In the third movement of Numbers, five sisters approach Moses with a legal case not covered in God’s laws: Without any brothers to inherit their father’s land, their family inheritance will be lost unless women are allowed to receive an inheritance too. Yahweh agrees with these five women, setting an important precedent for not just how Israel was to engage the laws of the Torah but for later followers of Jesus as well. Join Tim and Jon as they discuss the story of Zelophehad’s daughters and Jesus’ fulfillment of the law.
“Why should our branch of the family tree be cut off from the Eden land just because we’re women?” That’s their argument … What you have is this group of daughters who are bringing to Moses and Yahweh this fact that there’s a gap in the laws of the Torah. There’s this scenario that the laws don’t address, and the laws as currently stated will lead to what they believe is injustice … When these daughters bring their case, God says they are right … Within the logic of the Torah, these daughters are to be seen as appealing to God’s core original heartbeat for the partnership of men and women over the land … If this generation is like a new Adam and Eve, there is no coincidence that you have here a story about women saying, “We can possess and have responsibility over the land too.”
In part one (00:00-19:55), Tim and Jon begin exploring the third and final movement of Numbers, where we’ll trace the theme of the promised land.
The stories within Numbers can feel chronologically out of sequence—because they are! To understand Numbers, we have to keep in mind the literary structure of the entire scroll, as well as its design that mirrors the structure and themes of Exodus.
For example, this last movement of Numbers parallels the first movement of Exodus. In the first movement of Exodus, Pharaoh tries three times to annihilate Israel until God raises up Moses as their deliverer. At the end of Numbers, the king of Moab makes three attempts to wipe out Israel by hiring the sorcerer Balaam to curse them. Instead, Balaam blesses them and prophesies that a king will one day come to bless not just Israel but other nations. Balaam’s oracles form a pivot point in the story of Israel—the wilderness has purified them, and now they must prepare to receive a “new Moses” (Joshua) as their leader.
The third movement of Numbers begins the same way the first movement did, with a census of the Israelites, reminding us that the generation that left Egypt has died (except for Joshua, Caleb, and Moses), and the new generation is preparing to enter the promised land.
In part two (19:55-33:05), Tim and Jon begin discussing the third movement of Numbers, which has three main sections.
Many of the laws Yahweh has given up to this point have to do with how the Israelites are to live while they wander nomadically in the wilderness, so the last movement of Numbers contains instructions for what Israel is supposed to do once they settle in the land. That’s not to say the Israelites had to throw out all those wilderness laws—those laws are transformed and repurposed in this movement. Israel represents humanity facing a new Eden as they enter the abundant land Yahweh has chosen for them.
The second census in the scroll occurs in Numbers 26. Different from the first, this one is interspersed with brief narrative accounts. Every time the narrator mentions a tribe that was involved in earlier rebellions against Yahweh, he includes a summary of that rebellion. There’s one other notable interruption within this census: the introduction of the daughters of Zelophehad, who will feature prominently in the next story.
In part three (33:05-55:24), Tim and Jon discuss Numbers 27, a story about Zelophehad’s daughters. Zelophehad had no sons and, therefore, no one to inherit his land and carry on the family line in this patriarchal society.
The sisters go before Moses and request the right to inherit their father’s land. “Why should his name be lost forever just because women can’t inherit land?” they argue. When Moses brings their case before Yahweh, Yahweh agrees with Zelophehad’s daughters. Not only do these sisters inherit the land, but Yahweh states that if similar situations arose later, the same precedent was to be followed.
This is yet another story that shows us that the laws of the Torah are not comprehensive and that God’s people are responsible to seek wisdom from the principles within God’s laws to apply to situations not explicitly covered. Jesus was tapping into this line of thinking when he said that he came to fulfill the law, not get rid of it (Matt. 5:17). Jesus used his familiarity with the Hebrew Scriptures and laws to expound upon their deeper meaning and their applicability to his setting.
The third movement of Numbers invites us to see Israel as a new Adam and Eve entering the new Eden—and that’s no coincidence. This story reminds us that Yahweh charged Adam and Eve equally with the responsibility to govern the land.
In part four (55:24-01:12:30), the guys flesh out some of the implications of stories like this one for followers of Jesus. How are Jesus’ disciples meant to interpret the law and apply its wisdom to our lives, especially since we don’t have access to Moses and his hotline to Yahweh?
Tim reminds us that followers of Jesus have someone better than Moses—the Spirit. And while the Spirit can’t be physically seen, following Jesus under the guidance of the Spirit gives disciples the opportunity to exercise wisdom and critical thinking, rather than just following a rule given by Moses.
In Acts 15, we can read about the first disciples discussing which laws needed to be followed by non-Israelite converts to Christianity. Throughout Christian history, important theological debates have been settled by groups of believers from different schools of thought hashing things out, praying, reading Scripture, and coming to an agreement. Of course, this doesn’t always happen, and it never happens perfectly, but this is part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Just like in Acts 15, the Spirit doesn’t reveal “new” information to followers of Jesus. This is not to say the Spirit doesn’t still speak and work among God’s people; rather, the Spirit’s revelation is always consistent with God’s previous revelation in Scripture. (For example, the council in Acts 15 based their decision upon a prophecy from Amos 9 that Gentiles would be included in the family of God.) As followers of Jesus seek the Spirit’s wisdom for current theological debates, the Spirit will show us how to apply what is already in the Bible.
This episode was produced by Cooper Peltz with Associate Producer Lindsey Ponder. It was edited by Dan Gummel, Tyler Bailey, and Frank Garza. MacKenzie Buxman provided the annotations for our annotated podcast in our app.
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