Because the daughters of Manasseh had an inheritance among his sons: and the rest of Manasseh's sons had the land of Gilead.
This is rather a remarkable case. The family of Machir, one of the most warlike in Israel, had contributed more to the conquest of Gilead than any other, and there had been accordingly allotted to them a large share of it. It so happened that in one branch of the family there was not a single male among the children. Five women alone represented a warlike sire. They appeal to Moses, with an energy derived from their great ancestor, to prevent the passing of their property out of their hands. It is apparently the last cause which comes before Moses before his death. The great lawgiver takes occasion from it to make a general law applicable to all such cases. If there be a son left, then the son inherits; the daughter being supposed to find her provision in that of the husband she marries, and to be supported by her brother till she does so. But in the case of there being no brother, they were to inherit their father's land, and marry in their own tribe, so that the tribe might still retain its possessions intact, and all families have maintenance for their representatives, even though male issue should fail. It falls to Joshua to apply the principles Moses laid down, and accordingly he gives the five ladies "an inheritance amongst the sons" of Manasseh. We do not suggest that Moses legislated in the spirit of the advanced theorists on woman's rights; it would have been impossible for one so wise to legislate some thousands of years ahead of the general sentiments of mankind. But it is worth noting how ready Moses was to do justice by the weaker sex; and to pass a law, doubtless little to the mind of the rough men who would look enviously on women inheriting considerable estates. It raises the question how far Moses would have sanctioned the views of those who plead that men and women should stand on exactly equal platforms before the law. We can only briefly suggest the answer to this question. Every woman under the Mosaic legislation was more or less sufficiently provided for. The double portion of the firstborn was, by the usage of the East, assigned him chiefly that he might support his widowed mother and unmarried sisters. When marriage was universal, a temporary provision of this kind was all that was required. And where land was not wealth, but only the material out of which it could be gathered, we do not wonder at the law dividing the land (after the eldest son's double portion) equally among the other sons. Wherever, on the other hand, no sons were left, then the daughters divided equally the property between them, subject to the restriction that they should marry within their own tribe. We may venture to suggest that the spirit of these laws would, in the altered circumstances of our country, be altogether in favour of the equal distribution of property between sons and daughters. The patriarchal system that gave the widow and the unmarried daughters an established home in the old family house which the elder brother inherited, and made their maintenance a charge upon the double birthright, has passed away; and it is no longer the case that sisters share whatever an elder son inherits. Marriage is neither so early nor so universal now. And in the multiplicity of remunerative pursuits open to men in our land there is no longer any special reason for restricting the inheritance of the land to those able personally to work upon it. Thus woman has less protection if unprovided for, less certainty of the resource of marriage; and man less need for special provisions in his favour. In these altered circumstances it is probable that what Moses ruled for the daughters of Zelophehad he would have expanded into a larger rule, and would have required invariably the equal division of all property amongst sons and daughters alike. If we are right in urging this, a few conclusions of practical moment emerge from it.
I. Parents who, in their wills, make the shares of their sons much larger than those of their daughters, take a course which the spirit of Bible legislation forbids, and are guilty of grave injustice.
II. The laws of every country ought, with especial care, to protect the property of women, as being the weaker parties in disputes and the likeliest, therefore, to suffer.
III. A considerable improvement in the position of women would be ejected by the general adoption of such rules by parents and by states. Probably, if women in all directions found equal justice yielded them with men, the equality of legislative power and influence which some seek would be found superfluous. - G.
Parallel VersesKJV: Because the daughters of Manasseh had an inheritance among his sons: and the rest of Manasseh's sons had the land of Gilead.