Numbers: With God in the Wilderness (37): Inheritance Laws

Sermon by on January 24, 2008

Numbers 27:1-14

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The Lord’s Day

January 27, 2008

Numbers 27:1-14

With God in the Wilderness

“Inheritance Laws”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

Amen. Please be seated. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite
you to turn with me to Numbers 27, and I’d also invite you to take a peek at
chapter 26 on your way to Numbers 27.

The last time we were in Numbers together, this past
Wednesday night, we were looking at the long list of names of the heads of
families of the tribes in Israel in that great chapter. And we said that the
names were listed there for the purposes of both selective service (this is in
preparation for the draft, to defend the children of Israel against those nasty
Midianites that have been dogging them all their way) and also to prepare them
for the battle that they’re going to have to engage in as they go into the land
of Canaan. You remember God’s word to them was here is the land, it’s yours, now
take it. And so it involved both believing that God had given them the land and
it involved their acting on faith and aggressively taking the land from the
Canaanites on whom God’s judgment was falling in bringing them into the land.
And so the census is taken in large measure to give an idea of how many fighting
men there are going to be available to Moses; and of course eventually — when we
get to the end of chapter 27 — we know that it’s going to be General Joshua
who’s going to be leading them into the land of Canaan.

We also said that not only was selective service a
purpose of this census taken in Numbers 26; inheritance was an important purpose
for this census. Proportionate to the size of the tribes, land would be allotted
both in the Transjordan and in Canaan proper for the children of Israel to
inhabit. And so it was important to know how large and how small, relatively
speaking, the various tribes were, so that appropriate land could be
appropriated to them for distribution amongst the clans and heads of families.
And of course for this reason the names that are listed are given in Numbers 26.

Now that also jogged our memories and it reminded
us that the three big themes in the book of Numbers
are journey, warfare, and inheritance.
There is this long journey
through the wilderness coming to a conclusion in the book of Numbers that
started all the way back in the book of Exodus, and that theme of journey gets
picked up in the book of Hebrews. And in fact, in the whole of the early church,
the picture of the Christian life is expressed in light of the term of
wilderness wandering or pilgrims, a theme which is again picked up later in
Christian history and manifests itself in classic books like Pilgrim’s
. This picture of journeying through this life on the way to the
Promised Land is a part of the Christian life, but it’s rooted in God’s
experience…the experience that He granted to His people in the Old Testament.

Then there’s the picture of warfare. To be a
Christian, the Apostle Paul says, is to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ. But
the imagery of the believing life as a life of warfare is not simply a New
Testament image. It starts all the way back in the Old Testament and is
displayed everywhere in the story of the children of Israel leaving Egypt,
wandering through the wilderness, and going into and finally possessing the
promised land.

But the third theme, the theme of inheritance, is
there as well. We saw that in Numbers 26. We will see it tonight in a very
extraordinary way, because God in this great journey is in the process of
granting to His people an inheritance that He had promised to their forefather
Abraham well over 430 years before. And so this is a matter of an inheritance
promise, and a promise being fulfilled.

Now we also said as we looked at Numbers 26 that
there are warnings there. Let me just ask you to look…scan across the passage
and look at verse 1, verse 10, verse 19, verse 62, and then verses 63-65. There
are a bunch of warnings in this passage. In the midst of encouraging words about
inheritance and preparation for warfare against the land of Canaan, there are
warnings. There’s the warning that you see in the very first verse of Numbers
26, which reminds you that this census was taken after the plague. That plague
was the plague that is mentioned in the previous chapter, which cost Israel
24,000 soldiers. Don’t you think they wouldn’t have been thinking about that as
they went into the Promised Land, and needed every man on deck? And they
realized that through their own sin, through their own rebellion, through their
own unfaithfulness in the incident with the Baals of Peor that they had lost
24,000 potential soldiers. It shows you the consequences of sin.

And then in verse 10, the mention of Dathan and
Abiram, who contend against the Lord’s servant and are judged. And then the
mention of Onan and Er, who had been judged before ever the family had gotten
out of Canaan the first time, in verse 19. Or the mention of Nadab and Abihu,
the sons of Aaron, who had offered uncommanded strange fire before the Lord. And
just as Al asked the question this morning, ‘Can a person hear God speak from
the fire and survive?’ that makes all the sense in the world in the light of the
story of Nadab and Abihu. Because they heard God speak from the fire, but they
did not survive. They were consumed.

