Sermon Transcript/Article:The Bold Daughters of Zelophehad Got Results and You Can Too
Do you ever wish that you had more boldness to speak the truth or to stand against injustice? Or, are you satisfied with just sitting back and keeping a low profile - not wanting to rock the boat? The truth is that things don’t happen when we sit back and stifle our boldness. The Bible is filled with inspiring stories of individuals who took risks and were bold. And the results were positively life changing for themselves and for others. But being bold is hard for most of us. What keeps us from being bold? Fear - of being criticized, judged, or laughed at? Complacency? We just really don’t care that much. We’d rather someone else risk their own reputation. Insecurity? We don’t feel qualified or we worry that we will make a mistake or offend someone. Well, boldness is important. Boldness speaks the truth. Boldness changes things for the better. Boldness pleases God. It is my hope that by the end of this message you will be inspired and motivated to pray and look for opportunities to be bold.
I’m going to start with a story from the book of Numbers about 5 women who are a perfect example of risky boldness. The story took place shortly before the Israelites were about to finally enter the Promised Land. Moses was dividing up the land among the 12 tribes of Israel. The women in this story went right to the top, challenged a cultural custom, and stated their expected outcome. And it turned out pretty well for them. The story is found in Numbers 27:1-11(NLT) and Numbers 36:6-12 (NLT).
One day a petition was presented by the daughters of Zelophehad – (their names were) Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. Their father, Zelophehad, was a descendant of Hepher son of Gilead, son of Makir, son of Manasseh, son of Joseph. 2 These women stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the tribal leaders, and the entire community at the entrance of the Tabernacle. 3 “Our father died in the wilderness,” they said. “He was not among Korah’s followers, who rebelled against the Lord (which would have disqualified him from land); he died because of his own sin. But he had no sons. 4 Why should the name of our father disappear from his clan just because he had no sons? Give us property along with the rest of our relatives.”5 So Moses brought their case before the Lord. 6 And the Lord replied to Moses, 7 “The claim of the daughters of Zelophehad is legitimate. You must give them a grant of land along with their father’s relatives. Assign them the property that would have been given to their father.
8 “And give the following instructions to the people of Israel: If a man dies and has no son, then give his inheritance to his daughters. 9 And if he has no daughter either, transfer his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 But if his father has no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan. This is a legal requirement for the people of Israel, just as the Lord commanded Moses.”
There are further instructions concerning this subject in Numbers 36:6-12 (NLT):
6 This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad: Let them marry anyone they like, as long as it is within their own ancestral tribe. 7 None of the territorial land may pass from tribe to tribe, for all the land given to each tribe must remain within the tribe to which it was first allotted. 8 The daughters throughout the tribes of Israel who are in line to inherit property must marry within their tribe, so that all the Israelites will keep their ancestral property. 9 No grant of land may pass from one tribe to another; each tribe of Israel must keep its allotted portion of land.”
10 The daughters of Zelophehad did as the Lord commanded Moses. 11 Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah all married cousins on their father’s side. 12 They married into the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. Thus, their inheritance of land remained within their ancestral tribe.
Explanation of the Text
These 5 sisters had some obstacles to overcome in this Jewish patriarchal society. Most women wouldn’t have even bothered taking such a risk. They had to challenge the law and the customs of Israel. But the alternative was even worse - they would have had no land inheritance at all. Not only would they have lost their father's name among Israel and the tribe of Manasseh, they wouldn’t have the portion of land that belonged to him. This meant that they wouldn’t have had an permanent home in the Promised Land. This meant that they wouldn’t have anything of value when looking for a husband. Basically, they probably would have struggled for the rest of their lives.
These women believed that their request was just. They were willing to risk their reputations. Their determination outweighed their fears. It is amazing that these women, in a patriarchal society, actually had the opportunity to speak to Moses, the priest, and the tribal leaders. I’m thinking that God was behind all of this. They were so bold that they even stated what they expected the outcome to be. Instead of approaching the leaders whining and complaining, they calmly and clearly stated their expectation: “Give us property along with the rest of our relatives.” And it worked. Moses took them seriously and took their request to God. Even God agreed that the just thing to do would be to change the law.
It was probably to their benefit that there were 5 sisters banded together to make the request. And I think that is a good thing to remember. We will have situations when it will be best to take steps of boldness with others who share the same passion. Not only will this mutual support help us with our confidence, but the size of our group may help solicit more attention. However, there will also be times when we may need to have the boldness to stand alone.
God’s Character is Just and Fair
As we saw in the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad - it wasn’t Moses who decided the fate of the women, it was God. God said “Yes” because He is just and fair. And because God has the authority to do whatever He deems best, His justice will prevail
We see His justice in Deuteronomy 32:4 “He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is!” (NLT)
God says about Himself in Isaiah 61:8 – “I love justice and I hate oppression and crime. I will faithfully reward my people and make an eternal covenant with them. (NLT)
So, if God is just and fair, why do we see so much unfairness in the world? It’s because that injustice is done by humans, not God. He has given a wonderful thing to humans called free will. But that doesn’t mean that all humans will exercise their free will responsibly in a way that reflects God’s character. However, God does give us occasions when He intervenes and we see His justice prevail despite the evil of humans. But, it won’t be until He returns to the Earth and judges the people that He will totally do away with evil, injustice, and make things fair. He is not doing that yet, because He is God and thinks that it is wise to do it this way. God knows everything of the past, present, and future. He knows all the details of every circumstance and all the facts. He makes decisions based on His absolute truth. Because of God’s justice, fairness, and righteousness, He is the perfect judge. When He does pronounce judgment, His verdict will always be absolutely right.
