Monday, January 12, 2015

Faith-Filled Daughters

“Then came the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, from the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these were the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses, before Eleazar the priest, and before the leaders and all the congregation, by the doorway of the tabernacle of meeting, saying: ‘Our father died in the wilderness; but he was not in the company of those who gathered together against the Lord, in company with Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.’ So Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 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 the relative closest to him in his family, and he shall possess it.”’ And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, just as the Lord commanded Moses” (Numbers 27:1-11, N.K.J.V.).

I had the opportunity to teach this passage last night after our Sunday evening time of prayer. As with so many obscure stories in the Bible, this is one that wouldn’t normally give us pause or make it into those children’s Bible story books that summarize the Scripture by highlighting major stories. But this is a great story, and if repetition says anything (which I think it does), the Holy Spirit Himself regards it as important. Aside from this passage, the four daughters of Zelophehad are mentioned three more times in Scripture (Numbers 26:33; 36:1-12; Joshua 17:3-6).

Is this merely Ancient Near Eastern case law, good for nothing except sleep aid to those of us 21st century members of the new covenant in Christ? No! We see some important principles in this passage that assure us of God’s immutability and the uniformity of the Bible as a whole.

First, there is a matter of faith. I will never tire of battling the caricature that the Old Testament is law-keeping and the New Testament is faith. The greatest verses in the Bible on justification by faith don’t originate in the New Testament, but the Old (Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4b)! Chapter 26 in Numbers is a long census (one of several – this is how the book gets its name). Why another census, since the book begins with a lengthy and detailed one? Because the Exodus generation showed itself to be unbelieving. Not disobedient to the Law (though that certainly was a fruit of unbelief), but lacking faith in the Word of God and the God of the Word. After the spies had returned from scouting out the Promised Land, the people put more faith in the fearful report of the majority of the spies than in the Promise of God that He was going to give them the land. Faithlessness merits wrath, judgment, and death, for faithlessness is sin.

“And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. Say to them, “As I live,” says the Lord, “just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection. I the Lord have spoken this. I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die”’” (14:26-35).

A lack of faith in the Word of God is complaint against God, a despising of His promises, infidelity, evil, and a burden for the next generation of the Church.

It’s about faith, not Law-keeping.

“For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it (Hebrews 3:16-4:2).

Zelophehad (along with most of the rest of the Exodus generation, counted in the early chapters of Numbers) died outside of the Promised Land because he did not have faith in the “gospel” (Hebrews 4:2) which was preached to him. The following generation, the Deuteronomy generation (whose census is found in Numbers 26) rises up. They have carried the burden of their parents’ faithlessness for forty years in the desert. Did this burden lead them to an even more bitter faithlessness, or something else? The remarkable four daughters of Zelophehad show us that, for some of them, forty years in the desert was an exceedingly fruitful garden of faith.

They come to Moses, and want the land. This isn’t some embarrassing, selfish sort of quibbling over inheritance that we see all-to-often among siblings with the death of a parent. They are showing faith. Zelophehad, a member of the tribe of Manasseh, was promised a certain section of the Promised Land. He died. His daughters (Zelophehad had no son) come forth to claim it. This challenges the cultural trend of that day, not just among the Israelites, but all of the Ancient Near East. There was no law against what they were requesting, but it certainly challenged the traditions of the day.

Here’s what makes this about faith: they’re not in the Promised Land yet. Their father was promised a share in the Land, but he listened to cowardly, faithless spies and shared their faithlessness. He forfeited his own right to the Promised Land by not believing the promise. His daughters, however, come forward – by faith – to claim a part of the Promised Land. A land that is currently inhabited by giants (Numbers 13:33). A land yet to be conquered. This is faith. These four daughters are heroes of faith, which is why this story is repeated several times in Numbers, and why four verses in Joshua are given to telling us that those women stood on the land they believed God would one day provide.

Notice (back in Numbers 27:5) that Moses takes the daughters’ case to the LORD. The LORD is living and active among His people, still their King and Law-giver. He honors the faith of the daughters and makes them co-inheritors of the Land of Promise along with all the firstborn sons and tribal name-bearers. This is exactly what we should expect. It may not have been the culturally traditional way things were done then, but our God doesn’t take His cues from the mores of the culture. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

He is the One Who tells believing husbands that their believing wives are “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7).

He is the One Who so paradoxically and beautifully says that women of faith are “sons of Abraham” if their faith is in Jesus Christ: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).

Only the ignorant say that the Bible puts women down. The God of the Old and New Testament gives a verdict in this civil rights case that is thousands of years before its time, and sets whole-Bible Christianity apart from countless other religions. Our society speaks of equality and twists common sense until it is unrecognizable, attempting to achieve parity through strange experiments and communication-frustrating, liberty-destroying politically-correct speech. All the while, there is in the heavenly, eternal Promised Land before the throne of God a great multitude purchased by the blood of the Lamb from every “tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9) – and from both God-created genders (both of which together reflect His image, Genesis 1:27). They are not segregated or put on different levels. They stand equal on a “sea of glass, like crystal” (Revelation 4:6).

