You could almost say that today’s passage is about succession planning. You know what succession planning is, don’t you? It’s when the leaders of organisations begin to think and prepare for the time when they will step down from their leadership roles and others will take over from them. So, the current leaders need to identify others with the necessary skills to replace them. They need to provide some training, perhaps, so that the person is well-prepared for the responsibility. Leaders need to think about who will take over.
And that’s kind of what today’s passage is about. I say it’s ‘kind of’ like that, because the first case is not so much about who will succeed a leader of an organisation, but it’s about who will inherit the property rights of a father. But the second case is very much about succession planning, because it’s about how Joshua will succeed Moses as the leader of God’s people.
The background to the first case is what we read last week about how a census of the people was taken; and then an arrangement was put into place for how to divide up the Promised Land. The land was to be divided fairly among the tribes and clans of Israel, so that no tribe or clan received too much; and no tribe or clan received too little. Every group was to receive the right amount. And, of course, the land was to be handed down from one generation to the next.
In today’s chapter, the daughters of this man, Zelophedad, approached the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and stood before Moses and Eleazar the High Priest and the leaders and the whole assembly. The entrance to the Tent of Meeting was the place where cases where heard and judgments given. And these daughters came before them, because were concerned that their father’s family would not receive their fair share of the Promised Land.
Why were they concerned about this? Normally a man’s son would receive the family farm after his death. However, their father had no sons. He only had these five daughters; and daughters did not normally receive an inheritance from their father, because it was expected that daughters would be married and would live on the family farm belonging to their husbands. And so, presumably these five daughters were unmarried.
So, their father left no son to inherit the family farm. And normally daughters did not inherit property. So, the daughters wanted to know if the rules could be changed so that they would be allowed to receive their father’s inheritance and a share of the Promised Land? That’s what they wanted to know.
They made clear that their father had not taken part in Korah’s rebellion. Presumably those who did so forfeited their property rights. So, their father hadn’t taken part in that rebellion. Instead, he had died for his own sins, they said in verse 3. That presumably means that he died like everyone else, since death is the wages of sin. But since he hadn’t been guilty of taking part in Korah’s rebellion, then he and his family shouldn’t be cut off from Israel, which would happen if they weren’t allowed to receive his inheritance. You see, if they were not allowed to inherit the land, their father’s name would disappear from his clan. Without a family farm named after him, it would be like he and his family had been cut off from Israel.
And so, they made their case to Moses. Moses brought their case to the Lord; and the Lord agreed that the five daughters should be allowed to inherit their father’s share in the Promised Land. Furthermore, the Lord laid down what the order of inheritance should be from that time on in Israel: son, daughter, brother, paternal uncle, next of kin in the same clan.
These women ought to be commended for their faith, because when they came before Moses and the others, the Israelites had not yet crossed the Jordan or entered the Promised Land or taken over any of it for themselves. They were still in the wilderness. Yet, these five daughters believed that God would do all that he promised and would indeed give the Promised Land into the hands of the Israelites. And since they believed God’s promise, they wanted to ensure that they too would receive their share of what God had promised.
And we too must believe as they did, because while we have not yet reached eternal life in the new heaven and earth, which is our Promised Land, nevertheless God has promised to bring us there; and we must believe and keep believing that he will do all that he has promised and bring us there at last. We must believe, and not doubt, because when that first generation of Israelites doubted the word of the Lord, they fell in the wilderness without reaching the Promised Land. But the new generation believed, and the Lord helped them to take possession of the land. And we too must believe the Lord, who has promised to give eternal life to all his people.
And, of course, God has promised that in Christ Jesus, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We are all one in Christ. Eternal life in the presence of God is for everyone — male and female — everyone who is united with Christ by faith.
That’s the first case of succession planning in today’s passage. These daughters wanted to ensure they would succeed their father and inherit the land. The next case concerns Moses.
We read in verse 12 that the Lord commanded Moses to go up a mountain in order that he might see the Promised Land. He was allowed to see it from afar, but he was not allowed to enter it, because he had disobeyed the Lord and dishonoured him when he had struck the rock instead of speaking to it as the Lord had commanded him in Numbers 20. Aaron too have disobeyed the Lord and had died previously. Now it was time for Moses to die. His actual death is not recorded until Deuteronomy 34, but here the Lord announces it.
