Numbers 36:1
And the chief fathers of the families 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 chief fathers of the children of Israel:
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Numbers 36:1-3. The chief fathers of the families, &c. — We read before of a provision made for the family of the heiresses of Zelophehad, a branch of the tribe of Manasseh, chap. 27.; and though Moses had secured them a distinct inheritance, yet some of the chief heads of that family, foreseeing that a great inconvenience might possibly happen in the marriage of these women, made a new petition to Moses, in the presence of the princes, or chief fathers of Israel, for a proper law to prevent it. They represented to him, that in case these heiresses should marry into other tribes, the estates they were invested in would, of course, be alienated from their own tribe, and be incorporated into that in which they married, by the right of their husbands.36:1-4 The heads of the tribe of Manasseh represent the evil which might follow, if the daughters of Zelophehad should marry into any other tribes. They sought to preserve the Divine appointment of inheritances, and that contests and quarrels should not rise among those who should come afterwards. It is the wisdom and duty of those who have estates in the world, to settle them, and to dispose of them, so that no strife and contention may arise.The daughters of Zelophehad had obtained an ordinance Numbers 28:6-11 which permitted the daughters of an Israelite dying without male issue to inherit their father's property. The chiefs of the Machirites, of whom Zelophehad had been one, now obtain a supplemental enactment, directing that heiresses should marry within their own tribe.CHAPTER 36

Nu 36:1-13. The Inconvenience of the Inheritance.

1. the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead—Being the tribal governors in Manasseh, they consulted Moses on a case that affected the public honor and interests of their tribe. It related once more to the daughters of Zelophehad. Formerly they had applied, at their own instance, to be recognized, for want of male heirs in their family, as entitled to inherit their father's property [Nu 27:1-11]; now the application was made on behalf of the tribe to which they belonged—that steps might be taken to prevent the alienation of their patrimony by their alliance with husbands of another tribe. The unrestricted marriages of daughters in such circumstances threatened seriously to affect the tenure of land in Israel, as their inheritance would go to their children, who, by the father's side, would belong to another tribe, and thus lead, through a complication of interests and the confusion of families, to an evil for which even the Jubilee could not afford a remedy. [See on [108]Le 25:13].The inconvenience of daughters inheriting is remedied by a general command that all such marry in the tribe of their fathers, to which of them they shall think best, Numbers 36:1-9. They obey, Numbers 36:10-12. These commands God gave by Moses to Israel in the plains of Moab, Numbers 36:13.

The chief fathers of the families, who had the care and management of the public affairs of that tribe committed to them.

And the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead,.... The princes, as Aben Ezra; so the Septuagint version, which was the tribe of Manasseh, whose grandson Gilead was, as follows:

the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near; to the house of judgment, as the Targum of Jonathan, the sanhedrim or court of judicature, consisting of the following persons:

and spoke before Moses; the Septuagint version adds, "and before Eleazar the priest", as in Numbers 27:2.

and before the princes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel: the princes of the several tribes; or it may be rather the seventy elders.

And the {a} chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near, and spake before Moses, and before the princes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel:

(a) It seems that the tribes contended who might marry these daughters to have their inheritance: and therefore the sons of Joseph proposed the matter to Moses.


The chapter lays down a law that heiresses may not be married to anyone outside their own tribe. As in ch. 27, the present law is put in a concrete form. In ch. 27 it was ruled that the daughters of Zelophehad might inherit property, in order that the inheritance might not be alienated from the tribe of Manasseh. But it was realised that that law might, after all, be annulled if they were married to persons of other tribes. Here, therefore, the supplementary law is issued, forbidding them to do so.Verse 1. - The chief fathers. The same phrase is more correctly translated in Exodus 6:25 "heads of the fathers." It is, however, probable that הָאָבור (fathers) is a contraction for בֵּית־הַאָבות (fathers' houses). The fathers' house was the next recognized and familiar division below the mishpachah (family). Probably the fathers' house included originally all the descendants of a living ancestor, who formed the bond of union between them; but this union no doubt survived in many cases the death of the common ancestor, whose authority would then devolve upon the oldest efficient member of the house. The families of the children of Gilead. "The mishpachoth of the Beni-Gilead" certainly did not include the Machirites, who were somewhat sharply distinguished from the other Manassites (see above on Numbers 26:29; 32:39 ff.); it is even doubtful whether they included the Gileadites proper, who took their name (and perhaps traced their descent) from Gilead, but not from his sons. It may be confidently assumed that the Machirites, who had received an extensive and remote territory beyond Jordan, had nothing whatever to do with this application. It was the other section of the tribe, the mishpachoth of the six sons of Gilead, who were yet to receive inheritance by lot in Canaan proper, to whom the matter appeared so serious that they came to Moses about it. If, therefore, the confinement of the unintentional manslayer in the city of refuge was neither an ordinary exile nor merely a means of rescuing him from the revenge of the enraged goel, but an appointment of the just and merciful God for the expiation of human blood even though not wilfully shed, that, whilst there was no violation of judicial righteousness, a barrier might be set to the unrighteousness of family revenge; it was necessary to guard against any such abuse of this gracious provision of the righteous God, as that into which the heathen right of asylum had degenerated.

(Note: On the asyla, in general, see Winer's Real-Wrterbuch, art. Freistatt; Pauly, Real-encyckl. der class. Alterthums-wissenschaft, Bd. i. s. v. Asylum; but more especially K. Dann, "ber den Ursprung des Asylrechts und dessen Schicksale und Ueberreste in Europa," in his Ztschr. fr deutsches Recht, Lpz. 1840. "The asyla of the Greeks, Romans, and Germans differed altogether from those of the Hebrews; for whilst the latter were never intended to save the wilful criminal from the punishment he deserved, but were simply established for the purpose of securing a just sentence, the former actually answered the purpose of rescuing the criminal from the punishment which he legally deserved.")

The instructions which follow in Numbers 35:29-34 were intended to secure this object. In Numbers 35:29, there is first of all the general law, that these instructions (those given in vv. 11-28) were to be for a statute of judgment (see Numbers 27:11) for all future ages ("throughout your generations," see Exodus 12:14, Exodus 12:20). Then, in Numbers 35:30, a just judgment is enforced in the treatment of murder. "Whoso killeth any person (these words are construed absolutely), at the mouth (the testimony) of witnesses shall the murderer be put to death; and one witness shall not answer (give evidence) against a person to die;" i.e., if the taking of life were in question, capital punishment was not to be inflicted upon the testimony of one person only, but upon that of a plurality of witnesses. One witness could not only be more easily mistaken than several, but would be more likely to be partial than several persons who were unanimous in bearing witness to one and the same thing. The number of witnesses was afterwards fixed at two witnesses, at least, in the case of capital crimes (Deuteronomy 17:6), and two or three in the case of every crime (Deuteronomy 19:15; cf. John 8:17; 2 Corinthians 13:1; Hebrews 10:28). - Lastly (Numbers 35:31.), the command is given not to take redemption money, either for the life of the murderer, who was a wicked man to die, i.e., deserving of death (such a man was to be put to death); nor "for fleeing into the city of refuge, to return to dwell in the land till the death of the high priest:" that is to say, they were neither to allow the wilful murderer to come to terms with the relative of the man who had been put to death, by the payment of a redemption fee, and so to save his life, as is not unfrequently the case in the East at the present day (cf. Robinson, Pal. i. p. 209, and Lane's Manners and Customs); nor even to allow the unintentional murderer to purchase permission to return home from the city of refuge before the death of the high priest, by the payment of a money compensation.

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