Numbers 36





1  And the chief fathers” -  The same phrase is more correctly translated in

Exodus 6:25 “heads of the fathers.” It is, however, probable that rwba;h;

(fathers) is a contraction for twOba;h"AtyBe (fathers’ houses). The

fathers’ house was the next recognized and familiar division below the

mishpachah (family). Probably the fathers’ house included originally all the

descendants of a living ancestor, who formed the bond of union between

them; but this union no doubt survived in many cases the death of the

common ancestor, whose authority would then devolve upon the oldest

efficient member of the house. of the families of the children of Gilead,” –

“The mishpachoth of the Beni-Gilead” certainly did not include the Machirites,

who were somewhat sharply distinguished from the other Manassites (see

ch. 26:29; 32:39-41); it is even doubtful whether they included the Gileadites

proper, who took their name (and perhaps traced their descent) from Gilead,

but not from his sons. It may be confidently assumed that the Machirites, who

had received an extensive and remote territory beyond Jordan, had nothing

whatever to do with this application.  It was the other section of the tribe,

the mishpachoth of the six sons of Gilead, who were yet to receive inheritance

by lot in Canaan proper, to whom the matter appeared so serious that they came

to Moses about it - “the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families

of the sons of Joseph, came near, and spake before Moses, and before the

princes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel:”


2 “And they said, The LORD commanded my Lord” -  My lord. ynidoa}.

The singular form is constantly used in Hebrew, as in other languages, together

with the plural personal pronoun (see at Genesis 23:6). The deference now paid

to Moses (ch. 32:25, 27) is in marked contrast to the treatment he had received

from the former generation. Only Aaron (and that under the influence of terror

(Exodus 32:22; ch.12:11) and Joshua (ch.11:28) had addressed him as Adoni

before - “to give the land for an inheritance by lot to the children of Israel:

and my Lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of

Zelophehad our brother unto his daughters.”  (See ch. 27)


3 “And if they be married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the

children of Israel, then shall their inheritance be taken from the

inheritance of our fathers, and shall be put to the inheritance of the

tribe whereunto they are received: so shall it be taken from the lot

of our inheritance.” Whereunto they are received. Literally, as in the margin,

unto whom (μh,l; referring to the men of the tribe) they shall be.”


4 “And when the jubile of the children of Israel shall be,” – It is remarkable

that this is the only reference by name to the Jubilee (lbewOy, jubeel; not jubilee,

which is the vulgar form of the same word derived from the Latin jubiheus) to be

found in the Scriptures. Some allusions more or less doubtful have been pointed

out in the prophets, but the only one which seems incontrovertible is in Ezekiel

46:17, and belongs to the ideal regime of that vision. Jeremiah’s right of

redemption over the lands of his family was probably due to the fact that they

were priestly lands (Joshua 21:18; Jeremiah 1:1; 32:7-9), and as such incapable of

permanent alienation. It is, therefore, doubtful whether the Jubilee was ever

actually observed, although the principle upon which it rested, the equity of

redemption which no Israelite could divest himself of, was undoubtedly

acknowledged (see notes on Leviticus 25) - “then shall their inheritance be

put unto the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they are received: so shall

their inheritance be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our

fathers.”  It is again remarkable that the one explicit reference to the Jubilee

should be only to an indirect consequence of its practical working. The Jubilee

could not really transfer the property of the heiress to her husband’s tribe,

but it would in effect confirm that transfer, and make it permanent. In

practice no property would be considered to have finally changed hands

until the year of Jubilee, when an extensive re-settlement took place, and

when all titles not successfully challenged would be considered as

confirmed. Since the title of the heiress’s children could not be challenged,

and since any intermediate disposition of the land must then determine, the

Jubilee would seem to effect the transfer of which it compelled the

recognition. It is, however, none the less strange that the Manassites

should have laid such stress upon the practical effects of a piece of

legislation which had never yet come into use. It seems to point to the

conclusion that the same thing had been customary among them in their

Egyptian homes, and that they were acquainted, at least by tradition, with

its actual working.


5 “And Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of

 the LORD, saying, The tribe of the sons of Joseph” - “The tribe (matteh) of

the Beni-Joseph.” There were two, or rather in effect three, tribes of the Beni-

Joseph; Moses referred, of course, to the one which had come before him –

hath said well.”


6 “This is the thing which the LORD doth command concerning the

daughters of Zelophehad, saying, Let them marry to whom they

think best; only to the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry.”

The direction is not altogether plain, since the tribe (matteh) contained several

families (mishpachoth), and in this case one or more of the families were widely

separated from the rest. Probably the words are to be read, “only to the tribe-

family of their father,” i.e., only into that mishpachah of Manasseh to which

their father had belonged. Practically, therefore, they were restricted to the

family of the Hepherites (ch. 26:32-33). This is made almost certain when we

remember that the territory of the “family” was to be apportioned within the

tribe in the same way, and with the same regard to relationship, as the territory

of the tribe within the nation (see on ch. 33:54).


7 “So shall not the inheritance of the children of Israel remove from tribe to

tribe: for every one of the children of Israel shall keep himself to the

inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.”  This was to be the general rule which

governed all such questions. Every Israelite had his own share in the inheritance

of his tribe, and with that he was to be content, and not seek to intrude on other

tribes. Accordingly the decision in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad

is extended to all similar cases.