And then of course there’s the story of verses 63-65.
Not one head of a household of a tribe of Israel was left when the census of
Midian was taken. When the census of Sinai was taken, only two men, only two
heads of households, Joshua and Caleb — of all of the fighting men of Israel,
more than 600,000 — would enter into the land of Canaan … 599,998-plus fighting
men of Israel had died in the wilderness. Two heads of families would go in.
It’s a reminder of God’s judgment for unbelief.

But there’s also tremendous encouragement in Numbers
26. We commented on the glorious, glorious blessing and grace which is
manifested in verse 11. Allow your eyes to look at it. In the midst of all these
warnings, Numbers 26 gave us a beautiful reminder of God’s grace in that it
mentions explicitly that though Korah had rebelled and 250 people with him, even
though they had been slain and died, yet the sons of Korah did not die. Though
their father rebelled, they were spared, and they went on to write Psalms 42,
44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 84, 85, 87, and 88. It’s a manifestation of God’s grace.

This afternoon we were having a wonderful meal with
Al Mohler, and he was telling us stories. And one of the most moving stories he
shared was this. There was a person at the seminary that was there when he got
there. He was one of the most notorious liberals in all of the Southern Baptist
Convention. He did not believe in the word of God, denied various central truths
of The Apostles’ Creed and of Christian orthodoxy, and undermined the
gospel in his teaching. And he fought Al tooth and nail when Dr. Mohler went in
to change that seminary around and bring it back to fidelity to the word of God.
Al was telling us that at Gate B-18 a number of months ago, at Gate B-18 in the
Hartsfield/Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, he had run into
this gentleman whom he had not seen in over fifteen years. (Al said it was too
soon to see him again!) But they made small talk, and then finally the man
turned to Al and he said, “Would you do me a favor, Dr. Mohler? There’s a young
student at your seminary who has just started, and I’d like you to check on him
and make sure that he’s OK. Just look after him for me.” And Al said, “I’d be
delighted to do that. Let me take down his name.” And he took down his name. And
he said, “Sir, may I ask you a question? What’s your connection with this young
man? Why would you want me, of all people, to check on this young man?” And this
very notorious liberal took Dr. Mohler by the lapels of his coat and pulled him
close, and he said, “That’s my grandson. And he loves this institution now for
what it now stands, and you’re his hero.” And there is the grandson of a
notorious liberal, who loves the word of God and who loves the gospel, and loves
the doctrines of grace, going to that seminary. Just like the sons of Korah were
not destroyed, God’s grace has been manifested in the life of that family.
That’s the story that’s before you in verse 11. Just in passing, you got to see
that nugget of grace in Numbers 26:11.

Well, that brings us to Numbers 27, and we’re
going to look at the first eleven verses. And it’s a section of Numbers that
deals with inheritance, and it deals with an interesting exception in the
inheritance laws.

As you know, in Israel the inheritance law had been
established so that only the sons inherited the land of their fathers. Daughters
were given significant dowries at the time of their marriage, but then it was
their husband’s family land that they participated in and received the benefits
from and passed on to their children. But unmarried daughters were not
beneficiaries of the inheritance of land in Israel, and this story has to do
with that very interesting circumstance in the laws of Israel.

Let’s look to God’s word, and let’s pray before we
read His word.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for this Your word.
We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful truth in it. In Jesus’
name. Amen.

Hear the word of God in Numbers 27:1-11.

“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, Micah, 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 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 a rule, as the Lord commanded

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

This is an amazing passage. It’s a passage that
actually gives us a window into how the case laws of Moses — of the Old
Testament, of the first five books of the Bible, of the Torah, of the Law — came
into being. Cases were brought before Moses. Moses inquired of the Lord. The
Lord set the law for all of Israel. Every circumstance had not been previously
covered by the law. When a new case came into being, they came before Moses,
Moses inquired of the Lord, and the Lord gave instruction as to how Israel was
to live. It’s a beautiful picture of how case law came into being.

It’s also a beautiful picture of the fluidity of this
law. God, because He was a wise and good and kind and generous ruler of His
people, crafted law which was appropriate to the circumstances and situations in
which they lived. And as they moved from some circumstances into other
situations, He made adjustments in the standing law of the people, so that some
laws that were in application before they had left the land of Canaan and
sojourned in the land of Egypt, and then came through the wilderness and were
going back into the land, were changed. Like this one that we read of tonight.