Examples of Boldness - Apostles Peter & John and Mary Bosanquet
God, Himself, wants us to be bold. In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul tells Timothy that “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (NLT) So God knows that we are inclined to be afraid, therefore He gave us His spirit to be bold. God is available anytime to strengthen us with His power to do His will. If we are willing, God will empower us to be courageous, to speak the truth, to stand up for what is right.
And then they gave Peter and John a chance to speak asking: Who put you in charge? What business do you have speaking this way and doing these things? And “with that, Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, let loose: (saying) ‘Rulers and leaders of the people, if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, put under investigation regarding this healing, I’ll be completely frank with you - we have nothing to hide. By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the One you killed on a cross, the One God raised from the dead, by means of his name this man stands before you healthy and whole. Jesus is ‘the stone you masons threw out, which is now the cornerstone.’ Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can be saved, only this one.”
13-14 They couldn’t take their eyes off them - Peter and John standing there so confident, so sure of themselves! Their fascination deepened when they realized these two were laymen with no training in Scripture or formal education. They recognized them as companions of Jesus, but with the man right before them, seeing him standing there so upright - so healed! - What could they say against that?
15-17 They sent them out of the room so they could work out a plan. They talked it over: “What can we do with these men? By now it’s known all over town that a miracle has occurred, and that they are behind it. There is no way we can refute that. But so that it doesn’t go any further, let’s silence them with threats so they won’t dare to use Jesus’ name ever again with anyone.”
18-20 They called them back and warned them that they were on no account ever again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John spoke right back, “Whether it’s right in God’s eyes to listen to you rather than to God, you decide. As for us, there’s no question - we can’t keep quiet about what we’ve seen and heard.”
21-22 The religious leaders renewed their threats, but then released them. They couldn’t come up with a charge that would stick, that would keep them in jail. The people wouldn’t have stood for it - they were all praising God over what had happened (Acts 4: 8-21, The Message Version) - That was boldness!
I have another example for you. Mary Bosanquet was alive during the 1700s. She ran an orphanage and led one of John Wesley’s small-group Methodist gatherings. As her small class meeting grew in popularity, so did the criticism. But John Wesley gave Mary his approval and encouraged her to continue preaching. Things changed after John Wesley’s death. The Methodist Conference passed a resolution in 1803 stating that women would not be allowed to preach. However, Mary Bosanquet did not give up her calling from God. She courageously continued to preach five sermons a week until she died in her late 70s. Her boldness impacted the salvation and spiritual growth of many people. Her example inspired many other women to become lay preachers and evangelists.
Conclusion and Application
In his book called Risky Gospel: Abandon Fear and Build Something Awesome, Owen Strachan encourages Christians to be risky and bold. He says “we must break with a ‘play it safe’ mentality and embrace a bigger vision of our time on this earth. It is not our souls that should live in fear. It is comfort, ease, quietness, boredom, fearfulness, anxiety, and sin that are in mortal danger. Christianity is not about fear. It’s not about retreat. It is about advance, growth, and faith. It is about becoming someone greater in Christ than you ever thought possible. By the Spirit’s power, let’s pursue that awesome goal.”
Now, being bold does not mean that we speak and do things without using our filter. Even with boldness we must still behave in ways that are mature, respectful, and especially humble. It’s okay to be confident and have some passion in our voice. But we also need to carefully choose each word we say and think before each action we take. Without the proper behavior – we will be discredited and will probably be unsuccessful.
It’s time to rely on God for boldness and put it into action. What bold step are you going to take? Are you going to be more bold about sharing your faith? Are you going to speak out against injustice and abuse? Are you going to bring awareness to false teachings in the church? Are you going to boldly pursue your ministry calling despite opposition from others? Are you going to give your opinion at the next meeting instead of just sitting their silently? Are you going to boldly support the truth, even though you may be in the minority? Are you going to challenge your church to rise above complacency? Are you going to stand with others on Sanctity of Life Sunday – holding a prolife sign? Are you going to challenge a tradition in your church that you believe is wrong? Those are just some ideas to get you thinking. You will have to figure out your bold action for yourself. But God sure can lead you to it and He can give you the passion and boldness to do it.
No matter who you are - you have a voice, so be bold. You can make a difference. You can shape history. How bold are you willing to be? I want to challenge you to get started. Get the boldness to do one risky thing. Just one. Because as soon as you do it, you’ll be hooked. You’ll be energized. You’ll be empowered and motivated to make more bold moves. So, look for that opportunity. Maybe you already know what it is and you’ve been dragging your feet. Ask God to equip you with boldness. And then, in faith and with confidence - do it. Go do it for God.