Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Claims of Zelophehad's Daughters to an Inheritance in the Promised Land. - Num 27:1-4. The divine instructions which were given at the mustering of the tribes, to the effect that the land was to be divided among the tribes in proportion to the larger or smaller number of their families (Num 26:52-56), induced the daughters of Zelophehad the Manassite of the family of Gilead, the son of Machir, to appear before the princes of the congregation, who were assembled with Moses and Eleazar at the tabernacle, with a request that they would assign them an inheritance in the family of the father, as he had died in the desert without leaving any sons, and had not taken part in the rebellion of the company of Korah, which might have occasioned his exclusion from any participation in the promised land, but had simply died "through his (own) sin," i.e., on account of such a sin as every one commits, and such as all who died in the wilderness had committed as well as he. "Why should the name of our father be cut off (cease) from the midst of his family?" This would have been the case, for example, if no inheritance had been assigned him in the land because he left no son. In that case his family would have become extinct, if his daughters had married into other families or tribes. On the other hand, if his daughters received a possession of their own among the brethren of their father, the name of their father would be preserved by it, since they could then marry husbands who would enter upon their landed property, and their father's name and possession would be perpetuated through their children. This wish on the part of the daughters was founded upon an assumption which rested no doubt upon an ancient custom, namely, that in the case of marriages where the wives had brought landed property as their dowry, the sons who inherited the maternal property were received through this inheritance into the family of their mother, i.e., of their grandfather on the mother's side. We have an example of this in the case of Jarha, who belonged to the pre-Mosaic times (Ch1 2:34-35). In all probability this took place in every instance in which daughters received a portion of the paternal possessions as their dowry, even though there might be sons alive. This would explain the introduction of Jair among the Manassites in Num 32:41; Deu 3:14. His father Segub was the son of Hezron of the tribe of Judah, but his mother was the daughter of Machir the Manassite (Ch1 2:21-22). We find another similar instance in Ezr 2:61 and Neh 7:63, where the sons of a priest who had married one of the daughters of Barzillai the rich Gileadite, are called sons of Barzillai.
This question of right (Mishpat) Moses brought before God, and received instructions in reply to give the daughters of Zelophehad an inheritance among the brethren of their father, as they had spoken right. Further instructions were added afterwards in Num 36:1-13 in relation to the marriage of heiresses.
On this occasion God issued a general law of inheritance, which was to apply to all cases as "a statute of judgment" (or right), i.e., a statute determining right. If any one died without leaving a son, his landed property was to pass to his daughter (or daughters); in default of daughters, to his brothers; in the absence of brothers, to his paternal uncles; and if there were none of them, to his next of kin. - On the intention of this law, see my Archaeol. 142 (ii. pp. 212, 213); and on the law of inheritance generally, see J. Selden, de success. ad leges Hebr. in bona defunctorum, Fkft. a. O. 1695.
