Among the children of Israel was a man named Zelophehad, and he had five daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. While he and his daughters journeyed with the people to the Promised Land, Zelophehad died. When he died, he had no sons; therefore, the portion of land that was to go to Zelophehad by appointment would go to another male relative. If unmarried, this would leave Zelophehad’s daughters destitute, or they would have to marry or be taken in by a relative. According to the law of that time, women could not inherit the property of their father.
Despite the law, Zelophehad’s five daughters went before Moses, the chief priest, the leaders, and all the Israelites. They expressed that their father had no sons and that his name would not continue because he had no sons. They felt it unfair and asked for a portion of the land that would be appointed to their father’s brothers, allowing them to carry on their father’s name. After listening to Zelophehad’s daughters, Moses took the matter to God.
When Moses went to God, God told him that Zelophehad’s daughters were right. Then, God gave detailed instructions. If a man does not have a son when he dies, everything he owns will go to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then, his possessions would go to his brothers, and if no brothers, the possessions would go to the closest relative. Thus, Zelophehad’s daughters were able to receive the portion of land that was to go to their father.
Source: Numbers 27:1-11
- How would you feel if your whole well-being depended on whether a relative lived or died?
- How would you feel if you had to make a choice between being destitute, marry, or seek out a relative to take you in? Does it seem fair?
- How hard is it to go against something that has been established for a long time? How do you think Zelophehad’s daughter felt having to face the leadership and all the people with their request?
- What do you think some people may have said behind the scenes about Zelophehad’s daughters making their request to the leadership? What things do people say today when women or girls make certain requests, which are usually reserved for men or boys?
- Why do you think the law was in place?
- As the leader of the children of Israel, Moses could have just said, “No, this is the law.” However, his heart was open to listening. How important was this?
- When Zelophehad’s daughters expressed their request, Moses went to God for counsel? How important was it that Moses went to God and not to other men?
- How surprising was it to you that God said that Zelophehad’s daughters were right?
- God didn’t tell Moses to just give Zelophehad’s daughters the land to keep them quiet. God told Moses to tell all the people of Israel what the new law was? Why was this important?
- How surprised do you think the people were to hear the new law?
- Because of the courage of Zelophehad’s daughters, they changed the course of women’s status among the children of Israel. What long-term effect do you think this had for all the women of Israel?
- As a woman or girl, how does it feel knowing you still have to fight some of these types of battles today? As a man or boy, how do you feel about the fights that women or girls have chosen to take on? Together, how can we draw the right conclusion?
- Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying… Numbers 27:1-2 ESV
- Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.” Numbers 27:4 ESV
- Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. Numbers 27:5-8
- Have the courage to ask. You may change the course of history.
- Be open to new possibilities.
- If you don’t know how to answer, go to God.
All-knowing God, we thank you for your wisdom. For you see beyond what we can see. You understand what we cannot understand. We are so grateful for the wisdom that you give to us. Give us the courage to step up when we need to step up. Open our hearts to new possibilities, and when we are in doubt, prompt us to come to you. We ask this in your son Jesus’s name. Amen.
How has this lesson changed your perspective on women and girls’ rights?