By Norman E. Fultz
Under Moses’ leadership, Israel had made her exodus from Egypt, and received the law at Mt. Sinai. She then came to the very border of the “promised land,” but because of the incident involving the spies (Num. 13-14), was then made to wander for 40 years. Ultimately Moses brought the survivors to the plains of Moab, and he and Eleazar were instructed of God to number the people – the second numbering since leaving Egypt (Num. 26:63-65).
The daughters of one Zelophehad come to Moses and Eleazar to request the possessions that would have fallen to their father when the land should be divided (Num. 27:1-4). They did then receive it after reminding Joshua and Eleazar of their right (Josh. 17:3). But our attention here is turned to something they said as they made their request of Moses. “Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons” (Num. 27:3).
The Stark Admission
Most folk don’t want to admit of a loved one who has died that he died in sin, much less to be so specific as to say “his own sin.” The tendency rather is to want to exonerate, at least in speaking with others about the deceased, if not in one’s own mind. Some might even try to convince themselves that in dying, the person’s own death took care of his sin. Not so these daughters of Zelophehad. They admit it. But they want it understood that he was not in the “company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah,” the account of which is recorded in Numbers 16. Moses implied that Korah and company sought the priesthood (v. 10), and they are later referred to as “wicked men” (v. 26). Jude calls it a sin of rebellion (Jude 11).
Why did the daughters of Zelophehad, if they weren’t going to admit that their father died in sin, seek to make it clear that it was not in Korah’s uprising? We can only speculate, but it was perhaps because Korah was thereafter held in such disdain that one would want to put as much distance between himself and that rebellion as he possibly could. Did they seek to imply it was less tragic to “die in his own sin” than along with Korah? Surely no one in our day would try to play such mental games, would they?
What was Zelophehad’s sin? We are not told, but there are two strong possibilities that might be suggested from Israel’s history. Could it have been the sin of believing the evil report of the ten spies. After all, that was murmuring against God (Num. 14:2,37; 1 Cor. 10:10) and that congregation was said to be characterized by iniquity and is called an evil congregation (Num. 14:34,35). Or could it be that his sin was, along with many others, committing “whoredom with the daughters of Moab” (Num. 25)? Perhaps so, if their encampment in the “plains of Moab” is considered a part of “the wilderness” wandering. But while we can only surmise what his sin may have been, there are some lessons we may plainly draw from the narrative.
Jesus said to the Jews of his day, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). From Paul we learn that one can walk and live in sin (Col. 3:5-7). One in that state is dead in sins (Eph. 2:1-2) and, dying in that state, thus dies “in” sin. And if so, it will be “his own sin” (Ezek. 18:20).
One Need Not Die In Sin
A way of escape has been provided, because “God who is rich in mercy” loved us with such great love (Eph. 2:4-5; Jn. 3:16). He “commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (I Cor. 15:3), and in so doing “gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6), giving himself “for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Tit. 2:14). Deliverance then is provided, and the Master himself invites, “Come unto me” (Matt. 11:28). However,
One Must Die “To” His Sin
Paul said, “How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? . . . For he that is dead is freed from sin” (Rom. 6:2,7). That death to sin is accomplished in repentance wrought in the heart by “the goodness of God” (Rom. 2:4) and “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10). Upon dying to sin, he who would be delivered is then “baptized into Jesus Christ . . . baptized into his death . . . (and) raised to walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:34). Having accepted the provision of God in Christ to deliver him from his sins, that one will then be, as was Paul, turned from “0 wretched man” to “no condemnation in Christ” (Rom. 7:24; 8:1).
The task before God’s people is to make men see the tragedy of dying in their sin and to call them to salvation in Jesus. Preaching on sin may not be pleasant, and most may not desire to hear it, but it must be clearly proclaimed.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 24, p. 748
December 17, 1992