Book of Numbers Chapter Twenty-Seven Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
The world is full of rules. Many of them are based on God's commandments in Scripture. Centuries-old British Common Law cited events from the Torah, also called the Pentateuch, the first five Books of the Bible. Also, rules can simply be man-made devices designed for specific situations. On an interpersonal level, we each make rules of behavior that can determine whether we like someone or don't like them. Our rules are mostly a secret—we judge others by them but often don't tell anybody what they are. And we may not follow our own rules if our mood is that we don't want to at the moment. If you think you've discovered that human relationships tend to not be fair—you're right! In these verses the question is addressed—what are we supposed to do if the rules we look to or have invented don't seem to fit a given situation? We go to the Lord in prayer like Moses did—and one way or another, God will provide the solution.
Verses 1-4: "Then the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph, came near; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah and Hoglah and Milcah and Tirzah. 2 They stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the leaders and all the congregation, at the doorway of the tent of meeting, saying, 3 'Our father died in the wilderness, yet he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but he died in his own sin, and he had no sons. 4 Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.'" Moses and his nephew, Eleazar, the current high priest, functioned as judges within Israel's wilderness journey. The men of most of Israel's tribes were to be heirs to lands, houses, crops, wells and cities within Canaan, the place that was to become a nation given to them. The men led families that would inherit the land. It was not only a reality but also a parable—just like God had a place for those of Israel in the Holy Land, He has a place in eternity for those who trust in the Lord. The families of Israel were represented by the patriarch in charge. What would happen if the patriarch who led them and all other males in the family—were dead? Innocent in some things, guilty in others, sinners like the rest of us, but dead. Would the family lose its inheritance?
Verse 5: "So Moses brought their case before the Lord." Historically the typical judge's chambers has held many books about both statutory and case law...the law of the land coupled with the decisions of other judges in similar situations. Moses shows us another essential method to determine the outcomes of civil and criminal cases—He prayed! He brought each case "before the Lord." More than religion, Moses had faith in the Lord to an extent that the invisible, spiritual membrane concealing the Lord from people everywhere, became transparent. He could see and hear the Lord like all of us will at the end of time. The encounters were not continuous, otherwise he would have been prevented from meetings with other human beings that the Lord intended for him. And note that all of the Lord's faithful will encounter God the Holy Spirit and are led by Him. In some ways it IS a continuous experience, but the encounters are also situational as it was for Moses. When I prepare these studies, I often initially have no idea what to write or say...I merely know that now is the time to do it. The words begin to unfold in my heart and I prayerfully write them, edit them and prayerfully write them again. Do I read books by other authors and learn from them? Yes I do, and it is helpful. I read about their encounters with the Holy Spirit and I have my own encounters as well. The Bible was written by men like Moses, "who was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22) and the libraries of Egypt were indeed extensive—he was a reader, open to the ideas of those who came before him—and he prayed, taking each case "before the Lord." He wrote, He spoke, but it was the Lord who led him.
Verses 6-11: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 7 'The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them. 8 Further, you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. 9 If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 If his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his nearest relative in his own family, and he shall possess it; and it shall be a statutory ordinance to the sons of Israel, just as the Lord commanded Moses.'" The women of these verses were a family of the tribe of Manasseh, son of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob, also known as Israel. The custom in that time and place was that the eldest son would inherit the family's properties. The theory was that the eldest son inherited for the benefit of all. Our Eldest Son is Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, step-Son of Joseph, Son of God, Son of mankind, Inheritor of everything for the benefit of us all. And note that in the sight of God, the "differences" between us that we think are so important, don't even exist! As Paul noted in Galatians 3:28-29, "There is neither Jew nor Greek... slave nor free... male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and HEIRS according to the promise." Soon we will all meet the Lord, see His Face and will finally KNOW that His inheritance, His rules have been and are—fair to us all.
Verses 12-14: "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Go up to this mountain of Abarim, and see the land which I have given to the sons of Israel. 13 When you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was; 14 for in the wilderness of Zin, during the strife of the congregation, you rebelled against My command to treat Me as holy before their eyes at the water.' (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.)" It was the Lord's time for Moses to die, which would not be the end for him, anymore than death is the end for anyone. It's merely the doorway to eternity. The question is though, would Moses have lived longer and actually entered the land if he had not committed the important sin of striking the rock twice instead of merely speaking to it, as seen in Numbers 20:7-12? Perhaps, though God uses even our mistakes for His glory. Moses represents the Law, which cannot bring us into the land, but instead reveals our sin and our need for a Savior. Christ, who is our Savior, gives us life—"for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2). Moses would see the land from a high vantage point but not enter it. Christ came from eternity, shed His blood in dying for our sins, and returned to the Father, opening our way to enter the land of eternal life. The lapse of Moses became a parable that helps us understand what Jesus Christ did for you and me. The grace of God, expressed through faith in Jesus Christ does what laws cannot do.
The nation had deferred to Moses many times, but they also rebelled against him on numerous occasions. So the request of Moses in Verses 15-17 should be noted: "Then Moses spoke to the Lord, saying, 16 'May the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, 17 who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord will not be like sheep which have no shepherd.'" Though they had spoken ill of him, Moses had come to love this rebellious people, a response that is to be expected in the person who places their faith in the Lord. Jesus would later say, "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44), a shocking statement, then and now. Moses would understand and so should we—faith in the Lord will reveal our own shortcomings, leading us to recognize that we are not so different from those who do us harm. As our faith in Christ grows still more, love abounds as well. We want our enemies to find the Lord and be changed for the good. Moses was leaving this earth and his prayer was that those who had turned on him, not that long ago, would find the wholesome leadership of someone with true faith in the Lord.
Verses 18-23: "So the Lord said to Moses, 'Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; 19 and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and commission him in their sight. 20 You shall put some of your authority on him, in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him. 21 Moreover, he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord. At his command they shall go out and at his command they shall come in, both he and the sons of Israel with him, even all the congregation.' 22 Moses did just as the Lord commanded him; and he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. 23 Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses." Joshua was of the tribe of Ephraim (1 Chronicles 7:20-27), a man who had been Moses' assistant and likely his amanuensis for many years. And notice that God's Holy Spirit was IN Joshua. He and Caleb were two of the spies that went into the land, the only two from their generation who were still alive (Numbers 26:64-65). Joshua had been an effective servant over an extended time, and Moses knew that the Lord was right—Joshua was the man to lead Israel into the future, into the inheritance of the promised land. The "Urim," along with the "Thummin," were objects on the high priest's breastplate, over his heart. Much like David would replace Saul as Israel's king while Saul was still alive, Joshua was now commissioned by the Lord, replacing Moses as the earthly leader of Israel.
Father, the rules You have set in place, Your commandments, show me that I am imperfect, in need of You. I want to be Your faithful servant, and so I trust in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please forgive my sins and heal me. I place my faith in You. In Jesus Name. Amen.