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Tuesday, July 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 27

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-11

The Preservation of the family Life, and the elevation of Woman by the establishment of the rights of Female Heirs (the Daughters of Zelophehad)

Numbers 27:1-11

1Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. 2And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, 3Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons. 4Why should the name of our father be 1done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father. 5And Moses brought their cause before the Lord.

6And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 7The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them. 8And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and 9have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter. And 10if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren. And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father’s brethren. 11And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the Lord commanded Moses.


[Numbers 27:4. Lange: extinguished. Keil: out off, cease. Bunsen: withdrawn—A. G.]


The section finds its legal enlargement and completion in chap. 36. As the inalienable character and security of the separate tribes is established in the previous section, so here the sure fixed continuity in the tribe branches or families. But in all, the dominant and fundamental thought, is the personal dignity and worth of the imperishable personal name. In a conditional sense Canaan shall belong to the people forever, for the sake of the name of Israel; the heritage of Judah because of the name Judah; and so also every branch of each tribe’s inheritance, for the sake of the name of the ancestral house, or father’s house. The daughters of Zelophehad understand the direction in this way, and speak not for themselves particularly, but that the memory of their father Zelophehad may be preserved in a corresponding inheritance.
Yet in so doing they act indirectly for themselves, i. e., for their own womanly dignity. They establish the claim that a family name could be preserved through a female generation merely—that in a conditional method female heirs could represent and take the place of male. They thus secured the law with respect to the inheritance of daughters, and with it a significant elevation of woman in her social dignity; although it did not amount to an equality with man. Their common and confident appearance before Moses, before the high-priest, the elders and the whole congregation, was itself an act of true moral elevation, which must have had a lasting effect, and therefore they well deserved to have their names rescued from oblivion, by a double record here and in Numbers 36:10 : Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.

That the law of inheritance was still in a forming state was owing doubtless to the fact, that in the so-called father-houses the patriarchal customs, the right of destination exercised by the patriarchal family head, modified perhaps by the views of the family council, were still to a large extent preserved. Thus here there is nothing said as to the right of inheritance of daughters when there are sons also; and the contingency of a daughter carrying her inheritance over into another tribe is left unprovided for, until the restrictions and limitations are fixed in chap. 36. The very question whether there was any right of inheritance for females was still so novel that even Moses felt constrained to seek a special decision upon it from the Lord (Numbers 27:5). These daughters surely had the purpose to preserve the memory of their father’s house through their possessions, i. e., by taking husbands only on the condition that the sons who might be born should be designated as descendants of their father Zelophehad. The provision, however, in chap. 36. seems to prove that this was not the universal custom, as Keil, Knobel [Bible Com.: suppose, citing as practical examples of it Jarha (1 Chronicles 2:34), Jair (Numbers 32:41; Deuteronomy 3:14), Barzillai (Ezra 2:61; Nehemiah 7:63). The fuller explication of the law, however, as to the inheritance of daughters, which, as an ordinance of God, fixed definitely the status of the right, truly led to this custom. If the sire of a house die without sons, his inheritance passed to his daughters. But in what sense the following regulations reveal: the heir next in succession shall be his brother, etc. In any case the inheritance must remain in the tribe. [Bible Com.: “A father, whether sons had been born to him or not, had the power, either before or at his death, to cause part of his estate to pass to a daughter; in which case her husband married into her family rather than she into his, and the children were regarded as of the family from which the estate had come. Thus Machir, ancestor of Zelophehad, although he had a son Gilead, left also, as is probable, an inheritance to his daughter, the wife of Hezron, of the tribe of Judah, by reason of which their descendants, among whom was Jair, were reckoned as belonging to the tribe of Manasseh (1 Chronicles 2:21 sq.). Thus Sheshan also, who had no sons, married his daughter to his Egyptian servant Jarha, and so had by them a long line of posterity (1 Chronicles 2:34 sq.). Other earlier nations had like customs. The daughters of Laban complain of “having no portion or inheritance in their father’s house” (Genesis 31:14), intimating apparently that Laban might have given them such had he so pleased, and thus bound their husband by ties which would have prevented them from leaving his father-in-law. So of the daughters of Job it is specially noted that “their father gave them inheritance among their brethren” (Job 42:15).—A. G.]

