- Author: Ray C. Stedman
This morning, I am speaking on the theme, Daring Daughters. Now this is not a revelation of family secrets. Whenever I use my daughters as an illustration in a message, I hear about it when I get home. I would hardly dare preach a message on that whole theme. But the daughters that I would like to introduce you to this morning are found mentioned in one of those rather obscure passages of Scripture that we have been exploring in this present summer series, in which we are looking for the heroes, or in this case, the heroines of faith. And the passage to which I am referring is Numbers 27. I would like for you to meet with me this morning the five daughters of Zelophehad. These remarkable young women are introduced to us in verses one through four of chapter 27 of the book of Numbers:
Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, at the door of the tent of meeting, saying, Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not among the company of them that gathered themselves together against Jehovah in the company of Korah: but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from among his family, because he had no son? Give unto us a possession among the brethren of our father. (Numbers 27:1-4 ASV)
Now, these five remarkable young women, whose names are given to us here, are a picture for us of the activity of faith. These five girls names are rather similar, you will notice – the names indicate to us that they are from a very Godly home. For the syllable
ah, which occurs in each of these names, is a contraction of the Hebrew form Jehovah, so that each of these girls bears in her name the name of God, as well. This was a common practice among the Hebrews, especially those who had strong faith. And though we do not know much other about these girls than what is revealed here, it is indicative that in their family life, they came from parents who were so concerned and so enraptured with the grace of God, the grace of Jehovah, that they incorporated the name of God in the names of their children. And these five girls came before Moses at a time when he was numbering the people of Israel in order to determine the allotment of land when they came into the promised land.
God had promised this nation the land of Canaan. He had led them out of Egypt, across the wilderness, and to the land. They had not known it, but ahead of them lay the 40 years of wandering, which was quite unnecessary, for had Israel obeyed God by faith, they could have marched right on into the land and, in anticipation of that soon expected entrance into the land, Moses is now numbering the people in order to determine how much of the land should be allotted to each of the tribes.
And in the numbering, these girls came before him and they asked an unusual thing. They came suggesting that, though their father had died in the wilderness, being part of that generation which God had said would not enter into the land that, now they were about to enter in, they came reminding Moses that their father had not been part of the rebellion of Korah, though he died as one in the wilderness, he was not part of those who forfeited their inheritance and so they come asking for that inheritance. There is no mention of the mother of these girls and it is therefore likely that they were orphans here – five young girls without father or mother. All of this, by the way, takes place in the wilderness just before entrance into the land and, therefore, it is all done in faith. Israel does not have an inch of land yet. But by simple reckoning upon God’s promise that they would have the land, they are already dividing it up by faith. And these girls come asking for a part of the inheritance.
Faith is the key note here. As in any age, faith is the watchword to blessing. In this respect, all of these Old Testament stories are very, very helpful to us, because they illustrate for us and demonstrate to us what faith really is. There is nothing that will come into your life from God apart from the channel of faith. No blessing, no achievement, no victory can ever be yours except as you take it by faith. This is the note that runs all through the pages of the Bible. There never was anything taken from God, except that it came by faith. Therefore, faith in this age that we are looking at here and in our own age is the one key to obtaining blessing from God.
Now, faith is not, as one Sunday school boy defined it, believing in that which is not true. Faith is definitely believing in that which is true, even when it does not look true. Faith is acting on what God says. That is faith. It always involves a choice of the will, either resulting in activity of the body or of the mind. It is acting upon what God says. I like the definition of faith that is given in acrostic form:
That is faith. Forsaking All, I Trust Him – Faith. And these girls are a demonstration to us, in a most remarkable way, of what faith is.
