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

Numbers 36

Numbers 36:1-13

1. And the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near, and spake before Moses, and before the princes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel.

1. Accesserunt vero principes patrum e familia filiorum Gilad filii Machir, filii Manasse de familiis filiorum Joseph, et loquuti sunt coram Mose, et cotare prineipibus capitibus patrum filiorum Israel:

2. And they said, The Lord commanded my lord to give the land for an inheritance by lot to the children of Israel: and my lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother unto his daughters.

2. Ac dixerunt, Domino meo praecepit Jehova ut daret terram in possessionem sorte filiis Israel, etiam domino meo praeceptum est a Jehova ut daret possessionem Salphaad fratris nostri filiabus ejus.

3. And if they be married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then shall their inheritance be taken from the inheritance of our fathers, and shall be put to the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they are received: so shall it be taken from the lot of our inheritance.

3. Quae si alicui de filiis aliarum tribuum filiorum Israel dentur in uxores, minuetur haereditas earum ah haereditate patrum nostrorum, addeturque haereditati tribus quibus nupserunt, et de sorte haereditatis nostrae minuetur.

4. And when the jubilee of the children of Israel shall be, then shall their inheritance be put unto the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they are received; so shall their inheritance be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.

4. Quumque fuerit jubilams fillis Israel, addetur haereditas earum haereditati tribus quibus nupserint: atque de haereditate tribus patrum nostrorum detrahetur haereditas earum.

5. And Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of the Lord, saying, The tribe of the sons of Joseph hath said well.

5. Princepit itaque Moses filiis Israel juxta sermonem Jehovae, dicendo, Rectum tribus filiorum Joseph loquitur.

6. This is the thing which the Lord doth command concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, Let them marry to whom they think best: only to the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry:

6. Hoc est quod praecepit Jehova de filiabus Salphaad, dicendo, Ut placebit illis, sint in uxores, veruntamen familiae tribus patris sui sint in uxores.

7. So shall not the inheritance of the children of Israel remove from tribe to tribe; for every one of the children of Israel shall keep himself to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.

7. Ne transferatur haereditas filiorum Israel de tribu ad tribum: nam filii Israel singuli adhaerebunt haereditatibus patrum suorum.

8. And every daughter that possesseth an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may enjoy every man the inheritance of his fathers.

8. Et omnis filia quae possederit haereditatem de tribubus filiorum Israel, uni de familia tribus patris sui erit in uxorem, ut possideant filii Israel singuli haereditatem patrum suorum:

9. Neither shall the inheritance remove from one tribe to another tribe; but every one of the tribes of the children of Israel shall keep himself to his own inheritance.

9. Ne transferatur possessio de tribu ad tribum aliam: sed singuli ex tribubus filiorum Israel haereditati sum adhaarebunt.

10. Even as the Lord commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad:

10. Quemadmodum praeceperat Jehova Mosi sic fecerunt filiea Salphaad.

11. For Mahlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married unto their father’s brothers’ sons.

11. Nam Mahalah, Thirsah, et Hoglah, et Milcah, et Noah, filiae Salphaad, filiis patruorum suorum fuerunt in uxores:

12. And they were married into the families of the sons of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and their inheritance remained in the tribe of the family of their father.

12. His qui erant de familia filiorum Manasse filii Joseph fuerunt in uxores, fuitque haereditas earum tribui familiaepatris earum.

13. These are the commandments and the judgments which the Lord commanded, by the hand of Moses, unto the children of Israel in the plains of Moab, by Jordan near Jericho.

13. Ista aunt praecepta et judicia quae princepit Jehova per manum Mosis filiis Israel in campestribus Moab juxta Jordanem Jericho.


