Book of Numbers Chapter Thirty-Six Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
One of the problems of elderly people is the loss of associations... Parents, grandparents, other relatives and children in many cases have died! The stores the elderly shopped in, the movies they viewed, including the actors who "starred" in them, the politicians they liked—they're not here on earth anymore. Other younger actors and politicians have taken their places but it just doesn't seem the same.
That's the way it was for Israel. Their leaders were not the same, almost all had died, and it was rumored that Moses was soon to die; and then to top it off, they were about to invade a place that felt like World War III to them. But the mundane aspects of government still had to be addressed and that's what this chapter is about—business as usual, but God's promises are here as well.
Verses 1-4: "And the heads of the fathers’ households of the family of the sons of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the leaders, the heads of the fathers’ households of the sons of Israel, 2 and they said, 'The Lord commanded my lord to give the land by lot to the sons of Israel as an inheritance, and my lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters. 3 But if they marry one of the sons of the other tribes of the sons of Israel, their inheritance will be withdrawn from the inheritance of our fathers and will be added to the inheritance of the tribe to which they belong; thus it will be withdrawn from our allotted inheritance. 4 When the jubilee of the sons of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe to which they belong; so their inheritance will be withdrawn from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.'" This was a return visit by the leaders of the half-tribe of Manasseh, son of Joseph, son of Jacob, also known as Israel. We saw their previous request in Numbers 27. Inheritance in Israel was through males, sons of the owners of land, crops and herds, but what if there were no sons, and daughters instead were born—could they inherit as sons? And the answer from the Lord was a resounding—yes. The leaders of Manasseh wanted a further qualification in such situations and here they were, appearing once more before Moses and other leaders of Israel.
What would happen to the lands and other property in question, if the daughters who were to inherit married outside of their tribe? Would the lands pass to another tribe, causing the territory of Manasseh to shrink every time it happened? And as we go to the answer of the Lord through Moses, it is well to reconsider Israel, not only as a historical nation full of very real people, but also as a parable, a revelation of how God deals with humans everywhere. 1 Peter 1:3-4 contains exciting information about those willing to have faith in the Lord: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you." This chapter touches the concern: Will the person to whom an inheritance is promised, actually receive it? This chapter, this subject, is important to us all.
Verses 5-9: "Then Moses commanded the sons of Israel according to the word of the Lord, saying, 'The tribe of the sons of Joseph are right in their statements. 6 This is what the Lord has commanded concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, ‘Let them marry whom they wish; only they must marry within the family of the tribe of their father. 7 Thus no inheritance of the sons of Israel shall be transferred from tribe to tribe, for the sons of Israel shall each hold to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. 8 Every daughter who comes into possession of an inheritance of any tribe of the sons of Israel shall be wife to one of the family of the tribe of her father, so that the sons of Israel each may possess the inheritance of his fathers. 9 Thus no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another tribe, for the tribes of the sons of Israel shall each hold to his own inheritance.” Yes the inheritance would remain within the tribe of Manasseh, referred to here as "the tribe of the sons of Joseph," and even more pertinent to their request, would the inheritance of their father Zelophehad pass into other hands? The answer was that the lands would remain in the bloodline, with the only qualification that the marriages of these daughters were to be with men of their own tribe. And we are to remain in the faith to which we have been called by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today, if you were conversant in the languages of the Near East, and could travel extensively in the region, perhaps in Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and other nearby nations, you might pose the question to many individuals: "Are you descended from the tribe of Manasseh?" You would probably never hear a "yes" answer, even though the question was asked thousands of times. And the area east of the Jordan which is the subject of this chapter is not known by the name Manasseh, and it has not been so for thousands of years. What happened to the inheritance promised to the tribe of Manasseh? The answer is found in Revelation 7:6, where we discover that the Tribe of Manasseh and the promises to Manasseh still exist and they always will. John the Apostle was shown a glimpse of the future, even more of eternity, and there is the tribe of Manasseh, just as real in the place we might call "forever," as it was thousands of years ago. "All the promises of God in Him (in the Lord Jesus Christ) are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us" (2 Corinthians 1:20). Give yourself to the Lord and trust in His promises. His blessed inheritance will be yours—forever. He does not change His mind and He will bring it to pass.
Verses 10-12: "Just as the Lord had commanded Moses, so the daughters of Zelophehad did: 11 Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad married their uncles’ sons. 12 They married those from the families of the sons of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained with the tribe of the family of their father." Almighty God has given us many promises, including eternal life, the joy of the Lord, forgiveness, everlasting peace, the end of sin, the Presence of His Holy Spirit, and much more. He keeps His word, and it's reasonable that we should keep our word also. The daughters of Zelophehad did and so should we. He has called us to Himself, because He is full of grace, giving us favor with God we have not earned, asking only that we remain faithful also. Our faith even in ourselves, comes and goes as the troubles of life wax and wane, but the kind of faith expected by God is not merely a human response. It is God's creation in us. Hebrews 11:1 terms faith, "the existance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Faith is a substantive gift from outside time and space, beyond this universe, placed like a holy "seed" into the hearts of those who say "Yes" to Jesus Christ, "the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2). We may waver but He does not and our inheritance is safe—forever. He will bring it to pass.
Verse 13: "These are the commandments and the ordinances which the Lord commanded to the sons of Israel through Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho." The Lord Himself guided Israel, and still does lead that nation. He gives direction to nations and individuals everywhere in all times. Moses was led by Him, and so is every leader who has ever existed. We may or may not like the commands, laws and ordinances surrounding us, and we may not like our leaders, but if they are acting badly, it's even more reason to pray for them on a continuing basis. The Book of Numbers, written by Moses, was now complete, and He, the human author, was about to pass from this earthly scene. But the Word of God lasts forever, and so does Moses, that faithful man. Though he was dead, yet long after his death, he appeared and spoke with Jesus and a few disciples (Matthew 17:1-4). He is alive. Trust in the Lord, place your faith in Him, and like Moses, you will live and your inheritance will live also, now and forever.
Father, I want the inheritance You offer. I confess that I fall short because I have sinned, in thought, word and deed. Please forgive me. I give myself to You, Lord Jesus. I am Yours. Please fill me with Your Holy Spirit, and let the inheritance offered in Christ be mine—forever. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.