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 spake before Moses, and before the princes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel:
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.
And they said, The LORD commanded my lord to give the land for an inheritance by lot to the children of Israel: and my lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother unto his daughters.
Verse 2. - My lord. אֲדֹנִי. The singular form is constantly used in Hebrew, as in other languages, together with the plural personal pronoun (see at Genesis 23:6). The deference now paid to Moses (cf. chapter Numbers 32:25, 27) is in marked contrast to the treatment he had received from the former generation. Only Aaron (and that under the influence of terror - Exodus 32:22; Numbers 12:11) and Joshua (Joshua 11:28) had addressed him as Adoni before.
And if they be married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then shall their inheritance be taken from the inheritance of our fathers, and shall be put to the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they are received: so shall it be taken from the lot of our inheritance.
Verse 3. - Whereunto they are received. Literally, as in the margin, "unto whom (לָהֶם referring to the men of the tribe) they shall be."
And when the jubile of the children of Israel shall be, then shall their inheritance be put unto the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they are received: so shall their inheritance be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.
Verse 4. - When the jubilee of the children of Israel shall be. It is remarkable that this is the only reference by name to the Jubilee (יובֵל, jubeel; not jubilee, which is the vulgar form of the same word derived from the Latin jubiheus) to be found in the Scriptures. Some allusions more or less doubtful have been pointed out in the prophets, but the only one which seems incontrovertible is in Ezekiel 46:17, and belongs to the ideal regime of that vision. Jeremiah's right of redemption over the lands of his family was probably due to the fact that they were priestly lands (Joshua 21:18; Jeremiah 1:1; Jeremiah 32:7-9), and as such incapable of permanent alienation. It is, therefore, doubtful whether the Jubilee was ever actually observed, although the principle upon which it rested, the equity of redemption which no Israelite could divest himself of, was undoubtedly acknowledged (see notes on Leviticus 25). Then shall their inheritance be put unto the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they are received. It is again remarkable that the one explicit reference to the Jubilee should be only to an indirect consequence of its practical working. The Jubilee could not really transfer the property of the heiress to her husband's tribe, but it would in effect confirm that transfer, and make it permanent. In practice no property would be considered to have finally changed hands until the year of Jubilee, when an extensive re-settlement took place, and when all titles not successfully challenged would be considered as confirmed. Since the title of the heiress's children could not be challenged, and since any intermediate disposition of the land must then determine, the Jubilee would seem to effect the transfer of which it compelled the recognition. It is, however, none the less strange that the Manassites should have laid such stress upon the practical effects of a piece of legislation which had never yet come into use. It seems to point to the conclusion that the same thing had been customary among them in their Egyptian homes, and that they were acquainted, at least by tradition, with its actual working.
And Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of the LORD, saying, The tribe of the sons of Joseph hath said well.
Verse 5. - The tribe of the sons of Joseph. "The tribe (matteh) of the Beni-Joseph." There were two, or rather in effect three, tribes of the Beni-Joseph; Moses referred, of course, to the one which had come before him.
This is the thing which the LORD doth command concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, Let them marry to whom they think best; only to the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry.
Verse 6. - Only to the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry. The direction is not altogether plain, since the tribe (matteh) contained several families (mishpachoth), and in this case one or more of the families were widely separated from the rest. Probably the words are to be read, "only to the tribe-family of their father," i.e., only into that mishpachah of Manasseh to which their father had belonged. Practically, therefore, they were restricted to the family of the Hepherites (Numbers 26:32, 33). This is made almost certain when we remember that the territory of the "family" was to be apportioned within the tribe in the same way, and with the same regard to relationship, as the territory of the tribe within the nation (see on Numbers 33:54).
So shall not the inheritance of the children of Israel remove from tribe to tribe: for every one of the children of Israel shall keep himself to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.
Verse 7. - Every one... shall keep himself to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. This was to be the general rule which governed all such questions. Every Israelite had his own share in the inheritance of his tribe, and with that he was to be content, and not seek to intrude on other tribes. Accordingly the decision in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad is extended to all similar cases.
And every daughter, that possesseth an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may enjoy every man the inheritance of his fathers.
Neither shall the inheritance remove from one tribe to another tribe; but every one of the tribes of the children of Israel shall keep himself to his own inheritance.
Even as the LORD commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad:
For Mahlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married unto their father's brothers' sons:
Verse 11. - Mahlah, &c. It is a curious instance of the inartificial character of the sacred records that these five names, which have not the least interest in themselves, are repeated thrice in this Book, and once in Joshua (Joshua 17:3). It is evident that the case made a deep impression upon the mind of the nation at the time. Their father's brothers' sons. The Hebrew word דּוד is always translated "father's brother," or "uncle;" and that seems to be its ordinary meaning, although in Jeremiah 32:12 it stands for uncle's son. There is no reason to depart from the customary reading here. No doubt the daughters of Zelophehad acted according to the spirit as well as the letter of the law, and married the nearest male relatives who were open to their choice. The Septuagint
And 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.
These are the commandments and the judgments, which the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses unto the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho.
Verse 13. - The commandments, הַמִּצות. This is one of the words which recur so continually in Deuteronomy and in Psalm 119. It is found four times in chapter 15, and in a few other passages of the earlier books, including Leviticus 27:34. The judgments. הַמִּשְׁפָטִים. A similar formula is found at the conclusion of Leviticus (Leviticus 26:46), where, however, "the commandments" represents a different word (הַחֻקִּים), and a third term, "the laws" (הַתּורֹת), is added. It is difficult to say confidently what is included under the "these" of this verse. Comparing it with Numbers 33:50, it would seem that it only referred to the final regulations and enactments of the last four chapters; but as we have no reason to believe that the later sections of the Book are arranged in any methodical order, we cannot limit its scope to those, or deny that it may include the laws of chapters 28-30. For a similar reason we cannot say that the use of this concluding formula excludes the possibility of further large additions having been subsequently made to the Divine legislation in the same place and by the same person, as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy. All we can say is, that the Book of Numbers knows nothing about any such additions, and concludes in such sort as to make it a matter of surprise that such additions are afterwards met with. The continuity, which so clearly binds together the main bulk of the four books of Moses, ends with this verse. This fact does not of course decide any question which arises concerning the fifth book; it merely leaves all such questions to be determined on their own merits.