607.     When Jacob was dying (Genesis 49) he called his twelve sons about him, saying, “Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the latter days.” Concerning Joseph, he is interpreted as saying: “Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall.” But this is quite far from the literal sense of the words employed, which is, “Joseph son of bearing¾, son of a bearing¾, by a fountain; daughters ascend over a wall.” The translators supply “tree” after “bearing,” a participle, making it “a bearing tree,” i.e. “a fruitful tree” (see R. V.). But “bearing” is feminine in form, and “tree” is a masculine noun, so that the grammar is faulty. The word they translate “branches” is the very ordinary word for “daughters.” “Daughters of a tree” might mean “branches of a tree,” but it is assuming a good deal to allow a word supplied to a sentence, on the option of the translator, to determine a sense different from the ordinary one of a word actually used.

608.     We are not satisfied with such an arbitrary rendering. Participles are in common use in the Hebrew language, without any associated noun, as describing a man or woman “working” or “worker,” “sowing” or “sower” (or whatsoever the verbal form may describe), according to the gender of the participle employed. Therefore, the natural sense of the feminine participle “bearing,” is “a bearing woman,¾a fruitful woman,” and we believe this is what Jacob saw in connection with Joseph. He saw Rachel, his dearly-beloved and only chosen wife, Joseph’s mother, and speaks of her, as he did in the previous chapter, when blessing Joseph’s children. She died a pathetic death, early, in child-bearing; and God comforts this old man who never ceased to mourn for his Rachel, in a way similar to what found expression, centuries later, through the prophet Jeremiah (31:15-16):  “A voice was heard in Ramah. . . . Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the Lord: Refrain thy voice from weeping . . . for thy work shall be rewarded.” Rachel had said: “Give me children, or else I die.” Children were given her, and the second one caused her death. What a defeated life! But God comforted Jacob with a prophetic vision of Rachel as “a fruitful woman,” as to progeny.

609.     But he saw more: there would be daughters, and daughters who would surpass the restricted life of ordinary womanhood. Did this come to pass? Certainly. Please turn to Numbers 26:33. There we read, “Zelophehad, the son of Hepher had no sons.” Zelophehad was a grandson of Gilead, who was grandson of Manasseh, Joseph’s son. His pedigree was Joseph, Manasseh, Machir, Gilead, Hepher, Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1). When the Promised Land was apportioned out to the children of Israel, by tribes and families, the five daughters of Zelophehad were unwilling that their family should have no inheritance because they were all women. They called an assembly (Numbers 27:1-7), to which Moses, all the princes of the twelve tribes, Eleazar the priest, and all the congregation of Israel came; in fact, everyone was there. And then they pleaded their “rights,” and gained them. They became women of immense property.

610.      Hershon (A Talmudic Miscellany, p. 282), tells us that the Talmud highly honors these women as “sages,” “expounders,” and “righteous women,” and adds: “It stands to reason that if they had not been female expounders [of law] they could not have known the correct interpretation of law, which even Moses, the prime legislator himself, as we see from the context, was not aware of: while we have the Divine testimony to justify the conclusion that they were correct in their exposition, and, in the whole case, a warrant for the inference, which is inevitable, that education in the law was not forbidden to females by Moses. Only those who affected to “sit in Moses’ seat” have enacted the harsh dogma, ‘Let the words of the law be burned, but let not the words of the law be imparted to women’” (a famous rabbinical decision).

611.          But God said to Moses: “The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt 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.” The God of the O. T., at any rate, did not disapprove of women speaking in public, and even “laying down the law” to Moses. How much was secured by the daughters of Zelophehad expounding the law, and claiming their “rights” under it, before this vast assembly may be inferred from the case of another descendant of Gilead of the same degree. Hezron, of the tribe of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:3-5), married a sister of Gilead. He “went in unto her” (v 21), that is, he became identified with the tribe of Manasseh,¾so that his grandson Jair is called “the son of Manasseh,” in Numbers 32:41. Moses gave Machir a very fertile country, called “Gilead” by Machir, after his son Gilead (Numbers 32:40). Now, for greater clearness, let us put the ancestry of Jair and Zelophehad side by side for comparison, remembering that the wealth of both came from Machir.


His son Gilead . Hepher . Zelophehad .

                                    5 daughters

His daughter . . Segub . . Jair.

Hezron’s wife

612.     We have no reason to infer that the daughters of Zelophehad inherited any less property than Jair did through Segub and Gilead’s sister, for Zelophehad was of the same generation with Jair, and in the direct male line of the first-born, who according to custom would receive the double portion. Jair inherited “three and twenty cities,” and the opportunity to gain many more (1 Chronicles 2:21-23). Canon Payne-Smith remarks: “Certainly what the daughters of Zelophehad were anxious about was not a miserable acre or two apiece, but some such princely territory as their cousin carried as dower to Hezron.”

613.     In connection with this we will examine another woman’s inheritance. This Hezron, through whom Jair inherited so largely in Gilead, at last died in Caleb-Ephratah, that is, Bethlehem, and he was father of Caleb, chief of the tribe of Judah, by a former wife (1 Chronicles 2:18-21). Caleb married his daughter Achsah to his own brother,[2]* her Uncle Othniel (Joshua 15:16-17). This Othniel succeeded Joshua, being the first to “judge Israel.” He delivered them from the king of Mesopotamia, and judged them for about forty years, Judges 3:8-11.

614.      Hebron and the surrounding country became Caleb’s, by lot and by conquest. Judah (that is, the tribe under Caleb, for Judah himself had been long dead) conquered certain lands in the south (Judges 1:9-15), and on the occasion when Othniel, as a young man, married Caleb’s daughter, she “moved him to ask of her father a field.” Evidently Othniel was not willing to do this, so the young bride took matters into her own hand. She said to her father, “Give me a present: for that thou hast set me in the land of the South; give me also springs of water.” (Joshua 15:19 R. V.) “And Caleb gave her the upper springs and the nether springs.” Precisely how much this meant, and which springs are meant, we do not know; it was a princely portion, and Canon Payne-Smith remarks: “What good would the vast territories which Caleb gave his daughter Achsah, her southland, and her upper and nether springs, have done her, if neither she nor Othniel had had dependents to till them?” The possession of such vast estates implies the possession of a vast number of laborers to care for them.

615.     This property was given to Achsah, not to Othniel. It probably never became his. At a much later date, Solomon married a daughter of Pharaoh. On this occasion Pharaoh gave his daughter, as dowry, the city of Gezer, 1 Kings 9:16, which he had seized from its Canaanite inhabitants, though it was in the land of Palestine. Solomon raised a levy, and repaired Gezer (v. 15), and one might readily suppose that Solomon would not have done this unless he regarded the property as his own. But we have positive proof that the property never became his. Gezer remained this wife’s independent property. An Assyrian contract tablet was found at Gezer, (as told us by Stewart Macalister, Director of Excavations, Palestine Exploration Fund) which shows that the city was governed by an Egyptian Hurwasi, as late as 651-649 B.C. This proves that the Egyptian heirs of King Solomon’s wife were allowed to claim this property as theirs, after her death. The laws of the children of Israel did not, evidently, rob women of their property, to give it to their husbands after marriage.


[2] The English is obscure here, but expositors so understand it.

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