From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 36

This part of Numbers is a diary where Moses recorded events as they happened.

The leaders of the tribes of Israel had summit meetings – direct personal negotiations between the heads of the tribes. The regulation that authorized daughters without brothers to inherit was mandated when the daughters of Zelophehad brought the problem to the attention of Moses earlier. The problem recorded in this chapter was brought to Moses by the heads of the tribe to which Zelophehad belonged about the possible loss of property by one tribe to another. The question came up at some time after the inheritance problem of daughters without brothers. Sufficient time had elapsed to permit the discussion and crystallization of public opinion about what the result would be if the women married men from another tribe. The elders of the clan of Gilead approached Moses and the other tribal leader with their concern about what would happen if Zelophehad’s daughters married men from another Israelite tribe. They said that the property that the daughters inherited would become the property of the husband’s tribe and would be lost from the tribe of Manasseh. When the land was to be restored to each tribe in the year of Jubilee the land wouldn’t be restored to the rightful tribe – the purpose of the woman inheriting in the first place would be defeated.

Important inheritance rules were being established so Moses took the question before the highest government official – the King of kings himself, Yahweh – and brought the answer back to the leaders of the tribes. The assessment of the leaders of the sons of Joseph was confirmed correct. The land was to stay in the tribe. The women who were heirs because there were no sons were to marry within their ancestral clan so that the tribal inheritance would always be kept in the family. The inherited land of the chosen people was not to be passed around from tribe to tribe and every Israelite was responsible for the tribes holding tight to its own land. There was to be no land-grabbing marriages of convenience.

According to the institute in basic life principles Yahweh designed marriage to fulfill six important and vital functions. Companionship, which grows out of a oneness of spirit. Next is enjoyment, a principle that is grounded in self-control. Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed should be kept undefiled. Yahweh designed Eve to complete that which was lacking in Adam’s life. Yahweh’s first command in Scripture is “…Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth.” A husband is to protect his wife by laying down his life for her. A wife is to protect the interests of her home. Marriage is to be a human object lesson of the divine relationship between Yahweh and believers. The chosen people of Yahweh were not to use marriage as a means to amass riches or get influence.

The daughters of Zelophehad did just as Yahweh commanded Moses and all married within the families of Manasseh son of Joseph and their inheritance-lands stayed in their father’s family.

The narrator recorded the names of the woman so that their faithful obedience and courage wouldn’t be forgotten. He finished the book with the information that these were the commands and regulations decreed by Yahweh – through the authority of Moses – and given to the People of Israel on the Plains of Moab at Jordan-Jericho.


Summary of chapter 36

There are two emphases in this last chapter. The first is on the question of the certainty of the inheritance of each tribe being maintained. The second was the example that the daughters of Zelophehad were to the whole of Israel that those who behaved rightly towards Yahweh would come out triumphantly as possessors of the land – or those who behave positively toward Yahweh will triumph as possessors of the peace that passes all understanding[1].

The book ended with the importance of ensuring that the divisions of the land as established by Yahweh for His people should remain unaltered. The land was to be their permanent possession, given to them by Yahweh. It lay at the very heart of the covenant. This reveals both the deep concern of the people about possessing land, and the faithfulness of their God in safeguarding it as a permanent possession. It was the fulfilment of all that they had come to Canaan to obtain. Its permanence would be a huge incentive to going forward.

The people of Yahweh today have the certainty that we will enter into and inherit an everlasting kingdom that will never diminish. It is because of that confidence that we have the courage to go constantly forward in the face of all difficulties.

The situation that brought this matter to the forefront was the matter of families with no male heir, whose fathers had died on their journey while remaining faithful to Yahweh, with the result that their family, instead of joining in the fulfilment of the promises to the fathers, would lose everything that mattered through no fault of their own. They would no longer have their share in the land. However, if they did receive land and the women heiresses married outside the tribe, they would take the land that had been given to that tribe with them. The solution was that the women heiresses could inherit, but must marry within the tribe. The book ended with the description of the obedience to Yahweh of the daughters of Zelophehad which resulted in satisfaction for all. The lesson being that anyone who walks in obedience to Yahweh will be blessed.[2]


Prayer: God of all blessings, source of all life, giver of all grace: I thank you for the gift of life: for the breath that sustains life, for the food of this earth that nurtures life, for the love of family and friends without which there would be no life. I thank you for the mystery of creation: for the beauty that my eye can see, for the joy that my ear may hear, for the unknown that I cannot behold filling the universe with wonder, for the expanse of space that draws me beyond the definitions of myself. I thank you for setting me in community I live in. Thank you for my family who nurtured my becoming, for friends who love me by choice, for companions who share my burdens and daily tasks. Thank you for strangers who welcome me into their midst, for people from other lands who call me to grow in understanding, for children who lighten the moments of my life with delight, and for the unborn who offer hope for the future. I thank you for this day and for life and one more day to love. I thank you for opportunity and one more day to work for justice and peace, for neighbors and one more person to love and by whom to be loved, for your grace and one more experience of your presence, for your promise to be with me, to be my God, and for your salvation. For these and all blessings, I give you thanks, eternal, loving God. [3]



Things to think about

  1. What do you see as the main purpose of the book of Numbers – or Bəmiḏbar, which is Hebrew for wilderness/desert?
  2. Why were there two censures for the chosen people while they were in the desert?
  3. What do you think was the purpose of the way the tribes were camped and the order in which they marched?
  4. What do you think made the tribe of Levi different from the others?
  5. Why do you think it was important for the jobs of the priests and Levites and their authority to be respected?
  6. What was the significance of the snake on a pole?
  7. For what is Balaam famous?
  8. Why was it important for the land to stay with the tribe in which it was given?

8 What lessons did you learn from the story of the ashes of the “red heifer”?

  1. What did the description of the area described on page 188 – chapter 20 – tell you about living in this earthly dwelling? What do we have to do to face the trials of this life with victory?


[1] Philippians 4:7

[2] These files are public domain.



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