The girls missed their daddy, but they also knew how important having an inheritance in the land would be in the future.
As Moses directed the final census before his death and the crossing of the Jordan, Zelophehad's daughters approached him with this knotty problem.
All around them, families were being alotted land. No more to be nomads, Israel was soon to be a settled people, with divisions of patrimonies and remembrances of fathers.
But not their father. He was a good man.
This was NOT RIGHT.
AdvocatesSo the sisters stepped forward and said plainly, "This isn't fair."
Moses consulted with God. And he received an answer that was to be law for the Israelites.
ContextEarlier in the book of Numbers, Korah had approached Moses, stridently suggesting that he would be a better leader. Another time, Moses' brother and sister had jealously claimed leadership priority.
These confrontations did not go well.
Perhaps it was the manner in which they were carried out.
The Zelophehad sisters came respectfully, not with a challenge.
They brought an issue, presented in a way their audience could appreciate.
Not about them, about Daddy and the family name.
Timing and AttitudeTiming is where i get messed up. But not these ladies.
The sisters came openly, just after the census. Property division beyond the Jordan must have been on everyone's mind. They reminded Moses that their father was a good man. He hadn't participated in any of the rebellions.
When their uncles later protested, possibly behind closed tent flaps, that this would create inheritance problems down the road, the women submitted to the corollary: Yes, you may inherit, but only within your clan. You have to choose a husband from your own group.
And, when the time came, they submitted.
Was Anything in it For Them?It seems there was.
When i began writing this, i simply wanted to say that they humbly, wisely, and with restraint stepped forward to assert their claim to fairness.
i discovered that there is more to their story.
As much as some would make? i don't know. That they are mentioned three times tells me, though, that God thought it important we know about them.
i have simply been calling them their father's daughters. Scripture, however, mentions every sister's name at least once in each passage Moreover, you would expect them to be named in the same order each time, but they're not.
Is that significant?
At least one writer sees their names in later place names of the region, a sign that the inheritance was truly passed through them, not their husbands.
Whether or not we look at this as "a landmark in women's rights regarding the inheritance of land, from those days up to now"* we can see it as "a compelling lesson for all those who believe that their destiny is fixed or that divine justice has abandoned them. It encourages us to think differently--and provides a message of hope for all those faced with obstacles. Perhaps the most important legacy of Zelophehad's daughters is their call to us to take hold of life with our own hands, to move from the place that the others have given us--or that we have decided to keep because we feel immobile--and to walk, even to the most holy center, to where nobody seems to be able to go.
Each and every one of them is individually named each time their story is retold. i've always been taught that "If it's in the Bible once, it's significant." These women are in at least three separate places - three times as important?
Seems to me that their story needs to be heard more than it is.
*Looks like the Robin Cohn one gets you a "Page Not Found" notice. Go to Robin's Home page, & search the site for Zelophehad. It's an excellent article, and worth the extra effort.
Other helpful readings have been:
Who Are the Daughters of Zelophehad Today? article on Out of Bounds: Theology from the Far Country blog (inc. comments)
Zelophehad's Daughters: Thinking Outside the Tent, sermon on A Yankee Pastor blog