Numbers 27
Pulpit Commentary
Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.
Verse 1. - The daughters of Zelophehad. The genealogy here given agrees with those in Numbers 26:29-33 and in Joshua 17:3. These women would appear to have been in the eighth generation from Jacob, which hardly accords with the 470 years required by the narrative; some links, however, may have been dropped.
And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,
Verse 2. - By the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, i.e., evidently by the entrance of the sacred enclosure. Here, in the void space, in the midst of the camp, and close to the presence-chamber of God, the princes (i.e., the tribe princes who were engaged upon the census) and the representatives of the congregation assembled for the transaction of business and for the hearing of any matters that were brought before them.
Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons.
Verse 3. - He was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord. He had not been amongst the two hundred and fifty who gathered themselves together in support of Korah s pretensions. It does not appear why they should have thought it necessary to make this statement, unless they felt that the fact of his having died without sons might raise suspicion against him as one who had greatly provoked the wrath of God. But died in his own sin. This cannot mean that Zelophehad was one of those who died in the wilderness in consequence of the rebellion at Kadesh (see the next note). Apparently his daughters meant to acknowledge that they had no complaint against the Divine justice because of their father's death, but only against the law because of the unnecessary hardship which it inflicted upon them.
Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.
Verse 4. - Give unto us... a possession among the brethren of our father. The daughters of Zelophehad did not ask for any share of what had been their father's, but they asked that the lands which would have been assigned to their father in the settlement of Canaan might still be assigned to them, so that their father's name might attach to those lands, and be handed down with them. The request assumes that the "brethren" of Zelophehad would receive an inheritance in the promised land, either personally or as represented by their sons; hence it seems clear that Zelophehad was not of the elder generation, which had forfeited all their rights and expectations in Canaan, but of the younger, to whom the inheritance was transferred (Numbers 14:29-32). This is confirmed by the consideration that these women were not married until some time after this (Numbers 36:11; cf. Joshua 17:8, 4), and must, therefore, according to the almost invariable custom, have been quite young at this time. It is reasonable to suppose that the heads of separate families to whom the land was distributed would be at this time men of from forty-five to sixty years of age, comprising the elder half of the generation which grew up in the wilderness. Zelophehad would have been among these, but that he was cut off, perhaps in the plague of serpents, or in the plague of the Arboth Mesh, and left only unmarried girls to represent him.
And Moses brought their cause before the LORD.
Verse 5. - Moses brought their cause before the Lord. Presumably by going into the tabernacle with this matter upon his mind, and awaiting the revelation of the Divine will (cf. Exodus 18:19; Numbers 12:8).
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father's brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.
And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.
Verse 8. - If a man die, and have no son. On this particular case a general rule of much wider incidence was founded. The Mosaic law of succession followed the same lines as the feudal law of Europe, equally disallowing disposition by will, and discouraging, if not disallowing, alienation by grant. Upon the land was to rest the whole social fabric of Israel, and all that was valued and permanent in family life and feeling was to be tied as it were to the landed inheritance. Hence the land was in every case so to pass that the name and fame, the privilege and duty, of the deceased owner might be as far as possible perpetuated. Unto his daughter. Not for her maintenance, but in order that her husband might represent her father. In most cases he would take her name, and be counted as one of her father's family. This had no doubt already become customary among the Jews, as among almost all nations. Compare the cases of Sheshan and Jarha (1 Chronicles 2:34, 35), of Jair (Numbers 32:41), and subsequently of the Levitical "sons of Barzillai" (Ezra 2:61). The question, however, would only become of public importance at the time when Israel became a nation of landed proprietors.
And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren.
And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father's brethren.
And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the LORD commanded Moses.
Verse 11. - A statute of judgment, לְחֻםקּת מִשְׁפָט. Septuagint, δικαίωμα κρίσεως. A statute determining a legal right.

CHAPTER 27:12-23 MOSES AND JOSHUA (verses 12-23).
And the LORD said unto Moses, Get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel.
Verse 12. - And the Lord said unto Moses. It is impossible to determine the exact place of this announcement in the order of events narrated. It would appear from Numbers 31:1 that the war with the Midianites occurred later, and certainly the address to the people and to Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:1-8 presupposes the formal appointment here recorded; but the chronologer of the concluding chapters of Numbers is evidently very uncertain; they may, or may not, be arranged in order of time. We may with good reason suppose that the summons to die was only separated from its fulfillment by the brief interval necessary to complete what work was yet unfinished (such as the punishment of the Midianites and the provisional settlement of the trans-Jordanic country) before the river was crossed. Into this Mount Abarim. See on Numbers 33:47; Deuteronomy 32:49 sq., where this command is recited more in detail. Abarim was apparently the range behind the Arboth Moab, the northern portion of which opposite to Jericho was called Pisgah (Numbers 21:20; Deuteronomy 3:27), and the highest point Nebo (Deuteronomy 32:49; Deuteronomy 34:1), after the name of a neighbouring town (Numbers 33:47). And see the land. Moses had already been told that he should not enter the promised land (Numbers 20:12), yet he is allowed the consolation of seeing it with his eyes before his death. It would seem from Deuteronomy 3:25-27 that this favour was accorded him in answer to his prayer.