The daughters of Zelophehad based their demand upon their father’s right, which he had not forfeited. He was not in the company of Korah, but died in his own sin [i. e., the sin which he had committed with others in the wilderness, and for which he died without entering the land of promise.—A. G.] His destruction with the company of Korah would have forfeited his heritable right, but since he died in his own sin, i.e., from the universal connection between sin and death, he was on the same level with all the others. Had the daughters of Zelophehad intended to hint even, that he had through special transgressions hastened his death, they still knew well that that had involved a curse which rested upon his race. Indeed these daughters of Zelophehad possessed a fair faculty for doctrinal discriminations. Death without sin going before it, was for them at any rate inconceivable. For the law of inheritance among other Oriental nations see Knobel, p. 161; and J. Selden, de success. ad leges Hebr. in bona defunctorum, Frankfort, 1645 [also Keil, Archæol., § 142, Vol. II., pp. 212, 213; and Wines, Laws of the Hebrews.—A. G.].


The vindication of the right of inheritance for daughters shows not only the elevation in dignity and honor of women in Israel, but also the great value of continued and preserved genealogies, the dynamic force of the consecrated family tree, of a moral nobility.
[Wordsworth: Regard these women as striking examples of faith. They believe that the promised land would be inherited by Israel; and also of the working of God’s grace perfecting itself in human weakness, and cherishing the “weak things of this world to confound the mighty.”—A. G.]


Their renown. Woman also shall stand up for her rights, and have them recognized. The ignoring of these rights, as also their exaggeration. The elevation of the female sex in the Old Testament. Its complete restitution in the New Testament. The dignity and glory of woman consists in the inviolableness of her domestic destination. [“They discovered: 1. A strong faith in the power and promise of God. 2. An earnest desire for a place and name in the land of promise, which was a type of heaven. 3. A true respect and honor for their father.” Henry.]


[1]Heb. diminished.

Verses 12-23

The Consecration of Joshua introduced by the announcement of the death of Moses, with reference also to the speedy entrance of Israel into Canaan

Numbers 27:12-23

12And the Lord said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel. 13And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered. 14For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes: that is the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.

15, 16And Moses spake unto the Lord, saying, Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, 17Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord be not as sheep which have no shepherd.

18And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; 19And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight. 20And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient. 21And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation. 22And Moses did as the Lord commanded him: and he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation: 23And he laid his hands upon him and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses.


[Numbers 27:20. Hearken, without the object. See Exodus 7:16; Isaiah 1:19. The object is easily supplied from the context.—A. G.].


Deuteronomy 31-34 completes this section. It is clear from the whole context, that we are not dealing here with two successive sections, but with one having two closely related divisions; and that the first, of which here, the command of Jehovah to Moses to ascend Mount Nebo before his end, the fulfilment of which is not related here, serves as an introduction to the consecration of Joshua as the successor of Moses (in his position as leader of the hosts, though not in his prophetic office), and indeed with express reference to the approaching entrance into Canaan. [The command stands here probably in its natural and chronological order. It follows naturally upon the regulations as to the inheritance of the land. It was given to bring to the mind of Moses, afresh, what he had known before, that he was not to lead the people into that land, that his career was near its close, and to stimulate him to do all that he could, while he was still living, to provide for the welfare of his people in the future. The first and most essential thing was the choice and consecration of his successor.—A. G.].

Numbers 27:12-14. Moses is commanded to ascend Mount Nebo, in order to finish his work with the view of Canaan before his death. Here again he is reminded of his sin in the wilderness of Zin, in which also Aaron shared. The workings of passion, which in its inward violence and agitation may have, to some extent, shortened his life, seem to have been concentrated in that passionate act. The command here is left somewhat indefinite. Get thee up into this mountain Abarim. Subsequently it becomes more definite. Abarim becomes Pisgah, and Pisgah Nebo. Comp. Com., chap. 34, the Bible Lexicons, and Numbers 20:12. [The double כַּאֲשֶׁר is not causal, but comparative, indicating that as he had sinned with Aaron he must die also, with only the sight of the promised land; or that as they had sinned, they must bear the penalty of that transgression. Hirsch draws the distinction between the occurrence at Rephidim and at Kadesh, not only that the one was at the beginning and the other at the close of their wanderings, but that at Rephidim the water was to flow upon the blows with the rod of Moses, while at Kadesh it was the word of Moses which was to open the fountain. When Moses used the rod he did not sanctify Jehovah. He failed to recognize the efficacy of the word, and that they were now at the transition point, passing from the immediate supernatural divine support and security, into the ordinary, natural method of life. In His view Moses and Aaron had reached the end of their course; they had led the people through this more exclusively miraculous period, and there removal therefore while it was as a punishment for their sin, was natural and necessary also, their specific work being finished.—A. G.].

Numbers 27:15-23. A preliminary account of the consecration of Joshua. Although Moses had for a long time previously been familiar with the thought that Joshua, already for nearly forty years his military captain, would at one time replace him in that capacity as his successor, he did not venture with his human estimation and choice, to anticipate the divine decision. It was, too, in full accordance with his noble self-forgetful disposition, to ask for the appointment of his successor.

