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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 36

 

 

Introduction

F. FUTURE PROSPECTS IN THE LAND (chapters 26-36).

We now come to the final main section of the book. It will commence with the numbering of Israel, a sign that they were making ready for the final push, and is divided up into rededication and preparations for entering the land (chapters 26-32), and warning and encouragement with respect to it (chapters 33-36). The first section concentrates on the mobilisation and dedication of the people of Yahweh, and the punishment of those who by their behaviour hinder that mobilisation and dedication.

In terms of the overall pattern of the book the first section covers the mobilisation of Israel, the appointment of Joshua on whom was the Spirit and the death of Moses For Sin (chapters 26-27), which compares with the earlier murmuring of Israel, the appointment of elders on whom came the Spirit, and the plague on Miriam because of sin (chapters 11-12). This then followed by the dedication of Israel through Feasts, Offerings and Vows and the purifying of Transjordan through vengeance on the Midianites and settlement of the two and a half Tribes (chapters 28-32) which compares with the purification and dedication of Israel in chapters 5-10.

Analysis of the section.

(I). Preparation for Entering the Land (chapters 26-32).

This can be divided up into:

a Numbering of the tribes for possessing the land (Numbers 26:1-51).

b Instructions concerning division of the land (Numbers 26:52-62).

c Vengeance had been brought on those who had refused to enter the land (Numbers 26:63-65).

d Regulation in respect of land to be inherited by women and others (Numbers 27:1-11).

e Provision of a dedicated shepherd for the people of Israel (Numbers 27:12-23).

e Provision of a dedicated people and future worship in the land (Numbers 28-29).

d Regulation in respect of dedicatory vows made by women and others (Numbers 30)

c Vengeance to be obtained on Midian (Numbers 31:1-24).

b Instructions concerning division of the spoils of Midian (Numbers 31:25-54).

a Settlement of the Transjordanian tribes in possessing land (Numbers 32).

(II) Warning and Encouragement of The Younger Generation (chapters 33-36).

a Review of the journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab (Numbers 33:1-49).

b Instruction concerning the successful possession of and dividing up of the land in the future (Numbers 33:50 to Numbers 34:15).

c The Leaders who will divide the land for them are appointed (Numbers 34:16-29).

d Provision of cities for the Levites. (Numbers 35:1-5)

d Provision of cities of refuge and prevention of defilement of the land (Numbers 35:6-34).

c The Leaders of the tribe of Manasseh approach Moses about the possible loss of part of their division of the land as a result of the decision about the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:1-4).

b Instruction concerning women who inherit land so as to maintain the dividing up of the land which they successfully possess (Numbers 36:5-12)

a Final summary of the book and colophon. The journey is over. They are in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Numbers 36:13).

In this section stress is laid on preparation for entering the land.

II). Warning and Encouragement of The Younger Generation (chapters 33-36).

This final section of the book is full of hope, the kind of hope that was in the hearts of Israel when they first mobilised at Sinai. It reiterates the successful journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab, lays out details of how they were to divide the land that they would soon inherit, as the Gadites, Reubenites and half tribe of Manasseh had already done, describes that land in realistic terms as a goal to aim at, appoints the very leaders who will have responsibility for that task, tells them of the necessity to provide cities for the Levites and cities of refuge for the maintenance of the holiness of the land, and brings the whole to a conclusion with the glorious example of the daughters of Zelophehad, demonstrating how their struggle for fair treatment ended in success because of their faithfulness and trust in Yahweh and their final obedience to His commands. This last human interest story, which also carried within it other valuable lessons concerning the guaranteeing of the land to those to whom it would be allotted, would act like a spur to all the people as they sought to copy the trustfulness and obedience of these courageous daughters of Zelophehad. The inspiration that it was comes out in the constant references to it. It had seized the imagination of Israel (Numbers 26:33; Numbers 27:1; Numbers 27:7; Numbers 36:2-11), and was thus seen as a suitable ending for the book.

