Fox Byte 5775 #42-43: Mattot (Tribes); Massei (Stages)

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מַּטּוֹת / מַסְעֵי

The Princes in the Tower. John Everett Millais, depicts the young King Edward V of England and his brother, Richard, Duke of York, two royal sons allegedly murdered by order of their uncle, King Richard III, who sought to deprive them of their rightful inheritance and claim the throne of England for himself.
The Princes in the Tower. by John Everett Millais, depicts the young King Edward V of England and his brother, Richard, Duke of York, two royal sons allegedly murdered by order of their uncle, King Richard III, who sought to deprive them of their rightful inheritance and claim the throne of England for himself.

William Shakespeare has such as way with murder.  With so many characters meeting violent death in his plays it would seem that he regarded murder as an essential part of good drama.  Richard III is an excellent example.  When my daughter studied the play in school, she and her fellow students kept a “body count” of the many characters who died over the course of Richard’s rise to power.  Shakespeare’s preoccupation with murder may have been the product of the violent world in which he lived, and indeed England in the 16th century was a violent place, yet we need only look at the headlines of events in our own cities to realize that our world is no less violent than Shakespeare’s.  If the Bard had no qualms about employing murder as a plot device, it was because his art imitated life.  Richard III was a historical play based on events that shook the British Isles just one hundred years earlier.  The play’s popularity derived in part from the horrendous nature of Richard’s quest for power, extending even to allegations that in 1483 he ordered the deaths of his two nephews, the 12-year-old King Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York.  Their uncles’ guilt has never been proven, but it is plausible that he removed them so they would not stand in the way of his quest to seize the throne of their father, the late Edward IV.

Richard III is not the only Shakespearian villain to usurp a throne and seize the inheritance of a rightful heir.  Two others that come to mind are MacBeth of Scotland and Claudius of Denmark.  Although not historical plays, MacBeth and Hamlet have roots in actual events.  The central action of MacBeth occurs when the warrior of that name murders King Duncan of Scotland.  Duncan’s sons, fearing they will be blamed for the murder, flee the country, allowing Macbeth to take the throne.  In Hamlet, we do not see the murder of Denmark’s king; when the play opens his brother Claudius has already seized the throne by killing him and marrying his queen.  The plot follows Prince Hamlet as he learns the truth of his father’s death and his uncle’s guilt. 

As was necessary for Richard III, MacBeth and Claudius must deal with the heirs to the murdered kings.  MacBeth prepares to defend Scotland against the exiled princes Malcolm and Donalbain, and Claudius concocts a plot to have Hamlet killed in a duel by an opponent wielding a poisoned blade.  In the end all three villains meet violent deaths.  Richard and MacBeth fall in battle as their own countrymen rise in revolt against them, and Claudius is slain by Hamlet himself just before the young prince dies.

Shakespeare’s works have remained popular for over 400 years because they really do imitate life, even to a disturbing degree.  In these plays we see that an inheritance is not secure even if there are sons ready to claim their fathers’ legacy.  What worse things might the villains have done had there been no sons and heirs?  Who would ensure that the bereaved family retained their place in the nation?  That very question prompted the tribe of Manasseh to ask Moses for guarantees not only for their brethren who had no sons, but for the entire tribe’s legacy in the Promised Land.

The Daughters of Zelophehad.  By Illustrators of the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
“The Daughters of Zelophehad”, by Illustrators of the 1897 Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster, via Wikimedia Commons.
This episode with the leaders of Manasseh concludes the book of Numbers, coming at the end of the Torah portion Massei (Stages, Numbers 33:1-36:13).  It is not the only dealing Moses has with the Manassites.  In Pinchas (Phinehas, Numbers 25:10-29:40) five women of Manasseh, the daughters of Zelophehad, come to Moses with a request that they might inherit their father’s portion in the Promised Land since he died without any sons (Numbers 27:1-11).  When Moses carries this request to the Lord, YHVH gives instructions on the laws of inheritance to guarantee not only that daughters of men without sons may inherit their father’s land, but also that the land of men who die childless may pass to their brothers or other close relatives so that the inheritance remains within the family.

