Biblical Principle #277: Land Inheritance for Israelites without Sons

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Principle

In the Law of Moses, God instructed how Israel was to protect the land inheritance of Israelites who died without sons.

Explanation

The book of Numbers records a situation where a man name Zelophehad died with no sons and four daughters. The daughters went to Moses to ask that their father’s property be given to them.

GOD used the occasion to give further details on similar situations Israel would encounter:

1 Now came the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, from the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these were the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 2 So they stood before Moses, before Eleazar the priest, and before the rulers and all the congregation by the door of the tabernacle of testimony, saying, 3 “Our father died in the desert; but he was not in the company of those who gathered together against the Lord, in company with Korah, but he died in his own sin, and had no sons. 4 Do not let the name of our father be wiped out from among his tribe, because he had no son. Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.” 5 So Moses brought their case before the Lord. 6 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 7 “The daughters of Zelophehad speak correctly; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and assign the allotment of their father to them. 8 Then you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, you shall assign his inheritance to his daughter. 9 But if he has no daughter, you shall give the inheritance to his brother. 10 But if he has no brothers, you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brother. 11 But if his father has no brothers, you shall give his inheritance to the relative closest to him in his tribe; and he shall inherit his possessions.’” So this shall be an ordinance of judgment to the children of Israel, as the Lord ordered Moses.

Numbers 27:1-11 OSB

Later, other family heads from Manasseh expressed a concern about what would happen if these daughters married someone from another tribe:

1 Now the rulers from the tribe of the sons of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, from the tribe of the sons of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and Eleazar the priest and before the rulers of the paternal houses of the children of Israel. 2 So they said, “The Lord commanded our lord to give the land of the inheritance by lot to the sons of Israel, and the Lord ordered our lord to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. 3 Now if they should marry someone from the tribes of the sons of Israel, their allotment would be taken from the possession of our fathers, and be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so it would be taken from the portion of our inheritance. 4 But if the Remission of the children of Israel should come, their inheritance would be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; and their inheritance would be taken away from the inheritance of our father’s tribe.”

5 Then Moses commanded the children of Israel through the ordinance of the Lord, saying, “Thus speaks the tribe of the sons of Joseph. 6 This is the word the Lord orders concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, ‘Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within their father’s tribe.’ 7 So the inheritance for the children of Israel shall not go around from tribe to tribe, because each of the sons of Israel shall be attached to the inheritance of his father’s tribe. 8 And every daughter who enters upon an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel shall marry someone from her father’s tribe, that each of the sons of Israel may possess his paternal inheritance. 9 Thus no inheritance shall go around from one tribe to another, but each of the sons of Israel shall be attached to his own inheritance.” 10 So in the manner the Lord ordered Moses, the daughters of Zelophehad did; 11 and Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, Noah, and Mahlah, the daughters of Zelophehad, married their cousins. 12 They were married into the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father’s family.

Numbers 36:1-12 OSB

To recap:

  • If an Israelite died with no sons, his land property was to be given to his daughter(s).
  • If he had no daughter, his land was to be given to his brother.
  • If he had no brother, his land was to be given to his uncle.
  • If he had no uncle, it was to be given to the nearest kin within his own tribe.
  • If a daughter who had obtained land from her deceased father were to marry within her tribe, she could keep the land.
  • If that daughter were to marry an Israelite from another tribe, however, her deceased father’s land would be returned to the tribe because land was to stay within the tribe from which it was originally allocated.

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