Daughter of Zelophehad and the Illusion of the Bible Changing


I had a conversation with someone awhile back and we were discussing homosexuality. My position was that the Bible never changes and this person disagreed. They used the daughters of Zelophehad as an example of the law being changed by Moses once established so the law is not set into stone or unchangeable.

Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.” Moses brought their case before the LORD. And the LORD said to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. And it shall be for the people of Israel a statute and rule, as the LORD commanded Moses.'”
(Num 27:1-11)

In chapter 26, Moses has taken a census of the people who were to enter into the promised land. The census was to be used to determine how to split of the land between the various tribes equally, based on the number of men in those tribes. Since Zelophehad had no sons, according to the rules of the census, that family would not have inherited any of the promised land. There are no Levitcal laws being addressed her, so that part of their argument is incorrect.

Since the rules for inheritance are being further defined here, I can see why they claimed that the Bible’s stance, which would be God’s stance, changes based on various conditions. The daughters were not married, so they would have had no way to provide for themselves once they entered into the Promised Land. That was never the intent of the inheritance rules and Levitcal law has provisions for taking care of unmarried women, usually widows, but would also apply in this case so there is no conflict with the law. In the case of no sons, the daughters had claim to their father’s portion. If the girls would have married, their portion of land would have basically transferred to their husband. If the women would have died without an heir, the male member’s of her family would have the right to purchase and redeem the land and keep it in the family. You see this in practice in Esther.

I still don’t think the Bible changes, at least not based on this example.

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5 Comments

Filed under Bible, Christianity, Religion

5 responses to “Daughter of Zelophehad and the Illusion of the Bible Changing

  1. The obvious answer of a bible change, the messianic version of Christianity. There really is not much said about this messiah figure in the Tanakh, at least not by title. Nonetheless, the idea the messiah has to be born of a ‘virgin’, the son of ‘God’, or even an atonement figure – can all be easily challenged via the Tanakh as credible changes from the historical story or motif of messiahship.

  2. ‘Who would have believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he shot up right forth as a sapling, and as a root out of a dry ground; he had no form nor comeliness, that we should look upon him, nor beauty that we should delight in him. He was despised, and forsaken of men, a man of pains, and acquainted with disease, and as one from whom men hide their face: he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely our diseases he did bear, and our pains he carried; whereas we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed. All we like sheep did go astray, we turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, though he humbled himself and opened not his mouth; as a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before her shearers is dumb; yea, he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away, and with his generation who did reason? for he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due. And they made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich his tomb; although he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.’ Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him by disease; to see if his soul would offer itself in restitution, that he might see his seed, prolong his days, and that the purpose of the LORD might prosper by his hand: Of the travail of his soul he shall see to the full, even My servant, who by his knowledge did justify the Righteous One to the many, and their iniquities he did bear. Therefore will I divide him a portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the mighty; because he bared his soul unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
    (Isa 53:1-12)

    The atonement part is right out for all to see. Who else can atone for man except one who is perfect? Who can be perfect except God himself? I will give you the virgin part as a mistranslation issue, but it makes sense.

  3. I think that Isaiah passage is an interesting one, and I can see where Christianity can find the belief of atonement. However, if this were clearly the case for that passage, how come Judaism does not translate it this way? That’s what I find interesting about it all.

    The passage itself seems like someone being cut off from the land because he defended the land of Israel, and was shunned for it. Sure he ‘bore the sin of many’ via his being ‘cut off’ from the land, with his death IN the place of many that deserved it). He was a sacrifice, but an atonement? I see nothing in that passage about how his actions lead to an atonement of blood for sin, making a payment for one’s sins, etc.

    As for this atonement being God, well we can easily rule that out with this single sentence ‘smitten of God, and afflicted’. Would God smite Himself? Doesn’t it seem rather unjust for God to smite Himself for something He did not do? What kind of rule of law is He exactly running up there? Also ‘Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him by disease’ – was Jesus ever sick? Why would the Lord crush Himself, makes no sense, that’s tantamount to suicide (deicide). Logically it’s a tough sell.

    I still have to wonder if this was so clear, as many Christians claim, how come it is never used this way by people that study the Hebrew on this passage as a messianic atonement passage? I see the sacrifice aspect, and I can agree 100% there, but atonement seems like a stretch.

    I would say if you had no background (ie: some passages in the NT) to think this was an atonement passage you likely wouldn’t. Which also reveals a huge change in the bible, a human sacrifice of blood for atonement (literally unheard of and outlawed in Judaism).

    • “I think that Isaiah passage is an interesting one, and I can see where Christianity can find the belief of atonement. However, if this were clearly the case for that passage, how come Judaism does not translate it this way? That’s what I find interesting about it all.

