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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Claiming Your Inheritance by Faith
Text:Joshua 17:3-4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 111:1,3                                                                                       

Ps 78:3,4

Reading – Numbers 27:1-11; Joshua 17; 1 Peter 1:1-9

Ps 105:1,3,4,15

Sermon – Joshua 17:3-4

Ps 16:1,3,5

Hy 71:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ, they say that children should never talk about their inheritance. Sure, one day Mom and Dad might leave something to the kids. But until that day, children shouldn’t worry about what they’ll receive, or daydream about how to spend it. We know what happened to the Prodigal Son, when he started thinking about his inheritance, and he asked for it too early…

It’s best if we push far from our mind the size and shape of our earthly inheritance. But here’s something we should not forget, that we’ve got another inheritance in store! As believers in Christ, we have become children of God the Father. By the Holy Spirit, we have been born again into his family. And God has said to us, his sons and daughters, “I’ve got an inheritance for you. I want to give to you riches that are beyond all comparison, a glory that is true and everlasting.”

As one who is almighty and eternal, the LORD God will never die. He doesn’t need to think about who will take things over, once He’s gone. But all the same, He gives an inheritance. Says Peter, God has prepared for us “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away” (1 Pet 1:4).

Inheritance—that’s the theme of the book of Joshua. For what this book recounts is the astounding fulfillment of promise during Joshua’s lifetime. God had vowed to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s descendants. That promise was made all the way back in Genesis 12, but here we are six hundred years later, and at last the time has come. The children of Abraham are finally in the land God has prepared for them, a place where they can serve Him as a holy nation.

And in our text the daughters of Zelophehad ask for their portion. They request their inheritance. And this is not being impatient or greedy, it’s being boldly confident, sure of God’s promise. This is our theme from Joshua 17:3-4,

Zelophehad’s daughters ask for their inheritance in the Promised Land:

  1. the reason for this request
  2. the faith behind this request
  3. the blessing on this request


1. the reason for this request: We tend to associate each book of the Bible with a certain theme, or a big event. Genesis is about creation; Exodus is about the exodus; Leviticus is law. Even if it only describes a portion of the whole book, we’ll go with that one-word description. So to us, the book of Joshua is about conquest. We think of Joshua, that brave leader of God’s people, leading the tribes into battle against the Canaanites, and conquering their land.

There’s some truth to that picture. When we start reading in chapter 1, we see the spies checking things out, the Israelites marching with dry feet across the Jordan, and then the beginning of a full-fledged invasion. Their first target is Jericho, where “the walls come tumbling down.” Then follows about eight chapters of war and conquest: cities destroyed, villages overtaken, kings and their peoples put to the sword.

Not to say they had an easy time of it, but in the land there was no military superpower like the Egyptians had been, who were a big nation, with one army. Rather, Canaan had many small city states and tribes, people who could be fought individually. So the Israelites quickly begin to take over the land.

Recall who is leading them at every step. Despite what that children’s song says, it certainly wasn’t Joshua who fought the battle of Jericho. All that he had to do was stroll around the city and blow the trumpets! No, throughout this period of conquest, it was God at work!

This is what the LORD said to Joshua in those first days of taking on the leadership of Israel, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (1:5). That makes all the difference, doesn’t it, when God say, “I will be with you.” If God is for us, who can be against us? And before attacking Jericho, Joshua even meets the mighty commander of the LORD’s army: the angel of the LORD. He gets to see who’s standing in his corner, the one who holds every outcome in his hands. From the start, this will be a “holy war,” for the LORD God is fighting for his chosen ones! He will remove those who bow to false gods, and He’ll put his nation in their place.

Chapter 13 does tell us that after several years of war, there was still some territory that was not taken—we’ll see why a bit later. For now, though, the people had more than enough room to grow and thrive. And so after those eight chapters of invasion, there come nine chapters of distribution! That’s what we see, from Joshua 13 to 21, the conquered territory being handed out to each of the tribes of Israel.

