Unsung Heroes: The Daughters of Zelophehad

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Numbers 36 | August 21 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
August 21
Unsung Heroes: The Daughters of Zelophehad | Numbers 36
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

O, Lord, our prayer is that You would open our ears that we may hear Your voice, open our eyes that we may see Your glory, open our hearts that we may know Your truth. Show us what it looks like to live a faithful Christian life. Show us Christ. Give us ears, give us faith, in the name of Christ we pray. Amen.

This morning we come to the end of summer series we’ve been calling Unsung Heroes of the Faith. You understand what that expression means. Heroes who aren’t sung as other heroes are in great songs and celebration. They’re un-sung.

If the Bible has certain A-listers, if I can put it that way, Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, the sort of people whose names are still very prominent. Then you have B-listers, C-listers, lesser known but still heroes worth celebrating. My guess is that even though we have called this series Unsung Heroes that for many of you, especially if you’ve grown up around the church, these names have not been entirely unknown. You’ve probably studied Shiphrah and Puah before, or Jethro, the thief of the cross, even some of the names that are out of the way in some of Paul’s letters, Gaius, Epaphras, Tychicus, are names, maybe, yeah, I think I’ve heard of that somewhere in the Bible.

But I imagine that coming to this last Sunday and these names in particular that virtually no one here knows almost anything about the daughters of Zelophehad. You can tell how obscure it is by how many friends and family members you have named Zelophehad. Not very many.

We do not know the daughters of Zelophehad. It’s not one of the famous stories, and yet perhaps it should be. Think of some of the well-known women in the Bible – Deborah, the judge, very well-known character she appears actually in only two chapters, Judges 4 and 5. Hannah, also well-known, also only appears in two chapters, 1 Samuel 1 and 2. Most of you have heard of Lydia, she shows up in just two verses in Acts 16. Tabitha, she’s in two verses in Acts 9. Susanna, now I’m just mentioning my kids, but Susanna, she shows up only once in Luke 8. These names are familiar to most of us.

Did you know that the daughters of Zelophehad are mentioned five times in the Old Testament? They are mentioned in Numbers 26, Numbers 27, Numbers 36, Joshua 17, and 1 Chronicles 7, and in all but the last passage, so four of the five passages, the five daughters are mentioned by name, not just “the daughters of Zelophehad” but their five names are given. That’s very striking when you consider we don’t the name of Noah’s wife or Lot’s wife. We don’t know the name of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 or the bleeding woman in Luke 8. We don’t the name of the woman at the well in John 4. But we are told four times the names of these five daughters, and their story takes up the better part of two chapters in the book of Numbers.

What was so important about these daughters of Zelophehad and the legal ruling surrounding their request that the book of Numbers would give to them such a prominent place in the story? And as we’ll see, really in the whole book of Numbers. And what difference do the daughters of Zelophehad make for any of us? That’s what we want to look at this morning.

Turn in your Bibles to Numbers, the bulletin says Numbers 36, that’s the second passage, but let’s start in Numbers 27. We won’t read all five instances, but we do need to look at the two major occurrences where we find this story of the daughters of Zelophehad. Numbers 27, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, the fourth book in the Bible, chapter 27.

“Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.””

“Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. And 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 nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. And it shall be for the people of Israel a statute and rule, as the Lord commanded Moses.’””

That’s the first major instance where we have this ruling surrounding the daughters of Zelophehad. Then turn to the last chapters, Numbers 36, and Moses revisits this case, but now with an extra ruling to help clarify what’s happening. Numbers 36.

“The heads of the fathers’ houses of the clan of the people of Gilead the son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of the people of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the chiefs, the heads of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel. They said, “The Lord commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the people of Israel, and my lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters.””

So now we’re some time later and they’re reflecting, remember this, remember Moses, you issued this ruling, came from on high, from the Lord Himself, about the daughters of Zelophehad. Reflect on that. Now there’s a little wrinkle here, because there’s a possible problem.

Verse 3: ““But if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the people of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers and added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry. So it will be taken away from the lot of our inheritance. And when the jubilee of the people of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry, and their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.””

“And Moses commanded the people of Israel according to the word of the Lord, saying, “The tribe of the people of Joseph is right. This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father. The inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the people of Israel shall be wife to one of the clan of the tribe of her father, so that every one of the people of Israel may possess the inheritance of his fathers. So no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another, for each of the tribes of the people of Israel shall hold on to its own inheritance.’””

