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the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 27

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-11

Numbers 27:1-11

The daughters of Zelophehad.

Women’s rights--a parable

I want to use this incident for a twofold purpose.

In respect to its general teaching.

1. I would exhibit for your imitation the faith which these five young women, the daughters of Zelophehad, possessed with regard to the promised inheritance.

2. There was this feature, too, about the faith of these five women--they knew that the inheritance was only to be won by encountering great difficulties.

3. I commend the faith of these women to you because, believing in the land, and believing that it would be won, they were not to be put about by the ill report of some who said that it was not a good land.

4. Being thus sure of the land, and feeling certain about that, we must next commend them for their anxiety to possess a portion in it. Why did they think so much about it? I heard some one say the other day, speaking of certain young people, “I do not like to see young women religious; they ought to be full of fun and mirth, and not have their minds filled with such profound thoughts.” Now, I will be bound to say that this kind of philosophy was accredited in the camp of Israel, and that there were a great many young women there who said, “Oh, there is time enough to think about the good land when we get there; let us be polishing up the mirrors; let us be seeing to our dresses; let us understand how to put our fingers upon the timbrel when the time comes for it; but as for prosing about a portion among those Hivites and Hittites, what is the good of it? We will not bother ourselves about it.” But such was the strength of the faith of these five women that it led them to feel a deep anxiety for a share in the inheritance. They were not such simpletons as to live only for the present. These women were taken up with prudent anxious thoughts about their own part in the land. And let me say that they were right in desiring to have a portion there, when they recollected that the land had been covenanted to their fathers. They might well wish to have a part in a thing good enough to be a covenant-blessing.

5. But I must commend them yet again for the way in which they set about the business. I do not find that they went complaining from tent to tent that they were afraid that they had no portion. Many doubters do that; they tell their doubts and fears to others, and they get no further. But these five women went straight away to Moses. He was at their head; he was their mediator ; and then it is said that “Moses brought their cause before the Lord.” You see, these women did not try to get what they wanted by force. They did not say, “Oh, we will take care and get our share when we get there.” They did not suppose that they had any merit which they might plead, and so get it; but they went straight away to Moses, and Moses took their cause, and laid it before the Lord. Dost thou want a portion in heaven, sinner? Go straight away to Jesus, and Jesus will take thy cause, and lay it before the Lord.

With a view of giving the whole incident a particular direction--

1. Does it not strike you that there is here a special lesson for our unconverted sisters? Here are five daughters, I suppose young women, certainly unmarried, and these five were unanimous in seeking to have a portion where God had promised it to His people. Have! any young women here who would dissent from that? I am afraid I have! Do you not desire a portion in the skies? Have you no wish for glory? Can you sell Christ for a few hours of mirth? Will you give Him up for a giddy song or an idle companion? Those are not your friends who would lead you from the paths of righteousness.

2. Has it not a loud voice, too, to the children of godly parents? I like these young women saying that their father did not die with Korah, but that he only died the ordinary death which fell upon others because of the sin of the wilderness; and also, their saying, “Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family because he had no son?” It is a good thing to see this respect to parents, this desire to keep up the honour of the family. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The request of the daughters of Zelophehad; the rights of women

. The request of the daughters of Zelophehad.

1. Was presented in an orderly and becoming manner. “They stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest,” &c. (Numbers 27:2). The made their request a regular manner, and to the proper authorities!

2. Was eminently fair and reasonable While their father, by reason of sin, was, in common with the generation to which he belonged, excluded from the promised land, yet he had not done anything for which his children should be deprived of an inheritance therein.

3. Indicated becoming respect for their father. They vindicate him from the guilt of sharing in any of the rebellions except the general one; and they evince an earnest desire for the perpetuation of his name and family.

4. Implied faith in the promise of God to give Canaan to the Israelites.

5. Implied an earnest desire for a portion in the promised land.

The Divine answer to their request.

1. Was given by Jehovah to Moses in response to his inquiries. Notice here--

(1) The humility of Moses. He does not presume to decide the case himself, &c.

(2) The direction which God grants to the humble. “The meek will He guide in judgment,” &c.

2. Commended the cause of the daughters of Zelophehad. “The daughters of Zelophehad speak right.”

3. Granted the request of the daughters of Zelophehad. “Thou shalt surely give them a possession,” &c. (Numbers 27:7).

4. Included a general law of inheritance. “And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel,” &c. (Numbers 27:8-11). Thus a great benefit accrued to the nation from the request of the daughters of Zelophehad. (W. Jones.)

