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Archive for November 14th, 2021

I found this St. Augustine quote the same day that I was introduced to the daughters of Zelophehad. Somehow, until this point in my quest to know and understand God’s Word, I had missed their story … until now.

Theirs is a story of unfortunate loss that could mean ruin in the lives of these five sisters. It is also a story of petition, of courage, of exceptions to the rule/law, of righting wrongs. It is a story of redemption, of liberation, of equity at the hands of God.

The story is told in the book of Numbers (I will paraphrase, but click on Numbers 27:1-11 to read from the Bible).

The Israelites had completed their wandering through the desert and God told Moses to take a census. This census (of adult males) would help in land distribution in the Promised Land, for the various tribes.

As the census was being completed the five daughters of Zelophehad (Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah) approached the tent of meeting. They walked and talked directly to Moses, the priest and the leaders … in front of all present (no doubt, all men). They had no (male) advocate to plea their case, so they told their own story, plain and simple. This tells me that they were thoughtful and clear communicators, with confidence that was given from a loving and wise upbringing.

And what did they plea? Inheritance. As their father had only daughters, there was no legal claim to inheritance for these sisters. Their father would have been recorded to have been childless and his line in history (that of the tribe of Manessah) would end with him (no legal claim to a part of the Promised Land … no home).

I love how Matthew Henry states, “though it was yet unconquered, untouched, and in the full possession of the natives, yet they petition for their share in it as if it were all their own already.”

Let’s divert … this just sounds like faith to me. They ask for what they do not see, yet they believe … in their hearts and minds … that this heaven-like Promised Land, is indeed promised to them! Even as women in this barren land. They believe that they have something to inherit, that God himself has set aside a piece of heaven for them. The only way for them to have such confidence is if they had grown up immersed in the stories, not just of the Promised Land, but of the Messiah.

Back to the story at hand. They petition for land in the name of their father, for, in their own words, “why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son?”

It is recorded that Moses did not discuss this with the other leaders, but that he “brought their case before the Lord.” He was not going to mess around with human wisdom, but went straight to the head honcho.

And God answered,

What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right.
You must certainly give them property
as an inheritance 
among their father’s relatives
and give their father’s inheritance to them.”

God affirmed them. He affirmed their plea, their right to ask exemption, their right to live as (equal) landowners among the Israelites who were male. He affirmed them with hope, with a future.

Before the suffrage movement, or women’s liberation, yet after hundreds of years of this law not being challenged, these brave and wise women asked … and they received.

Amen

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