This chapter continues the preparation of the new generation for the inheritance of the land, and a new law is established.
Read Numbers 27:1-11
When we back away and take a high-altitude view of the Law, we find that after a series of general laws in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and later Deuteronomy tend to deal with some specific cases that don’t fit well within the general rules and regulations.
So while one could, in the most negative sense, say a law has been changed from Leviticus to Numbers, in fact, a law is merely being either more precisely defined or how a law is to be carried out is being explained in more depth.
And in some cases, because the generation who was given the Law at Mt. Sinai is now dead and gone the more relevant laws and principles are being repeated and reinforced for the new generation of Hebrew whose parents had first received the Law but they were now buried in the desert sands.
And the first thing we encounter is a case whereby a family headed by a man named Zelophehad, now deceased, has a problem. And that problem is that Zelophehad left no sons to inherit so his daughters come to Moses and ask why it would be so wrong for THEM to inherit their father’s wealth, even though they weren’t males. Their reasoning is stated in verses 3 and 4; and in a nutshell, it is that
- a) Their father had NOT participated in the vast apostasy of Korah (when a fire came out of the Tabernacle and burned up many rebellious men, and an earthquake opened up a fissure which swallowed thousands of people families of the rebels); and
- b) Their father had died under the same curse that all the other individuals who left Egypt had (they failed to trust the Lord and go forth into the Promised Land).
Further, since all the other families whose men had committed the same sin were not being denied rights to land in Canaan, why should their father’s family be denied property merely because he had no sons to inherit his portion?
Moses listens to the plea of these women and says he will take the case before the Lord, and if we look closely, after Mt. Sinai, this sort of method of having additional laws added became standard. And the same concept is used to this day in our American legal system; it’s called precedent.
A situation would arise (without previous precedent), and it would be brought to Moses, the judge, to decide. He would then take it to the Lord who would decide the matter. Moses would inform the parties of God’s decision, and THEN the case became law based on precedent.
Generally speaking, all similar matters were to be handled in the same way in the future. Therefore we have two classifications and methods of receiving laws from God: by Oracle (like on Mt. Sinai), and by precedent when a situation demands a remedy and so is taken to YHWH and He decides it.
As to the concept of a family leader dying and there being only daughters and no sons to inherit, the Lord says that daughters MAY inherit what would otherwise have been given to the sons. And the Lord then takes some additional apparent and probably quite common cases regarding succession of inheritance and makes them law as well.
- If a father dies without a son, his wealth goes to his daughters.
- If that man has no children at all, it goes to his brothers.
- If he has no brothers at all, it goes to his uncles on his father’s side.
- If the man didn’t even have Uncles on his father’s side, then the nearest family relative whether on the mother’s or the father’s side will inherit the family property.
Now a little later in Numbers, and later still in Deuteronomy, we will get some caveats and exceptions to all this because the core principle that this revolves around is that land was not ever to leave the possession of the Hebrew family who originally possessed it.
I am avoiding using the word “owned” (by using the word “possessed”) because God makes it clear that ALL the land of Canaan, soon to be called Israel, is HIS. Even the Israelites won’t be “owning” the land per se; they’ll just possess it.
The best mental picture of this arrangement in modern terms would be the difference between buying a house and leasing it. In one case the title of the land and dwelling belongs to you, in the other you just possess the property for the purpose of using it, by paying something to the owner.
Ownership has no expiration date; leases are time limited. God was not passing the title of the property to Israel; He was but giving the Hebrews EXCLUSIVE use of the property in perpetuity. Therefore since one cannot sell what one does not own, the Israelites had no right to sell land in Israel especially to foreigners; and strictly speaking not even to each other.
And the laws of Sabbatical years and (more directly) the laws of Jubilee facilitated this idea of possessing someone else’s land for a time but never owing it. The Promised Land did not have a for sale sign on it.
