a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

Marriage of Female Heirs


The heads of the ancestral houses of the clans of the descendants of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh, of the Josephite clans, came forward and spoke in the presence of Moses and the leaders, the heads of the ancestral houses of the Israelites; 2they said, “The L ord commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the Israelites; and my lord was commanded by the L ord to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. 3But if they are married into another Israelite tribe, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our ancestors and added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so it will be taken away from the allotted portion of our inheritance. 4And when the jubilee of the Israelites comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they have married; and their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our ancestral tribe.”

5 Then Moses commanded the Israelites according to the word of the L ord, saying, “The descendants of the tribe of Joseph are right in what they are saying. 6This is what the L ord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, ‘Let them marry whom they think best; only it must be into a clan of their father’s tribe that they are married, 7so that no inheritance of the Israelites shall be transferred from one tribe to another; for all Israelites shall retain the inheritance of their ancestral tribes. 8Every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the Israelites shall marry one from the clan of her father’s tribe, so that all Israelites may continue to possess their ancestral inheritance. 9No inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another; for each of the tribes of the Israelites shall retain its own inheritance.’ ”

10 The daughters of Zelophehad did as the L ord had commanded Moses. 11Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, married sons of their father’s brothers. 12They were married into the clans of the descendants of Manasseh son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father’s clan.

13 These are the commandments and the ordinances that the L ord commanded through Moses to the Israelites in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.

1. And the chief fathers of the families. It might appear strange that God had given an imperfect law with reference to succession, as if what will be now stated had not occurred to His mind until Moses was reminded by the chief men of the families (of Machir,) 201201     Added from Fr. that it was unjust that the inheritances should be alienated, which would have been the case if the daughters of Zelophehad had married into other tribes, whereas their portion had fallen in the lot of the tribe of Manasseh. For whatever fell into the hands of those of another tribe, was a diminution of that lot. As, therefore, God had lately made provision for preserving the rights of individuals, He now treats of the general advantage or loss. What, then, can be the meaning of the objection, that God only half considered what was right? In my opinion, He so arranged His replies, that only when inquired of He assigned to each one his rights. The daughters of Zelophehad come, and demand justice of Moses and the elders, and God complies with their prayers. Now the heads of the tribe come, and agitate the question respecting the loss they would incur by the alienation of the inheritances; and it is then provided that other tribes should not be enriched by their loss. In short, whereas God might have spontaneously anticipated this, He preferred to grant it at the request of those who asked nothing but what was just and equitable. For it cannot be said that in this case it happened, as it often does, that, whilst every one pertinaciously maintains his own cause, and is eager to advance his own interests, one question arises out of another; for, when God has taken cognizance of the case, He pronounces that both parties only demanded what was right. It follows, therefore, that God designedly withheld His decisions until they naturally arose out of the circumstances of the case. It is a common saying that the law makes no provision for those things which rarely occur. 202202     “De his, quae frequenter fieri solent, non quae raro, leges fieri debent.” 1. 3. et sequentibus ff. de legib.; 1. 3. Digest. si pars haeredit, petatur; 1.28 ff. de judiciis; 1. ea quae 64, de regul. juris. Thus it would have been commonly supposed that this law was superfluous; and especially it would have detracted somewhat from the authority of his teaching, if Moses had treated of this trifling matter, had not circumstances led to it. In fine, God allowed Himself to be interrogated familiarly with respect to doubtful points of no primary importance, in order that posterity might recognize 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.

2. And they said, The Lord commanded my lord. They here allege a kind of discrepancy, in that the tribes had had the land allotted to them agreeably to God’s command, but now their lots would be thrown into confusion, when the inheritance should pass over to another tribe. They assume it, however, to be an acknowledged impossibility, that God should be inconsistent with Himself: hence it was necessary that an interpretation should be delivered in order to remove the legal contradiction (ἀντινομίαν) The Law of God, say they, which ought to remain inviolable, enjoins that the land should be distxibuted by lot; how, then, will it accord that women should carry elsewhere the inheritance of their own tribe? Thus, in seeking a remedy for this evil, they submit themselves to God’s governance, and reverently accept what He had prescribed. And further, they enlarge upon the absurdity which would arisen from hence; viz., that in the fiftieth year, when they were to return to their original lots, so much would be withdrawn from the portion of the tribe of Manasseh as the daughters of Zelophehad had taken away with them. Reasonably, therefore, do they demand that a decree should be given to reconcile the two former laws, which otherwise appeared to be at variance with each other.

5. And Moses commanded the children of Israel. The account here given is not identical with the previous one, that Moses referred the matter to God; yet the same thing is more briefly stated, viz., that Moses answered the people out of the mouth of God, from whence we infer that God was consulted by him. Moreover, God not only decides in favor of the children of Manasseh, but approves of their appeal, in that they were contented with their allotment, and claim for themselves what could not be alienated without the violation of the Divine decree. From this particular occasion, a general law is laid down, that no woman to whom an inheritance had fallen, was to marry out of her tribe, because she would defraud her own relatives of her marriage portion. In this way, however, a free permission to marry was accorded to females, provided they renounced their paternal inheritance. The words, indeed, seem to be of wider application, i e., that no man should marry a wife, except of his own kindred; but the meaning of the law is to be sought from the cause which led to its enactment. Moreover, there is no doubt but that promiscuous marriages are here forbidden, in so far as they confound the order of hereditary rights.

VIEWNAME is study