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Thursday, June 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 27

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


This chapter comprises a supplementary statute respecting the inheritance of brotherless daughters, suggested by the case of Zelophehad’s daughters; also the selection of Joshua as a successor to Moses in answer to the request of the latter when notified of his death before Israel should cross the Jordan.

Verses 1-2

1, 2. The five daughters of Zelophehad, discovering the defect in the order for the division of Canaan given in the last chapter, by which they were disinherited, sons only being named, (see Genesis 31:14,) confident in the justice of their claim, with commendable enterprise determined to appeal to the highest human tribunal. Their appearance at the door of the tabernacle, before the supreme court of their nation, pleading the rights of their sex, presents a scene worthy the brush of the historical painter. It is the first woman’s rights convention on record. Their success justifies the efforts of their successors in modern times to secure a removal of all disabilities which are oppressive to their sex, and illustrates the nobility of the law-making sex, who have but to be clearly shown the injustice of any of their statutes in order to be moved to a rectification of the wrong.

Verses 1-11


The Hebrew law of inheritance, in common with the usage of most Oriental nations, endowed the sons only, the eldest having a double portion, the daughters all being supposed to be married and cared for by their husbands. Up to this time no provision had been made for daughters in case of failure of male issue, nor for perpetuating the father’s name. The supplementary legislation in this chapter and in xxxvi, in striking resemblance to Athenian laws, endows the brotherless daughter till she marries a near relative and brings forth a son, who bears the name, not of his father, but of his maternal grandfather, and inherits his mother’s portion. These heiresses married their “father’s brother’s sons,” and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father. Numbers 36:11-12; Joshua 17:4. For the intermingling of legislation with the narrative, see Introduction, (1.)

Verse 3

3. Not in the company… of Korah This part of their plea implies that the treason of Korah attainted the blood of the conspirators, and cut off their children from heirship.

Died in his own sin As other men died in the wilderness, in no special sin nor stroke of judgment, implicating and ruining others with himself.

Verse 4

4. The name of our father Their father having died without male issue, and there being at that time no provision whereby female children could perpetuate his name, nor his name and property could be transmitted to the nearest male descendant, his name, with its family rights, would become blotted out.

Give unto us… a possession This was to be transmitted to a son bearing the name of his mother’s father.

Verse 5

5. Moses brought their cause before the Lord This shows the sense of equity which inhered in Moses, and his superiority to the prejudices of his age and nation. In this particular he foreshows the Prophet like unto him, Jesus Christ, who treated woman with the utmost respect. John 4:6, note. This act of Moses also beautifully demonstrates that distrust of his own moral judgments which every good man feels in the presence of such an infallible authority as the word of God.

Verse 7

7. Speak right The dictates of an unperverted conscience are always in harmony with the will of Jehovah. This case illustrates the importance of the advocacy of one’s rights until they are recognised.

Verses 8-11

8-11. A statute of judgment A statute or law, determining order in the succession of heirs to landed estates where there were no sons; namely, daughters, father’s brothers, paternal uncles, next of kin on the father’s side. The heirship of the daughters was on the condition that they did not marry out of their own tribe, (Numbers 36:6-12;) otherwise the patrimony was forfeited. The seed of each class “to the world’s end” inherited to the exclusion of all others. According to Hebrew usage the widow was supported by the heirs till a dowry was granted her in the judgment hall. The daughters commonly received at marriage a tenth of the deceased father’s goods or personal estate, each a tenth of what remained, thus: 1/10, 9/100, 81/1000. The sons inherited the remainder.

Verse 12


12. Abarim literally signifies the farther parts, or possibly the fords or passages, as the word is translated Jeremiah 22:20. It is a range of high lands on the east of the Jordan in Moab, facing Jericho, and forming the eastern wall of the Jordan valley. Its most prominent out-jutting or swell is Mount Nebo, head of the Pisgah.

See the land Moses earnestly begged to be permitted to enter into Canaan, but the word of Jehovah excluding both Aaron and Moses (Numbers 20:12) could not be broken. He received this decisive answer, “Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto me of this matter.” Deuteronomy 3:26.

Verse 13

13. Thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people The people of Moses were not the living generation, but the tenants of the grave. This announcement was made, “that he might go forward to his death with the fullest consciousness, and might set his house in order; that is to say, might finish as much as he could while still alive, and provide as much as possible what would make up after his death for the absence of his own person, upon which the whole house of Israel was now so dependent.” Baumgarten. For the account of his death on the same summit, see Deuteronomy 32:48-52; Deuteronomy 34:1-8.

Verse 14

14. For ye rebelled In Numbers 20:12 (see note) the charge against Moses and Aaron is, “Ye believed me not.” The passages are in perfect harmony, for unbelief is the root of all disobedience. See απειθεια , translated by unbelief in Romans 11:30; Romans 11:32; Hebrews 4:6; Hebrews 4:11; and by disobedience in Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6.

Desert of Zin… Kadesh Numbers 20:1, note.

