The Word Made Fresh
1Zelophehad traced his ancestry from Joseph through Manasseh, Machir, Gilead, and his father Hepher, and thus was a member of the tribe of Manasseh. He had five daughters – Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 2They came to the meeting tent and presented themselves to Moses and Eleazar in front of the leaders and all the people. They said, 3“Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among those who took part in Korah’s rebellion, but died from his own problems. He had no sons. 4Why should our father’s name be erased from his family simply because he had only daughters? We are here to ask you to give us a possession in the land like all our father’s brothers.”
5Moses took their request to the LORD, 7and this is what the LORD said: 7“Zelophehad’s daughters are right. You must certainly let them have an inheritance like the sons of their father’s brothers. Their father’s inheritance should be given to them. 8Tell the Israelites that when a man dies who has no sons, his inheritance should pass to his daughters. 9If he has no daughters it should pass to his brothers. 10If he has no brothers it should go to his father’s brothers. 11If his father had no brothers the inheritance should pass to his next of kin. This rule should be followed from now on by the Israelites.”
12Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go up this mountain in the Abarim range and look across to the land I have given the Israelites. 13Then you will also be reunited with your ancestors as was Aaron. 14You did not follow my instructions to the letter in the wilderness of Zin; both of you disobeyed my orders, and dishonored me before the people” (this was at the waters of Meribah Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin).
15Moses said, 16“Then may the LORD, who guards the souls of all humankind, assign someone among us 17who will lead the people wherever they must go so that they will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
18The LORD said, “Bring Joshua, the son of Nun, a spiritual man, and place your hand on him 19in front of the priest Eleazar and all the people and announce that he will be their leader. 20Give him some of your authority in their sight, and they will follow him. 21Tell him to consult with the priest Eleazar, who will inquire of the LORD for him by casting the Urim before the LORD. At Joshua’s order the people will go out and at Joshua’s order they will return with him.”
22Moses did what God said to do. He took Joshua to Eleazar the priest and they stood before the people, 23and Moses laid his hand on Joshua and gave him authority to lead the people as the LORD had said.
1-11: A scenario is presented to Moses concerning the daughters of Zelophehad (see 26:33). Their situation results in a refinement of the laws of inheritance. Four new rulings apply to situations not covered in the earlier legislation: if a man who has no sons dies, the inheritance passes to his daughters; if there are no daughters, then it goes to his brothers; if no brothers, then to his uncles; if no uncles, then to next-of-kin. Still not entirely equal treatment for women, but a big step in the right direction, don’t you think?
12-14: God announces that Moses is to die (don’t worry, he’ll be around until the end of Deuteronomy). However, he will get to see the Promised Land even though he won’t enter it. The reason has to do with the event back at Meribah (see Numbers 20:9-13) when Moses brought water from the rock but not exactly in the way God said to do it.
15-23: These verses address the succession of leadership when Moses is gone. Several things are of special interest. First, the idea is raised by Moses instead of God. God, for his part, already has things planned for Joshua, but it is moving that when Moses is confronted with his own end, the first thing he thinks about is the people and how they will survive. Next, notice that Joshua is not given all of Moses’ authority. When Moses is gone, the spiritual authority will pass to Eleazar. Joshua will not communicate directly with God as Moses had, but must go through the high priest. That is how it will be until the time of David.
Good leaders are always careful to groom others to take the helm when they pass on, or retire, as is usually the case in our time.