New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Num 36:1 The heads of the fathers’ households of the family 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 princes, the heads of the fathers’ households of the children of Israel.

Num 36:2 They said, Yahweh commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the children of Israel; and my lord was commanded by Yahweh to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters-

Examples of spiritual ambition are inspirational; just as soldiers inspire each other by their acts of bravery. Achsah followed her father Caleb’s spiritual ambition in specifically asking for an inheritance in the Kingdom (Josh. 14:12; 15:18); and this in turn inspired the daughters of Zelophehad to ask for an inheritance soon afterwards (Josh. 17:4). And so it ought to be in any healthy congregation of believers. Ponder the parallel between Is. 51:1 and 7: “Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord… hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness”. To know God’s righteousness is to seek / follow it; of itself, it inspires us to ambitiously seeking to attain it.

Num 36:3 If they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of our fathers, and will be added to the inheritance of the tribe unto which they shall belong: so will it be taken away from the lot of our inheritance.
Num 36:4 When the jubilee of the children of Israel shall be, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they shall belong: so their inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.
Num 36:5 Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of Yahweh, saying, The tribe of the sons of Joseph speaks right.
Num 36:6 This is the thing which Yahweh does command concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, Let them be married to whom they will; only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they be married-
This verse is alluded to by Paul in 1 Cor. 7:39, where we read that a Christian widow can marry whom she will but only to someone “in the Lord”- in the same way as the women here could marry whom they wished, but only in the tribe of their fathers, unless they would lose their inheritance permanently. It could be that Paul is teaching that marriage within the faith, to those also “in the Lord” by baptism into Him, is so important that doing otherwise may cause us to lose the promised inheritance of the Kingdom. Marriage within the faith is indeed an important principle and ignoring it often has terrible spiritual consequences. But note that she was free to marry whom she wanted- in a culture where arranged marriage was the norm, God valued the dignity and free choice of the woman.

If we deny our covenant with God by marrying into the world, we have effectively cut ourselves off from Him. The command for widows to marry "whom she will; only in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:39) is alluding back to the command to Zelophehad's daughters to marry "whom they think best", but only "in" their tribe, otherwise they would lose the inheritance (Num. 36:6,7). The implication is that those who do not marry " in the Lord" will likewise lose their promised inheritance. And this rather strange allusion indicates one more thing: the extent of the seriousness of marriage out of the Faith is only evident to those who search Scripture deeply. As man and woman within Israel were joint heirs of the inheritance, so man and wife are  joint heirs of the inheritance of the Kingdom  (1 Pet. 3:7). 

Num 36:7 So shall no inheritance of the children of Israel remove from tribe to tribe; for the children of Israel shall all keep the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers-
The law of Moses reasons as if each family of Israel had a specific inheritance which was not to be sold or moved outside the family. Hence the sin of Ahab in obtaining Naboth's vineyard. It would seem that there was some unrecorded list made of each family and which land they were to be given. This looks forward to our very personal and unique inheritance in God's Kingdom, possibly based around spiritual family units. This was "The inheritance of fathers", "your possession" (Lev. 25:27,28; Num. 36:7,8). God had given specific inheritances to His people, that this was not to be sold or traded. The division by lot in Josh. 15:1 presumably meant that the tribal areas were defined and then distributed by lot. And then within those areas, each family was given a specific inheritance.

Num 36:8 Every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel shall be wife to one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may possess every man the inheritance of his fathers.
Num 36:9 So shall no inheritance remove from one tribe to another tribe; for the tribes of the children of Israel shall each keep his own inheritance.
Num 36:10 The daughters of Zelophehad did as Yahweh commanded Moses-

The fact God allows His children to live His truth on different levels needs to be grasped firmly by us, lest we become discouraged that others live on an apparently lower level than we do in some aspects of life. Being surrounded by ‘lower levels’ ought to inspire us to the higher levels. Zelophehad had only daughters; usually, in his context, a man would have taken concubines in order to produce sons. The record of his only having daughters is presented in the context of genealogies which show that many Israelite men had more than one wife (1 Chron. 7:15). But Zelophehad wasn’t dragged down by this; God inspired him to maintain the higher level which he had chosen to live by. He didn't use the principle of Jephthah's vow. And his daughters likewise refused to be limited by their status as females, but obtained an inheritance amongst their brethren (Num. 27:1-7).

Num 36:11 for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to their father’s brothers’ sons.
Num 36:12 They were married into the families of the sons of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and their inheritance remained in the tribe of the family of their father.
Num 36:13 These are the commandments and the ordinances which Yahweh commanded by Moses to the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.