God’s Word for You
Numbers 36:5-12 Choosing your spouse
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, February 14, 2022
5 Then at the LORD’s word, Moses commanded the Israelites, “What the tribe of Joseph’s descendants is saying is right. 6 This is what the LORD commands for Zelophehad’s daughters: They may be married to whomever they wish, but they are to be married within the clan of their father’s tribe. 7 In that way no inheritance for the Israelites will transfer from tribe to tribe, for each of the Israelites is to keep the inheritance of his ancestral tribe. 8 Every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any of the Israelite tribes is to be married to someone from the clan of her father’s tribe, so that each of the Israelites will retain possession of the inheritance of his fathers. 9 So no inheritance will transfer from one tribe to another tribe, for each of the Israelite tribes will keep its own inheritance.” 10 So Zelophehad’s daughters did as the LORD commanded Moses. 11 Zelophehad’s daughters—Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah—were married to cousins on their father’s side. 12 They were married to men from the clans of the descendants of Manasseh the son of Joseph. Their inheritance remained within the tribe of their father’s clan.
The judgment of the Lord for the daughters of Zelophehad is clear: They could marry, but they should marry within their own tribe (that is, the tribe of Manasseh), or they would lose their inheritance. And this is what they did. This is such a simple passage that it hardly needs any explanation.
However, this passage corresponds to every single Christian marriage, in that we should consider carefully the one whom we will marry, like Zelophehad’s daughters, or we run the danger of losing our inheritance, too—that is, our eternal inheritance. First, we need to remember that marriage is an honorable estate, but also a necessary one. God has commanded that in general men and women should enter into marriage, because they were created for it. There should only be rare exceptions, as Luther teaches in the Large Catechism: “Some who are unsuited for married life and others whom he [God] has released by a high supernatural gift so that they can maintain chastity outside of marriage” (Sixth Commandment, par. 211).
Marriage was established by God as the second estate under which men and women live. This is shown in the marriage of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:24) following the institution of the first estate, which is the church (Genesis 2:17). Therefore we see that marriage pleases God, and we should do everything we can to please God and to give him glory in our marriages. Just as marriage is a gift to enable men and women a way to enjoy the gift of sex in a godly way, it should also be clear to us that the one we marry must be “a helper suitable” (Genesis 2:18), that is, not someone who will pull us away from Christ. We will want to marry someone with our same faith just as Zelophehad’s daughters needed to marry within their same tribe. They would be in danger of losing their inheritance, and we are in danger of losing our faith when we don’t make our faith and doctrine one of the key starting points for choosing a mate.
The tendency with all relationships is to find the smoothest interaction; the least amount of friction. A couple that is Christian but that comes from different denominations will tend to fall to the denomination that is less strict, less faithful to the word of God, unless the other spouse is especially adamant about their faith and doctrine. A couple in which one is Christian and the other is not will tend to fall completely away from religion altogether—again, unless extraordinary faith is involved.
But we also have the warning from Scripture that marrying for the wrong reason does not please God. When Esau learned that his parents were displeased when he married a Hittite and a Hivite, he married a granddaughter of Abraham (his second cousin) to try and please his father. However, “whatever Esau was doing he was doing hypocritically and deceitfully” (Luther, LW 7:199). He didn’t marry his cousin so that she would guide his other two wives toward the faith of Abraham. And Esau’s descendants the Edomites worshiped false gods from this time all the way down to the days of Herod the Great and his idolatry (2 Chronicles 25:14). The Lord warns about those outside the faith: “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods” (1 Kings 11:2).
When we consider the three blessings of marriage, we should also ask ourselves about how we receive and use those blessings.
First: Marriage brings loving companionship. “He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love” (Song of Solomon 2:4). How can this companionship thrive as God’s blessing if the marriage couple turns away from God, or gives up worshiping God and praying together?
Second: In marriage, God blesses us with sexual happiness. “This is my lover, this is my friend” (Song 5:16). How can this sexual union please God if the couple descend into unbelief and enjoy one another’s bodies but reject the creator who blessed them?
Third: In marriage, God blesses us with children. “From my mother’s womb you have been my God” (Psalm 22:10). How can we please God with these children if we do not lead them to Christ? Jesus warned: “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).
If you are married, praise God for a godly spouse! If you are not, pray that God would give you a godly spouse! Who can find a heroic wife? She is far more precious than rubies (Proverbs 31:10).
Pastor Timothy Smith