“This is what this tribe got,” the author tells us, “and this is what that tribe got. So-and-so’s portion of land stretched from this brook, to that range of hills, and then down to the sea, and it included the following cities and their villages.” This was a careful setting up of the LORD’s earthly kingdom.

It’s not an exciting read—it lacks the drama of Israel’s week-long march around Jericho, or the sun standing still in the heavens. Still, these nine chapters tell an important story. How do we know that? Well, it’s a good practice whenever we read Scripture to ask ourselves what this passage reveals about our God. What does this event, or that command, or that promise or prophecy say about the LORD we worship? Beloved, God is always saying something to his people in the Word: we just need to listen!

What then is the LORD showing about Himself in those detailed descriptions of where each of the tribes settled, and what land they received? We’re told plainly in the very last sentence of this section, a sentence that sums it all up: “Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass” (21:45). Line by line, boundary after boundary, this truth resounds loud and clear. This is the land that the LORD gave to his people, just like He once promised! Not a word of God failed, but all was fulfilled.

It’s as if the author says to his readers when the conquest of Canaan is all done, “OK, let’s now sing together, ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness.’” For God has been faithful, keeping that 600 year-old word to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken.” What an amazing truth for God’s people!

Just think of all the times when it seemed it wouldn’t happen, when the Israelites despaired, when the battle seemed lost, and hope was gone. So often it was because their own sinfulness got in the way. God had every reason to drop them in the wilderness. But beyond what we deserve, God is true to his people!

So yes, the author could’ve saved himself a lot of ink, and said in a verse or two, “Then the twelve tribes each received their inheritance in the land,” but the effect would not have been the same. Nine chapters full: a territory for Reuben, a territory for Simeon, a territory for Gad… On and on, so that everyone can see, “God doesn’t forget any of his children. He doesn’t go back on any of his promises. In God’s family, everyone has a place.”

Which brings us to the daughters of Zelophehad. Their story feels a bit obscure, overshadowed by the tales of conquest. It comes in a chapter that describes the inheritance for Manasseh, the older of Joseph’s two sons. Here we’re told about the different clans of Manasseh that receive a portion, “the children of Abiezer, the children of Helek… Asriel… Shechem… Hepher…” (v 2). And within that family of Hepher was a man named Zelophehad. This Zelophehad, it says, had “had no sons, but only daughters” (v 3).

To our way of thinking, having only daughters is challenging, but not a major problem. To an Israelite though, this was trouble! Because any inheritance would go only to the sons: the biggest share to the firstborn, and the rest would be for everyone else. Father Zelophehad had died in the wilderness, and he hadn’t left a male heir. So the burning question was: What will now happen to the portion that he was going to receive? With only daughters, will his family still be given their place in the land?

Our text is actually a sequel, Part 2 of a story which started in Numbers 27. That was the time when Israel was just preparing to enter the land, probably several years before. Already then, the five daughters of Zelophehad had come forward. They had appealed to Moses and the other leaders, “Our father died in the wilderness; but he was not in the company of those who gathered together against the LORD… He died in his own sin; and he had no sons” (v 3).

The daughters point out that Dad—and his family—still have a rightful place in the land. But they fear they’re going to be left out: “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” (Num 27:4). So Moses brings their case before the LORD. And God says that yes, these sisters too, should be given a portion in the land of Canaan.

To us that sounds fair. But among the Israelites, the giving of this land would’ve been unexpected—even pointless. For a woman usually owned no real estate herself. And once she got married, all her possessions were taken over by her husband. You can imagine someone grumbling, “What would be the point of giving these women an inheritance? It would just mean less for the other families.”

But this land wasn’t just land, of course. Canaan was God’s land. He would give it to whomever He pleased! This fertile territory, this beautiful earthly inheritance, stood for all the blessings of the LORD—it was his covenant promise to Abraham, at last made real. Canaan was all about the riches and fullness of life with God. And the daughters of Zelophehad know that. They want their place in Israel, a portion among the LORD’s own people! All the precious promises of God are for them also, and so they ask for it: “Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.” And God hears them.

