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In Numbers 11:25 Why didn't the 70 elders prophesy again.? it was only a one time event.

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and He took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed that Spirit on the seventy elders. As the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but they never did so again.

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The understanding of this verse depends to a large part on its translation.

  • They did not cease. Rather than understanding the verse as saying that they prophesied only once, this translation indicates that the prophesied and did not stop. (KJ21 BRG, GVA, JUB, YLT etc.)

  • They did this only once. The majority of modern translators understand the verse to be saying that this was a one-time event. The group prophesied once and did not prophesy again.

Among Jewish commentators, both Rashi and the Talmud opt for the former interpretation (cf. Sanhedrin 17a and Rashi on Deuteronomy 5:19): they prophesied continually. Ibn Ezra opts for the latter: the prophesied only once.

Among Christian commentators, Benson and Jamieson-Fausset-Brown understand the gift to be continual. The gift was bestowed on them because, as elders, they needed to be guided by God's spirit. Benson explains:

For this was a continued gift, conferred upon them to enable them the better to discharge their magistracy; which was more expedient for them than for the rulers of other people, because the Jews were under a theocracy, or the government of God, and even their civil controversies were decided out of that word of God which the prophets expounded.

Keil and Delitzsch take the opposite approach, preferring the interpretation that there was only one occasion where prophecy took place. However, they hasten to add:

But we are not to infer from the fact that the prophesying was not repeated, that the Spirit therefore departed from them after this one extraordinary manifestation. This miraculous manifestation of the Spirit was intended simply to give to the whole nation the visible proof that God had endowed them with His Spirit, as helpers of Moses, and had given them the authority required for the exercise of their calling.

Conclusion: It cannot be said with certainty whether the text means that they only prophesied on one occasion. However most commentators, in any case, see the event as a sign of God's favor upon the group. Either they prophesied and did not cease because God wanted them to buy guided by his Spirit, or they prophesied once, as a sign for God's favor on them.

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  • Maybe they all died afterwards?
    – user64483
    Commented May 13 at 2:49
  • Wasn't this order replaced a few months later at Sinai? Thus the 70 becomes no longer relevant?
    – Joshua
    Commented May 13 at 16:47
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The simplest answer to this question is provided succinctly by Albert Barnes:

they prophesied at this time only and not afterward. The sign was granted on the occasion of their appointment to accredit them in their office; it was not continued, because their proper function was to be that of governing not prophesying.

That is, the temporary gift of prophecy was granted as a dramatic sign that they had been given the supernatural gift of administration/governing. Thus, the spiritual gift of prophecy was not needed; however, the continuing gift of administration was required for their appointed function in Israel.

Matthew Poole is similar:

They prophesied only this day for an assurance of vocation to and due qualification for their work, but afterwards they prophesied no more; the gift of prophecy ceased in them, and only the Spirit of government rested upon them.

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  • what do you make of the translation issue...? KJ21 BRG, GVA, JUB, YLT understand the verse to say "they did not cease." Commented May 13 at 1:25
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    @DanFefferman - I saw that but could not understand how the Hebrew could be tortured enough to get there.
    – Dottard
    Commented May 13 at 8:26
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The event serves as a divine resolution to relieve Moses' burden in managing the people, as detailed in Number 11:1-15. By appointing seventy elders, the responsibility of caring for the people would be shared, thus relieving Moses from bearing the weight alone (Number 11:17).

Exploring Number 11:25 NIV version, it reads;

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.

These seventy elders did not receive their own individual Spirit, rather, they temporary received a portion of the power from the Spirit upon Moses. Subsequently, this power returned to Moses after the event.

What does this signify? It likely indicates the event serves as a formal institution of the seventy elders, but yet under Moses' leadership. Their role was one of assistance, not independent leadership.

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Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”

The prophecy was about receiving food again from God. The 70 did not prophecy again because they had meat coming out their nose. After all that, the 70 loathed prophecy. Prophecy is like a curse. Better to avoid it altogether.

But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. 34 Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah,[d] because there they buried the people who had craved other food.

Having an extreme abundance of food is like a curse. Apparently they forgot to make sacrifices and offerings for the fulfillment of the prophecy. It’s not mentioned anywhere in the chapter that they gave thanks with offerings and sacrifices, and so the LORD sent a plague upon them for that and their complaining.

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Just because God uses someone to prophecy once, does not make them prophets. God was prophesying through them, but didn't bestow the gift of prophecy upon them like he occasionally has to others (not merely the big prophets like Isaiah, Samuel, Elijah, Daniel, Jonah, but also a whole slew of other prophets like Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22-40), and the various "schools of the prophets" and "sons of the prophets", like those Elijah led, or those hidden by Obadiah in caves.

God has done spoken prophetic messages through people he has not bestowed the gift on, at other times - King Saul prophesied ("Is Saul also amongst the prophets?" (1st Samuel 10:9-13)), but this was a witness to himself and to the people that the promises of God will come to pass if he follows God's direction.

Balaam's donkey spoke to Balaam. Or rather, God spoke to Balaam through the donkey, as if the donkey was speaking. This was to warn Balaam that God was serious in Balaam watching his mouth and only speaking what God has him speak over the Israelites - blessing them instead of cursing them.

The High Priest in Jesus' time, despite himself, prophesied Jesus' death on behalf of the nation. Without the bible specifically confirming it, it's hard to tell, but I believe God has spoken single-time prophetic messages through many people throughout history - sometimes even atheists and pagans, despite themselves. And sometimes God speaks to non-believers, and gives them directions. He did so to Pharoah, when Pharoah opposed the Babylonians and Judah sided with the Babylonians. To paraphrase him, Pharoah said something like, "You dingo, don't you know your God told me to do this? Why are you siding against your own god?"

God likely had the 70 prophecy, to confirm to the people God's favor on the position or people being established, if they follow God. But their role was not supposed to be prophetic ministry. God established for Israel the prophetic ministries, the priesthoods, and the leadership as three different... you might say mutually-independent "governmental departments" for sheparding of God's people, with some crossover (e.g. King David gave some very important prophesies). (and ultimately, all believers are supposed to operate in all three: kingship, priesthood, and prophecy, and Christ the fulfillment of them all. Hence Moses' statement, "Would that all God's people prophesy", and Joel 2:28's end-times outpouring)

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