“The daughters of Zelophehad did as the Lord commanded Moses, for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to sons of their father’s brothers. They were married into the clans of the people of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father’s clan. These are the commandments and the rules that the Lord commanded through Moses to the people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.”

So what is this all about? In order to understand what’s going on in these two chapters, why they are here, why the daughters of Zelophehad were so important and their case so critical, we need to look at how the story relates to three things. How this story relates to the promise of the land, how it relates to the rest of the book of Numbers, and how this story relates to the Pentateuch, and in understanding that, we will see how it relates to us. So three things – land, Numbers, Pentateuch.

First we need to understand how this relates to the land. Obviously all of this legal minutiae has to do with the Promised Land. Christians get into a lot of trouble trying to glean economic principles from the Old Testament when they don’t understand the unique way in which land functions among God’s people in the Old Testament. Unlike for most of us you can buy land, you can sell land, you can expand, you can contract, you may inherit something from your family, but those are not circumscribed with divine law. It’s different when we come to the land of the Old Testament. This was by God’s very purpose and design. Now it was by lot, but ultimately it was by God’s direction that He apportioned to each tribe and to each clan the specific boundaries that they were to inherit.

Now when you’re reading through the Bible, hopefully you do this, you read through the Bible each year or you take a couple of years, you read through the Bible. Inevitably you get to a bunch of passages about land allotments. Not exciting. Except if you were getting land. Wouldn’t you be excited? If God told you, “Here’s the property I’m giving you in the greater Charlotte area.” You would pay very careful attention. Now what street boundary am I? And what exactly are the different lines and degrees? I want to know exactly where I’m supposed to live. Especially if God says, “This is where I’m supposed to live and my family is to inhabit for all time.” So those were probably some of the most well-read passages.

Just like we get to the genealogies. For us, ehh, boring, genealogies. Except if it’s your family. Then you want to know what happened to your family. The year of jubilee, which is mentioned here, was a provision in the Mosaic law in the 50th year you sort of get a “start over.” If you had fallen onto hard times, through no fault of your own, you weren’t a covenant breaker but you had entered into hard times, into poverty, that you could go back and you can have the original lines of your family’s inheritance, and it was a way of trying to enshrine into the Old Testament law sort of a “do over,” a year of jubilee.

Now this isn’t, you know, if we tried to institute this literally, it wouldn’t make, because God Himself did not apportion to you your land, or your house. But there’s something of the spirit of that, and maybe bankruptcy law, you’d have to have some way to have a second chance.

The important thing to remember as we think about the land – it was the Promised Land, so God was giving the land to His people because they were His treasured possession. God owned the land, God owned the people, God owned the people who owned the land. They possessed the land, God possesses the people. It was imperative that all of the people had some of the land. It couldn’t be a Promised Land if you didn’t have some part of that land promised to you. So it was very important that the tribes, and then the clans, families within those tribes, had certain allotments apportioned to them. The idea was, with the year of jubilee, even if you fell on hard times, ultimately the faithful Israelite could not lose his inheritance once he came into possession of it.

Now, if the whole nation was unfaithful after many warnings and many years of hard recalcitrant hearts, then what happens? You get kicked out of the Promised Land. Just like Adam and Eve got kicked out of the garden. The Promised Land is like a new garden of Eden, here it is, it’s apportioned for you, if you would but be covenant keepers in it. Of course, we know that Israel wasn’t, and so they were kicked out.

The problem in chapter 27 is what do you do if a man has no sons. So in the ancient world the inheritance falls along the sons. It wasn’t unheard of that the daughters might receive some, as they do here, in exceptions, and as they did among some other ancient peoples. But it was the normal standard practice that the inheritance would fall to the sons and that the land allotments were apportioned according to the line of the son.

So here’s the problem – no sons, no heirs, no land. Our father’s name will be blotted out. Zelophehad, so Mr. Z., had five daughters, he had no sons. So what’s going to happen? He’s gone, the land that was apportioned to Zelophehad would go to his sons, now he has no sons. Who gets that land? And will it forever be blotted out? No one ever remembers Zelophehad. His whole family, poof, gone.

So the daughters some and say, “We don’t think this is right.” Moses, just as he was instructed back in Exodus, that if he has hard cases, the hardest cases come to him, and if he doesn’t know what to do, he seeks the Lord, and so the Lord tells him, “The daughters of Zelophehad got a point. They’re right. You ought to transfer the inheritance to them.”