Analysis of the Section.

a Review of the journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab (Numbers 33:1-49).

b Instruction concerning dividing up the land by lot in the future so that each man has his lot and for the purifying of the land (Numbers 33:50-56).

c Description of the land to be inherited (Numbers 34:1-15).

d The Leaders who will divide the land for them are appointed (Numbers 34:16-29).

e Provision of cities for the Levites. (Numbers 35:1-8)

e Provision of cities of refuge and prevention of defilement of the land (Numbers 35:9-34).

d The Leaders of the tribe of Manasseh approach Moses about the possible loss of part of their division of the land as a result of the decision about the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:1-2 a).

c Description of the problem relating to the land inherited by the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:2-4).

b Instruction concerning women who inherit land so as to maintain the lot in the dividing up of the land (Numbers 36:5-12)

a Final summary of the book and colophon. The journey is over. They are in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Numbers 36:13).

It is quite clear that the book itself sees each of these passages as an encouragement ready for the crossing over into the land. Each of them is a confirmation to them that the conquest will in essence be completed within their lifetime and the lifetime of their leaders. The setting of it in between the journeying to the plain of Moab, and their actually being there stresses the context of the whole. It promises that they will possess a land to divide up after removing those who defile it, describes that land and who will divide it up, guarantees that they will possess sufficient cities to be able to give forty eight to the Levites, and that they will be able to set up Cities of Refuge for the purpose of keeping the land free from defilement, and finally affirms the necessity for each part of the land to remain with the tribe to whom it was allotted, and encourages all by describing how the five women of faith and loyalty, the daughters of Zelophehad, of whom all had now heard, brought their story to a happy ending by fully obeying Yahweh.

This all confirms the purpose of the whole book, encouragement for the battles ahead. If the date of its writing is pushed into the future it loses its main purpose, and we have to ask why some theoretical future writer should have designed it in this way. He would have spent considerable time achieving something that had no significance. It only has significance if the invasion is about to begin.

Chapter 36 Problems Of Inheritance.

7). The Manassite Leaders’ Concern About Losing The Land If Women Inherit.

There are two emphases in this last chapter. The first is on the question of the certainty of the inheritance of each tribe being maintained. That was seen as an essential matter. That was what they would be fighting for. And the second was the glorious example that the daughters of Zelophehad were to the whole of Israel. They were a shining example of the fact that those who behaved rightly towards Yahweh would come out triumphantly as possessors of the land. They were an incentive to the whole of Israel.

It is not accidental that the book ends with the importance of ensuring that the divisions of the land as established by God for His people should remain inviolate. For the land was to be their permanent possession, given to them by Yahweh. It lay at the very heart of the covenant. This reveals both the deep concern of the people about possessing land, and the faithfulness of God in ensuring that they received it as a permanent possession. It was the fulfilment of all that they had come to Canaan to obtain. The absolute cast iron guarantee of such perpetuity would be a huge incentive to going forward.

In the same way it is for us the certainty that we will enter into and inherit an everlasting kingdom that will never diminish that gives us the courage to go constantly forward in the face of all difficulties. The principle is the same. All who believe and are faithful will inherit it.

But the situation that brought this matter to the forefront was the matter of families with no male heir, whose fathers had died on their journey while remaining faithful to Yahweh, with the result that their family, instead of joining in the fulfilment of the promises to the fathers, would lose everything that mattered through no fault of their own. They would no longer have their share in the land. This must not be. Such a situation would mean that all soldiers who only had daughters would fear at what their death might do to their families, and would therefore be hesitant about going into battle. Thus the solution proposed here removed that fear.

Yet there was the equal problem that if they did receive land and the women heiresses married outside the tribe, they would take the land that had been given to that tribe with them. The tribal inheritance would be diminished. What then was the solution? The final answer was that the women heiresses could inherit, but if they did they must marry within the tribe. And the book ends with the description of the obedience to Yahweh of the daughters of Zelophehad which results in satisfaction for all. The lesson being that thus will all be blessed who walk in obedience to Yahweh and seek land for their possession.


Verses 1-4

Chapter 36 Problems Of Inheritance.

7). The Manassite Leaders’ Concern About Losing The Land If Women Inherit.

There are two emphases in this last chapter. The first is on the question of the certainty of the inheritance of each tribe being maintained. That was seen as an essential matter. That was what they would be fighting for. And the second was the glorious example that the daughters of Zelophehad were to the whole of Israel. They were a shining example of the fact that those who behaved rightly towards Yahweh would come out triumphantly as possessors of the land. They were an incentive to the whole of Israel.

