Saturday, October 17, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 27

Chapter 27
Summary:The daughters of Zelophehad* - Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah (from the tribe of Manasseh) - stood before Moses, Eleazar, the leaders of Israel, and the entire congregation by the door of the tabernacle.

The women stated that their father had died out in the wilderness, and not in the company of Korah's rebellion, so therefore since Zelophehad had no sons, they petitioned that they should inherit their father's land along with their father's brothers.

Moses brought their case before God, and God in turn agrees that the daughters are right and agrees to give them some land in the "promised land" along with their uncles. God tells Moses to instruct the people of Israel to allow their daughters to receive inheritance if the man in question is without a son; and if the man has no sons or daughters, then the land is to go to his brothers; and if the man has no brothers, then the land goes to his uncles; and in the event that he has no uncles, the land shall go to his nearest relative.

God now tells Moses to climb Mount Abarim so that Moses can view the "promised land" from the top of the mountain. God tells Moses that when he has seen the "promised land" he shall die - as his brother Aaron had - for rebelling against God's commandment in the desert of Zin. God claims that Moses' "rebellion" (striking a rock, rather than speaking to a rock) failed to sanctify God in the eyes of the Israelites.

Moses then asks God to appoint a new leader to the people of Israel, so that the congregation not be "as sheep which have no shepherd".

God tells Moses to take Joshua (the son of Nun), lay his hand upon him, and bring him to Eleazar, and before all of the people of Israel, charge him with leading the Israelites. God continues, telling Moses to publicly give Joshua the same authority that Moses had so that the people of Israel will obey him. Joshua shall have to consult with Eleazar, who will receive instructions from God through the judgment of the Urim, and Eleazar will pass these words to Joshua and the people of Israel.

Moses did as God had commanded, bringing forth Joshua to Eleazar, laying his hands upon him and giving him leadership publicly before the people of Israel.
Notes:1.) Zelophehad was the son of Hepher, who was the son of Gilead, who was the son of Machir, who was the son of Manasseh.
Thoughts:This chapter begins with five women - Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah - who are descended from Manasseh and are the daughters of a man named Zelophehad, demanding property rights. The women take their case up with Moses and state that since their father had died (emphasizing that he died out in the wilderness and not being part of Korah's rebellion from Numbers Chapter 16) without a son, that they should inherit their father's property in the "promised land" alongside their uncles. Moses takes their case before God, and surprisingly God goes along with Zelophehad's daughters and tells Moses that it shall be a law for the people of Israel.

Let's not jump to the conclusion that God actually championed womens rights here, because if we read clearly we understand that this isn't what God's law says at all. This law merely allows a man's daughters (not his wife, sisters, or aunts) into the pecking order, if - and only if - the man had no male heirs, and those daughters would still have to split the land with their uncles.

However, the law as written here is extremely vague, as is typical in the bible. No mention is made as to whether a daughter get to retain or would have to forfeit her inheritance should she marry, or whether married daughters would be exempt or not from inheriting land.

With this new law in place, God's pecking order now proceeds as such: a man's son(s); failing a son, his daughter(s) - to be shared his brothers; failing a son or daughter, his brothers; failing having a brother, his uncles; failing an uncle, it goes to his nearest next of kin.

God now tells a roughly 120 year old Moses to go climb a mountain so that he can get a scenic view of the "promised land" that he will not be allowed to enter - thanks to that whole smiting a rock instead of speaking to it debacle in Numbers Chapter 20 that God is still angry about. God tells Moses that after he sees the "promised land" that he will die, just as his brother Aaron had, because of the rock incident which God explains "failed to sanctify" God in the eyes of the Israelites. Basically, God had his ego bruised and Moses and Aaron are to pay for it with their lives.

Moses seems to accept his fate, but asks God to appoint a new leader before God kills him. God tells Moses to bring Joshua out to Eleazar and have a public ceremony before the people of Israel. God furthers that Joshua will have to receive God's judgments through Eleazar, who in turn will get these instructions via using the Urim - in layman's terms, a stone that in principle is sort of a primitive Magic 8-ball. The Urim stone is (as well as its companion stone, called the Thummim that we encountered in Leviticus Chapter 8) used to deduce yes and no answers to determine God's will, again, much like a Magic 8-ball would. Like I had mentioned in my commentary on Leviticus Chapter 8, it's a frightening concept when we factor in that probably the fates of many people's lives rested in the hands of these "magic stones" and their random answers. Also, an interesting note, is that the Urim and Thummim stones factor into the Mormon religion as the "seer stones" that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon from "Ancient Egyptian" into English while peering into a hat(!)

The chapter closes off with Joshua being appointed as Moses' successor in a public ceremony before the people of Israel.

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