Now notice the Lord didn’t just say, “Yes, they can live in it,” but “transfer the whole legal right of the property to these daughters.” Then this becomes the general statute for every case where the father has no son.

Chapter 27 goes into some further examples. Okay, well, if there’s no daughters, then give it to the father’s brothers. If there are none of those, you give it to his father’s brothers. If there’s none of those, you just go to the nearest relative of the clan. The principle here – keep the land in the family. To the sons first; if there’s none of them, to the daughters; if there’s none of them, then you go down the line to the nearest male relative. You can see why this was highlighted because inevitably with what, maybe 2 million people, you would have had many families where there’s daughters and no sons. So this was an important statute, how does this work, and the daughters of Zelophehad are the ones who first come and raise this issue.

So that’s the problem in chapter 27. No sons.

The problem in chapter 36 is a little different. What if the daughters marry outside the clan? So the land gets passed down according to the male heir. So all right, problem solved in the next generation, Zelophehad doesn’t have any sons, the land goes, the legal right transfers to the daughters. They’re from the tribe of Manasseh, one of the 12 tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph.

But what happens then if the daughters of Zelophehad get on their app and they meet a swell guy from Judah? Or from Simeon? Or Zebulun? And he’s the one! And they fall in love and they get married. Well, then what would happen, according to the Mosaic Law, is that then that land would be transferred over to their husbands. Well, now the same problem has happened. The land that was supposed to be for Zelophehad, a clan in the tribe of Manasseh, is now disappearing. Manasseh has lost some of their divinely allotted land. You can see how this would be bad, not only for Manasseh, but this was bond to create confusion all over the place. You couldn’t keep track of the legal title to the land.

So Moses, from the Lord, hands down another statute, that if this happens and the legal right to the property is transferred to the daughters, okay, daughters, it’s actually a pretty remarkable statement, verse 6, “Let them marry whom they think best,” so there’s some freedom to marry within their own clan, however. So you can’t go marry outside of Manasseh, can’t to marry some swell guy from Judah, because that’s going to get things all confused and then your father’s land is end up going to be with somebody else and you’re not going to preserve the name of your father.

So second rule to be laid down. First rule, if there’s no sons it goes to the daughters. Second rule, when that happens, those daughters have to marry within their tribe. So Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, Noah, you gotta find a strapping young man from Manasseh and make it work. And they agree to do so.

So the conclusion of the case of Zelophehad establishes two important principles for legal land inheritance moving forward. Number one – daughters are made legal heirs when there are no sons. That’s chapter 27. Number two – in those instances, the daughters must marry within their own tribe, that’s chapter 36. With these two statutes, God’s people will not be dispossessed of the land that was apportioned to their fathers. Unless they’re covenant breakers and it’s some sort of punishment, if they just have circumstances they can’t control – famine, poverty, you can’t control the sex of the children that are born to you – then there should be a mechanism that the land stays within their clan. That’s what chapter 27 and chapter 36 allows, and mandates.

So that’s how you understand this relationship to the land. That’s the legal minutiae to try to understand why this was so important. It’s important, it’s nice. Maybe not that inspirational for us, so let’s understand how this relates to Numbers and then to the Pentateuch, because then we’re going to see some spiritual lessons here.

So you have your Bible open to Numbers. Let’s understand how Numbers is organized. Well, it’s called Numbers. This classroom’s too big this morning to ask for volunteers, but just think why is it called Numbers. It’s called Numbers because they count numbers. There’s a census. There’s actually two of them. So look at the very beginning, Numbers chapter 1, and you can see just the heading in your Bible, in the ESV it says “A Census of Israel’s Warriors.”

So the first major section in Numbers goes from chapter 1 to chapter 25.

Then turn to chapter 26, and you’ll see the heading there, “Census of the New Generation.” So there are two censuses, censi? I don’t know. Censuses, chapter 1, chapter 26. Now this heading in 26 is important – census of the new generation. Well, what happened with the old generation? Do you remember? They were disobedient, supremely so because they sent the spies into the land and they freaked out, said we can never do this, they’re giants, this is impossible, we can’t do it, they rebelled against the Lord and the Lord said, “Because you didn’t believe Me, because You didn’t think I could give you this land, you are going to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Not until that whole generation is dead will I lead you into the Promised Land.”