The Death of Moses Foretold. - After these instructions concerning the division of the land, the Lord announced to Moses his approaching end. From the mountains of Abarim he was to see the land which the Israelites would receive, and then like Aaron to be gathered to his people, because like him he also had sinned at the water of strife at Kadesh. This announcement was made, "that he might go forward to his death with the fullest consciousness, and might set his house in order, that is to say, might finish as much as he could while still alive, and provide as much as possible what would make up after his death for the absence of his own person, upon which the whole house of Israel was now so dependent" (Baumgarten). The fulfilment of this announcement is described in Deu 32:48-52. The particular spot upon the mountains of Abarim from which Moses saw the land of Canaan, is also minutely described there. It was Mount Nebo, upon which he also died. The mountains of Abarim (cf. Num 33:47) are the mountain range forming the Moabitish table-land, which slope off into the steppes of Moab. It is upon this range, the northern portion of which opposite to Jericho bore the name of Pisgah, that we are to look for Mount Nebo, which is sometimes described as one of the mountains of Abarim (Deu 32:49), and at other times as the top of Pisgah (Deu 3:27; Deu 34:1; see at Num 21:20). Nebo is not to be identified with Jebel Attarus, but to be sought for much farther to the north, since, according to Eusebius (s. v. Ἀβαρείμ), it was opposite to Jericho, between Livias, which was in the valley of the Jordan nearly opposite to Jericho, and Heshbon; consequently very near to the point which is marked as the "Heights of Nebo" on Van de Velde's map. The prospect from the heights of Nebo must have been a very extensive one. According to Burckhardt (Syr. ii. pp. 106-7), "even the city of Heshbon (Hhuzban) itself stood upon so commanding an eminence, that the view extended at least thirty English miles in all directions, and towards the south probably as far as sixty miles." On the expression, "gathered unto thy people," see at Gen 25:8, and on Aaron's death see Num 20:28. מריתם כּאשׁר: "as ye transgressed My commandment." By the double use of כּאשׁר (quomodo, "as"), the death of Aaron, and also that of Moses, are placed in a definite relation to the sin of these two heads of Israel. As they both sinned at Kadesh against the commandment of the Lord, so they were both of them to die without entering the land of Canaan. On the sin, see at Num 20:12-13, and on the desert of Zin, at Num 13:21.
Consecration of Joshua as the Successor of Moses. - Num 27:15-17. The announcement thus made to Moses led him to entreat the Lord to appoint a leader of His people, that the congregation might not be like a flock without a shepherd. As "God of the spirits of all flesh," i.e., as the giver of life and breath to all creatures (see at Num 16:22), he asks Jehovah to appoint a man over the congregation, who should go out and in before them, and should lead them out and in, i.e., preside over and direct them in all their affairs. ובוא צאת ("go out," and "go in") is a description of the conduct of men in every-day life (Deu 28:6; Deu 31:2; Jos 14:11). והביא הוציא ("lead out," and "bring in") signifies the superintendence of the affairs of the nation, and is founded upon the figure of a shepherd.
The Lord then appointed Joshua to this office as a man "who had spirit." רוּה (spirit) does not mean "insight and wisdom" (Knobel), but the higher power inspired by God into the soul, which quickens the moral and religious life, and determines its development; in this case, therefore, it was the spiritual endowment requisite for the office he was called to fill. Moses was to consecrate him for entering upon this office by the laying on of hands, or, as is more fully explained in Num 27:19 and Num 27:20, he was to set him before Eleazar the high priest and the congregation, to command (צוּה) him, i.e., instruct him with regard to his office before their eyes, and to lay of his eminence (הוד) upon him, i.e., to transfer a portion of his own dignity and majesty to him by the imposition of hands, that the whole congregation might hearken to him, or trust to his guidance. The object to ישׁמעוּ (hearken) must be supplied from the context, viz., אליו (to him), as Deu 34:9 clearly shows. The מן (of) in Num 27:20 is partitive, as in Gen 4:4, etc. The eminence and authority of Moses were not to be entirely transferred to Joshua, for they were bound up with his own person alone (cf. Num 12:6-8), but only so much of it as he needed for the discharge of the duties of his office. Joshua was to be neither the lawgiver nor the absolute governor of Israel, but to be placed under the judgment of the Urim, with which Eleazar was entrusted, so far as the supreme decision of the affairs of Israel was concerned. This is the meaning of Num 27:21 : "Eleazar shall ask to him (for him) the judgment of the Urim before Jehovah." Urim is an abbreviation for Urim and Thummim (Exo 28:30), and denotes the means with which the high priest was entrusted of ascertaining the divine will and counsel in all the important business of the congregation. "After his mouth" (i.e., according to the decision of the high priest, by virtue of the right of Urim and Thummim entrusted to him), Joshua and the whole congregation were to go out and in, i.e., to regulate their conduct and decide upon their undertakings. "All the congregation," in distinction from 'all the children of Israel," denotes the whole body of heads of the people, or the college of elders, which represented the congregation and administered its affairs.
Execution of the divine command.