Bible Study with Jairus – Numbers 36

Stepping Into Your Spiritual Destiny

In Numbers 36, we learn that the daughters of Zelophehad cherished God’s promised land and stepped into their spiritual destiny. When Zelophehad’s daughters asked to inherit land alongside the other Israelites, their clan members feared that if the young women later married men from other clans, their ancestral inheritance would be transferred to another tribe. The clan begged Moses to handle this issue.

God told Moses that what the daughters were asking for was right. He commanded that the girls should only marry within their own tribe. Why does the last chapter of Numbers end with this story? I believe God was drawing a stark contrast between the daughters of Zelophehad, who longed to enter the Promised Land, and the people who threw away their chance to receive God’s blessing. Because of the faith and perseverance of the daughters of Zelophehad, they eventually entered the Promised Land (Joshua 17). This greatly pleased God. There is no better ending to a story than this.

Entering the Promised Land by Faith

The Bible first mentions Zelophehad’s daughters in Numbers 26:33: “Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters. And the names of the daughters of Zelophehad were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.”[1] This chapter records the census of the second generation of fighting men of Israel. Usually, only men were counted among the ranks of soldiers. They were also mentioned in a genealogy in 1 Chronicles 7:15. The fact that God includes these women in the record shows how much he valued their faith.

The daughters of Zelophehad are mentioned again in Numbers 27. Here, they asked to inherit their father’s land. In allowing them to inherit land, God seems to have made a special exception just for them. In the past, the law had never allowed daughters to inherit land. However, God granted their request because these ladies took the initiative to ask for it. The Lord is very pleased with those who actively seek him.

In Joshua 17, the daughters of Zelophehad appeared before Joshua again and asked him to follow through on his promise to give them the land. As a result, Joshua allowed them to take possession of their inheritance. Verses 4-5 record, “Thus there fell to Manasseh ten portions, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is on the other side of the Jordan, because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance along with his sons. The land of Gilead was allotted to the rest of the people of Manasseh.” The daughters of Zelophehad did not acquire land east of the Jordan. Instead, they inherited land in the Promised Land of Canaan, west of the Jordan. We don’t know if Zelophehad’s daughters and their spouses were the only ones who entered the Promised Land itself, or if there were others from the half-tribe of Manasseh who entered as well. We do know that these daughters were an important part of the half-tribe that inherited west of the Jordan.

The daughters of Zelophehad are mentioned at least five times in the Bible. This shows that God cares deeply about them. Their faith eventually led them to enter the Promised Land and receive their father’s inheritance. God praised their faith.

There is an important reason that the Holy Spirit placed this story in the last chapter of Numbers. The book of Numbers is a story about Israel going to war and entering the Promised Land. In this story, some Israelites, like the ten evil spies and the entire first generation of Israelites, died in the wilderness because of their unbelief. But others, like Caleb and Joshua and the second generation of Israelites, were able to enter the Promised Land. Gad and Reuben chose the land east of the Jordan River instead of entering the Promised Land. The half-tribe of Manasseh, influenced by the tribes of Gad and Reuben, also chose the land east of the Jordan River. However, some descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, such as the daughters of Zelophehad, were not influenced by the dissenters. They placed their faith in the Lord’s promise to give them the land, and they eventually entered the Promised Land.

What a wonderful way to wrap up the book of Numbers! The story of these women concludes the book with a story of faith and victory. When the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write the book of Numbers, he thoughtfully arranged for the book to end on this high note of hope.

Achieving Victory in Spiritual Warfare and Entering into God’s Destiny

God promised that the Israelites would enter the Promised Land, but many fell in the wilderness because of unbelief and disobedience. To experience the fulfillment of God’s promises, his prophecies, and the destiny he has for us, we must unite ourselves by faith with God’s promises (Hebrews 4:2). Only then can we truly step into our spiritual destiny.

Whenever God’s promises are involved, Satan fights back. The bigger the promise, the greater the spiritual opposition. An entire family can lose out on God’s promises due to disobedience. One faithful person who demonstrates their faith can become the recipient of God’s promise.

For example, God promised that Abraham’s descendants would be a blessing to all nations (Galatians 3:14). God promised that Christ would be born from Abraham’s descendants. But Abraham’s family was full of sin and dissension.

