Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
(1, 2, 3) And the chief fathers of the families . . . —Better, And the heads of the fathers of the family . . . It was at the instance of the daughters of Zelophehad that an ordinance had been enacted, in accordance with which the inheritance of a man who left no sons should pass to his daughters, if he had any, and in default of any issue, to his brethren (Numbers 27:1-11). The result of this ordinance would naturally have been that the inheritance of the tribes would have undergone constant change, inasmuch as the inheritance of the daughters would have passed into the possession of the children of their husbands, to whatever tribe those husbands might happen to belong. The Machirites were anxious to avoid such a transference of a portion of the possessions of the tribe of Manasseh, which, after the next jubile, would have become inalienable. They, therefore, came before Moses and the princes, and represented to them what would be the result of the ordinance which had been made at the instigation of the daughters of Zelophehad, if they should marry into another tribe.
And the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near, and spake before Moses, and before the princes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel:
And when the jubile of the children of Israel shall be, then shall their inheritance be put unto the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they are received: so shall their inheritance be taken away from the inheritance of the tribe of our fathers.(4) And when the jubile of the children of Israel shall be.—Up to the year of jubile it was possible that the inheritance might revert to the tribe of Manasseh, either by purchase, or as the result of the marriages of the daughters proving childless. At the jubile the transfer of the inheritance to the tribe or tribes into which the daughters of Zelophehad might have married would become permanent.
And Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of the LORD, saying, The tribe of the sons of Joseph hath said well.(5) And Moses commanded the children of Israel according to the word of the Lord.—In regard to the application made by the daughters of Zelophehad to Moses and Eleazar and the princes, it is said that “Moses brought their cause before the Lord” (Numbers 27:5). In the present case there is no express declaration made to the same effect; but there can be no doubt that the statement contained in this verse, that Moses commanded the children of Israel “according to the word of the Lord,” and that contained in Numbers 36:6, “This is the thing which the Lord doth command,” imply that Moses had committed this cause also to the Lord, and that he had received direction from Him.
And every daughter, that possesseth an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel, shall be wife unto one of the family of the tribe of her father, that the children of Israel may enjoy every man the inheritance of his fathers.(8, 9) And every daughter, that possesseth an inheritance . . . —The particular direction which was given in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad is extended in these verses into a general and permanent law that no heiress in Israel should marry out of her father’s tribe, in order that the inheritance might not be transferred from one tribe to another, and thus, in process of time, the division of the land amongst the tribes, which was made under Divine direction, be materially changed.
For Mahlah, Tirzah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married unto their father's brothers' sons:(11) Were married unto their father’s brothers’ sons.—Better, unto the sons of their near kinsmen. The word dod generally denotes an uncle on the father’s side, and probably does so in the present case; but in Jeremiah 32:12 it seems to denote a cousin.