Numbers 36 Bible Commentary

John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

(Read all of Numbers 36)
This chapter gives an account of an application made by the heads of the tribe of Manasseh, concerning the inheritances of the daughters of Zelophehad, which, should they marry into other tribes, would be removed thither, and so be a loss to theirs, Numbers 36:1, which case was judged worthy of regard; and to remedy this inconvenience, they were ordered to marry into the family of their father's tribe, and this was to be a law to all heiresses for the future in other tribes, Numbers 36:5 and accordingly the daughters of Zelophehad married their father's brothers' sons, Numbers 36:10.

Verse 1. And the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead,.... The princes, as Aben Ezra; so the Septuagint version, which was the tribe of Manasseh, whose grandson Gilead was, as follows:

the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near; to the house of judgment, as the Targum of Jonathan, the sanhedrim or court of judicature, consisting of the following persons:

and spoke before Moses; the Septuagint version adds, "and before Eleazar the priest," as in Numbers 27:2

and before the princes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel: the princes of the several tribes; or it may be rather the seventy elders.

Verse 2. And they said,.... One in the name of the rest:

the Lord commanded my lord; that is, Moses, whom they address in a very respectable manner, being the chief governor of the nation under God:

to give the land for an inheritance by lot to the children of Israel; which command may be seen, in Numbers 26:53:

and my lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother; or kinsman, being of the same tribe:

unto his daughters; who sued for it, and upon Moses's consulting the Lord about it, it was ordered they should have it, Numbers 27:1 and which these princes observed was likely to be attended with the following inconvenience.

Verse 3. And if they be married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel,.... Which was not an unreasonable supposition, and perhaps was judged very probable and likely, if some method was not taken to prevent it; which they might conclude from the application of some young men of the other tribes unto them:

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; for the inheritance given unto them would of course, the above being the case, descend to their sons, and whose fathers being of other tribes, it would be fixed there:

so shall it be taken from the lot of our inheritance; which gave them some concern; for though this was no personal injury to them, nor any detriment to their families and estates, yet, as it was a lessening of their tribe, they were uneasy at it; and the rather they might be, since half their tribe was to settle on that side Jordan, where they now were: and now all this, the suit of the daughters of Zelophehad for their father's inheritance, which was granted them, the address of young men to them as heiresses, the concern of the heads of the tribe of Manasseh on this account; all this, I say, being before they entered into the land, or it was conquered by them, or divided to them by inheritance, show their strong faith and assurance that they should possess it.

Verse 4. And when the jubilee of the children of Israel shall be,.... At which time inheritances were to be restored to the original proprietors of them; yet this would be of no service in the present case, but rather the contrary, since it would fix the inheritances of these daughters in another tribe or in other tribes into which they should marry; and so Aben Ezra and Jarchi interpret it, "though" there shall be a jubilee, that will be of no advantage; it will not remedy this inconvenience: for

then shall their inheritance be put unto the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they are received; it being one principal part of the business of the jubilee year to settle the inheritances of every tribe; and these daughters being married into another tribe, of consequence their inheritance would be placed there; or should it be sold by their husbands, or their sons, at the year of jubilee it would be restored to them as of such a tribe:

so shall their inheritance be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers; and thereby be a lessening of it; and every tribe being ambitious of preserving and increasing its grandeur, this affair sensibly affected the heads of this tribe.

Verse 5. And Moses commanded the children of Israel,.... Even all the tribes of Israel, whom the following law concerned, as well as the tribe of Manasseh:

according to the word of the Lord; whom no doubt he consulted on this occasion, as he did when the daughters of Zelophehad applied unto him about the inheritance of their father:

saying, the tribe of the sons of Joseph hath said well; in showing such a concern for the welfare of their tribe; the consideration of which would be of service to them all, and therefore was worthy of notice. Aben Ezra observes, that the heads of the fathers spoke for the sake of every tribe, what was for the good of them all, and therefore was well spoken.

Verse 6. This is the thing which the Lord doth command concerning the daughters of Zelophehad,.... Concerning this affair relative to them; the Targum of Jonathan paraphrases the words, "not for the generations that rise up after the division of the land, but for the daughters of Zelophehad;" as if this order only respected them, or what might happen before the land was divided, but not after; and this is the general opinion of the Jewish writers; but it seems, that as the following law not only concerns them, but all heiresses, so all such after as well as before the division of the land, since the reason of it holds good after as before:

saying, let them marry to whom they think best; whom they like best, who are most acceptable to them; as it was reasonable they should, and not have such forced upon them, whose persons were disagreeable to them:

only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry; they were to marry not only such as were of the tribe of Manasseh, but of their father's family in that tribe; they could only marry into the family of the Hepherites; see Numbers 26:32.

Verse 7. So shall not the inheritance of the children of Israel remove from tribe to tribe,.... Which shows that this concerns all the tribes of Israel, though yet not fully expressed, as it is afterwards:

for everyone of the children of Israel shall keep himself to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers; or cleave {a} to a wife in that tribe for marriage; this word is used in the original institution of it, Genesis 2:24 though they were not strictly obliged to marry in their own tribe; and frequently they did intermarry with other tribes, which, had it been unlawful, would not have been done, as it was by kings, and priests, and others; nor was there any danger of an inheritance going into another tribe by a man's marrying into it; wherefore this signifies only, that they were to be careful to keep their inheritances in their tribe; and therefore if any of them had no sons, only daughters, he was to marry them in his own tribe and family, that the inheritance might not remove, as follows

{a} wqbdy "adhaerebunt," Montanus, Vatablus, Junius & Tremellius.

Verse 8. And every daughter that possesseth an inheritance in any tribe if the children of Israel,.... For the same law which gave the daughters of Zelophehad right to their father's inheritance, gave every other daughter in Israel a right to inherit where there were no sons, Numbers 27:8 and every such daughter, according to this law,

shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father; marry into her father's tribe and family; by which it appears that such who were not heiresses might marry persons of another family, and even of another tribe:

that the children of Israel may enjoy every man the inheritance of his fathers; of his father's brethren, or of those that are near akin to him.

Verse 9. Neither shall the inheritance remove from one tribe to another,.... Which was one end of the year of jubilee, but that did not sufficiently secure it without this law, as this case shows:

but everyone of the tribes of Israel shall keep himself to his own inheritance; the chief view of which was, that it might clearly appear of what tribe and family the Messiah sprang when he came.

Verse 10. Even as the Lord commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad. They married into, the family of their father's tribe, according to the following account.

Verse 11. For Mahlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah,.... The names of the daughters of Zelophehad, and the same as in Numbers 26:33, only the order a little varied, Tirzah and Noah here changing places; there they are according to their birth, here they are according to their marriage, as Aben Ezra thinks; though Jarchi is of opinion, that being thus differently placed shows that they were equal to one another, and one was not preferred to the other:

these were married unto their father's brothers' sons; so that they were first cousins.

Verse 12. And they were married into the families of the sons of Manasseh, the son of Joseph,.... The family of the Hepherites, of which they were. Aben Ezra observes, that their being married into families, and not a family, is a sign that their uncles' sons were not all of them brethren, or the sons of one man, but of more, though all sons of one or other of their father's, brethren:

and their inheritance remained in the tribe of the family of their father; by means of these marriages, even both in their father's tribe and family.

Verse 13. These are the commandments and the judgments,.... The judicial laws concerning the division of the land of Canaan, the case of inheritances in it, and the cities of refuge:

which the Lord commanded by, the hand of Moses unto the children of Israel, in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho; where the Israelites had been ever since they were first observed by Balak king of Moab, and where the various things had been done recorded in the preceding chapters from that time.