The daughters of Zelophehad teach us a lesson about God. His righteous wrath against unbelieving Zelophehad was not as final as His mercy and grace toward Zelophehad’s faith-filled daughters. The LORD did not prefer the faith-filled sons of Adam to the faith-filled daughters of Eve, but treasured them all and eternally delights “in the ages to come [to] show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward [sons and daughters of faith] in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).

It is also a Gospel message. It is not Law-keeping that gains the Promised Land, for as Paul says three different times in one verse, “a man [or woman] is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Galatians 2:16; cf. 3:11; Romans 3:20,28; Philippians 3:9). We, along with the daughters of Zelophehad, will find ourselves standing in the Land by faith in the promises of God, which are all finally and eternally fulfilled in His Son Jesus Christ.

“We who have believed do enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:3). I hope to see you there.
Art by Iris Vexler Tamir

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Grace and Peace Nowhere Else

“John, to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from Him Who is and Who was and Who is to come [the Father], and from the seven Spirits Who are before His throne [the N.L.T. renders this “sevenfold Spirit,” based on Isaiah 11:2], and from Jesus Christ [the Son], the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him Who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:4-6, N.K.J.V.).

I did it. I told our Wednesday night Bible study group that I’ll be starting Revelation in a few weeks. It’s been over six years since I taught through it last. It’s time.

The main reason I like teaching through it is because I’m not a fear-monger, and it seems that most Christians regard the Revelation with fear. I remember one church member saying they appreciated how I taught it because I didn’t make it “scary.” It’s a shame that anyone would. Why would anyone teach a Book which begins with a promised blessing (1:3) in a way that specifically takes that blessing away from the reader, hearers, and those who would “obey what it says”?

Anyway, last Thursday morning I got to the coffee shop well before dawn and well before the rest of the men. I needed to allow the caffè americano (my standard for Thursday mornings) time to counter the sinus meds from the night before. I can make coffee at home (and do). One of the main reasons for my Thursday morning routine is now the barista. He’s a (pardon the clichés) free-spirit, New Age, hippy-ish sort of guy. Somewhat older than me. I’ve only seen him in a less-than-happy mood once (and, given the tragic plane crash that had happened near his property, I understood). I like people like that. He knows what I am, what I do, and why I meet with the guys there. It was the first time I’d seen him this New Year. I don’t remember how our conversation ended up the way it did (sinus meds), but he mentioned that all he wanted was a good cup of coffee, family, and friends. Given recent events (I suppose this is a timeless principle, so it doesn’t matter what those are when you’re reading this), I ventured to offer, “and peace?”

“Yes,” my grey pony-tailed friend said, “peace. I think that there’s enough people who’re going to start focusing that the energy will cause a swell of peace soon.”

He talks like that. There’s some native Peruvian folk musician playing guitar in a decidedly non-Western way chanting in the background (I actually like the music).

Revelation doesn’t just begin with the promised blessing of 1:3. This is immediately followed with a benediction and doxology. That benediction begins as so many do in the New Testament, with the inspired writer wishing “grace and peace” to his readers.

Grace and peace.

In this case, the benediction is given from the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Who are distinct from one another in Personhood yet are One God. In this, even at the beginning of Revelation, with all of its potentially fearful visions and words, is grace and peace.

We are told by the Qu’ran not to even say the word “Trinity” (“O people of the Book! commit no excesses in your religion: nor say of Allah aught but truth...say not ‘Trinity’: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is One Allah,” 4.171, Yusef Ali translation). But how can we not? From Him alone is “grace and peace”! In the midst of trials, tribulations, dragons, beasts, warfare, fire, plague, and the very rending of the heavens, it is to He-Who-Is-Three-In-One that we must run! Run. Not just give lip-service to if we happen to sing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” or the “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” We must run constantly to the God of the Bible, Who is Trinity.

I have stopped wandering heretics from stepping on to my lawn while my children were out playing (2 John 10,11) with the simple confession, “we are trinitarian here.”

I have delighted to find Him on page after page after page in the Bible (not just Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14).

I have purposed that not just my Bible reading, but my theology, and, even more, my prayers will be directed specifically to this God Who is Three-in-One.

I will not even see His creation without seeing that it is the handiwork of Trinity (“In the beginning God [the Father] created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said [the creative Word, Who is the Son – John 1:1-3]...” [Genesis 1:1-3]).

The earliest known example of someone drawing out what is now known as the "Athanasian Shield" (by Peter of Poitiers, ca. A.D. 1210)
Grace and peace from the Trinity. May we, beloved Church, seek it nowhere else.