Moses does not argue with the Lord or try to persuade him to do otherwise. Instead Moses submits to the will of the Lord. But he’s concerned for the well-being of God’s people; and is concerned about who will succeed him as the leader of God’s people. And since the Lord is the God of the spirits of all mankind — which means he rules over all — Moses asks the Lord to appoint someone to be over the people.
The Lord answered him and made clear that Joshua, son of Nun, should be appointed in his place. Take him — he tells Moses in verse 18 — and lay your hand on him. Laying hands was a way of setting aside someone for a special office. For instance, back in Numbers 8, Moses was commanded to lay hands on the Levites to set them apart for their work. Now, Moses was to lay his hand on Joshua to set him apart as leader.
The Lord said that Joshua was a man in whom the spirit was. This perhaps means he had the wisdom and skill and competence to be the leader of God’s people; but these qualities surely come from the Holy Spirit, who equips God’s people to serve the Lord.
The Lord also commanded Moses to present Joshua before the priest and the entire assembly. So, this was to be a public commissioning service, so that everyone would see that the Lord had set Joshua apart for this work. And the Lord commanded Moses to give Joshua ‘some of his authority’ so that the people will obey him. So, although he would be the leader in place of Moses, he would not possess the same authority as Moses, but only ‘some’ of his authority. Moreover, whereas Moses spoke to the Lord face to face, Joshua must rely on Eleazar to discern for him the will of the Lord, because we’re told in verse 21 that Eleazar would obtain decisions from the Lord using the Urim. The Urim and Thummim was the special device they used in those days to ascertain God’s will.
And according to verses 22 and 23, Moses did what the Lord commanded and he took Joshua and made him stand before the priest and the assembly. Moses laid hands on him and commissioned him.
But what kind of leader was Joshua going to be? He wasn’t going to be a priest, because they already had a priest: Aaron was the first High Priest; and he was succeeded by his son, Eleazar; and the Lord had commanded that one of Aaron’s descendants would always serve as priest. So, Joshua was not to be a priest.
He wasn’t to be a prophet, either, because he needed to rely on Eleazar to discern the will of the Lord. And later, the Lord would send prophets like Elijah and Elisha to proclaim the word of the Lord to his people. So, he wasn’t be be a prophet.
What kind of leader was he to be? Well, look back to verse 17 where we have the expression:
to go out and to come in [before the people], one who will lead them out and bring them in.
Going out and coming in and leading the people out and bringing them in are military terms and describe the work of a king who would lead his people out into battle and bring them safely back home afterwards. And Moses went on to say in verse 17 that without such a leader the people would be like sheep without a shepherd. Again, kings were often likened to a shepherd, who watched over and cared for and protected their sheep. In the same way, a king watched over and cared for and protected his people. So, Moses was asking the Lord to provide his people with a kind of king, who would rule over the people on God’s behalf and lead God’s people to victory over their enemies.
And since he was a kind of king, he points to Christ the King, who is an even greater king than Joshua ever was, because whereas Joshua was able to lead the people to victory over the Canaanites, the Lord Jesus leads his people in victory over sin and Satan and over death. By his death on the cross, he has freed us from the penalty we deserve for our sins. And because he was raised and is alive forevermore, he’s able to rescue us from Satan’s tyranny and to bring us into his own kingdom of grace. And he promises to raise his people from the grave and to give us everlasting life in his presence. Joshua was to become a great leader, but the Lord Jesus is even greater, because he has conquered sin and Satan and death for us and for all his people.
And the Lord Jesus is a greater leader than Moses ever was, because Moses was a sinner who broke the Lord’s command and he dishonoured the name of the Lord. And so, he forfeited the right to enter the Promised Land; and he only saw it from afar. But the Lord Jesus was perfectly obedient to his Father in heaven; and he never once dishonoured his holy name. And because he was perfectly obedient and did all that his Father sent him to do, he has entered, not the earthly Promised Land, but the heavenly one. He’s gone before us; and will one day return to gather his people together and to bring us at last to our Promised Land in the new heaven and earth.
Moses only saw the Promised Land from afar. Joshua was able to lead the people to the earthly Promised Land. But Christ our King is able to lead us to the true Promised Land where we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest forever. And so, we should give thanks to God for him; and we should look to him to keep us and to lead us all the way to eternal life in the presence of our God.