So this is the census of the new generation. So chapters 1 through 25 what happens with that first generation. In the middle you have spy story, Numbers 13 through 14.

Now the second part of the book, chapter 26 through 36, looking at the next generation. Now similar to the first part, this also has right in the middle of it not a spy story but another story where God’s people are hesitant to enter the Promised Land. It’s not as famous, it’s in Numbers 32. It’s the request of Reuben and Gad, those tribes, to settle in Gilead on the far side of the Jordan. They got to cross the Jordan over into the Promised Land. Reuben and Gad say, “Well, this is really great land over here. We’d kind of like to stay here.” And the Lord allows them to have a clan, to have a tribe there, but He says, “Oh, be careful. You’re going to have to go fight with your brothers, not with them but together with them, to get into the Promised Land. Remember what happened when you all chickened out and you didn’t go into the Promised Land the first time.” So the Lord says, “This is dangerous, but I’ll let you have a tribe here on the other side of the Jordan, but you still gotta go to the Promised Land.”

So the second half of Numbers, right in the middle, is a similar instance. God’s people hesitant to enter the land. After the first generation refused to enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief, God consigned them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation was dead. You see chapter 25 is this Baal worship at Peor, and you notice in verse 9, “Those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.” God punished them by killing twenty-four thousand. This is really the last bit of that rebellious generation to be wiped out. That’s why this is in chapter 25, chapter 26 is the new generation. So here’s the last of this wandering generation.

So then we come to the next census. And look at chapter 26, verse 64, end of that chapter. After counting all of these listed, verse 64, “But among these here was not one of those listed by Moses and Aaron the priest, who had listed the people of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the Lord had said of them, “They shall die in the wilderness.” Not one of them was left, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.”

So that generation is gone.

So here’s the issue – what is going to take to enter the Promised Land? The first part, chapters 1 through 25, the first generation did not enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief. Second generation is counted. What will it take for them to enter the Promised Land? Well, it’s just the opposite. They will enter in only by faith.

So now come back to the daughters of Zelophehad. You notice something very interesting, that this second part of Numbers is bookended with the story of the daughters of Zelophehad. So you get the census in chapter 26, daughters of Zelophehad chapter 27, and then the last chapter 36 again to the daughters of Zelophehad.

Some of the commentators say, well, this is kind of strange and this is some later redactor, or this is an appendix, or someone’s trying to tie up loose ends, or there’s no purpose whatsoever, or someone later on in Israel’s history said, well, we’d better include that story because it’s going to be confusing what happens to the land.

No, no, no. It’s quite deliberate that these two episodes are here and they’re separated for a reason. Some people say, well, something got lost, surely these two things with Zelophehad should have been right together. No, they are intentionally forming an inclusion. The beginning and the end of this story of the second generation. Why?

Because as we’ll see in just a moment, they are on the cusp of entering the Promised Land, and this second generation hasn’t made it yet, and what is it going to take to make it into the Promised Land? It is going to take faith. And what better example of some gutsy faith than these daughters of Zelophehad.

Did you notice the women, in chapter 27, they approach the sacred place. They’re before Moses, the chief of the people, Eleazer the priest, the other chiefs, the people there at the entrance of the tent of meeting, there outside of the tabernacle. They are there in the public place. It’s like they came to the Congress or the Supreme Court or the White House, there they are on the D.C. mall, everyone’s gathered and they present their case.

Now some people, I was reading a number of articles about them this week, some people want to make them into the first feminists. There’s a lot of articles that say that. That’s not accurate. They are, after all, concerned entirely about what? The name of their father. The demand on their lips isn’t equality, that’s a good word in a lot of contexts, but their concern really is family.

You notice what they say – “Our father was not a rebel like Korah,” that’s another story in the book of Numbers where some of the folks think, “Eh, who is this Moses? He’s always on his high horse. These elites. We don’t like Moses,” so they form this rebellion, the earth swallows them up. The daughters say, “That wasn’t our dad. He died for his own sin,” meaning he was a part of just the normal sinful generation that all deserved to die, but he wasn’t a part of this rebellious Korah, those sort of people who deserved to maybe have their land stripped from them or be punished in some extraordinary way. No, he died for his own sins. He was an ordinary may like everyone else in that wandering generation.

So they ask why should he be blotted out? All the other names of the family clans and heads are not blotted out? Their concern is for their family and for the name of their father.

