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God’s Word for You

Numbers 36:1-4 A question about inheritance

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 11, 2022

In the days of the Judges, a farmer was called to the gate of Bethlehem by an old friend (in fact, a cousin) with a proposition. There was a large farm that could be bought by the farmer—it would perhaps double his property and make him a wealthy man. His mind was swimming with management issues this would raise: which servant could he trust to take over the day-to-day needs of the new property? He would need new teams of donkeys and oxen, more wagons, more granaries. Would it be cheaper to build his own blacksmith shop? To have his own farrier? His own…?

Ah, here was his cousin. The boundaries of the land, the contents of the estate with its orchards, figs, vineyards, a few walls that would need repair. Yes, yes, he had expected this. But then, something he wasn’t expecting: “On the day you buy the land from Naomi the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” “I cannot redeem it. It might endanger my estate,” the farmer replied.

Perhaps he was already engaged to a woman who would bring land or some dowry of her own. Or it might mean that he would somehow lose out on the property he had, or almost had. The matter of inheritance was a delicate legal walkway. One had to watch one’s step. This issue in the time of the Judges had its roots in a question asked of Moses near the banks of the Jordan River…

Inheritance for Zelophehad’s Daughters

36 The leading fathers of the clan of the descendants of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, from the clans of the sons of Joseph, approached Moses and spoke to Moses and the tribal chiefs, the heads of the fathers’ houses of the people of Israel. 2 They said, “The LORD commanded my lord to assign the land for the Israelites’ inheritance by lot. My lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters. 3 Now, if they marry any of the men from the other Israelite tribes, then their inheritance would be taken away from our ancestral inheritance and would be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they married. So part of our allotted inheritance would be taken away. 4 When the Jubilee occurs for the Israelites, that inheritance would be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they married. Therefore that inheritance will be taken away from the inheritance of our ancestral tribe.”

In Numbers 27, the daughters of an Israelite from Manasseh’s tribe came to Moses with a problem: Their father Zelophehad died without any sons, but he had five daughters. What could they inherit? At that time, Moses asked the Lord, and the Lord proclaimed that the girls were right. They should inherit their father’s property. But now a new issue came up: What if the women wanted to get married? Their property would depart from the tribe of Manasseh and go to whatever tribe their husbands came from.

This would take place legally on the day of Jubilee, which was the once-in-a-lifetime celebration in which slaves were set free and land would permanently revert to the original owner except in this case: the land would be absorbed into the tribe of the husband.

God’s solution would be legally satisfying, but anyone who is the least bit romantic will see the potential for heartbreak. We will turn our attention to a seldom-noticed application of the Sixth Commandment with the closing verses of the chapter.

For Boaz and Ruth at the gate of Bethlehem, the romantic in each of us is satisfied with the happy ending: The kinsman-redeemer cousin had to pass over redeeming the property of Mahlon, Ruth’s dead husband. Another man would have to marry Ruth. And that man, in the line of King David and of the Savior Jesus himself, was Boaz.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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