Today’s reading: Numbers 26-27.
The daughters of a dead man named Zelophehad have a request. In a male-dominated society where only the men can inherit property, they want an exception. Their father had no sons. The share of the Promised Land their father’s family would have received will go to another family – unless God intervenes. So they say, “why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.” And God agrees. Perhaps he agrees because he is a promise-keeping God who had guaranteed this family a share in the Promised Land. Perhaps it’s because he cares for women as well as men. Perhaps he has other reasons.
God’s ruling gets clarified a little later. In order for the women to inherit the land, they must marry men from their own tribe. This will keep their tribe’s allotment of land from being passed to another tribe and thereby diluted. But more is at stake here than land. Remember the daughters’ desire that their father’s name not disappear? In a way the men who marry these women become the adopted sons of the dead father, carrying on his name.
Now fast forward some 1300 years to the time of Jesus’ birth. Joseph, of the tribe of Judah, is Jesus’ legal though not physical father. Joseph’s genealogy (in Matthew 1) contains a kink, however. Descended from King David through Solomon, one of Joseph’s ancestors was Jeconiah (also called Jehoiachin), and God cursed Jeconiah because of his disobedience as king.
Is this man Jehoiachin a despised, broken pot, an object no one wants? Why will he and his children be hurled out, cast into a land they do not know? O land, land, land, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the LORD says: “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.” Jeremiah 22:28-30
Jeconiah’s curse looks like a barrier to Jesus inheriting his forefather David’s throne. But Luke’s gospel contains another geneology, one that many consider to be Mary’s geneology with Joseph as the adopted son of Mary’s father.
And Jesus himself was beginning about the age of thirty years: being (as it was supposed) the son of Joseph, who was of Heli, who was of Mathat, … Luke 3:23
In this geneology, Jesus descends not through Jeconiah, but through David’s son Nathan. Remember those brotherless daughters of Zelophehad? Mary appears to have been in the same situation (picture Jesus telling Mary, as he died on the cross, that John would be taking care of her from now on). She also qualified for the female inheritance since she was marrying Joseph who was from her same tribe.
No doubt there is a little speculation here, but is looks like God’s provision for a family without sons paved the way for Jesus to avoid a curse and inherit David’s throne. One more reference for those who think this only applied to property. In the book of Ruth, the namesake character becomes a widow when her Jewish husband dies. Though a foreigner, she moves to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law and soon becomes engaged to Boaz, her family’s kinsman-redeemer. Listen to what Boaz says as he redeems Ruth:
Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day. Ruth 4:10
Jesus would see the dead name of his mother’s family raised up, and thereby become heir to the throne of David. Jesus would see much more than a dead name raised up, as he himself rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. And so we see another example of how even small, obscure details play an important part in God’s plan.
Image by janwillemsen on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0