So feminists, no. Fearless, yes. These are strong women. Women who are not afraid to stand up for themselves, they stand up for themselves for the right reasons, do so in the right way. They are great examples, they are believing women, they are obedient women. They obey God’s commands to marry within the tribe and they believe in the promises of God to such an extent they are already thinking about their future inheritance.

So you contrast that, the spies go in and all the people, they’re right there, they’re supposed to go in and they get the report from the spies and that generation says, “Oh, they’re too big, they’re too scary, this is never going to work. We’re never going to have that land.” These women are already thinking years, years, centuries perhaps down the line – what will happen to our father’s name? They have a fearless, gutsy faith. We’re going to get to the Promised Land, we’re going to get there and who’s going to get our father’s land? What will happen to our father’s name? They’ve already put themselves in possession of the Lord’s promise, as they should have.

So the very position of these two stories, bookending this second section in Numbers, tells us that we are to learn something from these daughters of Zelophehad. So relative to the land, relative to Numbers, and then third, relative to the Pentateuch. Penta means five, the first five books of the Bible.

There are a lot of themes that tie the first five books of the Bible together. We saw some of them when we finished Genesis at the beginning of the summer. One of the big themes in these five books is the hope of the Promised Land. Each book of the Pentateuch ends with God’s people outside the land and many of these first five books, and very deliberately, with the people looking toward the Promised Land.

So let’s just see this quickly. There’s only five books. Go to Genesis chapter 50. The death of Joseph. Genesis chapter 50, verse 24: “And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.”

Where are God’s people? They’re in Egypt. Where does Joseph want them to go? To the Promised Land. We’re in Egypt now, I’m dying in Egypt, someday you’ll get to the Promised Land. That’s how Genesis ends.

Go the last chapter in Exodus, Exodus chapter 40, the very last verse, 38, after the tabernacle is erected and the glory of the Lord descends, verse 38: “For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.”

Where are they? They’re not there. They’re not in the Promised Land. They’re journeying. They’re going from tent to tent, to camp to camp, as the pillar of cloud and the fire by night leads them. Outside the Promised Land, looking to get in.

Leviticus, chapter 27. Notice again how this book ends. Verse 34, the very last verse: “These are the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.”

So that’s in the Sinai Peninsula, in between Egypt and the Promised Land. So again it marks out their location at the very end of the book. Where are God’s people? They’re not in the Promised Land.

We’ll end at Numbers. Go to Deuteronomy, the fifth book. Deuteronomy, chapter 34. This is where Moses dies. You see in Deuteronomy 34, verse 4, the Lord said to Moses, as he’s looking out over the plains, He says, ““This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the Word of the Lord.”

So God’s people, even the great Moses, he’s not in the Promised Land. He gets as close as to climb up to a mountain and to look out and God says, “There it is. You can see it. But you’re going to die here, and you’re not there yet.”

Then Numbers, go back to Numbers chapter 36. The very last verse, “These are the commandments and the rules that the Lord commanded through Moses to the people of Israel,” and again, the book ends by noting where they are, which is a way of noting where they are not. “The people of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.”

Isn’t that interesting? The very last word in Hebrew, and it’s here the very last word in English, is Jericho. Where are the people first going to encounter their entrance to the Promised Land? And the walls of Jericho came a-tumbling down. They are this close. It’s right there. They can see it. They can taste it. They can touch it. There’s Jericho.

So you see what’s going on in each of these books, including here in Numbers? Numbers 36 looks to be a great anti-climax. And here’s how we end, this installment of Harry Potter with a bit of bizarre law about your brooms, or something.

No, it’s not just a random piece of legislation, tidying up around the edges. This is here quite purposefully.

And Numbers ends with a way forward, open-ended as it were. See, to bookend the story with the daughters of Zelophehad in chapter 27 and again in chapter 36, is to say to this second generation, “What are you going to do?” The first generation blew it, they wandered, they died, but here you are after 40 years on the cusp of Canaan once again, and will you have faith to take possession of it? Faith like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Faith, indeed, like the daughters of Zelophehad.

If you know the book of Numbers you know it has many stories of rebellion. The spies come back and the people rebel. Korah and his rebellion. Balaam, the sin with Baal at Peor. There’s all of these rebellions, but here the story ends on a note of cautious optimism, as we meet these women, tenaciously holding on to the promises of God, even when their personal circumstances were less than favorable. This was not the way you drew it up in the ancient world, that you’d have all daughters and no sons. But they point the way forward to the right response to the promises of God. Not like that first generation when the spies returned and their response was doubt and refusal. Don’t think God can do it, we’re not going to go there. Not doubt and refuse, but as the hymn says, trust and obey.