8 And every daughter, that possesseth an inheritance in any tribe of

the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of

her father, that the children of Israel may enjoy every man the inheritance

of his fathers.  9 Neither shall the inheritance remove from one tribe to

another tribe; but every one of the tribes of the children of Israel shall

keep himself to his own inheritance.  10 Even as the LORD commanded

Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad:”


11 “For Mahlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah,” -  It is a

curious instance of the inartificial character of the sacred records that these

five names, which have not the least interest in themselves, are repeated thrice

in this Book, and once in Joshua (Joshua 17:3).  (Something like a precedent

in our own court cases on a national level – CY – 2012)   It is evident that the

case made a deep impression upon the mind of the nation at the time - “the

daughters of Zelophehad, were married unto their father’s brothers’

sons:” - The Hebrew word dwOD is always translated “father’s

brother,” or “uncle;” and that seems to be its ordinary meaning, although in

Jeremiah 32:12 it stands for uncle’s son. There is no reason to depart

from the customary reading here. No doubt the daughters of Zelophehad

acted according to the spirit as well as the letter of the law, and married the

nearest male relatives who were open to their choice. The Septuagint has

- tois anepsiois auton -   12 And 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.”


13 “These are the commandments” -  twOxMih".  This is one of the words

which recur so continually in Deuteronomy and in Psalm 119. It is found four

times in ch. 15, and in a few other passages of the earlier books, including

Leviticus 27:34 - “and the judgments” - μyfip;v]Mih". A similar formula is

found at the conclusion of Leviticus (Leviticus 26:46), where, however,

the commandments” represents a different word (μyQijuh"), and a third term,

the laws” (trowOTh"), is added. It is difficult to say confidently what is

included under the “these” of this verse. Comparing it with ch.33:50, it would

seem that it only referred to the final regulations and enactments of the last four

chapters; but as we have no reason to believe that the later sections of the Book

are arranged in any methodical order, we cannot limit its scope to those, or

deny that it may include the laws of chapters 28-30. For a similar reason we

cannot say that the use of this concluding formula excludes the possibility of

further large additions having been subsequently made to the Divine legislation

 in the same place and by the same person, as recorded in the Book of

Deuteronomy. All we can say is, that the Book of Numbers knows nothing

about any such additions, and concludes in such sort as to make it a matter

of surprise that such additions are afterwards met with. The continuity,

which so clearly binds together the main bulk of the four books of Moses,

ends with this verse. This fact does not of course decide any question

which arises concerning the fifth book; it merely  leaves all such questions

to be determined on their own merits - “which the Lord commanded by

the hand of Moses unto the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by

Jordan near Jericho.” 



 The Sure Inheritance (vs. 1-13)


The decision here recorded, and expanded into a general law, was wholly

intended to preserve to each tribe and each family its own inheritance in the

land of promise inviolate and undisturbed. Spiritually it can but point to the

inheritance “incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved

in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4), FOR WHICH WE LOOK!   That there was

any special intention in connection with this law to preserve intact the inheritance

of Judah, or that it has any bearing on the tribal relationship of the earthly

parents of the Divine child, is extremely unlikely. It would certainly appear

that Mary had no patrimony, even if she had no brothers. Consider, therefore:




INHERITANCE IN CANAAN. Even so the final end of the

dispensation of the gospel is that every one of the elect may obtain for

ever that fullness of joy and of life which is prepared for him; to this

end all things are made to work together.





GUARDED FROM INVASION.  Even so there will, no doubt, in the

future reward be many elements of common as well as of individual

happiness, and some of these common to those who have lived and

suffered together as members of the same particular Church; these also will

be preserved inviolable. Whatever special graces have been developed in

the common Christianity of any Church will doubtless be reflected in the

immortal state.




every one of us should cultivate the grace given him, and seek the reward

set before him, not coveting the gifts which belong to others, not aspiring

 to the glory to which he is not called.  (Note the matter of Korah – ch.16)




NEIGHBORS. Even so the different branches of Christ’s Church, so far

as they by the will of God divide the field between them, are strictly

forbidden to invade one another’s heritage.  (Romans 15:20)




Even so the necessity of not intruding upon the portion of others must

and does involve considerable self-restraint, and the sacrifice perhaps

of cherished desires,on the part of individual members of the Church.


And note that this case so carefully recorded appears trivial, and

unworthy of the space it occupies in Holy Writ. Nevertheless, it

was not trivial, because it involved a most important principle, and

because it was settled by an act of perfect obedience. And note again

that the operation of the Jubilee, which was so graciously designed

for all Israelites, threatened in this case to aggravate an evil, which,

however, was averted by Divine provision. There may be cases in

which even the grace of the gospel may threaten hardship to some;

but if there are, God will find a remedy.  It would not be right to press

the example of Zelophehad’s daughters in a social sense, but we may

draw the general moral lesson:


Ø      That if any have exceptional opportunity of bestowing advantage

on others, they should not consult their own fancy nor make an

arbitrary choice, but be guided by the general good of all.


Ø      That none should put themselves forward in order to secure

exceptional advantage, but let it fall to those for whom God

.has designed it


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