So could we do something similar to what these daughters do? I mean, could we bring our prayers before God in the same way, and boldly ask for our “inheritance?” Are we allowed to appeal that God would give the blessing He promised, and keep his Word? Yes, we should—we should do this more! Pray to God, “Please answer me—bless me—according to your Word!”

We can do that, because we’ve been given great promises. Just think of what God vowed to you at your baptism, that as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, He will always enfold you in his loving care. From Day One, God says that our lives are completely enveloped in his grace and power. That’s our inheritance, and He’s given us his Word. It’s actually the one sure thing we do have!

Yet do we claim this blessing? Do we embrace what He gives? Too often we treat God’s promises as if they’re too good to be true. We know what He’s said, but we’ll probably need to settle for less. For example, sometimes a person wonders, “Will the LORD truly accept me, despite all my failings? Are you sure that I don’t have to earn anything with God?”

Or you start to doubt: “Will God really care for me materially, or spiritually, or emotionally? I feel like He’s not providing right now, so maybe I can’t trust Him after all.” Or when we’re being tormented by a sin or temptation, we wonder if God will actually give the strength and courage to say no, and to do what’s right. We know God’s promise to work all things for the good his children, but we just don’t see how it’s possible. We know his Word, but like with the words of other people, we take it with a pinch of salt: we don’t quite believe that it’s true. Or we forget what God has said. Or we begin to trust in someone else.

But God keeps his promise, and God desires to bless us in real and powerful ways. This means that first, we should find great confidence in his promises—His Word to you is reliable! Don’t doubt it for one moment.

And second, bring these promises before God in prayer—you can humbly, yet boldly, call on Him to keep his Word. “Lord, please grant me the gift of your Holy Spirit. Please provide me with wisdom. Strengthen me to say no to this temptation. Comfort me in my sadness. Help me to be a better husband and father, or to work more faithfully, or to pray more constantly. Help me to trust you.” God has promised these things—they’re our inheritance—and in Christ not a word will fail of any good thing which God has spoken!


2. the faith behind this request: Imagine for a moment how hard it might’ve been for those five daughters. The scene is in verse 4, “They came near before Eleazar the priest, before Joshua the son of Nun, and before the rulers…” Here are the top leaders of Israel, busy with military operations, resolving thorny questions of what clan should settle where—and the daughters of Zelophehad come with their appeal. They could’ve feared being embarrassed with a rejection, or being put off.

What moves them to approach the leaders at a time like this? There’s something noble behind their request. Because instead of being written off as complainers, these five daughters are commended. They have brought their request to the leaders in faith.

It was some years before, we said, that Moses had presented their case to God. And now the moment is right—the land is being handed out—so they ask for that decision to be acted on. If they’d remained silent, likely no one would’ve paid them any attention. They speak up, so that there’s no more delay. They ask to receive what is legitimately theirs.

And they believe that God will give it! For these past years have been constant evidence that the LORD is faithful. It’s simple: God will give them a place, because that’s what God has promised: “The LORD commanded Moses to give us an inheritance” (v 4). God’s Word was enough for them—enough for them to put aside fears, and step forward in confidence.

This is the same theme throughout the book of Joshua: to receive what God gives, takes faith. For as gracious and as powerful as God is, the LORD never cancels the calling on the part of his children. It’s what the LORD said to Joshua right at the outset, “I will fight for you—but you have to fight too.”

We see it again later in chapter 17. The people of Ephraim and Manasseh come to Joshua, and they request a larger portion in the land. And Joshua doesn’t think they’re being greedy. He simply commands them to go and fight for more land, to clear the trees and chase out the giants. If they’re going to take this land, then let them work for it. Work for it, while always believing that it’s God’s to give! 