1. And the chief fathers of the families. It might appear strange that God had given an imperfect law with reference to succession, as if what will be now stated had not occurred to His mind until Moses was reminded by the chief men of the families (of Machir,)  201 that it was unjust that the inheritances should be alienated, which would have been the case if the daughters of Zelophehad had married into other tribes, whereas their portion had fallen in the lot of the tribe of Manasseh. For whatever fell into the hands of those of another tribe, was a diminution of that lot. As, therefore, God had lately made provision for preserving the rights of individuals, He now treats of the general advantage or loss. What, then, can be the meaning of the objection, that God only half considered what was right? In my opinion, He so arranged His replies, that only when inquired of He assigned to each one his rights. The daughters of Zelophehad come, and demand justice of Moses and the elders, and God complies with their prayers. Now the heads of the tribe come, and agitate the question respecting the loss they would incur by the alienation of the inheritances; and it is then provided that other tribes should not be enriched by their loss. In short, whereas God might have spontaneously anticipated this, He preferred to grant it at the request of those who asked nothing but what was just and equitable. For it cannot be said that in this case it happened, as it often does, that, whilst every one pertinaciously maintains his own cause, and is eager to advance his own interests, one question arises out of another; for, when God has taken cognizance of the case, He pronounces that both parties only demanded what was right. It follows, therefore, that God designedly withheld His decisions until they naturally arose out of the circumstances of the case. It is a common saying that the law makes no provision for those things which rarely occur.  202 Thus it would have been commonly supposed that this law was superfluous; and especially it would have detracted somewhat from the authority of his teaching, if Moses had treated of this trifling matter, had not circumstances led to it. In fine, God allowed Himself to be interrogated familiarly with respect to doubtful points of no primary importance, in order that posterity might recognize His reply as a proof of His fatherly indulgence. Meanwhile, let us bear in mind that if heavenly things are the subject of as much anxiety to us, as earthly things were to the children of Manasseh, the rule that we should observe will always be made clear to us.

2. And they said, The Lord commanded my lord. They here allege a kind of discrepancy, in that the tribes had had the land allotted to them agreeably to God’s command, but now their lots would be thrown into confusion, when the inheritance should pass over to another tribe. They assume it, however, to be an acknowledged impossibility, that God should be inconsistent with Himself: hence it was necessary that an interpretation should be delivered in order to remove the legal contradiction (ἀντινομίαν) The Law of God, say they, which ought to remain inviolable, enjoins that the land should be distxibuted by lot; how, then, will it accord that women should carry elsewhere the inheritance of their own tribe? Thus, in seeking a remedy for this evil, they submit themselves to God’s governance, and reverently accept what He had prescribed. And further, they enlarge upon the absurdity which would arisen from hence; viz., that in the fiftieth year, when they were to return to their original lots, so much would be withdrawn from the portion of the tribe of Manasseh as the daughters of Zelophehad had taken away with them. Reasonably, therefore, do they demand that a decree should be given to reconcile the two former laws, which otherwise appeared to be at variance with each other.

5. And Moses commanded the children of Israel. The account here given is not identical with the previous one, that Moses referred the matter to God; yet the same thing is more briefly stated, viz., that Moses answered the people out of the mouth of God, from whence we infer that God was consulted by him. Moreover, God not only decides in favor of the children of Manasseh, but approves of their appeal, in that they were contented with their allotment, and claim for themselves what could not be alienated without the violation of the Divine decree. From this particular occasion, a general law is laid down, that no woman to whom an inheritance had fallen, was to marry out of her tribe, because she would defraud her own relatives of her marriage portion. In this way, however, a free permission to marry was accorded to females, provided they renounced their paternal inheritance. The words, indeed, seem to be of wider application, i e., that no man should marry a wife, except of his own kindred; but the meaning of the law is to be sought from the cause which led to its enactment. Moreover, there is no doubt but that promiscuous marriages are here forbidden, in so far as they confound the order of hereditary rights.



Added from Fr.


“De his, quae frequenter fieri solent, non quae raro, leges fieri debent.” 1. 3. et sequentibus ff. de legib.; 1. 3. Digest. si pars haeredit, petatur; 1.28 ff. de judiciis; 1. ea quae 64, de regul. juris.

Next: Numbers 31:1-54