Now, this would be a good time to make something entirely clear given the events of our age whereby Israel is actively engaged in giving up land in hopes of peace with their enemies. Or from a biblical perspective, actively involved in rebelling against the Lord by giving up possession of the land that was set aside exclusively for them by Yehoveh.
Those of us who are supporters of Israel watch hurt, angry and frustrated at the wrong-minded and foolish attempt of the Israeli government to appease their enemies by giving up God’s land to His enemies. Their hope is that by giving up that land, their enemies will give them peace in return.
Inexplicably, the more land they give up, the more their enemies attack them. Only a couple of years ago Israel gave up that southern seacoast portion called the Gaza Strip, and almost immediately Israel came under rocket attack from Gaza.
Now they are being threatened with attack from enemies of the north who are demanding that they give up the northern portion of Israel. And why not, it worked for the Palestinians.
I suppose it would be reasonable to draw the conclusion that all Israel has done by once again giving up land for peace is emboldening their enemies to demand more. And why they can’t see that, I’m not sure. However, that is but the earthly reality.
The spiritual, heavenly reality is that the Lord is at the least allowing Israel to pay a hefty price for rebelling against Him by giving up that which they don’t own; the land of Israel. Israelis have no right (from a spiritual perspective) to hand one square inch of Israel over to ANYONE, especially to their enemies.
But neither does our nation have the right to demand that the key to peace in the region is to do exactly that; which was precisely the centerpiece of the Bush administration’s Roadmap to Peace. Divide Israel and create a Palestinian Philistine state on the Lord’s land. Of all the possibilities, I can’t think of a worse plan that that.
We’ve all gasped at one time or another when we read of the end times prophecy that says a new Temple will be built in Jerusalem, and then the Anti-Christ will put an image of himself inside the Holy of Holies and demand that he be worshiped as God. There is little difference between inviting God’s enemies to live on His sanctified land, and permitting God’s GRAND enemy to be worshiped in His sanctified Temple; it’s all cut from the same cloth.
So while we can empathize will Israel’s current plight, as God’s elect we cannot applaud or be party to such a plan. In fact, we need to oppose it energetically and not by offering some geopolitical reason or speaking of fairness or even of international law. Rather we must stand on the covenants of God that gave the Hebrews that land for all time; what manmade government bodies think matters not.
I went on this seeming detour because the very reason for the new procedure of establishing law through precedent (regarding land inheritance in this case) is the developing God-principle that land given to an individual Israelite family is to REMAIN in that family. That is the reason that wherever possible the land was to be passed on to a son because the son carried the family name forward. Daughters, when they married, became under the authority and identity and name of her husband’s family; what happens if that daughter married a foreigner?
While some can look at this seeming sex discrimination made into law by the Lord, the reality is that daughters were provided for in a different way than sons. Daughters were given costly dowries when they married. We have records of wealthy men even giving their daughters entire cities as wedding gifts.
Now, of course, this all depended on how well off the father of the bride was. But it was the same for the son; for the average Israelite a couple of acres of ground and a handful of sheep were given as a wedding gift or at times is all there was to inherit. Perhaps some metal cooking containers or some tools of the father’s trade might be inherited. There was only occasionally an excellent transfer of land and wealth.
When a daughter was married off, the dowry ended any responsibility the father had for his daughter. She was now the responsibility of her new husband and HIS family.
If a daughter of a man of the tribe of Judah married a man from the tribe of Dan, she stopped being seen as a Judahite and became a Danite. More, if a daughter of a man from the tribe of Judah married a man OUTSIDE of any Israelite tribe, she made herself an outsider.
So if a daughter of an Israelite man inherited her father’s land, and then (by way of example) proceeded to marry a man from the gentile nation of Moab, then you would have a non-Israelite taking possession of a piece of the Holy Land, a definite no-no.
Until now, as of this point in the Scripture, that exact thing was a real possibility for there was nothing to prevent it. That is why later we’ll find laws that the daughter only retains that inheritance as long as she marries within her tribe. If she marries even another Hebrew, but not of her father’s tribe, she is subject to having her inheritance voided under certain circumstances.