Abraham gave birth to Ishmael and Isaac. God clearly said that the Messianic line would be passed down through Isaac. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob, and God chose Jacob. Many of Jacob’s twelve sons were disqualified from the Messianic line. Reuben, the firstborn, defiled his father’s bed, so Christ could not be born from his lineage. Both Simeon and Levi killed innocent people and were cursed by Jacob, so they could not carry on the Messianic line, either.

Judah, another son of Jacob, was chosen as the forefather of the Messiah. Yet he married the daughter of a Canaanite man. Both his first two sons were put to death because of their sins. Judah did not follow through with his promise to Tamar, his eldest daughter-in-law. He had promised her that after her husband died, she could marry Judah’s youngest son, thus carrying on the Messianic line.

Tamar may have heard Judah recounting the story of Abraham, and how God promised Abraham and even Adam that “her offspring shall bruise your head” (Genesis 3:15). She may have received a direct revelation from God that Christ would be born into the tribe of Judah. Tamar devised a plan for Judah to sleep with her, and gave birth to Perez and Zerah, the ancestors of Christ. What Tamar did might seem immoral, but she actually treasured God’s promises very much.

The enemy vigorously attacked the house of Judah because he was the ancestor of the Messiah. Satan succeeded in causing the two sons of Judah to sin and die. But Tamar didn’t give up. She was like a volleyball player who made a “dig,” eventually rescuing the ball from falling. Her actions made Judah feel ashamed. He called Tamar more righteous than himself (Genesis 38:26).

The same thing happened in the story of Ruth. Ruth is also the ancestor of Christ. But Ruth’s father-in-law, husband, and brother-in-law all sinned and died. Ruth was like Tamar. Perhaps she learned of God’s promises to the tribe of Judah from Naomi. She was determined not to leave Naomi and eventually followed Naomi to the land of Judah. There, she married Boaz, the ancestor of David and Christ.

We see the same pattern in Ruth’s story – the greater the destiny and calling of God, the greater the spiritual warfare. Sinful people and those who have no faith will be used by the enemy to block God’s promise, but the righteous and faithful will seize God’s promise and eventually win the spiritual battle. They will enter into the spiritual destiny promised by God.

I wonder why the tribe of Manasseh did not give Zelophehad’s daughters their father’s land from the very start? Why did they leave them with no other option but to take their case to Moses and the whole congregation? In the end, God had to intervene before the land would be given to them. And Numbers 36 mentions again that the heads of the tribe of Manasseh were worried that they would lose their tribal inheritance if the girls married people from other tribes.

Why were they so worried? Perhaps the land that was allotted to Zelophehad was very large. Because Zelophehad had a large portion of the land, the tribe of Manasseh refused to give it to his daughters at first. They were worried that they would lose their tribal inheritance if the daughters married men from other tribes. Maybe they wouldn’t have cared if Zelophehad had been allotted a very small portion of the land.

There must have been a great spiritual battle going on over Zelophehad’s land, just like there was in the families of Judah and Naomi. Zelophehad had died in his own sin, probably the same sin as the sons of Judah and the sons of Naomi had committed. The enemy attacked them and made them fall into sin to prevent them from entering their spiritual destiny. But Zelophehad’s daughters saved their family’s destiny and entered the Promised Land.

The enemy sends obstacles and tempts us to sin, trying to keep us from fulfilling our destiny. But as we persevere in faith, we will be able to fulfill God’s destiny for our lives. The fact that Zelophehad’s daughters eventually entered the Promised Land is proof of this. Many Christians have a great spiritual destiny, but if they cannot win their spiritual battle and defeat the enemy, they will not be able to enter into the spiritual destiny that God has promised. As Christians, we must understand that the more difficulties and enemy attacks we face, the greater the spiritual destiny God has promised us. Instead of feeling dispirited, we should be encouraged to keep our faith and our holiness in order to win our spiritual battles.

Why should tribal inheritances not be transferred?

At the beginning of this chapter, Gilead brought the chief of the tribe of Manasseh to discuss this matter with Moses. Gilead was the grandfather of Zelophehad (Joshua 17:3) and the great-grandfather of the daughters of Zelophehad. He was also the head of the tribe of Manasseh. Zelophehad’s daughters must have been at least ten years old, so Gilead was perhaps 80 or 90 years old. Let’s look at the situation described in this chapter. Gilead, the great-grandfather, brought all the other heads of Manasseh to Moses to discuss what would happen if Zelophehad’s daughters married men from other tribes and lost their inheritance. This is the problem that bothers me.

