This is a commentary on Numbers 27 that is absolutely worth sharing. To provide context, in Numbers 27 we learn of a man named Zelophehad who died as a consequence of his sin during the wilderness era. While he wasn’t involved in the infamous Korah’s rebellion, somewhere along the way Zelophehad sinned and his unbelief cost him his life. He left behind 5 daughters but no sons. This meant, according to the inheritance laws of the day, that Zelophehad’s name would disappear. In the ancient world, only sons could inherit land. But the daughters of Zelophehad were a feisty bunch. They boldly appealed to Moses and the elders asking, “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 listened intently and brought the case before the LORD who answered, “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” (Nu. 27:7). Listen as Iain Duguid and Kent Hughes explain how the implications of this judgement go beyond the immediate:
“Do you see the significance of this ruling? There is much more at stake here than ancient civil rights for women. Here the Lord was declaring once again that the effects of his grace are wider than the judgment of death caused by man’s sin. The theme that we saw in the future given to the sons of Korah in spite of their father’s sin emerges again in the future given to the name of Zelophehad through his daughters in spite of his death for sin. Even if the parents were judged for their sins, the children might still have a future in the Lord, through his grace and mercy.
This is indeed good news for the next generation, and for us too. Some of us may have similar personal testimonies. Our parents, perhaps, did not walk with the Lord or have faith in Christ. As a result, we grew up with no knowledge of the gospel and no expectation of a relationship with God. We were strangers and aliens to the people of God, outsiders to his promises. Yet here we are, the next generation, trophies of God’s grace that has rescued us and given us lives that were different. Do we ever stop to marvel at what God has done for us? Now we have the opportunity to pass on to our children something we never received from our parents.
This is not the only “new” theme in Numbers 27 either. We also see a new attitude exemplified in what we might call Zelophehad’s feisty females of faith. Notice what these women are asking Moses for: they don’t want the right to vote or a say in the running of the country (though neither of those things are necessarily bad). Rather, what they want is an inheritance in a land that was promised by God but not yet possessed. They are indeed young women of faith, quite different from their parents. In the ancient world you would expect leadership to come from the older generation, especially from the men; yet these young women had far more faith than their fathers. Unlike the men of the former generation, who had lacked the faith to enter the land when it lay at their feet, their female children declared in essence, “The land is ours, and we want our share!” They believed God’s word of promise and acted accordingly, and so they fittingly received what they asked from the Lord. No Israelite would ever have a stronger claim to their land than these daughters of Zelophehad.
There is a challenge here for Christians of all ages. Mature men should certainly be leading the people of God, modeling the life of faith for the next generation, instead of abdicating that leadership role. Mature women should provide examples for their spiritual daughters to follow (Titus 2:3–5). Yet when the older generation has failed to provide the proper lead, there is a challenge here to the younger generation to learn from Zelophehad’s daughters to step forward in faith to fill in the failings of those who have gone before. ”
Iain M. Duguid and R. Kent Hughes, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness, Preaching the Word, 305-06 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006).