The Daughters of Zelophehad
Nearly forty years had passed since Moses had led Israel out of Egypt. The time had come for this new nation to claim the land inheritance that God had promised Abraham and Sarah. From their son Isaac the population of fighting men alone had grown to 601,730.

They would have to fight to gain control of the land. It would not be easy. Claiming their inheritance required trust in the Lord who had promised the land to them. And it required courage to drive out the occupiers of their land.

Five Israelite women had a legal battle to fight before they could receive their father's rightful inheritance. It would not be easy. They must take courage to stand up against tradition and make their petition in front of everyone, including the most powerful leaders of their nation. It was the right thing to do.

But if they did not speak up, their father's descendants would not receive an allotment. The land was to be divided according to the number of names and only the men were counted. Since their father was dead, the family of Zelophehad would not receive a portion. Their father's name would disappear. 

Moses, Eleazar, and the clan leaders gathered in front of the Tent of Meeting (the Tabernacle) to hear and make judgments on legal matters. These women - Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah - stepped forward to present their case.

“Our father died in the desert. He was not among Korah's followers, who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. Why should our father's name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father's relatives.”

Moses did not have a clear precedent or a specific law to use in making this decision, so he took it to the Lord. The Lord gave him the judgment, “What Zelophehad's daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father's relatives and turn their father's inheritance over to them.”

The petition of these courageous women set a precedence so that daughters could inherit property from their fathers. But their clan leaders objected. Their objection was valid. If women who inherited property married outside the clan, their inheritance would be absorbed into the clans of their husbands. The amount of land allotted to the descendants of Manasseh could be decreased through marriage. This was an important consideration. Land wasn't just a place to live. Land was the means of making a living. A decrease in land would mean a decrease in resources needed to support their population.

The Lord instructed Moses to add the requirement that women who inherited tribal property must marry within the tribal clan. The tribal land must not pass from one tribe to another. The daughters of Zelophehad honored the terms of inheritance by marrying cousins on their father's side of the family so that tribal land would stay within the tribal allotment.

Through this ancient legal dispute, God illustrated that his plan of inheritance included women. Paul wrote to the churches at Galatia, “You are all sons [children] of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Even though God's promise of inheritance is certain, claiming our inheritance is not easy. It requires courage. But it is the right thing to do.

References: Numbers 26:1-4, 33, 51-56; 27:1-11; 36:1-12; Galatians 3:26-4:7; New International Version Study Bible notes. 

For the Scripture References and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: Daughters of Zelophehad Heirs According to the Promise

Scarlett Stough