Moses makes a special provision and a requirement to maintain tribal distinctions for marriage laws for their female heirs of Israel.
Read Numbers 36
In an earlier chapter of Numbers, Moses ruled that the daughters of Zelophehad could inherit their father’s land portion because he died without having any sons.
But this has the potential for catastrophe: what would happen if any of his daughters married someone outside of Israel? Since it is the husband who owns whatever his wife has inherited, the land would be lost to foreigners (theoretically) for all time.
But the problem that is addressed in chapter 36 is not quite that global; the concern that is addressed is less about what happens if a Hebrew daughter who holds land in Canaan marries outside Israel than it is about what happens if that same girl marries outside of her Israelite tribe.
That is that a girl from the tribe of Simeon, for instance, might marry a man from the tribe of Gad. Then there would be a situation whereby the territorial allotment that God has assigned could be bled off into other Israelite tribes thus upsetting both the fairness and balance, as well as God’s will, in the territorial assignments.
So here in verse 6 is the judgment of God, through Moses on such a situation: a female with land rights can marry anyone she chooses as long as it’s within her clan.
Notice that the term used here is explicitly CLAN, not tribe. They not only had to marry within their tribe but within their own extended family, and if they did otherwise, they were to be stripped of their land inheritance.
And thus as the end of this chapter makes clear, the daughters of Zelophehad married their first cousins, obeying the Lord’s ruling.
It is clear that (as one might expect) the unit of a family that the people of Israel most cared about was not their entire tribe but their immediate clan.
And so that one dominant clan within a tribe does not carry too much power (which in ancient times was expressed via land and livestock) God orders that daughters with inheritance rights must marry within their own extended families.
Now, this is not the last of the instructions we’ll get regarding the use and transfer of land within Canaan; Deuteronomy has several more instructions established using precedents on this subject.
We are so urbanized, today, which we tend to forget the importance of land. But, to God, the land is important, and the Promised Land is a primary ingredient in His overall plan. And, that land that the Bible calls Canaan is specifically set aside for Israel; always has been, always will be.
The Lord will go to great lengths in the Torah to ensure that the land is never to leave the possession of His people, but it happened anyway. The cause was multi-fold, but primarily it was Israel’s apostasy against the Lord.
From the moment the land was handed over to Israel, they would play fast and loose with God’s ordinances regarding the land, and the consequences are still playing out every evening on our TV sets.
And, it is amazing, is it not, that all recent government administrations of both America and Israel are so blind to God’s Laws concerning the land. That their solution to the problem of continued violence against Israel is to continue to give it away to the descendants of the people God ordered that it be taken from.
With these final words, the Lord closed the Book of Numbers, although he would supplement the law with the last book, Deuteronomy. Israel now stood at the precipice of destiny as they overlooked the land before them. For a generation, the Lord had guided them through peril and trial, through the trouble to deliverance.
Now there was a new generation that did not rebel at the command of the Lord, as their fathers had done. So much of the Book of Numbers dealt with life, as it would be once in the land.
Now they crept forward, perhaps inching toward a closer view across the Jordan and peering toward Jericho armed with a divinely guided history and assured of continued guidance from their covenant God.
- Would they hold fast to the commands God had given them at Sinai and throughout their various journeys?
- Would they not repeat the errors of the past and shrink from the campaign before them?
Israel’s future would prove tenuous in one sense but final in another:
“For not everyone from Israel is truly part of Israel;” (Rom. 9:6 CJB)
Lord, with all I read in the newspapers and see on the television and the Internet about the nation of Israel, it appears that you have placed this land at the vortex of international conflict. And after realizing this land was ordained for your people many years ago, I want to pray for the peace of Israel. Lord, give the Jewish leaders wisdom to make wise decisions. But most importantly, open the Jewish peoples’ hearts to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray. Amen.
Holman Old Testament Commentary