Numbers 27 – 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: Normally, the land inheritance should be passed from a father to his sons in Israel, not to the daughters. What then concerning the case of Zelophehad’s daughters, whose father had no sons? Will their father’s inheritance simply be assumed by someone else, or will his name live on through his inheritance?
i. In general, the system was not completely unfair to women. A woman received a dowry from her father as a wedding present. Typically, 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 or more, and it was thought that the dowry could help provide for the woman if her husband left her or unexpectedly died.
b. So Moses brought their case before the Lord: Moses did what he should when faced with a new situation: He sought God.
2. (6-11) The settlement.
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 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 then could 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, chapter 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 next of kin.
c. And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment: The remarkable thing about these laws is that they were all made in anticipation – in faith – of coming into the inheritance of land in the Canaan. This was a real issue – at this time – for the daughters of Zelophehad shows they were real women of faith, concerned about dividing up what they did not yet have in their hands, but knew they would possess by faith.
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 the Promised Land but not able enter it and die there (Deuteronomy 34). Yet God told him of it here, so as to prepare his heart for the right time.
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 does not try to talk God out of it or complain – his only concern seems to be for the congregation, for the people, not for himself.
b. That the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep which have no shepherd: Sheep without a shepherd are in constant danger; they face slim provisions of food and water, and they are never led to where they should be. God still wants His sheep to have a shepherd!
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 – because the Greek word for pastor is the word for shepherd (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2). As 1 Peter 5:4 puts it, Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and pastors are under-shepherds.
iii. The job of shepherds is simple: To feed (John 21:15-17), and to lead; to lead them out and bring them in, that is, to give guidance and direction for the sheep to follow.
iv. Jesus was also moved with compassion when He saw the people as sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34); Moses is showing the nature of Jesus by his concern.
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: Up to this point, Joshua was mostly known by his servant-like association with Moses (Exodus 24:13). That time as Moses’ humble servant prepared him to take the leadership he was now called to.
b. And he laid his hands on him and inaugurated him: This public presentation and laying of hands on Joshua was important. It let the whole nation know that Joshua was now the leader and the nation should expect to follow him.