The commandment is clear enough, or so it seems to one who is unfamiliar with all of Torah, but there is a potential complication which prompts the Manassites to revisit the issue with Moses and the leaders of the other tribes:

And the heads of the fathers’ households of the family of the sons of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near and spoke before Moses and before the leaders, the heads of the fathers’ households of the sons of Israel, and they said, “The Lord commanded my lord to give the land by lot to the sons of Israel as an inheritance, and my lord was commanded by the Lord to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother to his daughters.  But if they marry one of the sons of the other tribes of the sons of Israel, their inheritance will be withdrawn from the inheritance of our fathers and will be added to the inheritance of the tribe to which they belong; thus it will be withdrawn from our allotted inheritance.  When the jubilee of the sons of Israel comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe to which they belong; so their inheritance will be withdrawn from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.”  (Numbers 36:1-4 NASB)

Moses consulted with the Lord for further clarification, and brought back instruction that any woman who inherited land could marry any man she wished as long as he was of her father’s tribe.  As he explained:

Thus no inheritance shall be transferred from one tribe to another tribe, for the tribes of the sons of Israel shall each hold to his own inheritance.”  (Numbers 36:9 NASB)

This explanation of inheritance law contains one of those aspects of the Torah which raises objections in this modern world.  It would appear that the Torah is discriminating against women since daughters do not inherit land in normal circumstances.  It is only when there are no sons that they obtain the inheritance, and even then they are not free to marry outside their tribe.  It is precisely this arrangement which leads to the conclusion that the Bible promotes men to a higher status than women.  If that is so, then what are we to make of statements like the one by the Apostle Paul that male, female, slave, free, Jew, and Greek are all one in Messiah (Galatians 3:27-29)?  Is there a contradiction here?  Or perhaps is it true that everything changed when Yeshua fulfilled the Law, making the Torah no longer applicable as a standard of conduct?

By Yeshua’s own testimony we know the Torah is still in effect (Matthew 5:17-19, 24:35; Luke 16:17), and once we study this matter we see that there is no contradiction.  It begins with seeking to understand why God created human beings as male and female, and why He established the institution of marriage.  As with everything else in Creation, YHVH uses this arrangement of humanity and human social relations to instruct us about His relationship with us.  He is Creator, Father, and the One to Whom His people and His land will be married (Isaiah 62:1-5; Jeremiah 3:1; Hosea 2:1-23).

This is a foundational concept that has often been misunderstood.  The language of marriage appears both in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Apostlic Writings (New Testament).  The Tanakh tells us that YHVH is the Bridegroom to Israel, His Nation, and the Apostolic Writings tell us that Messiah Yeshua is the Bridegroom to His people, often called the Church.  There is confusion in the belief that these are two separate entities – that somehow “Israel” means “the Jewish people” to the exclusion of Christians, and that “the Church” means “Christians” to the exclusion of Jews.  In fact, they are the same people, and they are called Israel.  The Jewish people are the faithful part of the nation of Israel, the ones who remained true to the Word of God (His Torah), or at least as true as humans can be.  The Jews do not have to be regathered into the nation, but the exiled Ten Tribes of Israel do.  They are the sheep without a shepherd, the lost sheep of the House of Israel whom Messiah Yeshua came to redeem and restore to the nation – along with people from every nation and tribe and tongue who join with them.  He is indeed Messiah of the entire world, and it is through Him that both parts of the nation of Israel can be reunited and reconciled.  That is how He fulfills the role of Bridegroom for the People and the Land of God (John 3:29; Revelation 21:9; Romans 8:14-19; Galatians 3:26, 4:1-6; Ephesians 2:8-9).

This marriage commitment requires two persons:  the Bridegroom and the Bride.  The consistent picture in Scripture is of YHVH as the Bridegroom and His people of Israel as the Bride.  He desires a faithful people, and to teach the concept of faithfulness He created humanity as male and female.  In a marriage arrangement the male fulfills the role of God and the female the role of His Bride (Ephesians 5:22-33).  The man and woman come together to form something new:  a House which contains elements of each person, but is in fact a new creation.  The woman takes on the identity of the husband, knowing that he has given up everything for her sake so that the two of them may establish this new creation in the earth and bring forth children as a blessing to themselves and to the rest of humanity.  Is this not what we learn from the very first marriage?  Consider again the familiar words of the Genesis account of the first meeting of Adam and Eve:

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”  For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.  And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.  (Genesis 2:23-25 NASB)

We learn something else in this account about the Bride:  she is part of the Groom, taken from His side.  So also are human beings part of God in that we are made in His Image (Genesis 1:27, 5:1-2; I Corinthians 11:7; Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:9-11).  We live because the Breath of God has flowed into our bodies, making us living souls.  Yet like the Bride we are not complete until we have united with our Creator, forming something new and glorious.  This is a picture that is hard for us to grasp, but the way the Lord chose to teach us is by establishing marriage between a man and a woman.  One of the two must take the leading role – the dominant role, if you will permit me to use that term.  It is the correct image, for in our relationship with our God He alone must take the lead and be dominant.  If not, then He is not God, and His creation falls into chaos.  Yet He must also treat His Bride with love, respect, and honor, as an equal partner in this covenant relationship.  If He does not, then the creative spark of life in His Bride dies and she becomes nothing more than a slave or an automaton.  It is not only she, but He, and all of Creation, which suffers, deprived of the boundless joy and continued creativity generated by their union.