The daughters of Zelophehad

1. The rectification of things that are wrong sometimes seems to come from man and not from God. Look at this case. It was the women themselves who began the reform. Providence did not stir first. The five women gave this reform to the economy of Israel. So it would seem on the face of the story, and many people look at the face and go no farther, and so they blunder. Suggestions are from God. The very idea,, which we think our own is not our own, but God’s. “He is Lord of all,” of all good ideas, noble impulses, holy inspirations, sudden movements of the soul upward into higher life and broader liberty. This is His plan of training men. He seems to stand aside, and to take no part in some obviously good movements, and men say, “This is a human movement, a political movement, a non-religious movement,” not knowing what they are talking about, forgetting that the very idea out of which it all sprang came down from the Father of lights, that the very eloquence by which it is supported is Divinely taught, that the very gold which is its sinew is His: they do not go far enough back in their investigation into the origin of things, or they would find God in movements which are often credited to human genres alone.

2. Everywhere the Bible is full of the very spirit of justice. It is the Magna Charta of the civilised world. This is the spirit that gives the Bible such a wonderful hold upon the confidence of mankind. Look at this case as an example. The applicants were women. All the precedents of Israel might have been pointed to as the answer to their appeal. Why create a special law for women? Why universalise a very exceptional case? Why not put these people down as sensational reformers? Yet, the case was heard with patience, and answered with dignity. Oh, women, you should love the Bible! It is your friend. It has done more for you than all other books put together. Wherever it goes it claims liberty for you, justice for you, honour for you.

3. Every question should become the subject of social sympathy and matter of religious reference. These women were heard patiently. It is something to get a hearing for our grievances. Sometimes those grievances perish in the very telling; sometimes the statement of them brings unexpected help to our assistance. This case is what may be called a secular one; it is about land and name and inheritance; and even that question was made in Israel simply a religious one. In ancient Israel, with its priestly system, men had to go to the leader and the priest first; in Christianity we can go straight to God; we have no priesthood but Christ; the way to the throne is open night and day. Oh, wronged and suffering woman, tell thy case to the Father! Oh, man, carrying a burden too heavy for thy declining strength, speak to God about the weight, and He will help thee with His great power. (J. Parker, D. D.)

A rightful claim

It does the heart good to read such words as these at a time like the present, when so little is made of the proper standing and portion of God’s people, and when so many are content to go on from day to day, and year to year, without caring even to inquire into the things which are freely given to them of God. Nothing is more sad than to see the carelessness with which many professing Christians treat such allimportant questions of the standing, walk, and hope of the believer and the Church of God. If God, in the aboundings of His grace, has been pleased to bestow upon us precious privileges, as Christians, ought we not to seek earnestly to know what these privileges are? Ought we not to seek to make them our own, in the artless simplicity of faith? Is it treating our God and His revelation worthily, to be indifferent as to whether we are servants or sons--as to whether we have the Holy Ghost dwelling in us or not--as to whether we are under law or under grace--whether ours is a heavenly or an earthly calling? Surely not. If there be one thing plainer than another in Scripture, it is this, that God delights in those who appreciate and enjoy the provision of His love--those who find their joy in Himself. “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them” (Numbers 27:5-7). Here was a glorious triumph, in the presence of the whole assembly. A bold and simple faith is always sure to be rewarded. It glorifies God, and God honours it. Need we travel from section to section, and from page to page of the holy volume to prove this? Need we turn to the Abrahams, the Hannahs, the Deborahs, the Rahabs, the Ruths of Old Testament times? or to the Marys, the Elizabeths, the centurions, and the Syro-phoenicians of the New Testament times? Wherever we turn, we learn the same great practical truth that God delights in a bold and simple faith--a faith that artlessly seizes and tenaciously holds all that He has given--that positively refuses, even in the very face of nature’s weakness and death, to surrender a single hair’s breadth of the Divinelygiven inheritance. Hence, then, we are deeply indebted to the daughters of Zelophebad. They teach us a lesson of inestimable value. And more than this, their acting gave occasion to the unfolding of a fresh truth which was to form the basis of a Divine rule for all future generations. The Lord commanded Moses, saying, “If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.” Here we have a great principle laid down, in reference to the question of inheritance, of which, humanly speaking, we should have heard nothing had it not been for the faith and faithful conduct of these remarkable women. If they had listened to the voice of timidity and unbelief--if they had refused to come forward, before the whole congregation, in the assertion of the claims of faith; then, not only would they bare lost their own inheritance and blessing, but all future daughters of Israel, in a like position, would have been deprived of their portion likewise. Whereas, on the contrary, by acting in the precious energy of faith, they preserved their inheritance; they got the blessing; they received testimony from God; their names shine on the page of inspiration; and their conduct furnished, by Divine authority, a precedent for all future generations. Thus much as to the marvellous results of faith. But then we must remember that there is moral danger arising out of the very dignity and elevation which faith confers on those who, through grace, are enabled to exercise it; and this danger must be carefully guarded against. This is strikingly illustrated in the further history of the daughters of Zelophehad, as recorded in the last chapter of our book. “And the chief fathers,” &c. (Numbers 36:1-5). The “fathers” of the house of Joseph must be heard as well as the “daughters.” The faith of the latter was most lovely; but there was just a danger lest, in the elevation to which that faith had raised them, they might forget the claims of others, and remove the landmarks which guarded the inheritance of their fathers. This had to be thought of and provided for. It was natural to suppose that the daughters of Zelophehad would marry; and moreover it was possible they might form an alliance outside the boundaries of their tribe; and thus in the year of jubilee--that grand adjusting institution--instead of adjustment, there would be confusion, and a permanent breach in the inheritance of Manasseh. This would never do; and therefore the wisdom of those ancient fathers is very apparent. We need to be guarded on every side, in order that the integrity of faith and the testimony may be duly maintained. (C. H. Mackintosh.)

