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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 27

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-23

Numbers 27:3 . Our father died in the wilderness. These five daughters of Zelophehad allow that their father would not only have forfeited life but estate also, had he joined himself to the company of Korah. The magistrate and the church should be careful to protect the rights of females, who cannot contend as men for many of their equitable claims.

Numbers 27:18 . Joshua. Moses had sons, and it is natural for a father to wish his place to be filled by a son, but Joshua was more qualified; and Moses, perfectly absorbed in the divine pleasure, cheerfully assisted at the investiture of Joshua, as his successor in the high and arduous office.

Numbers 27:21 . Eleazar shall ask counsel. Livy, the Roman historian, says, Nothing of importance is to be undertaken without consulting the gods. Consulting the oracle was therefore anterior to the Mosaic economy, and ancient as the altar. The judgment of Urim. What the Urim and Thummim were, many of the rabbins have confessed their ignorance; why then should we enquire? But others affirm, that these were the twelve stones in the pectoral or breastplate; and that the answers made to enquiries proceeded from the coruscations, or glitterings of the stones. Others think that the answers proceeded from the rising up, or sparkling of certain letters which expressed the answer. It is however plain enough, from 1 Samuel 23:0., that David received his answers by a voice; and that none but an eminent person was allowed to consult heaven in this way.


This chapter opens with a new trait of the excellence of the Hebrew Theocracy, and of the superior protection the law afforded to the weaker branches of families. No sooner were the people numbered for inheritance, than the five orphan daughters of Zelophehad saw that they would be dependent, in case of not marrying, on their nearest relatives, their father having died under the common sentence which passed on Israel at Kadesh- Barnea. With equal modesty and wisdom they prevent an objection which might have been made against their father, as one of the infidel and rebel class. How great a joy to children, when they can mention a parent without either fear or shame: and this portion the poorest man may leave to his children. This case was undefined by law; for no law can express every case to which it may be applied. Moses laid it before the Lord; and the Lord applauded the plea of the women, and awarded the inheritance which should have fallen to their father. So this became a statute in Israel, for the daughters to inherit when there is no son. How happy, concise, and equitable was the administration of justice in Israel, when the bench was filled with worthy princes and elders. How preferable to the chambers of our lawyers, and the tedious and expensive process of our courts.

We have at last the gracious word of kind release to Moses. The Lord bid him ascend the range of hills called Abarim, of which Nebo and Pisgah were the chief, that he might see the land, and die. And what can a pilgrim desire more than to see the land, and leave it to others? The particulars of his triumphant exit we shall leave to Deuteronomy 34:0. Suffice to say here, that he felt no anxiety but for Israel. The patriarch of his country, having loved the people, he loved them still. His sole concern was for a successor divinely appointed. Seeing Israel guided by the cloud, and commanded by God’s vicegerent, he could then cheerfully resign his charge; and putting off a body little impaired with age and cares, triumphantly ascend to the holy patriarchs, and to God.

The Lord was most graciously pleased to nominate and anoint Joshua to succeed Moses as chief magistrate and general of Israel. The pillars fall, but the house stands, because God is the rock of his people. The seventy elders are gone, Aaron has resigned his breastplate and mitre, and Moses has cheerfully surrendered his charge: yet Israel prospers, and is just ready to enter the long expected inheritance. Let the church learn to trust and to rejoice in all calamities; for the Lord can readily heal a breach, and more than repair every loss.

The inauguration of Joshua was peculiarly solemn. Moses brought him to the door of the tabernacle, for nothing must be done without God. He laid his hands upon him, which act implied the transfer of civil power and authority, and by the consent and congratulations of the elders and the people. This, in addition to the divine call, was no small honour; for the voice of the people, in such cases, is the voice of God. Moses by the imposition of hands, and by a divine charge, conferred on him a portion of his excellent spirit, or qualifications to govern and command. Happy is a prince when his throne is surrounded by wise and aged men, who have long been accustomed to share in the successful government of their country. Happier still when that prince shall so acquaint himself with the law of the Lord, with history and human nature, that he shall bring to the throne a mind fraught with the wisdom of antiquity, and a heart adorned with every manly and regal virtue. The auspices of such a reign are a rising throne, and a happy empire.

In addition to all these endowments, the Lord provided for Joshua, the judgment of the Urim, as already explained. Exodus 28:30. The knowledge of the wisest men is very much circumscribed; their experience limited; and their speculations, beyond a certain point, dubious and dark. Hence we should pray for kings and ministers with unfeigned and fervent piety. The great actions of a state, whether respecting war or peace; alliances abroad, or regulations at home, intimately involve the happiness of posterity. And what mind can adequately trace the combinations and contingencies of those actions, but the Eternal Mind? Hence we should pray that providence would bless, guide, and counsel our sovereign, and our rulers; that the Urim of heaven directing all their consultations, we may, like Israel while in covenant with God, be infallible in judgment, and for ever happy under the high defence of JEHOVAH’S wings.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 27". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/numbers-27.html. 1835.
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