The Bible doesn’t say that this grandfather and tribal heads helped Zelophehad’s daughters fight for their land. Yet after Zelophehad’s daughters got the land, the leaders suddenly started to worry that their tribe would lose their inheritance. What are their motives? Why the sudden concern?

I can’t say that they had bad intentions. God had never stipulated that land could be given to daughters, so they were not wrong. The Lord stipulates that tribal land could not be transferred between tribes. He also said that what the tribal leaders said was right. So I can’t judge them for having motives and bad intentions.

I believe that God does not want the tribes to have internal conflicts over inheritances and land. Rather, He wants them to focus on defeating the enemy. This is their goal in spiritual warfare.

Using an example from the modern church, churches should not compete internally, trying to attract Christians from other churches to their own church. A huge congregation seems to prove the success of your church, but it seems to have little effect on the expansion of God’s kingdom or the defeat of the kingdom of darkness. Instead, we should focus on witnessing to unbelievers and drawing them towards Christ. Instead of competing with each other, churches should unite to defeat the kingdom of darkness.

I suppose Gilead hadn’t entered the Promised Land. Many heads of the tribe of Manasseh also did not enter the Promised Land. Perhaps Zelophehad’s daughters had privately expressed their desire to enter the Promised Land. Many people in the tribe of Manasseh seem to have chosen the land east of the Jordan. Perhaps the stipulation that Zelophehad’s daughters should marry within the tribe affected others from the half tribe of Manasseh. Perhaps some of the sons of their father’s brothers wished to marry the daughters and eventually entered the Promised Land with them.

I hope we can all be inspired and encouraged by the story of Zelophehad’s daughters. Their example of faith is extraordinary. We should actively fight for our inheritance in the Lord, bravely win our spiritual battles, and enter into our God-given destiny.

Never underestimate yourself! Remember, the more difficulties you have in your life and the more enemies attack you, the greater the spiritual destiny and calling God may have for you. Don’t feel discouraged. Rather, be encouraged!

As a conclusion, let’s look at this brief summary of the book of Numbers.

The book of Numbers began with the numbering of the Israelite soldiers. The purpose was to show how great God is. He transformed a small group of 70 Israelites into a great army.  God promises that they would enter the good land. However, he asked them to trust him. Because they did not mingle their faith with the promises of God, the first generation of Israelites were not allowed to enter into the good land. In disobedience and disbelief, they wandered in the wildness for 40 years.

When the first generation died out in the wilderness, God numbered them again. Among those whom God numbered were Zelophehad’s daughters. God usually only counted male soldiers. But the five daughters of Zelophehad were numbered among them, as God considered them soldiers. Why? It is because they are fighting for their father’s portion.

Zelophehad died in his sins, just like Naomi’s husband and two sons and Judah’s two sons. Why did Naomi and Judah lose their sons? Their divine calling and destiny was to be part in the genealogy of Christ. So they must have been the prime target for the enemy. The spiritual battle was severe. Why did Zelophehad die? Perhaps he had a big portion in the good land. He lost the spiritual battle; he sinned and died.

The first generation of Israelites failed to defeat the enemy and conquer the good land. Would the second generation repeat the same failure, or would they rise up to defeat the enemy their fathers could not? Yes, they would rise up to defeat the enemies that tricked their fathers!

Zelophehad’s daughters rose up and said no to the enemy. They rejected the established religious status quo and asked God for their portion. They were not only granted their request, but they eventually entered the good land. They did not follow the example of the half tribe of Manasseh who stayed on the East side of Jordan (Joshua 17).

In America today, evil spirits have tricked many believers, even in the older generation. Will the younger generation rise up like Zelophehad’s daughters to defeat the influences that defeated their fathers? Yes! They are rising up right now. The enemies who defeated their fathers will not stop them! The spiritual battle is so severe in America. Yet we must hold onto our faith, just like Zelophehad’s daughters did.

This story of victory is a fitting finale for the book of Numbers. Zelophehad’s daughters represent all believers who will rise up in faith after past failure. Like the daughters, we must grasp God’s promises and defeat the enemy who taunted our fathers! With God’s help, we can succeed!

[1] All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.