27 The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah. They came forward 2 and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, 3 “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. 4 Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.”
5 So Moses brought their case before the Lord,
Normally, the land inheritance should be passed from a father to his sons in Israel, not to the daughters. What then in the case of Zelophehad’s daughters, whose father had no sons? The daughters of Zelophehad approached Moses and Eleazar to make a claim for their inheritance in the land. Their father had died in the wilderness, as had his entire generation. On the basis of their father’s memory, the daughters asked Moses for a possession among their father’s brothers. Doing this the daughters we’re cutting across the morals of that time. Women did not inherit land in ancient Israel. In general, the system was not completely unfair to women. A woman received a dowry from her father as a wedding present. Typically, the father required his potential son-in-law to provide much if not all of the dowry. A dowry might consist of clothes, jewelry, money, furniture, or more, and it was thought that the dowry could help provide for the woman if her husband left her or unexpectedly died.
The daughter’s case made sense to Moses and because it was an issue that had not presented itself ever before he took the issue to the Lord. This situation gives us some insight into how the law worked in Israel. Decisions were made on the basis of need and request. If the decisions to be made were new or difficult the leaders would go to the Lord for direction. So Moses did just that, he took the matter to the Lord.
6 and the Lord said to him, 7 “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them. 8 “Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance to his daughter. 9 If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers.11 If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to have the force of law for the Israelites, as the Lord commanded Moses.’”
God’s decision was that the daughters of Zelophehad had presented a just cause, ”saying what is right”. They would inherit land in the name of their father. This decision would set a precedent for other households with no sons, only daughters. However, if there were no daughters, the inheritance then went to the father’s brothers. If the father had no brothers, the inheritance went to the next of kin. This was a significant departure from the custom of the day.
And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment: The remarkable thing about these laws is that they were all made in anticipation, in faith, of coming into the inheritance of land in the Canaan. This was a real issue at this time for the daughters of Zelophehad shows they were women of faith, concerned about dividing up what they did not yet have in their hands, but knew they would possess by faith.
Allowing daughters to inherit, where there were no sons in the family, created complications though. When they married, they would take the family land with them, thus destroying the father’s estate. These issues will be addressed in chapter 36.
Joshua to Succeed Moses
12 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go up this mountain in the Abarim Range and see the land I have given the Israelites. 13 After you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was, 14 for when the community rebelled at the waters in the Desert of Zin, both of you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy before their eyes.” (These were the waters of Meribah Kadesh, in the Desert of Zin.)
The time for entering the Promised Land was near. This also meant the end of Moses’ life was near. Although God would not allow Moses to enter the land, by His grace He would allow Moses to see the land from afar. Moses was first told he would die before coming to the Promised Land in Numbers 20. It was still many months until Moses would climb to the top of the mountain, able to see the Promised Land but not able enter it and die there (Deuteronomy 34). Yet God told him of it here, so as to prepare his heart for the right time.
15 Moses said to the Lord, 16 “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community 17 to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
After hearing that his coming fate was near, Moses does not try to talk God out of it or complain, his concern is for the congregation, not himself. He asks God to appoint someone to lead the community after his passing. A shepherd to lead His people.
18 So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership,[a] and lay your hand on him. 19 Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. 20 Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. 21 He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.”
22 Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. 23 Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.
It appears that there were only two candidates to succeed Moses: Caleb and Joshua. The two spies who honored the Lord when the entire nation would not in chapter 14. God chose Joshua. Up to this point, Joshua was mostly known by his servant-like association with Moses (Exodus 24:13). That time as Moses’ humble servant prepared him to take the leadership he was now called to.The Lord instructed Moses to present Joshua before the congregation so that there would be no power struggle after his death. This public presentation and laying of hands on Joshua was important. It let the whole nation know that Joshua was now the leader and the nation should expect to follow him. Moses also began to delegate work to Joshua so that the transition would begin while Moses was still living. According to God’s instruction Moses laid hands on Joshua imparting the authority to lead Israel.
- Numbers 27:18 Or the Spirit