Woman is the conscience of the world

Now, to live as one wishes, is said to be the rule of children. To live as one ought is the rule of men. And it is the office of woman in the world to assist men to live as they ought; to lift them to those higher levels of moral attainment, moral beauty, and power, which of themselves they will not gain. Woman has been said to be the conscience of the world, and there is a profound truth in that. Her moral intuition is clearer, her moral affection is apt to be sweeter and more powerful. It was the startled conscience of a Roman woman that almost held Pilate back from his transcendent crime. It was the conscience of Blanche of Castile which melted the noblest king France ever had, Louis IX. It was the sense of righteousness in the Scotch, in the Dutch, in the French, in the German women which upheld the Reformation and would not let it sink and die. It was the conscience of the American women which was the one invulnerable, irresistible, unsilenced enemy of American slavery. Whatever statesmen might plan about it, whatever political economists might think about it, whatever merchants might dream about it, every woman’s heart knew, that was not blighted and overshadowed by the influence of the present system, that it rested on a lie, and it was that conscience in the American women sending half a million of men out, its instruments and ministers, on the bloody field, which finally overcame and swept from existence that detestable system. That conscience of woman is the tower which society will always need to have developed and regnant within it, and there is no other office so great. I do not care what philosopher is expanding his vast system of philosophic thought; I do not care what statesman is planning for his country’s future; I do not care what architect is lifting the edifice into the air or is strewing the canvas with the splendour of his own spirit, there is no other office so grand on earth as that committed to woman--Christianly culture, in fellowship with God, of bringing up her acute and dominant moral sense into contact with the minds of men, that ultimate and supremest law of the universe, the law of righteousness, for which the planets and the stars were builded; she glorifies herself and she glorifies God in that sublime ministry. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)

Verses 12-14

Numbers 27:12-14

Thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered.

Why Moses must not enter Canaan

Eminent as he was in grace and holiness, he was not allowed to enter with his people into the Land of Promise. This in itself must have been a sore trial. But it was tenfold more so on account of the cause; it was a judgment. He who was the meekest of men once spoke unadvisedly with his lips. The reason, then, why Moses could not enter into the Land of Promise is evident. Moses represents the law. Now we have seen that, as a believer, Moses could not enter the Land of Promise, because on one occasion he “spake unadvisedly with his lips.” But look at him as the representative of the Law, and what lesson does his inability to enter the Land of Promise rivet on our hearts? This truth, that the law cannot bring us into the Land of Promise. There was a point to which Moses could bring Israel, and then he must lie down and die, and his work must be given into other hands, into the hands of Joshua, whose very name shows that he was an eminent type of Christ. There is a point, too, up to which the law may bring us. Where is it? It is to a knowledge of sin. “By the law,” says St. Paul, “is the knowledge of sin.” “I had not known sin,” he says “but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Romans 7:7). One great purpose for which the law is given is just to teach us what we are- utterly sinful, utterly lost in ourselves. It requires perfect obedience; and, behold, in many things we offend. It makes no provision for transgression, proclaims no forgiveness. It can give no peace. The voice is terrible to the guilty. Whenever it fulfils its true purpose in the soul it empties it of self-righteousness, lays it prostrate in the dust, and makes it take the lowest place. Thus St. Paul says, “I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God” (Galatians 2:19). And, again, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (chap. 3:24). Are you? Under Moses or Christ? What is your hope of glory? Is it that you have not sinned so much as others? that your life is very exemplary? that you leave no duty willingly unperformed, or service unattended? Do you think that somehow or other Christ must be yours, if your life is so excellent? Are these your thoughts? Then we must faithfully tell you that you are still under Moses, still clinging to a broken law; and we must remind you that the law can never bring you to heaven. It is Christ only who can save you, and bring you into the Land of Promise--Christ only who can reconcile you to God, and we can never come to Christ without utterly renouncing our own righteousness, and our own works, as entitling us to God’s favour. (G. Wagner.)