And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered.
For ye rebelled against my commandment in the desert of Zin, in the strife of the congregation, to sanctify me at the water before their eyes: that is the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.
Verse 14. - For ye rebelled against my commandment. Rather, "as ye rebelled." The same word, כַּאֲשֶׁר, quomodo, is used here as in the previous clause. That is the water of Meribah in Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin. These words have all the appearance of an explanatory gloss intended to make the reference more plain to the reader or hearer. It is impossible to suppose that they formed part of the Divine message; nor does it seem probable that Moses would have added them to the narrative as it stands, because, in view of Numbers 20:13, no necessity for explanation existed. It is quite possible that both Numbers 20:13 and the present clause are subsequent additions to the text intended to clear up an obvious confusion between the "strife" at Rephidim (Exodus 17:7) and that at Kadesh.
And Moses spake unto the LORD, saying,
Verse 15. - And Moses spake unto the Lord. The behaviour of Moses as here recorded (see, however, on Deuteronomy 3:23 sq., which seems to throw a somewhat different light upon the matter) was singularly and touchingly disinterested. For himself not even a word of complaint at his punishment, which must have seemed, thus close at hand, more inexplicably severe than ever; all his thoughts and his prayers for the people - that one might take his place, and reap for himself and Israel the reward of all his toil and patience.
Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation,
Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd.
Verse 17. - Which may go out before them, and which may go in before them. A comparison with the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 31:2, and of Caleb in Joshua 14:11, shows that the going out and coming in refer to the vigorous prosecution of daily business, and the fatigues of active service. Which may lead them out, and which may bring them in. The underlying image is that of a shepherd and his flock, which suggests itself so naturally to all that have the care and governance of men (cf. John 10:3, 4, 16). As sheep which have no shepherd. And are, therefore, helpless, bewildered, scattered, lost, and devoured. The image is frequent in Scripture (cf. 1 Kings 22:17; Ezekiel 34:5; Zechariah 10:2; Matthew 9:36). The words of the Septuagint are ὡσεὶ πρόβατα οῖς οὐκ ἔστι ποιμήν
And the LORD said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him;
Verse 18. - Take thee Joshua. Joshua was now for the first time designated at the request of Moses as his successor; he had, however, been clearly marked out for that office by his position as one of the two favoured survivors of the elder generation, and as the "minister" and confidant of Moses. In regard of the first he had no equal but Caleb, in regard of the second he stood quite alone. A man in whom is the spirit. רוּחַ here, although without the definite article, can only mean the Holy Spirit, as in Numbers 11:25 sq. Lay thine hand upon him. According to Deuteronomy 34:9 this was to be done in order that Joshua might receive with the imposition of hands a spiritual gift (charisma) of wisdom for the discharge of his high office. It would appear also from the next paragraph that it was done as an outward and public token of the committal of authority to Joshua as the successor of Moses.
And set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation; and give him a charge in their sight.
Verse 19. - Give him a charge. צִוּיתָה. Septuagint, ἐντελῇ αὐτῷ. Command or instruct him as to his duties.
And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient.
Verse 20. - Put some of thine honour upon him, or, "some of thy dignity" (מֵהודְך). Septuagint, δώσεις τῆς δόξης σου ἐπ αὐτόν.
And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the LORD: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.
Verse 21. - He shall stand before Eleazar the priest. This points to the essential difference between Moses and Joshua, and all who came after until the "Prophet like unto" Moses was raised up. Moses was as much above the priests as he was above the tribe princes; but Joshua was only the civil and military head of the nation, and was as much subordinate to the high priest in one way as the high priest was subordinate to him in another. In after times no doubt the political headship quite overpowered and overshadowed the ecclesiastical, but this does not seem to have been so intended, or to have been the case in Eleazar's lifetime. Who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the Lord. Rather, "who shall inquire for him in the judgment of Urim." בְּמִשְׁפַט הָאוּרִים. Septuagint, τὴν κρίσιν τῶν δήλων. The Urim of this passage and of 1 Samuel 28:6 seems identical with the Urim and Thummim of Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8. What it actually was, and how it was used in con-suiting God, is not told us in Scripture, and has left no reliable trace in the tradition of the Jews; it must, therefore, remain for ever an insoluble mystery. It does not appear that Moses ever sought the judgment of Urim, for he possessed more direct means of ascertaining the will of God; nor does it seem ever to have been resorted to after the time of David, for the "more sure word of prophecy" superseded it. Its real use, therefore, belonged to the dark ages of Israel, after the light of Moses had set, and before the light of the prophets had arisen. At his word. Literally, after his mouth, i.e., according to the decision of Eleazar, given after consulting God by means of the Urim (cf. Joshua 9:14; Judges 1:1).
And Moses did as the LORD commanded him: and he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation:
And he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses.
Verse 23. - And gave him a charge. This charge is nowhere recorded, for it cannot possibly be identified with the passing words of exhortation in Deuteronomy 31:7.

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