Preparing for Transition – Numbers 27

Read the Passage: Numbers 27

Daughters’ Inheritance (27:1–11)

The book of Numbers began with a census in Num. 1–3. Numbers 26 records a second census that was taken, some 38 years after the first. The second census revealed, perhaps surprisingly, that the people had not increased in population—in fact, they had slightly decreased. This further enforced the idea that Israel had wasted nearly four decades in the wilderness on account of their rejection of God. In Num. 26:33 we read, “Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters.” This verse sets the context for Number 27, as in Num. 27:1–4 the five daughters of Zelophehad approach Moses with a problem—that is, without a son, their father’s name would disappear from among the nation, for there would be no one to receive and to inherit the land that was soon to be allotted to Israel. These daughters clearly communicate that the lack of a male heir was the result of chance, not judgment.

Apparently, this situation was novel, perhaps indicating that God had providentially provided male heirs within all the families for the past two generations. Alternatively, it could be the case that this issue only arose at this time, as the allocation of the Promised Land was at hand. In any event, Moses brought this conundrum before the Lord. In response, God directed that the order of land inheritance should be: son, daughter, brother, paternal uncle, closest relative. Note the similar teaching in regard to land redemption at Lev. 25:48–49. While it is not explained until Num. 36:1–12, the prospect of female heirs inheriting land, created the possibility of land being exchanged between tribes—that is, if the heiress was to marry a man from another tribe. Therefore, at Num. 36:6, Moses commanded that female heirs may marry whomever they wish, but “only within the family of their father’s tribe.”

Moses’ Concern (27:12–17)

In Num. 20:10–12, out of anger, Moses had erred in not trusting God, which resulted in God’s pronouncement that Moses would not lead the people into the Promised Land. Given Moses’ impending death, there was need to appoint a new leader of Israel. In Num. 27:12–14 God revealed that He would graciously allow Moses to see the Promised Land, yet the Lord also reminded Moses that his death was imminent. As is recorded at Num. 27:15–17, Moses’ great concern was that God appoint a capable leader in his place. Note Paul’s similar perspective, much later, at 2 Cor. 11:28. While Moses long-time assistant Joshua would be a logical choice, Moses dared not suggest this before God. Note Joshua is only mentioned by name 13 times in Scripture before this chapter—and only in the books of Exodus and Numbers—but he is mentioned almost 200 times in the rest of the Bible.

Joshua’s Appointment (27:18–23)

As could perhaps be expected, God directed Moses to appoint Joshua as the new leader of Israel. Undoubtedly, the decades of serving as Moses’ assistant had prepared Joshua to assume the role as the visible leader of the nation. In explaining the logistics of this transition, God directed Moses to take three steps. First, Moses was to lay his hands upon Joshua. Note the practice of laying hands on someone in recognition of blessing or authority was part of the commissioning of priests (cf. Num. 8:10), and was practiced by both Jesus (cf. Matt. 19:13) and Paul (cf. Acts 28:8). Second, Moses was to publicly inaugurate Joshua as the new leader in front of the high priest and before all the people. This commissioning was likely designed to prevent a power struggle. Third, Moses was to grant some of his authority to Joshua. This passing of authority was probably done via a public statement.

Following the inauguration of Joshua, Moses is told, “Joshua shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire before the Lord for him by the judgment of Urim” (Num. 27:21). Note the change in practice described here, as Moses spoke with God face-to-face (cf. Num. 12:7–8); yet, Joshua would communicate with God via the intermediary of the high priest, whom himself would get direction from the Lord in conjunction with the Urim. The Urim and Thummim, a cryptic device (or practice) in the Bible, is mentioned only eight times, exclusively in conjunction with the priesthood. Whatever the identity of this device (or practice) it was undoubtedly connected to the functioning of the high priest in his mediatorial role (cf. Deut. 33:8; Ezra 2:63; Neh. 7:65). Note that the use of the Urim and Thummim was mostly between the time of the exodus and the era of David.

Application Questions:

  1. How important is the concept of inheritance in Scripture (cf. Eph. 1:11, 18)? What types of things can be inherited? Have you ever received an inheritance? Will you leave one?
  2. Is the Bible patriarchal or chauvinistic in regard to its views and teachings about men and women? What is a biblical view of gender roles?
  3. Why was Joshua a good choice to replace Moses as leader of Israel? Like Moses, have you taken steps to ensure the future welfare of those under your spiritual care?
  4. What is the best way to transition power between authority figures (e.g., boss, pastor, political leader, etc.)?
  5. Why could Moses speak face-to-face with God, but Joshua had to interact with God via the intermediary of the high priest? What was the Urim and Thummim?