Numbers 11:26-30 tells an interesting, if off-topic, story. We’re supposed to be dealing with the Israelites having so much meat that it drips out their orifices, but for some reason we’re still on these 70 useless leaders. It’s as if two unrelated stories got intermixed at some point and nobody ever thought to separate them. However, when you extract this story from the meat story, it doesn’t make very much sense. It’s as though someone edited out important parts, but for what reason?
We learn that two of the leaders, Eldad and Medad, didn’t show up to the tabernacle with the others, yet they still received the spirit of prophecy. Joshua sees the two men acting as prophets to God outside of the tabernacle and flips out! He tattles on them to Moses and implores him to stop the two, but Moses isn’t worried. In fact, he admonishes Joshua, asking if he’s envious of their new abilities and admits that he wishes everyone had the spirit of prophecy. Wouldn’t that be great, eh? Imagine if, rather than give his timeless message to raving lunatics on the street corner, God actually told everyone alive his exact message! Thousands of years of religious wars and billions of deaths would have been avoided!
On that note, let’s discuss Joshua running to Moses when he saw two men acting as prophets. Was he really envious like Moses suggests? That seems unlikely. If Joshua actually believed they were speaking for God, he would never ask Moses to shut them up, that would be blasphemous! No, I think a more obvious answer is that Joshua believed that they were false prophets. This makes sense because prophets are quite rare, and they were not among the 70 at the tabernacle. This means that Joshua was following God’s orders properly, and it is Moses who reacted unfairly by chiding him (a jerk move that Jesus will repeat numerous times in the Gospels).
While researching this passage I found a humorous comment from Matthew Henry. He wrote that Joshua was concerned the two would form a schism in the church! A schism from what, the tent in the desert?
We never learn what 70 prophesied, all we know is that it has nothing to do with the Israelites wanting meat. Before we chalk this story fragment up to a pointless detour, lets take a look at the names of the duo. First of all, why are they so similar? In Biblical Hebrew, el, means “lord,” me means “one who is,” and dad means “uncle.” So these names could mean something like, “the Lord is my uncle,” and “one who is my uncle.” That’s fitting I guess, but it doesn’t help us explain why this story is fragmented. Some have suggested that the names aren’t actually Hebrew in origin, (a common practice we’ve discovered). If the names have an Akkadian root, where dad is a corruption of Hadad, the Akkadian god of the sky, then the names could mean, “Lord Hadad” and “he who is Hadad.” That would certainly be a motive for gutting the story, perhaps the editors were trying to whitewash the presence of other gods?