You will notice already in this little account of these girls coming before Moses that the first step in faith inevitably and always is a determination. Determination. These young ladies were aware that God had given a promise of an inheritance in the land of Canaan to Israel. They were part of that nation. They knew that the promise involved a land flowing with milk and honey – a land of beauty, of fruitfulness, of blessing. And they desired to have the part in that which belonged to them. That land, as many of you already know, is a picture for us, in this day and age, of the inheritance which is promised to us. Everyone of us in this congregation this morning, who has come by faith to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I hope have understood, that we have available to us an inheritance – a land, if you like, of promise flowing with milk and honey, a land of great fruitfulness and abundance, a land that can be ours right now. I am not speaking now of heaven by and by. I am not speaking of something to come after death. I am talking about the inheritance that is the part and parcel of the believers right now in this life. That is outlined for us in many, many places in Scripture. You know how Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians,
Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. That is a promise for right now not later on – now. Peter begins his second epistle the same way,
His divine power has granted unto us all things which pertain unto life – notice that: life –
and godliness. All things are already available to us in Jesus Christ. This is our inheritance. As we read through the Scriptures, we find it detailed for us in specific ways: the promise of blessing, the promise of fruitfulness, the promise of support, of comfort, of strength, of joy, of peace – and all those marvelous attributes of Christian living.
The important thing and what I think these five girls emphasize for us very emphatically is that all of this only becomes our experience when we act upon it; that is, when we exercise faith. Every believer in Jesus Christ has as much potentially as any other believer. As someone has well put it,
The weakest believer holds in his hands all that the greatest saint of God has ever had. That truth is declared again and again. There is never any justification for someone saying,
Oh, I never could be what so and so is. I never could be what he is. I never could have his faith. I never could have his blessing. I never can achieve or expect to achieve what some of these others have achieved.Perhaps not in terms of specific accomplishments, for God has definite and distinct areas of service, but as far as the enjoyment of Jesus Christ is concerned and the fullness of victory over the reigning power of sin in our lives is concerned, every believer, even the youngest, even the newest, has already the full potential that any saint has ever had. But we take it by faith. In other words, we can have as much as we determine to have. That is what this lesson begins with. These girls determined to have their inheritance. They decided that they would take it. That is where faith begins. So vital and practical is this matter of faith, that this morning, as we gather here as a believing, worshipping congregation, each one of us this morning is exactly as victorious as we want to be — no more. We have taken what we wanted and we will never take more until we want more. That is what the whole fabric of Scripture sets before us. Every doorway into blessing is framed with that great word of Jesus,
He that hungers and thirsts after righteousness shall be filled. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.
You will notice that in the case of these five beautiful girls (and I am sure they were beautiful – all girls are), they came to this determination despite some rather discouraging things. It looked to them as though they had lost their inheritance when it was right within their grasp, for they were counting on entering into their promise in the land through their father Zelophehad, but Zelophedad died in the wilderness. As they took account of their situation, they realized of course, that there was no male issue; there was no son in the family, who would normally inherit the promise given to the father. There were only the five daughters. This was one of those very fortunate men who only have daughters, no sons. And by all the law and custom of Israel, this was a lost cause. They had lost their inheritance. Now, of course, they could always marry a handsome, young man who had an inheritance of his own – and, in the course of time, they did so; but, they would have lost the father’s name among Israel and Manasseh, the tribe, would have lost the portion of ground that belonged to it, so that these girls are facing the possibility, the very definite possibility, of not having any inheritance at all.
As you read through this story, ask yourself the question,
What made these girls hope like they did? What made them think they ever had a chance to inherit this land?Everything looked against them. No one had ever contemplated a situation like this before. But something made them realize that there was at least a chance that, if they asked, they could have their inheritance. And they determined to ask. Now, what was it that made them hope like that? I hope that you read your Bibles with what has been called the gift of sanctified imagination. The Bible is intended to be read that way – that you fill in some of the details with a bit of imagination and yet guided by the lines that are set forth in the stories involved. I can imagine these five girls sitting down and having a talk about this whole matter. With five women, it doubtless took a long time. As they talked over every detail of their situation, it occurred to one of them to point out that, though under the law, under the custom of Israel, they had no claim to this land since, by law, all inheritance was through the male line, that the offer of the land to Israel was not made on the basis of law, but grace; that God had never said that Israel should earn the land, that it was a gift of His grace to them and this removed it completely from the realm of custom and law to the relationships of grace.