Verse 16


16. The spirits of all flesh The distinction between mind and matter is here clearly taught by Moses. In answer to the objection that the Hebrew word ruach signifies only breath, we quote the following from Sir W. Hamilton: “The term soul, (and what I say of the term soul is true of the term spirit,) though in this country less employed than the term mind, may be regarded as another synonyme for the unknown basis of the mental phenomena. Like nearly all words significant of the internal world, there is here a metaphor borrowed from the external; and this is the case not merely in one, but, as far as we can trace the analogy, in all languages. You are aware that ψυχη , the Greek term for soul, comes from ψυχω , I breathe or blow, as πνευμα , in Greek, and spiritus, in Latin, from verbs of the same signification. In like manner, anima and animus are words which, though in Latin they have lost their primary signification, and are only known in their secondary or metaphorical sense, yet in their original physical meaning are preserved in the Greek ανεμος , wind or air. The English soul, and the German seele, come from a Gothic root saivala, which signifies to storm. Ghost, the old English word for spirit in general, and so used in our English version of the Scriptures, is the same as the German geist, and is derived from gas or gescht, which signifies air. In like manner the two words in Hebrew for soul or spirit, nephesh and ruach, are derivatives of a root which means to breathe; and in Sanscrit the word atma (analogous to the Greek ατμος , vapor or air) signifies both mind and wind or air.” Jehovah is here styled the God of all human spirits, to intimate his perfect acquaintance with the mental, moral, and spiritual characteristics of all men, and hence his ability to select the man who should succeed to the leadership of Israel, soon to be made vacant by the death of Moses.

Verse 17

17. Go out… go in This describes conduct in every-day life. Joshua 14:11, note.

Lead… out,… bring… in Superintend the affairs of the nation. The imagery of the shepherd’s life is in the mind of Moses. John 10:1-16, notes.

Verse 18

18. Joshua Numbers 11:28, note.

In whom is the spirit Not mere “insight and wisdom,” (Knobel,) but the endowment of the divine Spirit requisite for the high office to which he was called. The difference between the operations of the Holy Spirit on the human soul before and after the day of Pentecost is a question of vital interest. (1.) In the Old Testament the agency of the Spirit in the outward world is recognised more fully than in the New Testament. Genesis 1:2; Genesis 2:7; Job 27:3; Job 33:4. (2.) The fulness and abiding of the Spirit in the soul of the believer, sanctifying, assuring, and adorning it with the constellation of Christian graces, is peculiar to the New Testament, especially after the Pentecostal effusion. In this sense Dean Alford insists that the office and work of the Paraclete is TOTALLY DISTINCT from his operations under the Old Testament dispensation, which were outward rather than inward: such as bestowing skill upon Bezaleel, (Exodus 31:3,) strength upon Samson, (Judges 14:6,) and prophecy and kingcraft upon Saul, (1 Samuel 10:6,) and, in general, intellectual and physical excellencies rather than gracious dispositions and spiritual perceptions and joys. Comp. Deuteronomy 34:9; Daniel 6:3; and Romans 5:5; Romans 14:17; Galatians 5:22.

Lay thine hand upon him The imposition of hands is a natural form by which benediction has been expressed in all ages and nations. It is an act of a superior in age or office toward an inferior, and by its very form it appears to bestow some good gift, or to manifest a desire for its bestowal, (Genesis 48:14,) or to cure some disease. 2 Kings 5:11; Matthew 19:13. For its sacrificial meaning see Leviticus 1:4, note.

Verse 19

19. Eleazar the priest The high priest. In the Pentateuch the definite article the sufficiently designated the high priest, except in Numbers 35:25, and Leviticus 21:10, where the adjective gadhol, great, is used.

Give him a charge Literally, command or instruct him in regard to this high office in the sight of the congregation.

Verses 20-21

2 0, 21 .

Put some… honour upon him “The eminence and authority of Moses were not to be entirely transferred to Joshua, for they were bound up with his own person alone, (Numbers 12:6-8,) but only so much of it as he needed for the discharge of the duties of his office. Joshua was to be neither the lawgiver nor the absolute governor of Israel, but to be placed under the judgment of Urim with which Eleazar was intrusted so far as the supreme decision of the affairs of Israel was concerned.” Keil and Delitzsch.

Who shall ask Eleazar shall ask God for Joshua. But the Septuagint reads “and they shall ask him,” that is, Joshua and the princes shall ask Eleazar, “the judgment of manifestations.”

Of Urim Abridged from Urim and Thummim. See Leviticus 8:8, and Joshua 1:1, notes.

At his word Grammatically, either the Lord’s or Eleazar’s; probably the latter, by virtue of the oracle placed in his keeping. Ordinarily, the priest’s mouth and Jehovah’s. See 1 Samuel 23:9-12. It is a rule among Hebrew doctors not to ask counsel by the priest who speaketh not by the Holy Spirit and the divine majesty residing in him.

Verse 22

22. All the congregation The assembled heads of the people or college of elders, in distinction from “all the children of Israel.”

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 27". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/numbers-27.html. 1874-1909.
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