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The answer is simple.  Without the daughters of Zelophehad, Jesus would not have had a legal right to be the Messiah of Israel.  What??? How could that be???

Let’s first understand about the daughters of Zelophehad, and then we’ll explain their relevance to Jesus being the Messiah.

A Generation of Wilderness Wanderers

Moses sent 12 spies into the Promised Land to “preview” the land that God had said He would give them.  Sadly, only two came back with faith that they could enter.  The other ten spies reported of giants in the land — Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Canaanites (Num 13:29), and Anakites (Num 13:33). Because of their report, the people wept and murmured against Moses (Num 14:1ff).  And because of their lack of faith, God prohibited them from entering the land and caused them to wander for 40 years in the wilderness.  When the 40 years had passed, those 20 years and older died not having entered the Promised Land. Only those under 20 were allowed to go in.

Because the people had not hearkened to the voice of the Lord (Num 14:22), only two adults—the two faithful and trusting spies— were permitted to enter the land (Num 14:30).

Zelophehad was of that generation of untrusting Israelites. He died in the wilderness without any sons but leaving behind five daughters.

Ancient Laws of Inheritance

In ancient Israel, inheritance laws stated that land and possessions be passed through the male line. Therefore, Zelophehad’s daughters were not eligible to receive their father’s land and possessions.  So they went to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the princes of all the congregation with a petition. They requested that they be allowed to inherit their father’s land as a way to preserve his name.

Numbers 27:4-5, 7  Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.

 Moses responded exactly as we should respond in all matters.  He “brought their cause before the LORD.”

Num 27:5  And the Lord answered Moses:  The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.

And the Lord answered Moses:

Num 27:7-8  The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.  And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.

Inheritance Laws 

God was not changing the inheritance laws but rather providing an exception within the law.  Land was intended to pass from father to son to maintain tribal possession. Therefore, God allowed daughters to inherit if they married within their own tribe (Num 36:6-9).  In this way, the land could pass from the father to the son-in-law through marriage and still remain in the tribe of the father.

Num 36:6-9  “This is what the LORD commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, ‘Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within the family of their father’s tribe.’   {7}  So the inheritance of the children of Israel shall not change hands from tribe to tribe, for every one of the children of Israel shall keep the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.  {8}  “And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel shall be the wife of one of the family of her father’s tribe, so that the children of Israel each may possess the inheritance of his fathers.  {9}  “Thus no inheritance shall change hands from one tribe to another, but every tribe of the children of Israel shall keep its own inheritance.”

So What Do the Daughters of Zelophehad Have to do with Christmas?

The story of the daughters of Zelophehad explains how the genealogy of Jesus, recorded in Luke, is actually the genealogy of Mary.   In verse 23, we read…

Luke 3:23  And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,

This says Joseph was the son of Heli, but in Matthew, we are told Joseph was the son of Jacob. There’s a simple explanation.  The word “supposed” in this verse is the Greek word nomizo.  It means:  to do by law, to accustom, to deem, or to regard— to reckoned by law, not by birth.  

We can reason that Heli was Mary’s father and had no sons. The Bible confirms that Mary had a sister (John: 19:25)  but mentions no brothers.  If that were the case, Heli would have adopted (reckoned by law) Joseph as his son for the purposes of inheritance.  And because Joseph was also from the Tribe of Judah, Mary met the requirements of the exception in the inheritance laws.

Therefore, in Luke, the genealogy of Jesus is traced through Mary’s bloodline, through Nathan, the second surviving son of David and Bathsheba. The genealogy goes all the way back to Adam, the first man.  This genealogy reflects Jesus’ humanity.

The Genealogy in Matthew

Furthermore, in Matthew, the genealogy of Jesus begins with His birth and traces His lineage back to Abraham.  This genealogy represents the royal line that passed from King David, through King Solomon, all the way down to Joseph, the son of Jacob.  This explains why there appear to be two different genealogies for Jesus through His earthly father, Joseph. Matthew’s genealogy is the bloodline of Joseph, and it accredits Jesus’ legal right to be the King of Israel, the Messiah.  Luke’s genealogy is the bloodline of Mary. However, it records the inheritance right of Joseph, thereby supporting Jesus’ being the Son of God, come in the flesh, and the Son of Man, a Messianic title.

In Summary – The Daughter of Zelophehad

1. The Torah provided an exception to the rules of inheritance. It was…

  •  requested by Moses on behalf of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-5).  
  •  granted by God (Numbers 27:6-11). 
  •  defined by God (Numbers 36:6-9).  
  •  instituted by Joshua (Joshua 17:3-6). 

2.  Mary met the required provision when she married within her tribe (Matthew 1:16).

3.  Joseph was the adopted son of Heli, reckoned by law (Luke 3:23).

4.  Matthew records the genealogy of Jesus, through Joseph— back to Abraham, through King Solomon and King David—establishing Jesus’ legal right to the throne of David as the Messiah of Israel.

5.  Luke records the genealogy of Jesus, through Mary.  Luke starts with Mary (although Joseph’s name is listed) and traces the genealogy all the way back to Adam, through Nathan, King David’s second son.  This genealogy establishes Jesus’ birthright as the Son of Man.

The exception in the inheritance laws given to the daughters of Zelophehad explains why the genealogy in Luke belongs to Mary.  And that explains why the genealogies in Matthew and Luke differ in their beginnings (Abraham and Adam), the sons of  King David (Solomon and Nathan), and the father of Joseph (Jacob in Matthew, Heli in Luke).

Mat 4:19  Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.

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