Pop Quiz: In the Bible, who are Zelophehad’s Daughters?
10 points to you if you can tell me where they are found in Scripture.
1,000 points if you can tell me their names.
The point are redeemable in Heaven. Tell the Lord I gave them to you… [He will roll His eyes and tell you that there are no points and that kate is ridiculous.]
I read about these ladies in the midst of reading through the book of Numbers (and who wants to literally read numbers? I mean like, “this tribe had 43,560” and “that one had 47,390” and then there were these people within this tribe who were only 579… it’s a little tedious). The book of Numbers involves sections of ordering the tribes while including other sections of narrative storytelling, so I’m grateful for the narrative breaks between all the other census-taking that goes on.
Here’s the answer to the quiz: These daughters of Zelophehad are found in Numbers 27:1-11, and their names are Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. These women were bold, united as sisters, and ready to take on a hard conversation with the head honcho of Israel at the time, Moses. Along with Moses, present in the conversation were Eleazar (Aaron’s son), the chiefs, and the whole assembly in front of the Tent of Meeting where the presence of the LORD rested. Obviously, this takes some guts to come before these guys, especially as women in this time period.
So why did they come? What did they possibly have to say to such muckity-mucks?
They came to ask for an allotment in the inheritance that was their father’s inheritance.
Their father, Zelophehad, had passed, and he had no sons to give his land to.
In Numbers 26, a census (remember how Numbers literally has you reading numbers?) counted all the men over age 20, followed by an allotment of the land to these men. Zelophehad’s daughters would not have been counted and would not have been able to receive land as an inheritance after his death.
I found an article online which is found in the Jewish Women’s Commentary, written by Rabbi Silvina Chemen, and she writes,**
“We might expect that women, heirs to Egyptian slavery and then put under law that frequently favors men, might react by keeping silent, by accepting as natural the rule decreed for them to follow. We might expect women in those days to stay close to their tents, remain out of sight, and not go far from their families. So how and why did Zelophehad’s daughters write a new chapter in history? First, they dared to ‘go out’ from their living place, from their social space, from the destiny imposed on them.”
If you feel “stuck,” as if there is no escaping the things that seem stacked up against you, I want to encourage and remind you that “stuck” is not in God’s vocabulary. If you know the heart of our God, He loves to accomplish the impossible because we can only point to Him as the source of the answer. Let me speak to the lie that you are stuck…
You are not bound to the dire circumstances around you. Yes, things might be difficult. Yes, your marriage might feel hopeless. Yes, your children may be doing things that you do not agree with. Yes, your finances might be a mess. But God’s desire for you is for good and for restoration.
Do not run from the painful season in which you find yourself—dig into it and be a bearer of freedom for those around you. One of the most beautiful things is to see a woman—or any person!—find hope above and beyond their circumstances because of who God is, and to point others to His boundless, relentless grace. The pain in the circumstance will not last, but the character He is developing in you absolutely will… because He is doing it.
If there are difficult conversations you need to have in order to bring the freedom and healing which you know God is calling you to, have them. You might have to “go out” from where you are encamped (i.e. it might feel really uncomfortable to take a step), and you may have to approach someone who could reject you… but you are already given everything you need in Christ and He has accepted you fully. Your confidence is not in the acceptance of people.
Rabbi Silvina Chemen points out that the women knew the Jewish law and the past history—that their father was not part of Korah’s rebellion (remember when the earth swallowed up those Israelite guys & their families who messed up?). He was a good man, and his family name depended upon the inheritance of the land. According to the law, the land would be lost because he did not have any sons, only daughters.
How beautiful it is, though, that in history he is remembered because of the inheritance of his daughters. The reason he is recalled in Scripture is due to his daring daughters—his truest inheritance—who took the steps necessary to preserve their family land and lineage.
When the five sisters bring the situation to Moses, Moses then takes the case before God. And what does God do?
God sticks up for them. He tells Moses that these women are right, and then creates an additional law with provisions for families who only have daughters.
These women shifted the course of history on behalf of God’s daughters, and His people, because they were willing to step out in faith.
Daughter—sister—you are not your circumstances. God delights in you and is fighting for you. It might be time to step in obedience and do the difficult thing, have the hard conversation, and pray your heart out.
**The article is an interesting read, especially from the outlook of a Jewish female rabbi. While I am not fully advocating her theology in the whole article, her perspective is interesting and important as a scholar of the Torah, as a female, and as a rabbi.