The death of Moses

Moses must die, but only as Aaron died before him (Numbers 27:13); and Moses had seen how easily and cheerfully Aaron had put off the priesthood first, and then the body. Let not Moses, therefore, be afraid of dying; it was but to be “gathered to his people,” as Aaron was gathered. Thus the death of our near and dear relations should be improved by us.

1. As an engagement to us to think often of dying. We are not better than our fathers or brethren; if they are gone, we are going; if they are gathered already, we must be gathered very shortly.

2. As an encouragement to us to think of death without terror, and even to please ourselves with the thoughts of it, it is but to die as such and such died, if we lived as they lived, and their end was peace; they “finished their course with joy”; why, then, should we fear any evil in that melancholy valley? (Matthew Henry, D. D.)

Verses 16-23

Numbers 27:16-23

Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation.

The spiritual leaders of men

The world’s need of spiritual leaders.

1. The great majority of every generation are uninventive, unaspiring, cringing, servile, thoughtless, ignorant. They not only walk in moral darkness, but lack the desire, if not the capacity, to struggle into the light of moral principles.

2. Clearly, then, they require spiritual leaders, men who shall point out to them the way of honesty, truth, purity, and holiness, marching before them in all the stateliness of the Christly morality.

The genuine type of spiritual leaders.

1. The true spiritual leader must be a man. Not an idiot, not a charlatan, not a functionary. A “man” is a person who has right convictions of moral duty, and honestly embodies them in his daily life.

2. The true spiritual leader must be a man inspired by God. No man can be a true moral leader of the people who has not within him, as the all-animating and directing force, an unutterable abhorrence of wrong and an invincible attachment to the right, whose whole nature does not beat and beam with the soul of Divine morality.

The Divine succession of spiritual leaders. They are all in the hands of God.

1. He takes the greatest spiritual leaders away by death.

2. He raises others to supply their place. One enters into another’s labours. (Homilist.)

A model ordination service

. That the person ordained should be chosen of God for his work. Moses asked the Lord to “set a man over the congregation,” &c. (Numbers 27:16-17). “And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua,” &c. So now the Christian minister should be--

1. Called by God to His work.

2. Appointed by God to his sphere of work.

That the ordination is to the most important work.

That the ordination should be conducted by tried men.

The ordination should be accompanied with the imposition of hands.

That the ordination should include a charge to the ordained, “Give him a charge.” The duties and responsibilities of the office should be laid before those who are being set apart to it; and the experience of godly and approved men should be made available for the direction of the inexperienced. What wise and inspiring things Moses would say to Joshua in this charge! What sage counsels drawn from his ripe experience! &c.

That the ordination should be conducted in the presence of the people. Moreover, such an arrangement--

1. Is more impressive to the person being ordained. There present with him are the immortal souls for whom he has to live and labour.

2. Tends to influence the people beneficially. As they hear of the important duties and solemn responsibilities of their minister, they should be awakened to deeper solicitude and more earnest prayer on his behalf, and to heartier co-operation with him.

The ordination should confer honour upon the person ordained.

That a person so chosen of God, should seek special direction from Him, and seeking, shall obtain it.

1. A warning against self-sufficiency.

2. A source of encouragement and strength. (W. Jones.)

“The God of the spirits of all flesh”

The affecting view here furnished of the agency and dominion of God in connection with the human mind.

1. God imparts the powers of the spirit. We have nothing self-derived.

2. He claims the affections of the spirit.

3. He heals the disorders and sympathises with the sorrows of the spirit.

4. He alone can constitute the happiness of the spirit.

5. He will decide upon the future destiny of the spirit.

The moral uses of these contemplations.

1. Let them teach you reverence for the human mind.

2. Let them impress you with thoughts of the vast importance of personal religion.

3. Let them inspire you with practical efforts to benefit and bless society. By education-by missions, &c.

4. Let them kindle hope for the prospects of the human race. (S. Thodey.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 27". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/numbers-27.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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