We are looking at the number of fighting men in Israel near the time of going into the promised land, following the plague of Numbers 25. Today we pick up with the tribe of Manasseh which is the tribe that has gained the most men of army age.
"The descendants of Joseph by their clans through Manasseh and Ephraim were: the descendants of Manasseh: through Makir, the Makirite clan (Makir was the father of Gilead); through Gilead, the Gileadite clan. These were the descendants of Gilead: through Iezer, the Iezerite clan; through Helek, the Helekite clan; through Asriel, the Asrielite clan; through Schechem, the Schechemite clan; through Shemida, the Shemidaite clan; through Hepher, the Hepherite clan." (Numbers 26:29-32) You'll recall that Jacob adopted Joseph's two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim. There's no tribe known as Joseph because his tribe is reckoned through Manasseh and Ephraim. Although the tribe of Levi does not serve in the army, Israel still has twelve tribes from which an army is made since Joseph's line split into two tribes.
Here in Numbers 26 Moses indicates Manasseh had only one son: Makir. In 1 Chronicles 7:14 we'll be told Manasseh had two sons born to him through a concubine and that those sons were named Asriel and Makir (Makir was the father of Gilead as we were told in our text today). Asriel's name being mentioned first suggests he was the firstborn but the only time he's mentioned in the Bible is once in the book of 1 Chronicles. No descendants are listed for him and this strongly suggests he died without offspring. It could be that he died young, before he was of age to marry. Or it could be that he lived a normal lifespan but never married for some reason, or perhaps he did marry but he and his wife couldn't have children. Makir's son Gilead named one of his sons Asriel. He may have done this to honor the memory of his uncle Asriel (assuming his uncle had passed away) or to carry on his uncle's name down the family line (assuming his uncle fathered no sons of his own to name after himself).
Manasseh's great-grandson Zelophehad only had daughters but they are given the honor of having their names mentioned in the genealogy of Numbers 26---something which is unusual. "(Zelophehad son of Hepher had no sons; he had only daughters, whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah.)"
These women are named because in Numbers 27 the Lord will give them their own inheritance just as if they were men. The Lord will set a precedent in our next chapter about how inheritance rights are to work. These inheritance rights allow a father's estate to pass to his daughters if he has no sons. No one else in the family is to be allowed to absorb the man's estate into their own; it must pass to the man's daughters and then, when the daughters marry and have children, the estate can continue being passed down through the descendants of the daughters. In ancient times it would have been common in many cultures for a brother of a dead man to take his estate if the dead brother had no sons. But the Lord doesn't want things done that way in Israel. The Lord wants the family lines preserved and the Lord wants women to be protected. If He had not made this law then the brother of a dead man could come in and take everything his brother had owned, shoving his late brother's daughters out into the cold (if they hadn't married yet and had no husbands to provide for them) and putting an end to his brother's branch of the family tree. But if the daughters inherit the estate, they will be provided for if they are unmarried, plus they will be able to continue their father's branch of the family tree; otherwise their father's name would have died out with him. Genealogy and inheritance rights are extremely important before and after Israel enters the promised land. Territories will be parceled out in the promised land according to genealogy. Land disputes, once Israel is settled in the promised land, will be decided according to genealogy. Every branch of every family tree must be recorded and preserved.
The tribe of Manasseh has grown more than any other tribe during Israel's forty years in the wilderness. "These were the clans of Manasseh; those numbered were 52,700." (Numbers 26:34) In the first census the tribe of Manasseh had 32,200 men of the age and ability to serve in the army.
The Bible doesn't provide us with an explanation for why this tribe produced so many males during the wilderness years: a much larger than average number of males. As we go through the Bible we will see some of the men of Manasseh's line showing great faith. We will see others showing great greed. But mostly what we'll see is the word of the Lord coming true, for in Genesis 48 the Lord said through Jacob that the younger son of Joseph (Ephraim) would be greater than Joseph's older son Manasseh. Right now the tribe of Manasseh is growing by leaps and bounds and it appears that they will overtake the tribe of Ephraim in prominence. Ephraim's tribe only has 32,5000 fighting men at this time, as we'll see in tomorrow's study. But the Lord knew what He was talking about when He compelled Jacob to pronounce the blessing of a firstborn upon Ephraim in the book of Genesis. The Lord knows everything that will ever happen. The Lord knows every choice every human being will ever make. This is why He caused Jacob to say of Manasseh, "He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations." (Genesis 48:19) The Lord can speak of the future as if it has already happened because to Him it has happened. Manasseh may appear to have the preeminence over Ephraim at this point in the Bible but His word regarding Ephraim will be fulfilled.