So the story ends in such a purposeful way, to speak to that second generation of Israelites and say, “You have a home waiting for you if you will leave the wilderness behind and trust me to take care of you.”

One of my daughter’s had a birthday this past week. Another one has a birthday the coming week. There’s a lot of birthdays. My wife said a week or so ago, a few days before the birthday, she said, “I’m going to drive down to Waxhaw and I know what we’re getting her for her birthday. I’m going to get her some bunnies.” I said, “We need more living things.”

We had a chicken and the chicken sadly died this summer in the heat, but we have a lovely chicken coop, it’s just awaiting many bunnies. Hopefully, not many more bunnies if we are to believe that they are all female bunnies.

My wife came back from the bunny whisperer in Waxhaw with three precious, cute as can be, little bunnies. Kids are thrilled. We put those bunnies in the chicken coop. It’s a very fine chicken coop. It turns out, though, that bunnies can fit through holes that big fat chickens cannot, and so it wasn’t but a matter of minutes and our three bunnies were down to two. I know. Later down to one, but we quick found that one. So we’ve got two bunnies. We, and we live where there’s woods in the back of our property, and just, I don’t know, bunny heaven. I hope not bunny sheol, but it’s just bunnies. We sent out some many search parties, sent children, neighbors, flashlights, the cats were looking with nefarious purposes. We’re looking.

We had given up all hope on black bunny #3, lost on a Saturday. Monday I’m in meetings. I see a text come through on my phone with many exclamation points, and my wife says, “The black bunny has returned!!!” After we had searched far and wide in the back woods. We had given up all hope that we would ever find bunny #3 again. I guess she was there and she looked out our back window and she said there’s a little black fuzzy thing right there outside of the chicken coop. So they go and of course it ran away, but somehow they were able to catch the bunny somehow, there’s a lot of us so you just form a perimeter and like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive and you just bring them in.

The bunny. And there was a home for the bunny. If she would but leave the wilderness behind. We’re sinners and we still said, “The bunny, the bunny wants a home. You rebellious little bunny. You ran away, but you’re back. And if you trust us enough and we can pick you up and we can put you in here,” and yes, now, we have it secured, we’ve gotten bricks and rocks and we reinforced the Promised Land. “You here can live in your bunny clan once again if you will simply be willing to leave behind the wanderings and come home.”

This story here in Numbers, this out of the way bit with these strange names, Zelophehad, is all about God’s people on the verge of the Promised Land, awaiting their inheritance, what ought you to do . Well, it’s very simple. You keep walking in obedience and you keep living by faith. You live now in the present, confident in what God has promised for the future. Some of you, because of your age, perhaps, anticipate that that Promised Land, that inheritance, is near. But isn’t it true for all of us, whatever our age, it’s never been nearer than right now and it always, always just keeps getting nearer and nearer.

There’s a reason that Hebrews 11 emphasizes faith, because that’s what it takes to inherit the promise. Not works. The daughters of Zelophehad didn’t say, “What can we do?” They came with great faith, “We, too, ought to have a share in this inheritance,” and the Lord said to Moses, “They’re absolutely right.”

Numbers shows you how to fail. You want to know how to fail? Rebel, chicken out, don’t take God at His Word. You want to know how to succeed? Guts. Confidence. Confidence in God’s promises.

So this is for the second generation of the Israelites, but it’s also for God’s people in any generation. Can you see in the distance? Can you see Jericho there awaiting you? It looks scary and there’s giants over there, but if you just listen, God’ll knock down those walls all by Himself and you’ll get in.

The Promised Land is closer than you think. Don’t give up now, don’t turn around, don’t murmur, don’t doubt. God can get you in. Jesus, we know, has gone ahead, for the joy set before Him. And what did He tell His disciples? I go ahead to prepare a place before you, to get it ready. He’s watching, He’s waiting, He says, “Keep going. There is an everlasting inheritance on the other side if you will but believe.”

Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, we thank You for all the gifts that You give to us, for Your Word to teach us, to equip us, to inspire us. Bolster us this morning to believe and get us safely by Your grace to the other side. In Jesus’ name. Amen.