It is not accidental that the book ends with the importance of ensuring that the divisions of the land as established by God for His people should remain inviolate. For the land was to be their permanent possession, given to them by Yahweh. It lay at the very heart of the covenant. This reveals both the deep concern of the people about possessing land, and the faithfulness of God in ensuring that they received it as a permanent possession. It was the fulfilment of all that they had come to Canaan to obtain. The absolute cast iron guarantee of such perpetuity would be a huge incentive to going forward.

In the same way it is for us the certainty that we will enter into and inherit an everlasting kingdom that will never diminish that gives us the courage to go constantly forward in the face of all difficulties. The principle is the same. All who believe and are faithful will inherit it.

But the situation that brought this matter to the forefront was the matter of families with no male heir, whose fathers had died on their journey while remaining faithful to Yahweh, with the result that their family, instead of joining in the fulfilment of the promises to the fathers, would lose everything that mattered through no fault of their own. They would no longer have their share in the land. This must not be. Such a situation would mean that all soldiers who only had daughters would fear at what their death might do to their families, and would therefore be hesitant about going into battle. Thus the solution proposed here removed that fear.

Yet there was the equal problem that if they did receive land and the women heiresses married outside the tribe, they would take the land that had been given to that tribe with them. The tribal inheritance would be diminished. What then was the solution? The final answer was that the women heiresses could inherit, but if they did they must marry within the tribe. And the book ends with the description of the obedience to Yahweh of the daughters of Zelophehad which results in satisfaction for all. The lesson being that thus will all be blessed who walk in obedience to Yahweh and seek land for their possession.

Analysis.

a The Leaders of the tribe of Manasseh approach Moses about the possible loss of part of their division of the land as a result of the decision about the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:1-2 a).

b Description of the problem relating to the land inherited by the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:2-4).

a Instruction concerning women who inherit land so as to maintain the lot in the dividing up of the land seen as successfully accomplished in the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:5-12).

Numbers 36:1

‘And the heads of the fathers’ houses of the family of the children of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near, and spoke before Moses, and before the princes, the heads of the fathers’ houses of the children of Israel:’

The deputation that came to Moses and the princes of the twelve tribes was not an unimportant one. It included all the chieftains of the sub-tribe of Gilead, of the tribe of Machir, the son of Manasseh who was descended from Joseph.

Numbers 36:2

‘And they said, “Yahweh commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the children of Israel: and my lord was commanded by Yahweh to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters.” ’

Their concern was with the decision that had been made concerning the daughters of Zelophehad. Important inheritance rules were being established. On the one hand Yahweh had commanded that the land be given to the children of Israel by lot. Thus this would permanently attach the land that was given to it to each tribe by Yahweh’s decree. But on the other hand was the decision about the daughters of Zelophehad which if not regulated might have other consequences.

Numbers 36:3

And if they be married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then will their inheritance be taken away from the inheritance of our fathers, and will be added to the inheritance of the tribe to which they shall belong, so will it be taken away from the lot of our inheritance.”

For if they married outside the tribe, they would take their land with them. That land would then be joined to that of another tribe, and Gilead, of Machir, of Manasseh would find themselves depleted of some of the land allocated to them by Yahweh by means of the lot. The sub-tribe would lose some of their guaranteed inheritance.

Numbers 36:4

And when the yubile of the children of Israel shall be, then will their inheritance be added to the inheritance of the tribe to which they shall belong: so will their inheritance be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.”

And the result would be that when the year of Yubile came, that land, returning to the family of the woman who had first possessed it on entering the land, would permanently become attached to the new tribe for ever, and would for ever be lost to the tribe who had received it by lot. That being so the permanency of their inheritance was in doubt. This would go against the whole principle of Yubile which was of restoration after forty nine years of all land to its original tribal inheritors.

It is difficult to stress sufficiently how important the question was. They saw the whole certainty of the future as hanging in balance, and nothing would have been more discouraging to the advance into Canaan. The fairness of Yahweh to His people needed to be guaranteed. The whole of the book had been concerned with possession of the land. And now it seemed that that possession could hang in balance.

But when the reply came it both satisfied their doubts concerning the loss of guaranteed land, and was a warm encouragement concerning the blessing that came on those who were obedient to Yahweh.


Verses 5-12

The Faithfulness of the Daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:5-12).

