Numbers 27



Zelophehad’s Daughters (27:1–11)

1–4 This important section deals not just with the five daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 26:33) but also, by extension, with the rights of all women and all persons whose interests might otherwise be disregarded by society at large. The Lord is concerned with the rights of every individual; He is the defender of the weak, the defender of orphans and widows (James 1:27). The Lord is concerned with the place of everyone in His “promised land.” Canaan was the historic representation of the kingdom of God on earth; and men and women were to share equally in the blessings of that kingdom—just as they will share equally in the blessings of the kingdom of heaven (Galatians 3:28–29).

It is already apparent from the early books of the Old Testament that women did not enjoy equal rights with men when it came to questions of inheritance. Women in Israel did not ordinarily inherit property, nor in a sense did they need to. They were expected to marry and come under the protection and authority of their husband and share in his blessings.

But what happened if a man had no sons? In the case of Zelophehad’s five daughters, the ground of their appeal was that without land their family name would disappear. They also said that their father was not guilty of rebellion against the Lord (most of the rebels lost their inheritance), but that he had simply died for his own sins (verse 3)—that is, for his share of the collective sin of the Israelites who were condemned to die in the desert (Numbers 27:64–65). Therefore, said the daughters, his name should not be blotted out and they, in turn, should be entitled to an inheritance in the promised land.

5–11 The Lord judged in the daughters’ favor (verse 7). Then the Lord extended His judgment to include all such cases, ruling that in the absence of a son, a man’s daughter should inherit his estate (verse 8). Then He further extended the ruling to include cases in which there were no immediate heirs (verses 9–11). In this way the Lord laid down rules of inheritance for all Israel, the intent of which was to keep the inheritance as close as possible to the deceased man’s family line. So important was the question of inheritance in Israel that it is the subject of the final chapter of Numbers, in which the inheritance of Zelophehad’s daughters is once more discussed (see Numbers 36:1–13).

Joshua to Succeed Moses (27:12–23)

12–14 The Lord then reminded Moses that his death was approaching, but that before he died he would be given a glimpse of the promised land from the top of a mountain.91 The Lord reminded Moses of the reason he could not enter Canaan: “. . . you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy” (verse 14). By striking the rock in disobedience to God’s exact command, Moses had dishonored God; he had disregarded God’s holiness (see Numbers 20:613 and comment). Whenever we disobey God, we fail to honor Him as holy. God’s holiness demands our obedience. God tells us to be holy (Leviticus 11:44–45), and to “be holy” means, in essence, to obey.

From this sad episode in Moses’ life we are reminded once again that the holiness of God is not something to be trifled with; we must stand in awe of it. His holiness is absolute; it does not bend this way and that to accommodate our sinfulness. But then, what hope is there for us? If by one sin the great Moses was prevented from entering the promised land, how will any of us be able to enter our promised land, the kingdom of heaven?

The answer: through Jesus Christ. He has already entered heaven on our behalf (Hebrews 9:24), and He will come again and take us to the place He has prepared for us (John 14:1–3).

15–17 As in the past, Moses didn’t think of his own fate but of his people’s fate. He asked God to appoint someone to be their leader in his place. This leader was not to be chosen by Moses or elected by the people; he was to be appointed by God.

18–23 So the Lord said, “Take Joshua” (verse 18). Today we don’t have a Moses with us to hear the Lord’s voice directly; we have the Holy Spirit. Today we have a number of methods for choosing a leader, but they all come down to hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice: “Take this person.” Whether our leaders are chosen by election or by appointment, they must all in the end be chosen by God, or else they cannot be successful in forwarding God’s purposes.

Joshua was a natural choice: he had been Moses’ assistant from the beginning (Exodus 24:13; Numbers 11:28); he had proven himself in battle (Exodus 17:8–13). He (and Caleb) had already spied out the promised land (Numbers 13:8, 16; 14:6–9). But there was a special characteristic of Joshua that God noted: the spirit was in him (verse 18). Many scholars believe that the “spirit” referred to in verse 18 is the Holy Spirit;92 but if not, it was at least a special spirit of wisdom that would enable Joshua to be an effective leader (Deuteronomy 34:9). However, we do know from other passages of Scriputure that the Holy Spirit was actively involved in the equipping of Old Testament leaders and empowering them for service (Numbers 11:25; 1 Samuel 16:13); this surely must have been the case with Joshua also.

The transfer of leadership was symbolized by Moses laying his hands on Joshua in front of Eleazar the priest and all the people (verses 22–23). Eleazar would obtain the Lord’s guidance for the nation through the use of the Urim93 (verse 21); thus Joshua would always be able to know the Lord’s will.

Although Joshua was the true successor of Moses and become a great leader of Israel, he was never the equal of Moses. In all of Israel’s history there was never a leader as great as Moses (see Deuteronomy 34:10–12). But one day God would send a leader greater than Moses (see Hebrews 3:1–6), and his name would also be Joshua, which means “the Lord saves.” The name Joshua in the Greek language94 is “Jesus.” This Jesus, then, would be the ultimate successor of both Moses and Joshua, and He would bring to fulfillment the work they had so ably begun.