Numbers 36 gets into some sticky family stuff. You may recall that earlier there was a concern with the family of Zelophehad – he had only daughters. They had asked to receive inheritance to carry on the family and were granted such. Now others in their tribe (Joseph’s clan) came to Moses with a concern. What if these daughters (Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah) marry someone from another tribe? The land would evaporate from the tribe it had been given to. It really opens up a much bigger can of worms because it isn’t just true for this isolated case – it was a reality between all the tribes of Israel.
Here is a reminder of what God had said earlier: “The Lord commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the people of Israel, and my lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters”. That seemed pretty straightforward at the time. Give the land to the girls. Then the details begin to come into play. This is what concern that is shared with Moses: “But if they are married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the people of Israel, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our fathers and added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry”.
So isn’t this just a family squabble over land? Not really – it is much bigger than that. This is potentially an ongoing source of conflict between tribes. One could carry out the possibilities to include intentionally marrying into another tribe to gain the inheritance and bring the land into your tribe. Moses sees the situation clearly. He doesn’t bristle and get upset. “The tribe of the people of Joseph is right”. He assessed the situation and sees the potential issue and goes to the Lord.
Then he comes back with more clearly defined guidance. “Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father”. So the simple fact is that they need to marry someone from their own tribe. They can pick who they want, but it needs to be a fellow tribesman. That takes the possibility of land being moved from tribe to tribe out of the realm of possibilities and solves it at a more global level. He goes on to say: “the inheritance of the people of Israel shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers”. Moses makes it clear that the land is given to each tribe and is to remain within that tribe. He not only dealt with the immediate concern, he created the framework to solve it for all future situations as well. Great leadership once again from this man who didn’t want to lead.