Numbers 36 – The Daughters of Zelophehad, Part 2


Numbers 36


The male relatives of Zelophehad restrict the economic freedom earlier won by Zelophehad’s five daughters.


The male relatives of Zelophehad’s daughters – Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milkah, and Noah – are afraid that if the women marry outside of the tribe of Manasseh, the land that God had commanded them to inherit (in Numbers 27) would be added to the other tribe at the Jubilee year. This land did not belong to the men complaining, and as long as at least one of the five women had male descendants, the land would never revert to the men complaining. It is difficult to see their complaint as anything other than patriarchy worried about a slight loss of power.

Unlike in the previous instance when Moses turned to God for guidance (Numbers 27:5-6), this time, Moses speaks straight away, assuring the people that he speaks from the mouth of the LORD (Numbers 36:5). Moses rules for the men, that the daughters of Zelophehad may marry whomever they wish, as long as the husband is from the tribe of Manasseh. The five women did as they were commanded and married their cousins, preventing a land transfer. This new rule was tacked onto the previous statute that women could inherit in the case that they had no brothers – but they must not marry outside of their tribe. 

The Book of Numbers ends here, with the story of five women inheriting land.