Numbers 27 – Laws of Inheritance and the Next Leader
A. The case of Zelophehad’s daughters.
1. (1-5) The request of Zelophehad’s daughters.
Then came the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, from the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these were the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses, before Eleazar the priest, and before the leaders and all the congregation, by the doorway of the tabernacle of meeting, saying: “Our father died in the wilderness; but he was not in the company of those who gathered together against the LORD, in company with Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.”
So Moses brought their case before the LORD.
a. Then came the daughters of Zelophehad: In Israel, (as in all the Ancient Near East) land was normally passed on from fathers to their sons, not to the daughters. Because of this principle, there was a question regarding the daughters of Zelophehad, whose father had no sons.
i. The issue is presented here because at the end of the previous chapter the distribution of the land of Canaan was in view (Numbers 26:52-56). It was natural for the daughters of Zelophehad to wonder what their place would be in the coming allotment of land.
ii. “In a sense this chapter is an extension of the genealogies of Numbers 26, showing how complications may be worked out when the people come to inherit their share in the land of Canaan.” (Allen)
iii. Though women did not normally find economic security apart from a husband’s holdings through land inheritance, a woman typically received a dowry from her father as a wedding present. Usually, the father required his potential son-in-law to provide much, if not all, of the dowry. A dowry might consist of clothes, jewelry, money, furniture, and more. It was thought that the dowry could help provide for the woman if her husband left her or if he unexpectedly died.
iv. Spurgeon appealed to the daughters of Zelophehad as examples of those who boldly approached to receive an inheritance by faith: “Dost thou want a portion in heaven, sinner? Go straight away to Jesus, and Jesus will take thy cause, and lay it before the Lord.”
b. Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family: This was how the daughters of Zelophehad presented the issue. Without sons to inherit his land and perpetuate his name, there was a sense in which denying inheritance to the only descendants of Zelophehad was to erase his name.
i. When there were sons born to a family, “A father’s property was divided between his sons after his death, the eldest son receiving twice as much as his brothers (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).” (Wenham)
c. So Moses brought their case before the LORD: Moses did what he should when faced with a new situation. Moses sought God.
i. “For it was a hard case; and though their plea seemed reasonable, yet Moses showed his humility and modesty, that he would not determine it himself without God’s particular direction.” (Poole)
ii. “These verses also give an indication how case law might have operated in Israel. The general laws would be promulgated. Then legitimate exceptions or special considerations would come to the elders and perhaps be brought to Moses himself. He then would await a decision from the Lord.” (Allen)
2. (6-11) The settlement of the inheritance of the daughters of Zelophehad.
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the relative closest to him in his family, and he shall possess it.’” And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, just as the LORD commanded Moses.
a. The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right: God seemed pleased that the daughters of Zelophehad brought this issue before Moses. God declared that if a father had no sons, the inheritance of their father could then go to the daughters.
i. “Allowing daughters to inherit, where there were no sons in the family, created another problem though. When they married, they would take the family land with them, thus destroying the father’s estate. To deal with this, Numbers 36 brings in additional rules governing the marriage of heiresses.” (Wenham)
b. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers: However, if there were no daughters, the inheritance then went to the father’s brothers. If there were no brothers, the inheritance went to the relative closest to him in the family.
i. You shall surely give them: “Give them: in Hebrew it is of the masculine gender, to show that women in this case should enjoy the man’s privilege, and that the heavenly Canaan, whereof this was a type, did belong no less to women than to men.” (Poole)
c. And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment: These laws were made in anticipation – in faith – of coming into the inheritance of land in Canaan. This was only an issue for the daughters of Zelophehad because they were women of faith, who really believed Israel would possess the land of Canaan.
i. This was also relevant because Israel had already begun the occupation of their lands east of the Jordan River, and the tribe of Manasseh would occupy some of those lands. The daughters of Zelophehad were from Manasseh, so the allotment of their land may have come sooner than the allotment of land for the tribes settling west of the Jordan River.
ii. The case of the daughters of Zelophehad further clarified the laws of inheritance for Israel.
· If a man had sons, they were first in line to inherit their father’s property.
· If a man had no sons, his daughters would stand in the place of his sons.
· If there were no sons or daughters, the inheritance would pass to the closest family member – a brother, uncle, cousin, or other.
B. The passing of Moses and the appointment of a new leader.
1. (12-14) God tells Moses of his coming death.