Then, it was not law they were dealing with, but love. And they learned a mighty truth which the book of Romans in the New Testament endeavors to set before us in many ways. The truth that grace can give what law cannot. Paul says it,
What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, judged sin in the flesh that the righteousness which the law demanded might be met by another way; that the righteousness which the law demands might be met by the law of spirit of life in Christ Jesus. This is what these girls discovered – that when they were dealing with law, it was hopeless. But God’s offer was the offer of grace and so, on that basis, they came before Moses asking for their inheritance. Paul says again, he beautifully argues this in Romans 8, where he says,
Who shall lay any charge to God’s elect? Who can blame us? He that spared not His own son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things. All things. That is the limit of our abilities to ask when it is put on the relationship of grace.
Now, you will notice that following the determination that these girls evidenced, there is immediately the second characterization of faith, not only determination, but daring. They stood before Moses and before Eleazer the priest and before the leaders and all the congregation at the door of the tent of the meeting. As far as we can best determine, the congregation of Israel numbered well over a million people. And here are these girls appearing before the leaders – the august leaders – of this body of people marching through the wilderness to make this demand upon them. It must have been an unusual circumstance. It must have been an unusual sight to behold. It was unusual enough for women to come, but what they asked was simply unheard of. I have always wished that I could have seen Moses’ face when these girls made their request. They asked to have the inheritance passed along to them. Now, Moses was used to solving problems among this murmuring, discontented people. I suppose he had the usual kind of problems: deciding between in-laws and out-laws and settling problems between husbands and wives and quarrelling children and parents and all these other things. But, when these girls came, they simply floored him with their request. He did not know what to do. They asked that the inheritance might pass to them, even though there was no male issue and Moses had nothing to say. We read that he brought their case before the Lord. This was the wisdom of this man, Moses – he never tried to answer out of his own wisdom. He brought the case before the Lord and asked what God would say.
I think we need to understand a little bit more fully what these girls were facing in it, because here we see something of what faith is like. Faith always dares to do something different. As you read through the Scriptures, you discover that this is an invariable qualification of faith. Faith always dares the unusual, the different. It may not be very different, but it is always some different. It may be an ordinary thing, but done in an extraordinary way. But faith always must step out beyond the usual and this is what these girls do. There stood in their way the most powerful obstacle to advance ever known to the human race – one of Satan’s favorite weapons here. They were up against the monumental bulk of tradition – the immovable obstacle which has thwarted many and many a well laid plan. The most discouraging words, I think, that sometimes men ever hear is the phrase,
Well, we have never done that before. Or,
We just do not do that here. And it was this that these girls were up against. Now, I believe that faith always, in some degree, challenges tradition and that we must therefore be ready to move out against universally accepted ideas and traditionally held views in some way or another if we are going to walk by faith. This is evident in many places in Scripture, ever in our Lord’s own ministry. Thomas Dickson once said,
Tradition was the most constant, the most persistent, the most dogged, the most utterly devilish opposition the Master encountered. It openly attacked him on every hand and silently repulsed his teaching. Even the Samaritan woman, He finds armed with the ancestral bludgeon,Art Thou greater than our father Jacob? Our fathers worshipped in this mountain.Without departure from customs, there could have been no Christian church. The great soul winners of the past had to shake off the shackles of over-conservatism in method. Witness Melanchthon, Wesley, Edwards, Finney. The church grows by iconoclasm. Its first work is to set aside false gods.
I think this is true. Whenever we venture to step out on faith, we invariably come into conflict with some established pattern that either must be violated or acceded to – one or the other. And faith is that which dares to be different in a right way. Now, there is a false kind of iconoclasm which goes around destroying idols for the sake of destroying idols and is challenging and cynically asking questions about every favorite method of the past. But, when there is a basis, when faith rests upon the solid basis of a promise and that brings us into conflict with an established tradition, then if we are to walk by faith, we must walk quite contrary to that which the crowd around about us accepts. Somebody has well pointed out that when a new concept is first propounded, man says,
It is not true. When the probability of its truth is supported by the experience of many, then people say,
It will not work. When workability is established beyond doubt, people say,
It is not important. But when its importance can no longer be ignored, they say,
We knew it all the time. This is what these girls are up against. They are moving against the power, the invested interests of tradition. But they are reckoning on a promise which is based on grace. And with that, they dare to come.