The people have to work, and not all of them do. If you look at chapter 13, you’ll find a list of the territories that are not conquered, the kings and peoples that aren’t defeated. It’s actually not until the reigns of David and Solomon that all of Canaan is taken over. And the thing that always hindered God’s people was their lack of trust in the LORD. They were intimidated by their enemies. They didn’t want to deal with the challenges. And in the future it led to all sorts of problems.

For a long time the land was only partially conquered. And that stands as a good reminder of something else: that the land wasn’t the main thing. It was important, but when it came right down to it, the true inheritance of God’s children is much more—it’s more than property and more than possession. For there was one promise still unfulfilled, after all those years. God had promised Someone to deliver them from sin, Someone to rule them in peace. For even longer than they had waited for this land, they had waited for a Saviour, the Christ! And still He hadn’t come.

Maybe it seemed like Joshua was the one. Yet he doesn’t bring Israel all the way. As the book of Hebrews says, Joshua wasn’t able to give “rest” to the people, and bring them to safety. There’s a greater Joshua—Jesus himself—and He can give us ownership of every blessing of God! Because God never breaks his word, Jesus finally came. By his death, He defeated the kingdom of darkness, and He brings us into the riches and blessing of life with God.

Yet like Israel, we still haven’t received everything God has prepared for us. We trust his promises, we know they’re true, but some won’t be fulfilled until the very end. For example, we’re still a weak and an imperfect people, and every day we have to fight hard against Satan and our sin. Evil continues to thrive in this world. There is much brokenness. God’s children still die. In this life, some hurts and pains don’t ever go away. We have the promise of total victory in Christ, the promise of rest, the promise of glory, but we’re not there yet.

All this reminds us to keep eyes on the horizon. In Christ we have so much already, but there’s more to come! For all of God’s children, there’s more to come. So pray for patience to wait on the Lord. Pray for the ability to trust in God more. Pray that God will bring to perfect completion the work that He has started. Such faith receives his blessing.


3. the blessing on this request: There’s no one who can ever oppose God’s Word. When Zelophehad’s daughters bring their request, there’s nobody who can speak against it. God had promised them a place, “therefore, according to the commandment of the LORD, [Eleazar] gave them an inheritance among their father’s brothers” (v 4). With this land, they have a home: a place where they belong, a place near his presence. That’s the ultimate blessing for every child of God, that we are at home with him.

Today when a person believes in God, they might be without a home and land, they might be lonely, they might even be sick and dying—but when we have fellowship with God, we already have the most important thing!

This is why in Psalm 16 we hear David singing about the LORD as his inheritance. David’s life had seemed near its end. And when he was in trouble, David found no comfort in the stuff of earth. But David thinks on the LORD, and how blessed he is to enjoy communion with Him, “O LORD, you are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; you maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance” (vv 5-6). In God, and in his Son Jesus Christ, we have the blessing of a great inheritance.

We hold the title to it already now, but the best is yet to come. For, like Peter says, we have been born again “into a living hope,” and “into an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away” (1 Pet 1:4). All the treasures that the world offers us will only perish, spoil and fade, but what Christ gives is eternal.

So what’s your desire? Is it to get your hands on an earthly portion? Do you want more money? A nicer house? Do you want greater power? A better body? More friends, maybe honour and glory? Don’t waste your time!

Jesus knows how we can give our whole lives to the striving for vain things and empty things. So He warns against it, and He exhorts us, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (vv 20-21). Our greatest treasure, the inheritance that we seek, isn’t down here: not in the stuff, not in the people, not in the honours. But seek God. Desire Him. Long for the one inheritance that is incorruptible, that is undefiled, and that does not fade away.

For God has promised us, his children, the full possession of salvation and eternal life. He’s put our name right on it. Like the daughters of Zelophehad, we have it already—we have the down-payment, the first installment. But the balance is yet to come, “ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet 1:5). Until that day, fix your eyes on your inheritance, and cherish the blessing of being the son of God, the daughter of God.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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