      The passage itself seems like someone being cut off from the land because he defended the land of Israel, and was shunned for it. Sure he ‘bore the sin of many’ via his being ‘cut off’ from the land, with his death IN the place of many that deserved it). He was a sacrifice, but an atonement? I see nothing in that passage about how his actions lead to an atonement of blood for sin, making a payment for one’s sins, etc. ”

      Yes, cut out of the land of the living. References death. What is the purpose of a sacrifice in the Jewish tradition?

      2. Expiation; satisfaction or reparation made by giving an equivalent for an injury, or by doing or suffering that which is received in satisfaction for an offense or injury; with for.

      And Moses said to Aaron, go to the altar, and offer thy sin-offering, and thy burnt-offering, and make an atonement for thyself and for the people. Lev 9
      The animal sacrifice was designed for atonement but it was not a permanent atonement as the person would sin again and have to repeat the process.

      “As for this atonement being God, well we can easily rule that out with this single sentence ‘smitten of God, and afflicted’. Would God smite Himself? Doesn’t it seem rather unjust for God to smite Himself for something He did not do? What kind of rule of law is He exactly running up there? Also ‘Yet it pleased the LORD to crush him by disease’ – was Jesus ever sick? Why would the Lord crush Himself, makes no sense, that’s tantamount to suicide (deicide). Logically it’s a tough sell.”

      I don’t see it as being an issue of unjust. Whatever God does is considered just since there is no higher authority. We know that the blood sacrifice was used to atone man to God, but that it didn’t last. Man by nature is sinful and an angel cant be a sacrifice because they too can sin. Only God is perfect and without sin and only God will ever be good enough for a permanent solution to man’s sin issue.

      “I would say if you had no background (ie: some passages in the NT) to think this was an atonement passage you likely wouldn’t. Which also reveals a huge change in the bible, a human sacrifice of blood for atonement (literally unheard of and outlawed in Judaism).”

      But it wasn’t a human sacrifice if Jesus is God.

      But he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was crushed because of our iniquities: the chastisement of our welfare was upon him, and with his stripes we were healed. All we like sheep did go astray, we turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath made to light on him the iniquity of us all.
      (Isa 53:5-6)

      How do you not see atonement in this passage?

  4. “What is the purpose of a sacrifice in the Jewish tradition?” (Xander)

    (a) And this a glaring first point, human sacrifice is never allowed in the Jewish tradition (and I do believe Jesus at least part human)

    (b) There are various sacrifices for a variety of purposes – not every sacrifice is about expiation

    “Whatever God does is considered just since there is no higher authority” (Xander)

    That’s good, in theory, In reality it doesn’t fly very far. What if God killed your whole family and then told you, I did it because you spent too much time with Me? That’s a ‘what if’ scenario, but you would be devestated and confused. I kind of have to think God’s reason would at least line up with our abilities to reason, since we are created in His image.

    So I think it’s clearly up for debate what it is God consider’s ‘good’ and ‘just’.

    “Only God is perfect and without sin and only God will ever be good enough for a permanent solution to man’s sin issue.” (Xander)

    One problem there, sacrifice is greater than God. You see, according to your logic, God has created a system of sacrifice that humans could never use correctly, we would always ‘fall short’ (quite a crappily created system – but hey what do you expect from an All-Knowing God). So God, MUST send his son to be a sacrfice to finish the job correctly (makes sense, create something that doesn’t work now kill your son for it). But what I don’t get, this is an All Powerful God correct? Why couldn’t he just abridge his sacrificial system and do it some other way, or was God a slave to his own system of sacrifice and MUST obey it’s dictates?

    You see, what your reasoning is a God with a lot of ‘limits’. Limited by his own creation (a sacrificial system). Now maybe this is the case, maybe we do serve a God with limits – who is not all-powerful. But if this is the case, then humans must possess some power (which actually does seem to be the case).

    “But it wasn’t a human sacrifice if Jesus is God” (Xander)

    True. Let’s call it deicide then, or suicide – whichever title fits better. So now we believe in a God that can die or allows suicide.

    “How do you not see atonement in this passage?” (Xander)

    I guess it depends on how we understand the atonement. I see that passage in a much larger light. I do believe it is about the messiah, but I do not see a blood atonement written into that (ie: a sacrificial offering on some altar to God). I see the messiah suffering because of our lack of humanity towards him. It was our iniquities that sent him to his death, that’s what I see. He was like how Gandhi or King Jr. were, except on a different scale. So the world the messiah envisions, was a world that also so him killed. Is this ideal for him? Or should we have treated him better – or made a world more tolerable?

    The sacrificial system has also been scrapped by Judaism, and they don’t look at this expiation act of Jesus as valid. So good faith can be done without an atonement aspect to it, if God is God and we allow Him the reigns regardless of some atonement action.

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