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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 27

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



The daughters of Zelophehad sue for their father's inheritance; a law is established concerning inheritances. Moses is commanded to ascend into mount Abarim, thence to see the land of Canaan; and, by God's command, constitutes Joshua leader of the people.

Before Christ 1452.

Verses 1-2

Numbers 27:1-2. Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, &c.— In the last register of the Israelitish families, notice was taken of Zelophehad, son of Hepher, in the tribe of Manasseh, who died without male issue, and left five daughters his only heirs, chap. Numbers 26:33. These women, being informed that the land of Canaan was to be divided among the heads of families of tribes, mentioned in that register, which consisted only of males, imagined that they, being females, were to be excluded from all settled inheritance in the lands and estates in that country, and, consequently, that the name and family of the Hepherites would become utterly extinguished; whereupon they drew up a representation of their case, which they laid before Moses in a full court of the high priest and judges, assembled with him at the tabernacle. See Exodus 18:25. By all the congregation is meant the seventy elders, or representatives of the people, chap. Numbers 11:24.

Verses 3-4

Numbers 27:3-4. Our father died in the wilderness, &c.— In these verses we have the petition of the daughters of Zelophehad, who urged that their father dying without male issue in the wilderness, in his own sin, i.e. by a common and ordinary death, (not such a one as they shared who were partakers of the guilt of Korah and his companions,) it was not right that the name of their father should be done away, i.e. rased out of the genealogical tables; for such was the case upon any family being extinct; upon which account they request a possession among the brethren of their father. Houbigant, however, is of opinion, that name is here used for memory, which is easily transmitted from fathers to sons by a paternal inheritance; as, on the contrary, their memory is soon blotted out who leave their inheritance to strangers. Philo gives Zelophehad the appellation of a man of an excellent character, and descended of a very considerable tribe; and Josephus calls him (Antiq. lib. iv. c. 7.) a person of condition and eminence. Philo's account of the petition brought by the daughters is very just and probable: Upon their father's death, says he, fearing lest the paternal estate should go out of the family, inasmuch as estates were to descend by the males, they came, with that decency and reverence which became their sex and age, to the governor of the people; and this not so much out of anxiety and concern for the estate, as from an earnest desire to preserve from extinction the name of their father, and the remembrance of his honourable birth and quality. "Our father," say they, "is dead. He lived a quiet and contemplative life, and did not forfeit it among the multitude who were judicially cut off for their perverseness and rebellion. It is not to be imputed to his sin that he left no male issue. And here we, his daughters, stand before you as humble petitioners. As our father has left us orphans, we hope to find a father in you; for a father of his country stands in a prior and nearest relation to his subjects, than even a natural father to his own family." De Vita Mos. lib. 3:

Verses 7-11

Numbers 27:7-11. The daughters of Zelophehad speak right God, approving their petition, passes their special case into a general law hereafter to be observed. These daughters of Zelophehad were to enjoy what would have fallen to their father's share had he been alive, because they stood in his place, and represented his person: and accordingly we find, that they had their portion in the land. Joshua 1:3. While, for the future, it is provided, that the inheritance should always pass to the next of kin, whether male or female, of the family of him who is deceased. This is ordained Num 27:11 to be a statute of judgment unto the children of Israel; i.e. a standing law whereby to judge of succession to inheritance in all future times. We may just observe, that the Hebrew text speaks here of the daughters in the masculine, which some interpreters think to be used because they are treated as if they were heirs male: but Hallet is rather of opinion, that there is a slight fault in the copyists, especially as the Samaritan Pentateuch expresses the same thing in the feminine. See Hallet's Study of the Scriptures, vol. 2: p. 16 and Selden de Success. cap. 12: Dr. Kennicott says, that where it is the father of them אביהם abihem, in the printed text, in the masculine, it is the father of them אביהן abihen, in the feminine, in no less than four MSS. in the Bodleian, and in another of Erfurt; see Dissert. p. 413. Lord Clarendon upon the 8th verse observes, "that the disinheriting of daughters is not only against divine right, but is of modern invention, and hath not antiquity to support it." According to the law of the twelve tribes, if any one died without children, brethren and sisters of the same father, the inheritance went to the next of kin. Ulpian. Instit. de Leg. Haered.

