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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 6: Harmony of the Law, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Numbers 27

Numbers 27:1-11

1. Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters, Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.

1. Accesserunt autem filiae Salphaad, filii Hepher, filii Galaad, filii Machir, filii Manasse de familiis Manasse, filii Joseph: haec vero sunt nomina filiarum ejus, Malhah, Noah, Hoglah, et Milchah, et Thirsah.

2. And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,

2. Hac steterunt coram Mose et coram Eleazar sacerdote, et coram principibus atque universa congregatione ad ostium tabernaculi conventionis, dicendo:

3. Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons.

3. Pater noster mortuus est in deserto, qui tamen non fuit in congregatione qum congregata fuit adversus Jehovam, in congregatione Core: quia in peccato mortuus est, et filii non fuerunt el.

4. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.

4. Quare tolletur nomen patris nostri de medio familiae suae, propterea quod non sit ei filius? da nobis haereditatem inter fratres patris nostri.

5. And Moses brought their cause before the Lord.

5. Retulit autem Moses causam earum coram Jehova.

6. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

6. Et respondit Jehova ad Mosen, dicendo:

7. The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren: and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.

7. Rectum filiae Salphaad loquuntur: dando dabis eis possessionem haereditatis in medio fratrum patris sui, et transferes haereditatem patris earum ad eas.

8. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.

8. Ad filios autem Israel loqueris, dicendo, Quum quis mortuus fuerit, et filius non fuerit illi, tum transferetis haereditatem ejus ad filiam ipsius.

9. And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren.

9. Quod sinon fuerit ei filia, tunc dabitis haereditatem ejus fratribus ipsius.

10. And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father’s brethren.

10. Si vero non fuerint ei fratres, tunc dabitis haereditatem ejus fratribus patris ipsius.

11. And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment; as the Lord commanded Moses.

11. Quod si non fuerint fratres patri ipsius, tunc dabitis haereditatem ejus propinquiori illi de familia ipsius, haereditatemque accipiet illam: erit autem istud filiis Israel in statutum judicii, quemadmodum praecepit Jehova Mosi.


1. Then came the daughters of Zelophehad. A narrative is here introduced respecting the daughters of Zelophehad, of the family of Machir, who demanded to be admitted to a share of its inheritance; and the decision of this question might have been difficult, unless all doubt had been removed by the sentence of God Himself. For, since in the law no name is given to women, it would seem that no account of them was to be taken in the division of the land. And, in fact, God laid down this as the general rule; but a special exception is here made, i.e., that whenever a family shall be destitute of male heirs, females should succeed, for the preservation of the name. I am aware that this is a point which is open to dispute, since there are obvious arguments both for and against it, but let the decree that God pronounced suffice for us.

Although (the daughters of Zelophehad) plead before Moses for their own private advantage, still the discussion arose from a good principle; inasmuch as they would not have been so anxious about the succession, if God’s promise had not been just as much a matter of certainty to them as if they were at this moment demanding to be put in possession of it. They had not yet entered the land, nor were their enemies conquered; yet, relying on the testimony of Moses, they prosecute their suit as if the tranquil possession of their rights were to be accorded them that very day. And this must have had the effect of confirming the expectations of the whole people, when Moses consulted God as respecting a matter of importance, and pronounced by revelation that which was just and right; for the discussion, being openly moved before them all, must have given them encouragement, at least to imitate these women.

3. Our father died in the wilderness. The plea they allege is no contemptible one, i.e., that their father died after God had called His people to the immediate possession of the promised land; for, if the question had been carried back to an earlier period, it might have originated many quarrels. This restriction with respect to time, therefore, aided their cause. In the second place, they plead that their father had committed no crime whereby he might have been excepted from the general allotment of the land; for in the conspiracy of Dathan and Abiram, they include by synecdoche, in my opinion, the other sins, whose punishment affected the posterity of the criminals. His private sin is, therefore, contrasted with public ignominy; for so I interpret what they say of his having “died in his own sin.” And surely it is mere childish nonsense which the Jews  199 affirm of his having been the man who gathered sticks on the Sabbath-day, or one of the number of those who were slain by the bite of the serpents; and it is unnatural, too, to refer it to the curse under which the whole human race is laid. They distinguish, then, his private sin from any public crime, which would have caused him to deserve to be disinherited, lest the condition of their father should be worse than that of any other person. At the same time, they hold fast to the principle which is dictated to us by the common feelings of religion, that death, as being the curse of God, is the wages of sin.

5. And Moses brought their cause before the Lord. It is probable either that there was a difference of opinion, or that the minds of the judges were in doubt, as respecting an obscure and uncertain point. At any rate, it was expedient that the law should be laid down by God, lest any future controversy should arise; for, if a sentence had been pronounced by human judgment on the matter before them, the obstinacy of many would not perhaps have been sufficiently set at rest. It is worth while to remark the pious modesty of Moses, who was not ashamed to confess his ignorance, until he had been instructed by the mouth of God. Although he had promulgated the law forty years before, still he was always ready to learn. Besides, there is no doubt but that God impelled him to inquire of Himself, whenever any serious matters were in question, until his doctrine was absolutely perfect. And, although God does not now deliver from heaven what is to be done, nevertheless rulers are reminded that they ought to have recourse to God in points of perplexity, in order that He may instruct them by the Spirit of wisdom; and assuredly they will not be without this, if they ask Him; since he is no less ready to listen to them, than He here shewed Himself to be to Moses.

8. And thou shalt speak to the children of Israel. This question was the occasion of the delivery of a law, which was to be a perpetual and general rule as to the right of inheritance. But, although God prefers the daughters to all other relatives, when there is no male issue, still, with this single exception of the first degree, He admits none but males to the succession, and thus preserves the usual order. And surely it would be very unjust to exclude a man’s (natural) heirs on account of their sex; but when it became necessary to pass from his own children to other kindred, the prerogative of the male line began to be established. I speak of the land of Canaan, in which not only the name of Abraham but also that of the twelve tribes was to be preserved, in order that the memory (of God’s blessing)  200 might be more distinct and unclouded.



S.M. refers to this Rabbinical gloss. R. Sal. Jarchi tells us: “R. Akiba says, that he collected the wood; but R. Simeon says that he was one of those who were contumacious.” — Edit. Breihthaupt, in loco, p. 1243, and notes.


Added from Fr.

Next: Numbers 36:1-13