As you all know, we have been preaching and teaching chronologically through the events of the exodus for the past several months. Using the historical books of Exodus and Numbers primarily, we have carefully examined the incredible journey of the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt to the plains of Moab. Along the way we have discovered several principles that God taught his people during this epic adventure, and we’ve made application of these to our own lives and to the church today.
After thoroughly routing the Midianites, killing the wicked prophet Balaam, and silencing any immediate threat from the remaining Moabites, the children of Israel were finally at peace. All of the adversarial kingdoms in the region were either defeated or subdued. Moses and his followers were now able to turn their full attention to the great task that still lied before them - the conquest of the Promised Land.
38 years earlier, just before Israel departed from Mt. Sinai, Moses conducted a census to determine the total number of warriors in his army. Years later, after all but two of those who’d been originally counted had died in the wilderness, Moses organized a second census. As they camped just east of the Jordan river preparing for another invasion, a recount took place - again to determine the population of the new congregation. As I pointed out earlier in this series, this book is called Numbers because it includes details about these two censuses.
In today’s study, we will find a key difference between the first and second census. We will also learn about a courageous group of ladies and what they did in response to the census. Finally, we will see how God honored these women for their actions.
I. THE SECOND CENSUS (Numbers 26:1-65)
Moses commissioned a second census that took place on the plains of Moab, near the end of his life. While Aaron had conducted the first census, this time Eleazar - his son - would lead the initiative. As they had done before, all men ages 20 and up who were healthy enough to fight were included in the count. Each of the 12 tribes were numbered individually not including the Levites who were considered separately. When the second census was completed, the total population of Israel was measured at approximately 602,000. This was only slightly less than the results of the first census. In other words, the overall size of the congregation had remained roughly the same over the course of the exodus. For each person who died in the wilderness, a child had been born to replace them.
It is important to point out that only two men who had been counted during the first census were still alive and included in the second census. God had allowed Joshua and Caleb to survive the wilderness wanderings and subsequent battles, because they were the two spies who had trusted in him at Kadesh Barnea. As such, they would have the privilege of invading Canaan with the new generation of Israel. Moses himself was also still alive, but as a member of the tribe of Levi, he was not included in either census.
Perhaps the most significant difference between the two censuses is the reason for which it was conducted. At Mt. Sinai, Moses counted the people primarily to determine the size of his military force. Almost four decades had passed and now Moses was numbering the people again, but this time for a very different reason. The LORD instructed Moses to divide the Promised Land among the tribes of Israel based upon their size, so that the larger tribes received more land and the smaller tribes less. To do this properly, an accurate census of the tribes was necessary.
Consider this - the first census was done to measure Israel’s military ability and to determine their likelihood of success over the hostile inhabitants of Canaan. The second census, however, assumed that God would provide the victory regardless of the size and strength of the enemy, and was conducted instead to determine how the land would be divided after the opposition had been defeated. The differing motivations of these two censuses reveal how the faith of Israel had changed and grown from one generation to the next.
II. THE DAUGHTERS OF ZELOPHEHAD (Numbers 27:1-11)
The LORD told Moses to apportion the land by lot based upon the names of the father. In other words, the land would be divided and given to the men of each tribe. The women and children would share in this blessing through their relationships with their husbands or fathers. However, women would not own any land themselves. Thus land would be deeded and passed down from generation to generation among the fathers of each household.
Upon hearing this law, the daughters of Zelophehad were deeply troubled. Their father had died in the wilderness and had no sons. These five sisters were all that was left of his posterity, but as females they were not entitled to an allotment of land. So the daughters took their case to Moses. They explained the situation, careful to mention that their dad had not been involved in Korah’s Rebellion but was an honorable man, and asked Moses to include Zelophehad’s name in the division of the land.
Moses listened to their concern, and took the question to God. In the end the LORD agreed with the daughters of Zelophehad and instructed Moses to give them possession of their father’s land as his rightful heirs. The law of inheritance was modified to accommodate for situations in which there were no sons, no children, no brothers, or other special circumstances. These women were to be granted a portion of the land once the conquest of Canaan was complete.
Many critics of the Bible accuse God of being unfairly biased against women. While the cultural norms of these times (and even today) certainly favored men, this story is one of many examples in Scripture of how God honored women. The LORD made sure that these sisters were treated equally and received their inheritance just as the men did. While God has undoubtedly established different roles for men and women which are detailed in Scripture, He does not value or esteem one gender over the other.
III. THE INHERITANCE PRESERVED (Numbers 36:1-13)
The daughters of Zelophehad had successfully secured a inheritance based upon their deceased father’s name. However, there remained a problem. The law only allowed for female ownership when their was no rightful male available. So if and when these ladies married, the property would be transferred into their husband’s name. As descendents of the tribe of Manasseh, what would happen to the land if they married someone from another tribe? Would their allotment be taken from the tribe of Manasseh and given to another tribe?
These questions led some of the men from the tribe of Manasseh to approach Moses. They were happy that their relatives, the daughter of Zelophehad, were to receive a share of land. However, they wanted to ensure that this inheritance would stay perpetually in the tribe of Manasseh where it belonged. Moses again approached God, asking Him what to do. The LORD told Moses to direct these women to marry within their own tribe. By doing this, the property would remain within the inheritance of Manasseh. God made arrangements to secure each tribe’s inheritance so that it could not be lost or transferred to another tribe.
When God grants someone an inheritance, He does not take it away. To do so would be contrary to His divine nature. This story literally demonstrates this principle. Therefore, when someone genuinely accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and is given an inheritance in Heaven by God Almighty, regardless of who they are, they can be certain that their eternal estate is secure. It will never be lost or transferred to another.
Before we close the sermon today, let me reemphasize the three major applications that we’ve covered. First, a confident faith assumes that God will win the final victory. Second, though they were created with different characteristics and roles to play, the LORD values men and women equally. Third, God does not revoke or take back an inheritance that He has promised to give someone.
Perhaps today you need to claim your heavenly inheritance. Call on the name of Jesus and ask Him to forgive you of your sins and to give you eternal life. Don’t miss out on your portion of the glorious Promised Land.