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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 36

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



The unfolding of human necessities is the occasion for a progressive divine revelation. In chap. 27 we have seen the brotherless daughters of Zelophehad sueing for natural justice the inheritance of their father’s estate. But now the immediate division of the land suggests a difficulty. The daughters who inherit their father’s lands may marry out of their tribe, and their estates pass out of their ancestral tribe and be permanently annexed to the allotment of another tribe. The legislation of this chapter forestalls this difficulty by limiting the marriage of heiresses to their own tribe. See Introduction, (1.)


We find in this chapter not only an illustration of the truth that “he that asketh receiveth,” but also an example of the principle that God’s laws were enacted as human needs required. In this instance, the fact that the giving of the new statute hinges on a human petition does not prove that it was an afterthought with God, as some have intimated, but rather that he would put honour upon prayer, and teach his people that they should learn his will on some minor points as emergencies arise. Says Calvin: “God designedly withheld his decisions until they naturally arose out of the circumstances of the case. He allowed himself to be interrogated familiarly in regard to doubtful points of no primary importance in order that posterity might recognise his reply as a proof of his fatherly indulgence. Meanwhile, let us bear in mind that if heavenly things are the subject of as much anxiety to us as earthly things were to the children of Manasseh the rule that we should observe will always be made clear to us.”

Verses 1-2

2. My lord Moses, who had specially consulted Jehovah in reference to this case. Numbers 27:5-6, note. The Hebrews, in their use of the singular pronoun my instead of our before lord, follow the established custom. Numbers 32:27.

Verse 4

4. The jubilee Leviticus 25:8-55, notes. “Strictly speaking, the hereditary property would pass at once, when the marriage took place, to the tribe into which an heiress married, and not merely at the year of jubilee. But up to the year of jubilee it was always possible that the hereditary property might revert to the tribe of Manasseh, either through the marriage being childless, or through the purchase of the inheritance.

But in the year of jubilee all landed property that had been alienated was to return to its original proprietor or his heir. Leviticus 25:33, etc. In this way the transfer of an inheritance from one tribe to another, which took place in consequence of a marriage, would be established in perfect unity.” Keil and Delitzsch.

Verse 5

5. Tribe of the sons of Joseph Nominally there was no tribe of Joseph, but really two tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh; so that Joseph was treated as the firstborn, so far as the inheritance was concerned. Genesis 48:5; 1 Chronicles 5:2, note. The text specially refers to the tribe of Manasseh, to which these heiresses belonged.

Verse 6

6. Only to the family This is the only limitation of matrimony from expediency. The other restrictions relate to kindred, (Leviticus xviii,) and to the doomed Canaanites, intermarriage with whom was forbidden in the interest of loyalty to Jehovah. Exodus 34:15.

Verse 8

8. Every daughter, that possesseth an inheritance This does not command marriage, but only restricts a voluntary institution. The woman might decline matrimony perpetually, an act rare indeed in the Orient. In case of marriage she must marry in her own tribe.

Verses 10-12

10-12. Their father’s brothers’ sons Cousins or second cousins, since sons may signify merely descendants.

Verse 13

13. Commandments… judgments Referring to all the legislation in the plains of Moab, (chaps. 25-30,) as well as the laws and rights contained in Numbers 33:50, to the end of the book. This conclusion in no way implies that the exposition of these laws, their further development, and enforcement by exhortations, which follow in Deuteronomy, are not Mosaic, as recent destructive criticism asserts.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 36". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/numbers-36.html. 1874-1909.
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