But behind this story is, of course, the rule of
inheritance in Israel. You need to understand this in order to understand the
daughters of Zelophehad’s request.
Daughters in Israel up to this time —
unmarried daughters — did not share in the family estate. They were given a
large dowry at the time of their weddings. That dowry would have included
precious metals — gold and silver. It would have included furniture. It would
have included clothing. It would have included money. It was the father’s gift
to his daughter to get her started with her own husband as they journeyed, but
it would be her husband and her husband’s family that would have responsibility
now of providing for her needs.

However, this left a gap in the case of unmarried
daughters. You see, fathers’ property, upon the death of the father, was divided
between his sons. If he had more than one son, his first son would get double
the portion, and then his other sons would divide the remainder of his property.
If there were no sons, his estate went either to his brothers, his uncle, or his
nearest male relative. The idea, you understand, is to keep the land in the
family and to preserve the family name…the memory of what God had done in His
mercy to that family in the past.

But this left a gap for unmarried daughters, and it
left that name unprotected in those unique circumstances. And so the daughters
of Zelophehad, before the children of Israel — chapters before the children of
Israel had gotten to the point of receiving one stitch, one parcel of land — are
already thinking through the inheritance laws. Wise women of foresight, they
were. And so they come to Moses and they say, ‘Moses, we would like to set
before you a case and ask for your judgment.’

And it’s fascinating, isn’t it? In verses 2, 3, and
4, these daughters come before Moses and Eleazar and they make their
presentation, and we are not told a single thing that Moses said back to them.
It’s as if they put this case before Moses, and Moses goes, ‘Oooo, hadn’t
thought about that before.’ And he immediately turns and says, ‘I think I’ll
bring this case to the Lord.’ Moses has nothing to say to them. They bring their
request to him — he is their lawgiver, he is their leader — but Moses has
nothing to say immediately. He immediately turns and says, ‘Lord, I don’t know
what to say. What do You say about this?’

That is one of the central points of the passage.
And in this passage we see at least three things. These godly women had taken
heed to the warnings of God; they had trusted in the word of God; and they
wanted to live life by the word of God. And in all three of those things they
teach us much about the Christian life. I want to look at each of those things.

I. The women took heed to the
Lord’s warnings.

The first thing we’ll see is that these women took
heed to the Lord’s warnings.
Look at verse 3 of Numbers 27. As they begin to
speak to Moses, they say,

“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.”

Now this is a fascinating statement. Perhaps one
reason that they’re mentioning this is the families of the sons of those who
rebelled with Korah had perhaps forfeited their inheritance rights because of
the rebellion of Korah and his cohorts, and they wanted to make it clear that
they weren’t part of that group that had rebelled along with Korah.

But at the same time they go on to mention that their
father had indeed died in the wilderness for his own sin. What are they letting
Moses and Eleazar know?

They’re letting Moses and Eleazar know that they know
that God’s judgment on Korah and those others who were in rebellion against
Moses and Aaron and God, that God’s judgment on them was right and that God’s
judgment on the wilderness generation was right. The judgment of God on Korah,
the others in rebellion, the judgment of God on the wilderness generation, had
made an impression on these young women. And even as they go before Moses with
this request, it is on their minds that their father was not merely the victim
of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but he had been justly judged
for his unbelief in his own time. Is that not extraordinary, given that they are
going to plea for the law to be changed so that his name will be remembered? Is
that not a remarkable confession and repentance? In that circumstance, surely
your tendency would be to be defensive of his family name.

My father’s maiden aunts were fiercely defensive of
family reputation, and for years they had told my father that his
great-grandfather McDow had died in the last legal duel in the state of South
Carolina. And when my father was working for Dun & Bradstreet in Charleston,
South Carolina, he went down to The News & Courier, the old newspaper,
and began to look at the era leading up to the death of Dr. McDow to find out
events that might have surrounded the last days of his life. And what he
uncovered was a story entirely unlike the story that the maiden aunts had told
him all his life! He researched and researched, and then at the next family
reunion, as the whole family was gathered around, he said, “Let me tell you what
I found out. Dr. McDow not only did not die in the last legal duel in the State
of South Carolina, he shot another man in the back fifty years after dueling had
been outlawed in the state of South Carolina–and the other man’s wife spoke on
behalf of his defense in the trial. And it was one of the most celebrated trials
in the nineteenth century in Charleston, South Carolina.” The maiden aunts were
horrified! And they said, “Ligon, don’t you know when to leave well enough

Well, I can see some of the family members of the
daughters of Zelophehad saying, ‘Hey, back down on the story about Dad dying for
his own sin in the wilderness!’ But these women had taken to heart the warnings
of God. They understood the just judgment of God. And yet they were still ready
to come and ask for God’s mercy.