The answer to the question posed in Proverbs 30:4 is depicted in Jesus Stilling the Tempest, by James Tissot.
The answer to the question posed in Proverbs 30:4 is depicted in Jesus Stilling the Tempest, by James Tissot.

This brings up a curious question:  how can God be both Father and Bridegroom to the same people?  The Christian answer to that question has been consistent over the centuries:  He is the same God, but He manifests Himself to His creation in more than one person.  He is the Father and the Son, and the Son is manifested as Messiah, the Redeemer and Bridegroom.  Solomon, Son of David, wrote about this:

Who has ascended into heaven and descendedWho has gathered the wind in His fistsWho has wrapped the waters in His garmentWho has established all the ends of the earthWhat is His name or His son’s name?  Surely you know!  (Proverbs 30:4 NASB)

It stands to reason that if there is no Son of God, then the Father has no legitimate heir.  If there is no heir, then the inheritance is in danger.  Thieves and usurpers can break in and steal it, or at least they can try.  That in fact is what Satan attempted to do.  Having failed in his attempt to usurp the throne of YHVH (Isaiah 14:12-17; Luke 10:18), Satan sought to corrupt the Bride and slay the Bridegroom, giving him opportunity to grasp the inheritance and bring the sovereignty of Holy God into question before the entire universe.  That is the very drama playing out on this earth.  The question before us in this generation is the same that has been posed to our ancestors:  will we be married to the True King, or to the usurper?

This, too, is a picture presented in the request of the Manassites for guarantees about their tribal inheritance.  In truth, this inheritance law is not so much about relegating women to an inferior status, but about ensuring that the man and woman understand their place within the family, tribe, and nation.  Individuals are indeed important, which is why the women of Manasseh were permitted to marry whomever they desired, but the inheritance is more important, which is why they had to marry only within their tribe.  There is a reason YHVH organized His nation into Twelve Tribes.  It is the same reason He will ensure those Twelve Tribes take up their inheritance at the end of this age when Messiah reigns over the reunited nation (Ezekiel 47:13-48:35).  Twelve is the number of perfection, symbolizing the power, authority, and governmental foundation of Holy God, and of the completeness of the nation of Israel.  That is why the Lord must restore the entire nation as He promised, and why each tribe must dwell within its own allotted inheritance.  Any diminishment of that inheritance would be a blot on what is to be the spotless People and Land of God.  We learn the importance of this principle from the story of King Ahab.  He and Queen Jezebel had done great evil in Israel, but the Lord did not pronounce judgment on them until after they had conspired to murder Naboth of Jezreel and steal the inheritance of his father’s house (I Kings 21).

The Manassites who brought this issue to Moses had already received their inheritance.  We learn that from the Torah portion Mattot (Tribes, Numbers 30:1-32:42).  The tribes of Reuben and Gad, along with half the tribe of Manasseh, asked Moses if they might remain on the east side of the Jordan, in the territory of Gilead and Bashan, taking tribal allotments there instead of across the river in Canaan (Numbers 32:1-42).  Moses was skeptical at first, but the tribal leaders assured him that they would not rest until they had gone over Jordan with the rest of the nation and fought with them to secure their tribal portions.  With those assurances, Moses agreed to let those two and one-half tribes have their request.  But this is where we come to something peculiar in the Torah account:

So Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he lived in it.  Jair the son of Manasseh went and took its towns, and called them Havvoth-jair.  Nobah went and took Kenath and its villages, and called it Nobah after his own name.  (Numbers 32:40-42 NASB)

Matot - Why is the End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic?  Part I - AlephBeta
Matot – Why is the End of Bamidbar So Anticlimactic? Part I – AlephBeta
Masei - Why is the End of Bamidbar so Anticlimactic?  Part II - AlephBeta
Masei – Why is the End of Bamidbar so Anticlimactic? Part II – AlephBeta

Rabbi David Fohrman of AlephBeta Academy notes that this is the last bit of action in the Torah, a point he explores in a two-part teaching on Massei and Mattot).  The rest of the Torah is dialogue, primarily the farewell speech of Moses in Deuteronomy.  It is strange that Moses would include this anecdote of Jair of Manasseh conquering territory in Gilead, but upon closer examination we can see why.  The text in Numbers says Jair is a son of Manasseh, meaning he was of the tribe of Manasseh.  However, in the genealogy of I Chronicles 2:21-24 we learn that Jair was actually of the tribe of Judah.  His connection to Manasseh came through his grandmother.  Why would this man of Judah choose to identify with Manasseh?  Perhaps there is something in this law of female inheritance that helps us understand.  Manasseh had only one son:  Machir.  It was Machir’s son, Gilead, who produced a number of male heirs (Numbers 26:28-34).  Those heirs inherited the two portions of Manasseh’s allotment, one in Gilead and the other in Canaan (Joshua 17:16), but long before that Manasseh’s family must have included far more women than men.  It may be that the laws of female inheritance were in place before the elders of Manasseh asked Moses about it.  Perhaps Jair, descended through his grandmother from Manasseh, gained her part of the inheritance, giving him rights within the tribe.  Or perhaps he had married a woman of Manasseh.  Either way, it appears he had the choice of identifying with either tribe, and thus chose the tribe of his mothers rather than of his fathers.  This should be instructive to us as we look toward the restoration of the entire nation.  We do not know how the Lord will reconstitute the tribes since the bloodlines became untraceable long ago.  However, personal choice may very well fit into the equation as each person and family has the opportunity to align with a tribe in the territory where they live.  That, at least, is what Ezekiel 47:21-23 leads us to conclude.  In any case, Jair’s actions on behalf of Manasseh secured the inheritance of his kin, just as the actions of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh would help secure the inheritance of their brethren on the other side of Jordan.