There is never the exercise of faith without this venturesomeness. I hope you discover that in your own personal experience, especially young people. There must come a time when, if we walk with God, we leave the crowd, we leave the gang, the herd, the ones with whom we run. God’s paths always run divergent to the paths of the world and its ways. If we would walk with Him by faith, we must of necessity make choices that take us out of the commonly accepted path. This is the characteristic of faith. We must step out upon a divine possibility. This is why faith is so liberating; why those who dare to do this, who dare to move, even in small ways, in these realms of faith, discover they become free. They are set fee from the enslaving shackles of conformity. They discover what Paul means when he writes to the Romans and says,
Do not let the world around you squeeze you into its mold. This is the pressure of today, that faith – laying hold of that which God has promised – moves out and dares to be different.
There is still a third step here in this invariable sequence of faith set forth in Numbers 27:5-11 – the dynamic of faith.
Moses brought their case before the LORD. And the LORD said to Moses,The daughters of Zelophehad are right; you shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall say to the people of Israel, If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it. And it shall be to the people of Israel a statute and ordinance, as the LORD commanded Moses.
You will notice that our laws of inheritance today are based upon this very thing. Not only did these five girls receive their request and the inheritance of their father was passed to them, but further, they began a whole new series of similar reactions. Their activity, their act of faith, formed the basis of a new principle, a new law. A whole new area of activity opened up. I remember when I was a boy back home on a ranch in Montana, we used to have a great big red can on the shelf of baking powder and on the can was the label and these words. It was
double acting baking powder. Now faith is somewhat like that. Faith is double acting. Faith not only acts upon us, in that we receive that which we look for, but faith has a double activity. It begins to stimulate others, as well. What our act of faith has accomplished for us becomes an open door for others to follow after, sometimes for centuries yet to come. The amazing, and rather significant thing about this activity of these girls is that centuries later, this act of faith on the part of these five daughters of Zelophehad established the principle which made possible the right of Jesus Christ to the throne of David through his mother Mary. As you know, Luke tells us that Jesus was commonly supposed to be the son of Joseph, though those on the inside of the story knew that He was not the son of Joseph. As His sonship with Joseph was generally accepted, it became the basis for His legal right to the throne of David. But, had that right been challenged, He would still have had a right to the throne of David through His mother, Mary, on the basis of this law established by the daughters of Zelophehad. For all the rights and prerogatives of the house of David, including the throne, came to Mary on the basis of this principle established in Israel.
Who knows what doors faith is going to open? This is what Jesus meant when He said,
If you have faith even like a grain of mustard seed, it will remove mountains, cause trees to be cast into the sea and other things. I think He particularly and definitely singled out mustard seed for a special purpose. A seed, of course, has the power of growth – all seeds have – and, by this, He meant that faith grows; that when we exercise small faith, we are able to exercise a little larger faith, and so on, until faith is large enough to encompass great and mighty projects for God. But He also specifically singled out a mustard seed. Why mustard? Because, mustard has, as many of you know who have ever used a mustard plaster, a very irritating quality about it. It is stimulating. It is disturbing. What Jesus is indicating by the use of a mustard seed is that, when you begin to exercise faith, tiny as it may be, you encourage someone else to exercise faith, too. You stimulate them. You disturb them a bit. You awaken them out of some degree of apathy and they too begin to act in faith. And that is what happened here with the daughters of Zelophehad.
This is always the story of the dynamic of faith. Others are stirred to new endeavors when we begin to step out in faith. Remember Paul, writing to the Philippians, said that though he was in prison, chained to a Roman guard day and night,
Others have been made more bold by my imprisonment to preach the gospel throughout the city. That as they saw his faith exercised in the midst of those discouraging circumstances, their own faith was strengthened and they went to work. The result was the gospel flourished throughout the city of Rome at a time when Christians were being persecuted.
All through the history of Christendom, this is the story. Robert Murray McCheyne, over in Scotland, as a young man, read the story of that burning spirit in the American wilderness, David Brainerd, as he went out and worked among the American Indians. As Robert Murray McCheyne read of David Brainerd giving himself, pouring himself out in unstinting ministry to the Indians of America, his own spirit caught fire and he gave himself completely to the work of God in Scotland. And later on, as Spurgeon read the life of Robert Murray McCheyne, there came a fire into his own heart and Hudson Taylor says that he read of McCheyne’s ministry and caught the torch and the fire began to spread and many of us perhaps this morning have been blessed and touched and strengthened by the story of the faith of McCheyne and Spurgeon and Taylor and these other men.