Now the LORD said to Moses: “Go up into this Mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given to the children of Israel. And when you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was gathered. For in the Wilderness of Zin, during the strife of the congregation, you rebelled against My command to hallow Me at the waters before their eyes.” (These are the waters of Meribah, at Kadesh in the Wilderness of Zin.)
a. You also shall be gathered to your people: Moses was first told he would die before coming to the Promised Land in Numbers 20. It was still many months until Moses would climb to the top of the mountain; able to see Canaan but not able to enter it (Deuteronomy 34). After seeing the land, Moses would die (be gathered to your people).
i. In Deuteronomy 3:23-25, Moses explained that he did – on some occasion – ask God to relent from His judgment that Moses would never set foot in the land of Canaan. God did not relent, and Moses made himself content with knowing he would see the land and be gathered to His God.
ii. “The expression ‘gathered to your people’ describes the Hebrew concept of unity and identity with the faithful forefathers (Genesis 15:15, 25:8, 35:29, 47:30), with whom they would rest and find peace.” (Cole)
b. You rebelled against My command to hallow Me: God reminded Moses of the reason why he would not be allowed to enter Canaan, because of his sin of misrepresenting God at Meribah (Numbers 20:12-13).
i. “The account of his going is given at the end of Deuteronomy, but these words bring the facts before us in this book, which is the book revealing the Divine discipline of failing people; and it serves to keep before us the fact that the most faithful servants of God cannot escape the results of their failure in this life.” (Morgan)
2. (15-17) Moses’ response to God’s announcement.
Then Moses spoke to the LORD, saying: “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep which have no shepherd.”
a. Let the LORD…set a man over the congregation: After hearing of his coming fate, Moses did not try to change God’s mind, and he did not complain. His only concern was for the congregation of Israel, for the people, not for himself.
i. The LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh: “This is an expressive title of the Lord that speaks of his ultimate sovereignty over all peoples. If God is sovereign of all, then surely God will wish to show his sovereignty over his people in their evident need for a shepherd to follow Moses.” (Allen)
b. That the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep which have no shepherd: This was the picture used to describe a leaderless people. Sheep without a shepherd are in constant danger. They have trouble finding food and water, and they wander into dangerous places. God wants His sheep to have shepherds.
i. In the ultimate sense, this is fulfilled by Jesus Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, as was prophesied in the Old Testament (Micah 5:2-4) and revealed in the New Testament: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
ii. In an additional sense, this is also fulfilled by the New Testament office of pastor-teacher. The ancient Greek word for pastor is the word for shepherd (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2). As 1 Peter 5:4 presents it, Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and pastors are under-shepherds.
iii. The duty of shepherds was well understood. They were to feed (John 21:15-17), to lead (lead them out and bring them in), and to protect the sheep.
iv. Jesus was also moved with compassion when He saw the people as sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34); Moses prefigured the nature of Jesus by his concern that Israel not be left as sheep without a shepherd.
3. (18-23) Joshua chosen and given authority.
And the LORD said to Moses: “Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and inaugurate him in their sight. And you shall give some of your authority to him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. He shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire before the LORD for him by the judgment of the Urim. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, he and all the children of Israel with him—all the congregation.”
So Moses did as the LORD commanded him. He took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. And he laid his hands on him and inaugurated him, just as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses.
a. Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him: Though Joshua was not of noble birth or a literal son of Moses, there were many things that qualified him to be the successor of Moses.
· Joshua had led the army of Israel against the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16).
· Joshua was an assistant to Moses (Exodus 24:13).
· Joshua helped Moses at the tabernacle after the golden calf disaster (Exodus 33:7-11).
· Joshua was zealous to preserve the authority and leadership of Moses (Numbers 11:28).
· Joshua was one of the two faith-filled spies among the total of twelve who spied out the land of Canaan (Numbers 13:30-14:38).
· Joshua was a man in whom is the Spirit, the most important qualification of all. The Holy Spirit would empower and enable him to fulfill the challenging role of leading the nation into Canaan.
i. “This must certainly mean the Spirit of God; and because he was endued with this Spirit, therefore he was capable of leading the people. How miserably qualified is that man for the work of God who is not guided and influenced by the Holy Ghost! God never chooses a man to accomplish his designs but that one whom he himself has qualified for the work.” (Clarke)
ii. “The prayer was immediately answered and he had not only the satisfaction already referred to of appointing his successor, but, what was far more important to him, that of knowing that the one so appointed was the man of God’s own choice.” (Morgan)
b. You shall give some of your authority to him: This seems to have been immediate. From this point, Joshua shared some of the authority of Moses in leading Israel. Until the passing of Moses, there were some months of shared leadership and responsibility, a brief transitional period.
c. He shall stand before Eleazar the priest: The appointment of Joshua was not only made evident by Moses but also by Eleazar the priest. The priests would support Joshua’s leadership, even though he (unlike Moses) did not come from the priestly tribe of Levi.
i. The explanation of the role of Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire before the LORD for him, indicates a difference in the place of Moses and the place of Joshua. “Whereas God spoke to Moses face to face (Numbers 12:6-8), Joshua will be instructed by Eleazar the priest, who will use the Urim and Thummim, the sacred lot, to discover God’s will.” (Wenham)
d. And he laid his hands on him and inaugurated him: This public presentation and laying on of hands upon Joshua was important. It presented Joshua before all Israel as the next leader, the one who should expect to follow as God’s appointed leader.
i. “Jacob placed his hands on his grandsons’ heads to bless them (Genesis 48:14); the people placed their hands on the blasphemer’s head to transfer their guilt incurred through hearing blasphemy to the blasphemer (Leviticus 24:14); and all worshippers placed a hand on the head of the sacrificial animal to indicate it was taking their place in dying for their sin (Leviticus 1:4, etc.).” (Wenham)