Numbers 36 – Laws Concerning Women Heirs
A. The problem of female and tribal inheritance.
1. (1-2) The background.
Now the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the leaders, the chief fathers of the children of Israel. And they said: “The Lord commanded my lord Moses to give the land as an inheritance by lot to the children of Israel, and my lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters.
a. The Lord commanded my lord Moses to give the land as an inheritance: This passage is a reference back to Numbers 27:1-11, where the daughters of Zelophehad were concerned that their father’s inheritance would vanish, because there were no sons in their family.
b. Was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters: God, through Moses, declared that if a father has no sons, the inheritance can then go to the daughters.
2. (3-4) The problem raised by the solution regarding Zelophehad’s daughters and their issue.
“Now if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers, and it will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so it will be taken from the lot of our inheritance. And when the Jubilee of the children of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.”
a. If they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken: If the land was given to the daughters, then when the daughters married, the land went to their husband’s tribe – and eventually, the original tribe’s lands would become depleted.
b. So their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers: Solving the problem of Zelophehad’s daughters had created another problem – how to keep the property in a tribe through the generations. This illustrates an important principle – that there are rarely perfect solutions to problems; there are usually answers that are trade-offs in other areas. Maturity is able to make and accept the right decisions even when they aren’t perfect, “cost-free” solutions.
B. God’s answer to the issue of daughter’s and tribal inheritance.
1. (5-9) How to keep the land within the tribes.
Then Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of the Lord, saying: “What the tribe of the sons of Joseph speaks is right. This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, ‘Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within the family of their father’s tribe.’ So the inheritance of the children of Israel shall not change hands from tribe to tribe, for every one of the children of Israel shall keep the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel shall be the wife of one of the family of her father’s tribe, so that the children of Israel each may possess the inheritance of his fathers. Thus no inheritance shall change hands from one tribe to another, but every tribe of the children of Israel shall keep its own inheritance.”
a. But they may marry only within the family of their father’s tribe: The solution is fairly simple – if a daughter in a family receives an inheritance of land, she must marry within the tribe. Since the tribes were large enough, this really was no burden.
b. Every tribe of the children of Israel shall keep its own inheritance: Seemingly, if a daughter married outside the tribe, she had to forfeit the inheritance – because not only did she have inheritance rights, but the tribe did also. Her individual right of inheritance was not the only nor the greatest consideration.
2. (10-12) How the specific problem worked out in regard to the daughters of Zelophehad.
Just as the Lord commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad; for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to the sons of their father’s brothers. They were married into the families of the children of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father’s family.
a. Their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father’s family: In their case, not only did they marry within the tribe, but they were married to the sons of their father’s brothers – their cousins. This obviously kept the land inheritance within the tribe, and even within the larger family unit.
3. (13) Conclusion to the book: By the Jordan.
These are the commandments and the judgments which the Lord commanded the children of Israel by the hand of Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho.
a. By the hand of Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan: The Book of Numbers began in the wilderness (Numbers 1:1). It now finished as close to the Promised Land as you can get without actually being there.
b. Across from Jericho: As the Children of Israel stood across from the city of Jericho, we should consider what it took to take them from Egypt to this place across the Jericho.
i. From their encampment at Mount Sinai, God gave Israel the opportunity to grow from being a slave people to be a Promised Land people. He taught them how to be ordered, organized, cleansed, separated, blessed, how to give, to be reminded of God’s deliverance, given God’s presence, and received the tools to advance to the Promised Land.
ii. Then, as the nation actually set out from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land, they found themselves struggling with the flesh – they murmured, complained, and rebelled; most of all, they failed to enter into what God had set before them by faith – and a generation of unbelief was condemned to perish in the wilderness.
iii. God led the nation for some 38 years in the wilderness, with much motion but no progress – enduring more rebellion and murmuring, but essentially waiting until the generation of unbelief had died and a generation willing to trust God for big things had come to maturity.
iv. So they set out towards the Promised Land again and faced the same challenges of the flesh – but dealt with them better this time, until they made their way to the threshold of the Promised Land.
v. By spiritual analogy, many Christians die in the wilderness because they will not trust God and will not enter into what He has set before them. Many Christians also see the evidence of that lack of faith display itself in a weakness towards the things of the flesh. Sadly, many Christians live more in the wilderness than on the threshold of the Promised Land.
vi. Finally, consider what it would take to move the Children of Israel from across from Jericho to the Promised Land. Staying on the shores of the Jordan River is better than being in the middle of the wilderness; but it isn’t the Promised Land yet. They came this far by faith and will need faith to take them the rest of the way.