Numbers 27:16. Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh set a man over the congregation.—All flesh has the same likeness, but the spirits of all flesh are endlessly different. God alone knows and tries the spirits, and therefore He alone selects the right persons. In such an emergency, too, His decision alone is satisfactory. Comp. Numbers 16:22. The destined man must be the shepherd or the leader, the prince or captain of the people, since the people must not be without a shepherd.

[Numbers 27:17. Go in and out as descriptive of the private life, while to lead out and lead in designates his public official walk; one who in his private personal, and in his official life, should be an example to the people, and so be fitted to direct and influence them in their private and public obligations.—A. G.].

Numbers 27:18. Upon this Jehovah designates Joshua the son of Nun as the man whom He has chosen. For in him is the Spirit.—Spirit: Knobel, “Insight and wisdom.” Keil: “The higher power breathed into his soul by God, which quickens and shapes his moral and religious life,” and here “the spiritual qualifications necessary for the office which was to be entrusted to him.” The Spirit however is a developed fulness of life, here with reference to his particular calling as a leader of the host.

Moses, however, must consecrate him before Eleazar the priest and the whole congregation, by the imposition of his hands (transferring his official dignity) and give him a charge, the instructions which were connected with this ordination service. [The spiritual gifts which he possessed did not dispense with the necessity for the external consecration, nor would this consecration have been of any avail without the gifts.—A. G.].

Numbers 27:20. And thou shalt put some of thine honor (הוֹר) upon him. Moses could confer upon him his princely or his judicial office, but not the prophetic calling; for that calling Jehovah reserves to Himself, and it could not be made an official institution. Elijah could initiate Elisha into the prophetic order and school, but he could not make him a prophet. Eleazar was not a prophet, although as high-priest he administered Urim and Thummim, the substitute for prophetic decisions. [The eminence and authority of Moses were not to be fully transferred to Joshua, but in part. He became vice-leader. Bible Com.: The transference of this honor to Joshua is not parallel to the communication of the spirit which rested upon Moses to the seventy elders, Numbers 11:17; Numbers 11:25; for though Moses in elevating Joshua to his new office, did not part with any of his own spiritual gifts, he yet necessarily shared henceforward with another that power which hitherto he had exercised alone.—A. G.].

Numbers 27:21-22. By these decisions Joshua must direct his steps when he needed divine direction. The oracle is here designated merely by the Urim, because in the administration of men so consecrated it was pre-eminently Urim, the true source of light. [Moses had direct access to God, Joshua must use the means instituted to meet such cases of doubt or perplexity—the High-priest and the Urim.—A. G.].

Numbers 27:23. The consecration of Joshua was carried out in accordance with the prescribed regulations, as it is more fully related in Deut. Keil: “All the congregation denotes the whole body of heads of the people, or the college of elders, representing the congregation and conducting its affairs.” But beyond doubt the commander would be presented to his whole army at his installation, and it is expressly said in Deuteronomy 31:7, before the eyes of all Israel.


[It is not keenness of insight, or large culture or wide experience in affairs, but the gifts of the Spirit which qualify men for high official duties. Endowments, native or acquired, are not dispensed with, but neither are they sufficient. The crowning qualification is the Spirit, given by Him in whom the Spirit dwelleth without measure.]


Wordsworth finds a typical meaning in the narrative. Moses the law, and Joshua Christ. The law brings men to the border of the promised blessing, Christ gives them actual possession, etc. God will not leave His people without a shepherd.

The ascent upon the mountain Abarim. From a mountain, the servants of God take their departure from the earth, although for the most part in a spiritual sense: Jacob, Genesis 45:27. Aaron upon Mount Hor, Moses upon Nebo, Joshua at Shechem, Elijah, Christ from the mount of Olives. Moses a type also in the arrangement for his departure. Jehovah as the God of the spirits of all flesh. Behind the uniformity of the flesh and outward appearance, there lies concealed an endless variety of individual spirits which Jehovah alone can estimate according to their true worth and destination. The spirits of men, their spiritual characteristic features, are veiled by the external manifestation. Still they will be brought to the light, a. by the Spirit; b. by the age; c. in the last day or by the judgment. The consecration of Joshua and the determination of his calling. [Henry: God tells Moses of his faults, although a faithful, honorable and favored servant. He must hear of his faults and others likewise. God will show His displeasure against sin, even when in those who are nearest and dearest to Him.” The mitigation in the death of Moses. 1. He leaves his people provided for. 2. He has the sight of the promised land. 3. His death is being gathered to his people.—A. G.].

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 27". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/numbers-27.html. 1857-84.
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