Monday, April 18, 2011

Numbers 27:1-11

1One day a petition was presented by the daughters of Zelophehad--Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Their father, Zelophehad, was the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Makir, son of Manasseh, son of Joseph. 2These women went and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the tribal leaders, and the entire community at the entrance of the Tabernacle. 3"Our father died in the wilderness without leaving any sons," they said. "But he was not among Korah's followers, who rebelled against the LORD. He died because of his own sin. 4Why should the name of our father disappear just because he had no sons? Give us property along with the rest of our relatives."
5So Moses brought their case before the LORD. 6And the LORD replied to Moses, 7"The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You must give them an inheritance of land along with their father's relatives. Assign them the property that would have been given to their father. 8Moreover announce this to the people of Israel: `If a man dies and has no sons, then give his inheritance to his daughters. 9And if he has no daughters, turn his inheritance over to his brothers. 10If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father's brothers. 11But if his father has no brothers, pass on his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan. The Israelites must observe this as a general legal requirement, just as the LORD commanded Moses.' "

Points of Interest:
• In this final week’s passages, we fast forward about 40 years. The Bible describes the intervening 40 years quite sparingly. Having been told by God that they will not enter the promised land, they wander around the desert, occasionally getting themselves into similar types of trouble to what we’ve already seen, and often getting more complete instructions from the LORD as to how to be a people in relationship with him. Recently, as a new generation comes into adulthood and the previous generation dies out (Aaron himself died shortly after the episode of the water from the rock, and his son Eleazer has taken over his role), they’ve started to prepare for entry into the promised land: they’re drawing closer now to the land; they’ve fought a preparatory battle on the way; and Moses has begun to give them instructions for settling the land.
• ‘He died because of his own sin’—in other words, although their father was part of the unfaithful generation who were destined to die in the desert, he did not take part in Korah’s rebellion against Moses. This is significant because the families involved in Korah’s rebellion were sort of erased from the membership of the Israelites, being swallowed up by an earthquake. These women are simply establishing that they are members in good standing of the community.
• ‘Why should the name of our father disappear just because he had no sons?’—the promised land has been parceled out in advance among the tribes, with each individual family that left Egypt getting its own, hereditary plot of land. These family holdings were meant to stay with the family perpetually. Even if the family had to sell it to pay off debt, it would eventually be returned to them—every fifty years all land was to be returned to the original family. The inheritance laws were designed to give every single Israelite a stake in the promise, while at the same time insuring that family holdings did not get too small for viability. In order to make this plan work, the majority of inheritance went to the eldest son; daughters usually became a part of the family into which they married. Zelophedad, however, had no son. If the daughters do not inherit the father’s land, then his family and its stake in the land would altogether cease to exist. Zelophedad’s daughters are saying that, while they understand a family might be blotted out of the inheritance because of rebellion, it seems harsh and unfair for it to disappear simply because of the bad luck of having no sons.
• ‘Moses brought their case before the LORD’—the situation of the daughters of Zelophedad is unforeseen in the instructions Moses has received so far. He’s supposed to be the supreme court justice of the Israelites, but even he doesn’t quite know what to do in this particular circumstance. So, he appeals to God himself for guidance.
• ‘The daughters of Zelophehad are right’—Zelophedad’s daughters have correctly understood the intention of the inheritance law to give each family a perpetual stake in the future of Israel, and they have correctly understood that the fact that they are women should not get in the way. They are not merely seen as an exception. They provoke a change in and an expansion of the law. God is actually improving upon his instructions, at the instigation of Zelophedad’s daughters.

Taking it home:

For you: Zelophedad’s daughters wanted to take their full, rightful place in the community. They staked a claim that their family belonged among the community of God’s people. What’s the next step for you in terms of taking your full place in the community? Are there ways you need to assert yourself? Commitments you need to make? Is there help you need from others?

For your six: Perhaps some of your six have kept themselves at a distance from God because they believe his words have led to unjust treatment of them. Zelophedad’s daughters discovered that the LORD was more willing to listen to them and remedy the situation than they might have thought. That might be the case for your six as well. If it seems appropriate, consider encouraging any of your six who are in this situation to bring their complaint to God.

For our church: God gave Moses instructions and a plan. As the people of Israel stepped into that plan, God gave them modifications, clarifications, and adjustments to that plan. God has given us hopes, dreams, and plans as a church as well. Pray that we would have the wisdom to know when to seek clarification from God and the ears to hear his guidance. Pray too that we would have peace and resiliency when reality forces an adjustment to our expectations.