Then the daughters of Zelophehad came forward. Zelophehad was son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph, a member of the Manassite clans. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and they said, “Our father died in the wilderness; he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin; and he had no sons. 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.”
Moses brought their case before the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father’s brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them. You shall also say to the Israelites, “If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. It shall be for the Israelites a statute and ordinance, as the Lord commanded Moses.”
If you are facing an injustice and need a pep talk, then this week’s story is for you! Actually, there is a lesson and a promise in here for everyone – and that is the beauty of this obscure but captivating tale of five women who were not to be denied their rightful place in Israel and in history.
The book of Numbers is exactly what the title suggests. It is an accounting of the nation and clans of Israel so that once they entered the Promised Land, they could be organized into tribal regions. The problem these sisters faced is that only the men were counted in the census and they had no brothers. Their father was dead and their inheritance would be lost. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah somehow found the courage to confront the men in power and to test inheritance law, even if that law was handed down from on high at Mount Sinai. That takes some pluck!
I find their approach striking and consider it a model for all of us who appeal for justice, whether it is on our own or someone else’s behalf. In the tradition of the daughters of Zehophelad, we are compelled to know our stuff. Understand the law and norms of our community. Gather our team. Come forward. Stick together. State our case clearly and ask for what we need.
On the other hand, if we are the ones in authority hearing a plea for justice, then Moses is our model. He might have been indifferent. He might have been offended by the women’s audacity or dismissed their case out of fear of setting a new precedent with uncertain implications. Instead, he listened with humility and relied not on his own wisdom and understanding but took the case before God. The women were right in the eyes of God and received their inheritance. In addition, they preserved those same rights for women in their community from that point forward.
The promise in this story is for all of us. God is just and merciful. Regardless of our gender, color, last name, level of income, or geographical location, God’s laws are meant to protect and prosper us, not to exclude us. The daughters of Zehophelad understood this. Their faith in the character and nature of God gave them courage and confidence. Likewise, the cross of Christ is our invitation to come forward and receive our own inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of God. All that Jesus has is ours, including the charge to stand with our sisters and brothers in need, especially those suffering injustices.
Pastor Nancy Eckels
Storla/Salem Lutheran Churches
Just and Merciful God, our confidence in you and who you are and who your Son is creates in us the courage we need to ask for justice. Show us where the world’s injustices are and invite us forward to plead the case for our own sake and for the sake of others to whom we are called. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
ELW #723 The Canticle of the Turning
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