Verse 12

Numbers 27:12. Get thee up into this mount Abarim It appears from Deuteronomy 32:49; Deu 32:52 that these words were spoken by the Lord to Moses, after all which follows here in the Book of Deuteronomy. Abarim was a long ridge of mountains between the river Arnon and the river Jordan; one part of these mountains was distinguished by the name of Mount Nebo. Deu 32:49 compared with Numbers 33:47-48. And from Deu 34:1 it appears, that Nebo and Pisgah were one and the same mountain. If there was any distinction between them, it was, that the top of the mountain was more particularly called Pisgah. Abarim in the Hebrew signifies passages, which name might possibly be given to these mountains, because the Israelites passed the Jordan over against them. Dr. Shaw gives us the following description of these mountains. "Beyond these plains [of Jordan] over against Jericho, where we are to look for the mountains of Abarim, the northern boundary of the land of Moab, our prospect is interrupted by an exceeding high ridge of desolate mountains, no otherwise diversified than by a succession of naked rocks and precipices, rendered in several places more frightful by a multiplicity of torrents which fall on each side of them. This ridge is continued all along the eastern coast of the Dead Sea, as far as our eye can conduct us, affording us all the way a most lonesome, melancholy prospect, not a little assisted by the intermediate view of a large, stagnating, unactive expanse of water, rarely, if ever, enlivened by any flocks of waterfowl that settle upon it, or by so much as one vessel of passage or commerce that is known to frequent it." Travels, p. 277.

REFLECTIONS.—Moses is warned of his death, and reminded of his sin which was the cause of it. He must not enter Canaan, but he may be gratified with a sight of it. For this purpose he is ordered to go up to mount Abarim, and there, as Aaron before him in mount Hor, after he had seen the promised land, he must be gathered to his fathers. Note; (1.) The dearest servants of God go not unpunished for their offences. (2.) Temporal death is the tribute we must all pay for sin. (3.) The dying believer is by faith enabled to see the heavenly country, and to rejoice in the prospect even on this side the grave. (4.) It is among the great comforts of death, that we are going to those whose presence and company will make the exchange of states most desirable. (5.) We should improve by the death of those whom we have seen depart before us in comfort and peace, and be encouraged to hope that our last end shall be like theirs.

Verses 15-17

Numbers 27:15-17. And Moses spake unto the Lord The information of his approaching departure did not at all surprize Moses, who, for a long time, had been accustomed to consider death as that circumstance alone which could procure him true repose, after a life full of trouble and agitation. We find, however, Deu 3:25 that he entreated the Lord to permit him to go over Jordan, and see the promised land; but God having refused him this favour, full of submission to his will, and desirous only of the felicity of the people whom he had thus far conducted, he addresses God, in the most fervent manner, for the appointment of an able person to succeed him in his office, in which he demonstrates the generosity and goodness of his heart, in the religious and public spirit by which he was actuated. The expression, the God of the spirits of all flesh, sufficiently proves that Moses both knew and inculcated the immortality of the soul. He appeals to him, not only as the creator of souls, but as perfectly knowing their dispositions, and consequently best understanding who were fit for so weighty an employment as that of the Shepherd of His people; under which metaphor we find, among the ancients, kings and chief rulers generally designed. There are frequent instances of this allusion in the Scriptures, and in the works of Homer.

Verse 18

Numbers 27:18. Take thee Joshua, the son of Nun Hence it appears, that this high office of leader or judge of Israel was not to be hereditary; nor did the policy of Moses take one step to perpetuate it in his own posterity or family; a convincing proof of his disinterestedness, and one which shews him to have been actuated by a principle which raised him above other lawgivers, who generally took care to advance their own families. As it was necessary that this office should be discharged by a person of the most eminent qualifications, God therefore appoints Joshua, the son Nun, who had been a constant attendant upon Moses, but who was of another family, and another tribe. He is said to be a man in whom is the spirit; respecting which, see Genesis 41:38. Exo 28:3 and Deuteronomy 34:9.

And lay thine hand upon him The ceremony of laying on of hands denoted Moses's transferring the public trust delegated to him from God, upon Joshua, from himself. This ceremony was accompanied with solemn prayer, for the influence of the Divine Spirit to qualify the party for his office; and, when performed by men endued with a prophetic spirit, as Moses and the apostles, it was a sign and attestation of those moral endowments which God was pleased to convey to him who was thus invested with an office. See Deuteronomy 34:9. 1Ti 4:14. 2Ti 1:6 and Le Clerc on the passage.