Faith has a chain reaction and this is what these daughters set forth. No one knows what may happen when men venture out in faith. I think of how a just three or four decades ago, a young man began a ministry among the Indians of Guatemala and his heart was tremendously burdened because he saw that the great need of these Indians was to have the Word of God in their own language. And God laid on his heart a vision – a vision that all the unreached tribes of the world might have the gospel in their own language. Cameron Townsend began the work of Wycliffe Bible translators. Just a simple step of faith to reach one Indian tribe, which began to multiply and multiply and stimulate like endeavors among others, so that, today, there is every possibility of expectation that within the next 25 years, every tribe in the world will have the gospel in its own language. That is the might of faith when it begins to work, even though it is a small step at first.
I remember how, during World War II, I was in correspondence with a young man at Dallas Seminary, who had gathered together a group of high school kids and started ministering to them in the basement of a church in Galveston, Texas. He called it the Gospel Fellowship Club and wondered why nobody came to it, especially of the non-Christian young people in town. But that work went on and flourished and began to grow and later on, he changed the name to something more acceptable – Young Life Campaign. But, in that work, Jim Rayburn just caught a vision of something that needed to be done beyond the ordinary, moved out into it, and God built it into the nationwide organization that is reaching young people and has been the blessing to many in this congregation today. And other organizations are following along in the same steps.
Who knows what God is going to do when small steps of faith are taken? In 1948, five businessmen in this city met together and decided that they needed a place where they could just have some fellowship in the Lord with other Christians. That is all they thought they were doing. They went down to the community center in Palo Alto and rented a room for Sunday night and announced that they would have some fellowship meetings. They saw nothing more than that, but God saw more. Because they ventured beyond the usual, God began a work and it has grown to Peninsula Bible Church. We are here this morning because of the faith of those men.
Who knows what God is going to do in your life; what changes can take place in your neighborhood? A report just came to me this week of a young man, who said,
I never dreamed – I never dreamed all the changes that could take place in my life in less than a month’s time, as he came to know Jesus Christ, because of the faith of one person who ventured a word in season. Who knows? God is calling us to live by faith and all through the Scriptures, the unceasing testimony of this book is that when we venture out upon some promise of God, we claim what God has offered to us in Christ. We are ready to be a witness to Him in any situation or circumstance. The most tentative effort in this direction can open a door that will grow into who knows what glorious possibilities? This is the dynamic of faith. Who knows what God will bring into your life if you open your home, you take a Sunday school class, you try a new approach to an old problem, you give up an old habit, you step out in faith. You come before God and say,
Lord, I have found this in Thy word. It is not a part of my life now, but by Your grace, I claim this. I want this. This whole peninsula can be changed by that simple process.
This is God’s way of changing human history. Is not that what we read in Hebrews 11? Let me read those words again. Let them come to your heart now with new impact. The closing words of Hebrews 11:
What more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
And all these people, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
(But therefore!)Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 11:32-12:2)
Our Father, awaken our faith anew. Help us to realize that all is waiting for us to take it. There are no limits on Thy side; the limitations are only of our own imposition. Teach us to take by faith; to take what we need in terms of personal victory; to take what we need in terms of personal witness; to take what we need in terms of comfort, of encouragement, of strength to face problems, whatever they may be. Lord, teach us to walk by faith. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Questions to Think About:
- What does it mean to you to know that in God’s Kingdom both men and and women are equal heirs? How does that knowledge change the way you live your life?
- What cultural or family traditions to you have that you need to give up in order to better live the gospel of Jesus Christ?
- What does this story teach us about how we should approach the Lord and church leaders about our concerns over doctrine or cultural traditions?
- Throughout history the Bible has often been held up as the standard for what is and isn’t allowable behavior for men and women in a society. How do you think that these young women’s story has affected women’s right to inherit property and land throughout history?