It’s so important, my friends. If you have seen some
visitation of God’s judgment in your life, do not forget that He is a God of
mercy who waits to give grace to those who seek Him.

II. The women believed in the
promises of God about the land.

There’s a second thing here, isn’t there? You see
it in verse 4. These young women believed in the promises of God about the land.

In verse 4, they say, “Why should the name of our father be taken away from his
clan…? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.”

Israel hadn’t occupied the land. No land has been
parceled out. No brothers had received land in Canaan. But they’re already
thinking about the land that they want to receive — that hasn’t been given out
to anyone! Why? Because they believed God’s word. God has told His children that
He is going to give them an inheritance in the land and these godly women
believe it! They believe it so much that they’re ready to go to Moses before
anybody has any land and say, ‘Hey, when we do get land, Moses, we’d like to
have a little bit.’

The daughters of Zelophehad trust the word of the
Lord. Surely this is one of the reasons why God records this remarkable story.
Do you realize that in all of the census of tribes of the heads of the families
in Numbers 26, there’s no mention of a single daughter? But here in Numbers
27:1-11, these daughters of Zelophehad and their story are recounted for the
world to see. They trusted God’s word.

III. These women wanted to live
by God’s word.

And third, they wanted to live by God’s word.
These women understood that life is determined by God’s will.

Let me let you in on a little secret. This particular
loophole in inheritance law for unmarried women, for unmarried daughters, had
been closed by the surrounding pagan cultures for a thousand years before Israel
showed up. Even the Midianites had made already an allowance for the inheritance
of unmarried daughters. But look at what the daughters of Zelophehad do not do.
They do not go in and say, ‘You know, Moses, it’s time for Israel to get up with
the times. We need to do what the Midianites are doing. You need to change the
law so that we’re like the cultures around us.’ That is not what they do. They
go to Moses and they say, ‘Moses, you make the call. You’re God’s man for
Israel. We’re appealing to you. We’re appealing to the Lord because we trust the
Lord to do what’s right. It’s the Lord’s word that rules in Israel. And so
here’s our case, but it’s up to you. We’ll wait patiently until you come back
with what God’s word is. We’re not appealing to surrounding culture and saying
that God’s people have to conform to surrounding culture. We’re appealing to
God’s word. We’re waiting to see what He says.’

And don’t you love what God’s first words are to

“Moses, the daughters
of Zelophehad are right.”

Is that not a precious picture of the love of God for
His children? You know, God could have fixed that law a thousand years before if
He’d wanted to. But, because He loved His children, He gave them the privilege
of bringing the request to Him so that He could answer it in front of the face
of all Israel and all the earth. No, they didn’t appeal to contemporary cultural
practices, but to Moses and ultimately to God; and, therefore, these daughters
of Zelophehad by name and their story has been memorialized so that every
Christian man, woman, boy, and girl, from every tribe, tongue, people, and
nation knows their name and knows their story.

You know, that reminds me of something else. In the
last hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry before His crucifixion, a woman came to
Him and she broke a vial of alabaster oil and anointed Him with that. And that
story is recorded in Matthew 26 and in Mark 14. And if you look at Matthew 26:13
or in Mark 14:9, you will see that though Jesus’ disciples objected to this
woman and what she had done, Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, wherever this
gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be
spoken in memory of her.” Just like the daughters of Zelophehad.

My friends, they have been memorialized so that we
will take heed of God’s warnings and trust in the Lord’s word, and live life
according to the word of God.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we bless You for Your love and
goodness and wisdom and kindness. We ask that You would grant that we would live
in trust and obedience to Your word, and to always take heed of Your warnings.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Would you stand for the benediction…and after
the benediction, in fact, I’d like to ask Barry and Val Vickery and Mr. Kiti if
you would please come down in front so that we can give you the right hand of

Receive God’s blessing.

Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith,
through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away.

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