Numbers 36

The Word Made Fresh

1The family patriarchs who were descended from Gilead son of Machir, son of Manasseh, son of Joseph approached Moses and the tribal leaders. 2They said, “The LORD instructed you to divide the land we have inherited between the tribes, and you were told by the LORD to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. 3But suppose his daughters marry husbands from another tribe? Then their land will be taken from the inheritance of our tribe and given to whichever tribes they marry into. Part of our tribe’s inheritance will be taken away. 4Then when the year of Jubilee comes, that land will be permanently made a part of those tribes into which they have married.”

5This is the LORD’s word Moses then gave to the Israelites: “They have made a valid point. 6So, this is the rule the LORD has given respecting Zelophehad’s daughters: They may marry anyone they please within their own tribe. 7None of the lands awarded to the tribes may be passed to another tribe; each Israelite must keep the land inherited from his ancestors. 8Any daughter who inherits land must marry within her father’s clan so that no clan will lose any of its inheritance. 9The land is not to be transferred from tribe to tribe; the land is the permanent possession of each tribe.”

10Zelophehad’s daughters did as the LORD commanded Moses. 11Each of them – Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah – married within their father’s clan; 12that is, within the tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph so that their father’s land would remain in their tribe.

13These are the instructions the LORD gave to Moses to give to the Israelites on the plains of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho.

Commentary

1-4: Some of the Law had to be clarified and amended to accommodate specific situations, and this is where the idea of case law and legal precedents begins to take shape. A situation has arisen that is not covered by the Law to this point. Do you remember the five daughters of Zelophehad who came to Moses concerning the disposition of their father’s estate because he had no sons to inherit it (see 27:1-11)? They were of the tribe of Manasseh, and now the leaders of that tribe approach Moses with a further complication. What if a man has no sons and leaves his land holdings to his daughters, and they in turn marry outside that tribe? The land would then be part of the other tribe’s territory and no longer part of the territory of the tribe to which it originally belonged. So we once again meet the daughters of Zelophehad; Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah. They stand to inherit their father’s land because they have no brothers (chapter 27:5-11). However, if they should subsequently marry into another tribe, say, Benjamin, their land would then belong to Benjamin instead of Manasseh, and those two tribal territories are not even adjacent to each other.

5-12: So, another amendment is made to the laws of inheritance: if a daughter inherits an estate, she must marry within her own tribe. We are told that Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah did just that.

13: And so, with these gnarly little conundrums about property inheritance settled (they don’t even own any property yet, you know), the book of Numbers ends.

Takeaway

You have now read 4 complete books of the Bible. That is only 6% of the books in the Bible, but it represents fully 13% of the chapters of the Bible. You should feel good about that accomplishment!