There is one more point to investigate regarding this question of inheritance, a point that brings up another issue of gender discrimination.  Numbers 30:1-16 conveys the commandments of the Lord regarding vows.  As one might expect, YHVH requires His people to speak truthfully and honor their obligations, which is why we read this:

Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the sons of Israel, saying, “This is the word which the Lord has commanded.  If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath to bind himself with a binding obligation, he shall not violate his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.  (Numbers 30:1-2 NASB)

This is the origin of the concept that a gentleman’s word is his bond, and it is something the Lord takes very seriously.  But then we read further and find that this law of vows does not apply equally to women:

Also if a woman makes a vow to the Lord, and binds herself by an obligation in her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears her vow and her obligation by which she has bound herself, and her father says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand and every obligation by which she has bound herself shall stand.  But if her father should forbid her on the day he hears of it, none of her vows or her obligations by which she has bound herself shall stand; and the Lord will forgive her because her father had forbidden her.  However, if she should marry while under her vows or the rash statement of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day he hears it, then her vows shall stand and her obligations by which she has bound herself shall stand.  But if on the day her husband hears of it, he forbids her, then he shall annul her vow which she is under and the rash statement of her lips by which she has bound herself; and the Lord will forgive her.  (Numbers 30:3-8 NASB)

Is the Torah unfair to women?  That is what this passage seems to indicate.  A daughter and a wife apparently have a lesser status than a son and a husband, not even having authority to incur obligations on their own behalf.  Or is that really the case?  Notice that the Torah does not prevent daughters and wives from making vows, but rather it adds a degree of protection for them.  This, too, is a picture of our God’s relationship with His people.  As we have already seen from Scripture, the father and the husband are the head of the household just as YHVH is Head of His creation.  Husbands work in partnership with their wives, and thus any oath or vow or obligation that impacts the household should be undertaken by mutual agreement.  However, the husband has the last word, and may overrule any commitment by the wife or the daughter – or the minor son, by the way – which could have a negative impact on the household.  The responsible man will do so, and will do so in love so that those in his house will understand in time.  It is the foolish man who will let his family run amok, running up debts, bringing in uninvited guests, filling up the calendar with events that send individuals off on their own, and other obligations that fracture the family unit and rob it of its strength.  In time the family dies, and as families die, the nation dies.

This is the teaching point regarding this Law of Vows.  It would seem that the Bride of Almighty God has uttered a vow and incurred a debt against His will.  The conditions of that vow were set at the beginning:

Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.  The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”  (Genesis 2:15-16 NASB, emphasis added)

We know from the Scripture record that our ancestors disobeyed this instruction.  In their disobedience they made a vow, concluding a covenant with Death.  The Lord took action on the day He heard of this covenant, promising to deal with it in time.  His solution was to establish a Nation that would become His Bride.  We know the Nation’s name:  it is Israel.  We know also that Israel continued to court Death, and many times over the ages renewed that covenant.  That was why our King exiled His Nation from the Land, ending His marriage with our ancestors.  Yet the story does not end there.  The Bridegroom, Messiah Yeshua, incurred the penalty of death on behalf of His Bride, making it possible for her to return to Him in renewed matrimony.  That is what the Wedding Feast of the Lamb is all about.  On that day when our King returns and consummates His marriage with His people, He will hear officially of this covenant we have made with Death, and He will deal with it.  That is when our covenant with Death will be annulled, the sting of Death removed, and the victory of the grave overturned (Isaiah 28:14-18; Hosea 13:12-14; I Corinthians 15:51-57). 

“If you will return, O Israel,” declares the Lord, “Then you should return to Me.  And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, and will not waver, and you will swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice and in righteousness; then the nations will bless themselves in Him, and in Him they will glory.”  (Jeremiah 4:1-2 NASB)

חְַזַק חְַזַק וְנִתְחַזֵק

Chazak Chazak v’nitchazek

Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!

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Please click here to continue to Fox Byte 5775 #44:  D’varim (Words).

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© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014-2015.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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