enlightened view.

In the corporate world today we put great stock in the single-leader model, holding individuals up as heroes, and often even as saviours. Corporations have, of course, their own murmurings of discontent. While we praise our leader one day, we complain bitterly the next. What we hear described in the book of Numbers is very familiar to those of us who work in the corporate world. It's all there, the discontent, the resentment, the rising up and taking down of leaders, and as we'll see in tomorrow's post, the scheming to get our own share of the power and the glory. In 3,500 years we haven't learnt much, and continue to play out the same patterns of power, with, inevitably, the same results. The corporate world might benefit from a few rebel prophets, and from a leader like Moses who welcomes the dissenting voice.

1 Numbers 11:25
2 Numbers 11:26