PROSPECTS FOR PILGRIMS Numbers 26–30
“The land is to be allotted to them as an inheritance” (Num. 26:53).Purified again, the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land. The incidents and laws reported in these chapters serve as promises to God’s people. Canaan was ahead, and victory was assured.
A military census revealed Israel’s readiness to attack Canaan (26:1–65). Confidence that Israel will possess her heritage was shown by Zelophehad’s daughters (27:1–11), by the commissioning of Joshua (vv. 12–23), and by a review of offerings to be made perpetually after the Conquest (28:1–29:40). Rules for personal vows, frequently made just before a war, were clarified (30:1–16).
Understanding the Text
“Not one of them” Num. 26:1–65. The census taken of those able to serve in the army established two important facts. The total number of men available was 601,730; just a few thousand less than 40 years before. And “not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai” (v. 64). The old, disobedient generation was dead. Yet the community had suffered no loss of strength! The obedient would inherit the land the disobedient despised. “He died and left no sons” Num. 27:1–11. Moses was approached by five daughters of a man who had died and left no sons. Their request for property reflects the patriarchal structure of Israelite society. Only sons inherited, and the eldest son received twice as much as younger brothers. First, the request reflected the daughters’ faith that Israel would be successful and take Canaan. Only in victory would there be land for them to inherit. This illustrates the way many Old Testament laws were developed. A new situation occurred, Moses brought the case to the Lord, and God’s ruling became the precedent for determining similar cases. “Commission him in their presence” Num. 27:12–23. The closer Israel came to Canaan, the nearer the time approached for Moses to die. Moses put aside any fears for himself and thought of what his death might mean to Israel. He prayed that God would “appoint a man over this community” to replace him. The incident demonstrates Moses’ stature as a truly godly man. The New Testament gives us a partial definition of Christlikeness when it says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). God responded to this prayer and told Moses to publicly commission Joshua to succeed him. Laying on of hands here is a symbol of transference of leadership. It’s good to know that, when people we depend on move on, God has others ready to fill their shoes. “Present to Me at the appointed time . . . My offerings made by fire” Num. 28:1–29:40. The function of the next section, with its details concerning ritual offerings, seems out of place. Why here, rather than in a book like Leviticus? These regulations function here as a divine promise. God specifies the animals which are to be offered to Him each day of the year, throughout Israel’s occupation of its land. Adding them up, we see that each year the Israelites are to offer 113 bulls, 32 rams, and 1,086 lambs, plus over a ton of flour and a thousand measures of oil and wine. This is in addition to any freewill offerings or sin offerings made by the people. The daily, week-after-week, and month-after-month listing of the offerings is a dual promise. Israel would surely occupy the land where the offerings were to be made. And that land would prove fertile, rich enough to support the Israelites and to provide generous offerings for the Lord. “When a man makes a vow” Num. 30:1–16. Vows were voluntary pledges to give money or something else of value to the Lord. Once a person uttered such an oath, it was binding and could not be broken. Vows often took the form of bargains: “If God does this, then I will . . . ” (cf. Gen. 28:20–22; 1 Sam. 1:11). It was quite common for individuals to make vows just before a nation went to war (Jdg. 11:30–31; 21:1–7). Now, just before Israel was about to invade Canaan, the laws concerning vows are clarified. Briefly, any man making a vow was bound by it. Married or single women could also make vows but if, when first hearing of it, a husband or father wished, he could void the vow. The passage introduces an important legal principle. If the husband or father does not say anything when first hearing of a wife or young daughter’s vow, the vow is binding. Silence implies consent. It’s the same today. If you and I fail to speak out concerning something that is wrong but remain silent, our silence implies consent. And makes us a party to the wrong.
The Prospect for Women (Num. 27:1–11)
“It’s time to leave that church,” Carol insisted. “I simply won’t have my daughter brought up in an atmosphere where women are constantly put down.” What bothered Carol wasn’t so much what church leaders said as what they did. Everything was done by men. There were no women ushers. Women never spoke from the pulpit—not even to give an announcement. Only men were allowed to serve Communion. Only men served on the church board. Carol realized that her church had much to commend it. But the impression that women don’t count, subtly conveyed by the church’s practices, created a sense of oppression she could no longer stand. The issue raised by Zelophehad’s five daughters seems to mirror Carol’s concern. Didn’t Israel’s patriarchal system discriminate against women? Weren’t women second-class citizens in Israel too? Some might even argue that Israel’s male-dominated culture is precedent for ruling women out of significant participation in churches today! But were women discriminated against? On the surface, perhaps. However, when an Israelite girl married, her father provided her with a dowry. This marriage gift, frequently of clothing, jewelry, furniture, money, or even slave-girls, represented the daughter’s share in the family estate. So women were valued and they did get their fair share! They simply received that share in a different way than through inheritance. The story reminds us how important it is to understand the whole Old Testament way of life before we judge the fairness or unfairness of specific practices, and before we apply principles drawn from them to modern times. What the story of Zelophehad’s daughters actually reminds us of is that women did count in Israel. The significance of daughters was simply shown in a different way than that of sons. Yet each was valued. And each deserved a fair share of all the family possessed. Perhaps what we should draw from this story is a challenge to reevaluate practices in our churches. The importance of women may not need to be affirmed in the same way that the importance of men is shown. But unless we do affirm women as full participants in the Christian commmunity, we violate their personhood, and deny the gifts that God has given to each and every one.
As we journey toward the Promised Land there’s a place of service for every pilgrim.