Analysis.

a The women are to marry whom they think fit but within the family of the tribe of their father (within the clan) (Numbers 36:5-6).

b Thus no inheritance will remove from tribe to tribe for the children of Israel will cleave every one to the tribe of his fathers (Numbers 36:7).

c Every woman who inherits land from her father shall be wife to one who is of the family of the tribe of her father (Numbers 36:8 a)

c This is so that the children of Israel may possess every man the inheritance of his fathers (Numbers 36:8 b).

b Thus no inheritance will remove from tribe to tribe for the children of Israel will cleave every one to the tribe of his fathers (Numbers 36:9).

a This was what the daughters of Zelophehad did, marrying their father’s brothers sons, thus they were married to Manassites and the inheritance remained in the tribe of the family of their father (Numbers 36:10-12).

Moses Confirms The Essential Rightness of Their Position.

Numbers 36:5

‘And Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of Yahweh, saying, “The tribe of the sons of Joseph speak what is right.”

The first point was an immediate acknowledgement about the rightness of their position. Let all the tribes know that what these sons of Joseph say is right. Their land is secured to them by Yahweh, and He will not allow any of it to be taken away from them.

Numbers 36:6

This is the thing which Yahweh commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, Let them be married to whom they think best; only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they be married.”

So while the decision concerning the daughters of Zelophehad stood firm, it was incumbent on them to respond to Yahweh’s goodness by marrying into their own clan. They had the right to choose whom they would, as long as it was within that clan.

Numbers 36:7

So shall no inheritance of the children of Israel remove from tribe to tribe; for the children of Israel shall cleave every one to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.”

The result would be that no inheritance would remove from tribe to tribe, and the children of Israel would each cleave to that land originally given to them by lot.

Numbers 36:8

And every daughter, who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife to one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may possess every man the inheritance of his fathers.”

So every daughter who possessed an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel would by this restriction to marrying within the family of the tribe of their fathers, ensure that the land remained in the clan. And this would ensure that every family in Israel would continually possess what Yahweh had originally given. Here was certainty indeed.

Numbers 36:9

So shall no inheritance remove from one tribe to another tribe; for the tribes of the children of Israel shall cleave every one to his own inheritance.”

And so verse 7 is repeated for emphasis. No inheritance will move from tribe to tribe, and each tribe would have all its allotted land as a permanent inheritance. What they were fighting for was guaranteed and unloseable.

Numbers 36:10-11

‘Even as Yahweh commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad. For Mahlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to their father’s brothers’ sons.’

And then comes the final accolade. These faithful daughters of Zelophehad, whom all now knew by name, did precisely as Yahweh commanded Moses. They married their father’s brothers’ sons. They had believed in the fairness of Yahweh, they had braved the ordeal of the leading assembly of Israel, they had courageously stood firm to plead their cause in the face of all opposition, and now through their faithfulness and courage they had achieved their aim. And they had done so by strict obedience to Yahweh’s commandment. Let them and their faithfulness be a final example to Israel in the light of the prospect of the battles ahead of what happens when men and women are faithful to Yahweh.

Numbers 36:12

‘They were married into the families of the sons of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and their inheritance remained in the tribe of the family of their father.’

For they were married into the families of the sons of Manasseh, the son of Joseph, their own tribe, and thus ensured that their inheritance would remain in the tribe of the clan of their father, a shining example of faith, courage and obedience and all it would achieve. They had believed and possessed their land, and all land allocated would ultimately be safe to those to whom it would be given.

There could have been no higher note on which the book could end, for it stressed the importance of faith and obedience as the means of possessing the land.


Verse 13

The Final Summary.

The final summary of the book is here given in what was probably the remnant of a colophon. The journey was over. They were safely in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho on the verge of crossing the Jordan (Numbers 36:13).

Numbers 36:13

‘These are the commandments and the ordinances which Yahweh commanded by Moses to the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.’

What this section of the book contained was the commandments and ordinances commanded by Yahweh to Moses in the plains of Moab, by the Jordan, opposite Jericho preparatory to the invasion.

So the book which began with the numbering of Israel prior to inglorious failure and expulsion from the land in unbelief and disobedience, finishes with the numbering of Israel (Numbers 26) which leads up to this triumphant example of faith and obedience. It is not accidental that after the second mobilisation the final part of the book is framed within narratives describing the faith, perseverance, determination and obedience of the daughters of Zelophehad. With a spirit like this, and a faithful and compassionate God like Yahweh, how could Israel now possibly fail?

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 36:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/numbers-36.html. 2013.


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