Guest post on the Daughters of Zelophehad

The who?  :-)  Today is International Women’s Day and Debbie has written a post about some hero women in the Bible!

Daughters of Zelophehad: Spiritual Mothers of the Ancient Near East

Recently human trafficking, sex trade, prostitution rings, and the mistreatment of women and children have gained international attention. In various parts of the world, women struggle to even be treated as humans. The book and documentary, “Half the Sky” revealed the inhumanities done to women and now considers itself a movement against the oppression of women worldwide.[1]

The injustices done against women are anything but new. In the Mishneh Torah, boys and men were encouraged to pray this ‘blessing’ each morning,

“Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a non-Jew. Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a woman. Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, who has not made me a servant.”[2]

Whether or not one argues this ‘blessing’ actually validates the beautiful role of women in the Jewish faith and culture, the reality of the human heart has turned it into a curse and bondage. Inadvertently or intentionally, it leaves a woman feeling she is ‘less than’ her male counterpart.

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(photo taken from Convoy of Hope facebook page)

A Biblical Example: Daughters of Zelophehad

This was the context and culture of five sisters who lived in the Ancient Near East. On International Women’s Day, these sisters are heroines of the faith. Their story is actually found in the Bible. Numbers 27 talks about the daughters of Zelophehad. They had just buried their father. They lived in a time where women did not hold positions of honor or receive inheritances. Expectations of women were to work in home or in the fields.[3] Because of their gender, they received nothing. All their possessions they had known and grown up with was no longer rightfully theirs after their father passed on. What must have it felt like to lose everything after burying a loved one?

Numbers 27:1-4 reads,

The daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Makir, the son of Manasseh, belonged to the clans of Manasseh son of Joseph. The names of the daughters were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah and Tirzah. They came forward and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly at the entrance to the tent of meeting and said, “Our father died in the wilderness. 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.[4]

Bold Prayers2

Legally these five sisters received nothing, but they knew something had to be done. They wanted to receive their property, their inheritance promised to their forefathers and their family for generations.  They decided to come together and ask for an inheritance. Against all odds and against everything they asked.

It is also possible Zelophehad, their father, was a criminal. He may have died receiving the death penalty for a sin he committed. Notice the distinction made in verse 3 when they speak about their father’s death. “He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin.”

These daughters not only lived without any property or inheritance rights, but they lived under the shadow of their father’s sin. For them to come and ask for an inheritance was huge. They had to come and stand before the same people who possibly condemned their father.

Without batting an eye they asked for their inheritance boldly. Numbers 27:5-11 discloses their sheer determination.

“Give us property from among our father’s relatives. So Moses brought their case before the Lord: and the Lord said to him, “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. “Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance to his daughter. If he has no daughter, give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers.11 If his father had no brothers, give his inheritance to the nearest relative in his clan, that he may possess it. This is to have the force of law for the Israelites, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

What happened as they went before the assembly boldly and asked for their inheritance? In this text, they are granted their request but God also changed the culture and their governing laws concerning women. Later on in Scripture we find out they received their inheritance and then some. Because they asked boldly, they received ten tracts of land for their inheritance. These sisters left a legacy for their daughters and grandchildren.

734585_10151399973829681_583031258_n(photo taken from Convoy of Hope facebook page)

I struggled with this passage. It is an obscure passage in the middle of nowhere. Take a right turn after Leviticus and a left-turn before Deuteronomy to Numbers. Rarely will you hear any inspiring, vision casting, turn or burn sermons from this little known book in the Old Testament. When I read over it, I almost missed it. But I had never heard this story before about these sisters. And the more I read, the more it got my attention.

Is this small story about the five sisters overcoming obstacles? That reason in itself could preach! Is it about these confident and self-assured women leaving their past behind them, and moving forward to better things? They were definitely not their father, they were women of integrity. Was it about injustices and God making that which was unjust, just? All of us have experienced injustice in this world and some of us have experienced it more than others. Is it about claiming their ancestral land? We do not know how many days, months or even years passed between their father’s passing to when they were able to receive and use their actual inheritance – their tracts of land.

Still if you narrow it down to all of these, there is still something missing.

What’s Missing?

After long hours of studying this passage and crying out to God, I realized it was right there! And if you aren’t careful, anyone can miss it. This text is actually about prayer and going boldly before God. Moses is a type of mediator between God and man. As a mouthpiece for God, he stood as an example of One who was to come! Hebrews 3:1-2 proclaims,

“Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses.”

This story about the five daughters of Zelophehad is about prayer! Prayer that moves mountains, prayer that is truly sacrificial and thinks not of the present situation, but asks boldly with faith. It took them everything to go before Moses and the assembly. Above all of that, they knew they stood before the one and only God, the King of the Universe. They were coming to Him with their petition.

Psalm 2:8 says,

“Ask of me and I will make the nations your inheritance.”

We sing about it, we pray about it, but what does this verse mean? What is the significance of this verse when it talks about inheritance? What is this inheritance?

We are the Lord’s inheritance. You and I are part of the inheritance of faith. Yet there is more. Those people who have not yet believed, they are a part of an inheritance to come. They are our inheritance of souls we work to bring into the kingdom of God.

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(photo taken from Convoy of Hope facebook page)

Kingdom Issues

On International Women’s day, we who are followers of Christ, must understand the issues for equality are also in the church. This ongoing battle for equality is a more than a gender issue.  It is a kingdom issue.  Jesus says,

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Pray therefore that the Lord of the Harvest will send laborers into the harvest field.”

If Jesus himself said that laborers are few, why do we as his body continue to limit women in their working the fields of God’s calling?

And what is our response as women to those who place limitations in the ministry? The story of the daughters of Zelophehad is an amazing one – it is one of boldness and prayer. We too can respond through going to the Lord for the injustices we see and walking with integrity in front of others, including our accusers. With God’s help, culture can change and we can work together to bring in an inheritance of souls.

by Debbie Fulthorp

Photo on 1-31-13 at 10.47 AM

[2]http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/920169/jewish/Chapter-Seven.htm (some have also translated ‘slave’ into ‘dog’, and non-Jew would’ve been transliterated “Goyim” or another word for Gentile)

[3] John Oakes, “What Life was Like for Women of the Old Testament,”Evidence for Christianity, 2011,http://www.evidenceforchristianity.org/what-was-life-like-for-the-women-of-the-old-testamentr/ (accessed January 17, 2013).

[4] All Scripture unless otherwise noted is the updated 2011 NIV.

One response to “Guest post on the Daughters of Zelophehad

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