Sunday, April 11, 2021

Numbers. Day 117, The Inheritance Of Zelophehad's Daughters: Keeping The Land In The Family

You will recall that in Numbers 27 there was a man named Zelophehad, of the tribe of Manasseh, who died without any sons. He had five daughters who appealed to the leaders of Israel and the entire assembly of Israel to allow them to have the same inheritance rights as male heirs. The Lord ruled in the women's favor and established this law: "If a man dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance to his daughter. If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father's brothers. If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan." (Numbers 27:8-11a)

Today a potential problem with the inheritance rights regarding daughters will be brought up. The leaders of the clans of the tribe of Manasseh are concerned about their assigned territory passing out of their tribe and onto other tribes if women who have inherited their father's estates marry outside of the tribe of Manasseh. The Lord will command women in such situations to marry only within their own tribe so that the territories He assigns to each tribe will not change or be diminished. 

It's not as if Zelophehad's marriageable young daughters will face any lack of eligible bachelors within their own tribe. In the last census taken of fighting men in Numbers 26, the tribe of Manasseh had 52,700 men able to serve in the army. A percentage of these men are young enough never to have been married before and a percentage of them are young or middle-aged widowers. They will be eligible for marriage, plus this count doesn't include men under twenty or men who are disqualified for military service due to a physical defect but who are still capable of making a living for a wife and children. 

"The family heads of the clan of Gilead son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, who were from the clans of the descendants of Joseph, came and spoke before Moses and the leaders, the heads of the Israelite families. They said, 'When the Lord commanded my lord to give the land as an inheritance to the Israelites by lot, he ordered you to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. Now suppose they marry men from other Israelite tribes; then their inheritance will be taken from our ancestral inheritance and added to that of the tribe they marry into. And so part of the inheritance allotted to us will be taken away. When the Year of Jubilees for the Israelites comes, their inheritance will be added to that of the tribe into which they marry, and their property will be taken from the tribal inheritance of our ancestors.'" (Numbers 36:1-4) This is a very valid point and we can see why these men are concerned for the future of the land assigned to their tribe. Any land a woman owned before marriage would end up being passed down to her children and on to their descendants. For example, if a property-owning woman of the tribe of Manasseh married a man from the tribe of Reuben, her land would end up belonging to members of the tribe of Reuben. Situations like this could cause the borders of each tribe's land to constantly change. Some territories would grow and some territories would shrink. We can see why the men are worried about how this is going to work out.

Moses consults the Lord to see how He wants such matters handled. "Then at the Lord's command Moses gave this order to the Israelites: 'What the tribe of the descendants of Joseph is saying is right. This is what the Lord commands for Zelophehad's daughters: They may marry anyone they please as long as they marry within their father's tribal clan. No inheritance in Israel is to pass from one tribe to another, for every Israelite shall keep the tribal inheritance of their ancestors. Every daughter who inherits land in any Israelite tribe must marry someone in her father's tribal clan, so that every Israelite will possess the inheritance of their ancestors. No inheritance may pass from one tribe to another, for each Israelite tribe is to keep the land it inherits.'" (Numbers 36:5-9) 

This rule doesn't mean that women who have inherited property will be entering into incestuous marriages; each tribe is already quite large in the book of Numbers and each tribe will continue to grow by leaps and bounds. The Lord already established rules in the book of Leviticus about which familial relationships are too close for marriage, so Zelophehad's daughters and any other women who have inherited property will be able to marry within their own tribe without marrying anyone who is too closely related for the wellbeing of any resulting offspring. The tribes have already mixed with each other in marriage, such as in cases where men of the tribe of Manasseh, for example, have married women from other tribes and have produced sons who are a mixture of more than one tribe. Some of the Israelite men may have married non-Israelite wives, such as Moses did when he chose his second wife, for we were told that a large number of other people came out of Egypt with the Israelites. These various types of marriages have added variety to the gene pool. A woman can marry one of her more distant cousins without increasing the risk of birth defects in the children they will have together. 

"So Zelophehad's daughters did as the Lord commanded Moses. Zelophehad's daughters---Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milkah and Noah---married cousins on their father's side. They married within the clans of the descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in their father's tribe and clan. These are the commands and regulations the Lord gave Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho." (Numbers 36:10-13) It's important that we do as Moses did when any important decisions need to be made: seek the Lord's counsel. It's important that we do what Zelophedad's daughters did after receiving the Lord's instructions: obey them. The Lord cares about every aspect of our lives. He cares about what property we buy. He cares about who we marry. He cares about how we handle our finances. He cares about how we treat our fellow man. As we've studied the instructions the Lord gave to Moses on the plains of Jericho we've seen Him issuing rules and regulations regarding all these things. We should never make any big decisions without first going to the Lord and asking for His guidance. He knows the best course of action. He knows how our decisions will affect our future and the future of those around us. 

Join us tomorrow as we move on into the book of Deuteronomy and find the Lord issuing new instructions: it's time for Israel to move on. Her forty years in the wilderness are up. It's time to begin taking possession of the inheritance the Lord has in store for her.

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