Numbers 27 Study Notes


27:1 Only male descendants were registered by patriarchal lineage in the census. According to levirate law, in a case where a man died without a male heir, a male relative would redeem the land to keep it within the clan. This account is an example of case law development early in Israelite history. (1) The specific case was presented to the leaders at the entrance of the tabernacle (vv. 1-4). (2) An appeal was made by the leader to divine legislative authority (v. 5). (3) A precedent-setting decision was issued, accompanied by principles derived from the case (vv. 6-11).

27:2-5 The daughters of Zelophehad were concerned that their family, lacking a male heir, would be passed over and their patriarchal ancestral name would be forgotten. The disappearance of one’s family name was a matter of grave concern, often associated with divine judgment that would lead to societal shunning and abandonment (Ru 4:10; Ps 83:4; Jr 11:19). The daughters of Zelophehad sought status and inheritance rights within the Machirite clan of Manasseh. Later the Machirites received an inheritance in the Gilead region of Transjordan (Nm 32:39-42). Similar laws about women’s inheritance and property rights existed among various cultures of the ancient Near East.

27:6-11 The decision in the case (what Zelophehad’s daughters say is correct) set forth in the days of Moses in the second millennium BC, and fulfilled by Joshua in the land distribution (Jos 17:3-6), was still in force more than 500 years later. The names of two of Manasseh’s descendants through Zelophehad, Hoglah and Noah, were preserved as the names of districts or towns in the region of Samaria (within the territory of Manasseh) in the Samaria Ostraca (inscribed potsherds) of the eighth century BC, at least 200 years before the exile of Judah.

27:12 The Abarim range extended from an area northeast of the Dead Sea and then southward along the western edge of the Moabite plateau in Transjordan. The opportunity for Moses to see the land of promise from Dan to Zoar took place at Mount Nebo in the heights of Pisgah (Dt 32:49; 34:1).

27:13 Moses was to be gathered to his people, meaning he was to be buried properly, though not in the family burial site that was typical of this era. The phrase conveys the idea of being reunited with one’s ancestral families in Sheol, the place of the dead. To be left unburied or “ungathered” was viewed as disgraceful.

27:14 The Lord had been dishonored at the Waters of Meribah-kadesh in the Wilderness of Zin when Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it. God did provide the needed water for the people, but the action of Israel’s leaders was reprimanded (20:9-11).

27:15-17 Moses’s words the God who gives breath to all speak of God’s sovereignty over all humankind. He is the master of the universe who can thwart even the ways of a pagan diviner like Balaam and accomplish his desires for his people. Moses, the elder statesman of Israel, appealed to God the way a humble servant would appeal before his master. Moses desired that the newly appointed leader would be just as concerned as he had been for the welfare of the nation (cp. Jesus’s compassion in Mt 9:36). The language of going out and coming in has to do with successfully leading the people in battle. The shepherd can also be a military metaphor (1Kg 22:17).

27:18-21 The phrase take Joshua son of Nun, a man who has the Spirit in him reflects the language of formal appointment. “Take” means to exert authority. It is similar in usage to the way the word is used in the introduction to the Korah rebellion, when the Kohathite leader attempted to usurp the authority of Aaron the high priest. Possession of the Holy Spirit in the OT was for the purpose of carrying out the specific tasks to which a person had been appointed by the Lord.

27:22-23 The formal transfer of leadership from Moses to Joshua begins with a statement about Moses faithfully following the Lord’s instruction. The ceremony involved the oversight of the high priest Eleazar in the ritual ceremony, accompanied by the laying on of hands in symbolic transfer of blessing and authority. The parallel passage in Dt 31:1-8,14-29 highlights the placing of the book of the law next to the ark of the covenant. This emphasized the need for Israel’s faithfulness to the Lord’s commands.