Verse 19

Numbers 27:19. And give him a charge in their sight The substance of this charge is found, Deuteronomy 31:7-8.

Verse 20

Numbers 27:20. And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him There is nothing for some in the Hebrew. It may be rendered, and thou shalt give unto him of thine honour or glory. Some of the rabbis have supposed, that Moses was here commanded to communicate to Joshua some part of that splendor, or brightness, wherewith his face shone when he returned from the mountain: but the passage is much better understood as importing, Thou shalt communicate some of thy authority to him at present, and make him thy associate in the government. See 1 Chronicles 23:25.Daniel 11:21; Daniel 11:21. Mr. Locke explains it thus, "some of thine honour; i.e. he shall have the honour to receive directions from God by Urim and Thummim, for the conduct of the people. God will do him the honour to speak to him by a third person, when, in cases requiring it, he consults him; but will not do him the honour to talk with him face to face as he did to Moses. See Exodus 9:11."

Verse 21

Numbers 27:21. He shall stand before Eleazar the priest It is the opinion both of Jewish and Christian interpreters, that none but persons of the first dignity were allowed to consult the oracle of God in this manner; so that this privilege speaks Joshua's great pre-eminence above other Israelites: for though he was not to be admitted to so near an intercourse with God as Moses had been, yet he is here assured, that he should never want direction from the Oracle in any doubt, by consulting the high priest, who was to receive the answer in the manner prescribed, Exo 28:30 to which place we refer for an explanation of the judgment of Urim. When it is said, at his word they shall go out, it means, as Grotius justly explains it, at the word of the LORD, by the judgment of Urim, which word was communicated by the high priest. See Calmet on the place. This passage, however, is to be understood principally of their going out, or not going out to war; upon which occasion chiefly the oracle was consulted. See Judges 1:1; Jdg 20:18. 1 Samuel 14:18; 1 Samuel 28:6. We may observe, that though Joshua was greatly inferior to Moses, in that he generally consulted God by the high priest, whereas Moses had immediate access to God himself, and spake with him face to face, yet God sometimes vouchsafed the same honour to Joshua. See Deuteronomy 34:10. Joshua 3:7; Joshua 1:15; Joshua 5:13.

Verse 23

Numbers 27:23. And he laid his hands upon him, &c.— Nothing more fully shews the nature of the Jewish theocracy than this transaction. God himself appoints a governor over the state as well as the church; and whom does he appoint? Not one of the relations of Moses; not one even of the same tribe.

By elevating Caleb to the dignity, he might have put at the head of the republic a man of the tribe of Judah, and a man as much distinguished by his virtues as by an heroic courage; but he prefers Joshua, of the tribe of Ephraim, to evince that nothing can give a right to the government of the Hebrews but his choice and will. In this manner, down to the time of Samuel, God immediately created the judges of the people: hence it is, that when the Israelites demanded a king, God complained that they had rejected Him himself. What completely fixes this theocracy is, that God determined the great affairs of the republic by the order of Urim.

REFLECTIONS.—With tender solicitude for the people, that they may not be left as sheep without a shepherd, we have here,

1. Moses's prayer. He addresses God, as the God of the spirits of men, and therefore the best judge of their capacities, to choose a man to be their captain in battle, and their faithful magistrate; that after his death, there may be no disputes about the government, and the people suffer no inconvenience for want of a fit commander. Note; (1.) A real patriot extends his views to the future welfare of his nation. (2.) The rising generation should be our peculiar care, that when we are dead, the congregation of the Lord may still flourish, and his kingdom be established.

2. God answers his request in the appointment of Joshua. He is a man in whom is a spirit: the spirit of grace, as a good man; the spirit of wisdom, as a great man; and the spirit of courage, as a brave man. Eminent services require eminent gifts and graces. In order to Joshua's solemn inauguration as his successor, Moses is commanded to present him to the people, and to give him a solemn charge for his future conduct before them all; to lay his hands upon him, as delegating his office to him; and to honour him, by associating him into the government with him immediately. Eleazar is appointed as his counsel, to stand before God, to inquire for him, that, being under a Divine guidance, he might be ensured of success. Note; They will certainly be guided aright, who take care always to consult the divine oracles.

3. Moses cheerfully obeys. Not envious of his successor, nor solicitous about the interests of his own family, his single care is the good of the people. True patriots will imitate so worthy an example.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 27". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/numbers-27.html. 1801-1803.
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