Get In Formation! – The Story of The Daughters of Zelophehad

At this time of the year, and especially for those of us who reside in the North, we are accustomed to the amazing sight of birds taking flight.  Particularly, flocks of geese and swans come to mind, as they fly in V formation in the northern skies.  Who knew that this wonderful seasonal occurrence has significant ties to the survival of the species and ease in which these birds are able to seamlessly fly to their new destination in a warmer winter climate.

It seems, as science will attest, the V formation of migratory birds serve two important purposes:  First, to conserve energy and secondly to reduce flight fatigue.  Additionally, each bird in the V formation will take its place as the lead, allowing the others in the formation to rest and reserve energy by using the uplift force provided by the first bird in the form.  So efficient is the V formation of migratory birds, this model was appropriated and utilized  by air force units around the world.  Here the metaphor also speaks, showing us that when we work together, sharing a common vision, values, and goals, we can accomplish so much more than if we worked alone.  It demonstrates to us, as women, that we should view our femininity as strength, instead of weakness. Sisterhood is our power, and  much like the migratory birds of the North, we will always benefit from each other’s strength, energy, power, and love.   These are the dynamic forces which keeps us together and keep us going on this journey which we call LIFE.

And now, THE WORD from our Sponsor………………………………….

Numbers 27:1-11 (NIV)

Zelophehad’s Daughters

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.”

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.  If he has no brothers, give his inheritance to his father’s brothers.  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.’”

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The story of the Daughters of Zelophehad is found in the book of Numbers.  Moses, the Law Giver, successfully led God’s people out of Egypt, and the Israelites find themselves in the wilderness, waiting to enter the Promised Land.  While it will be another 40 years before the Israelites possess the Promised Land, Moses and the male leadership, confident in God’s covenant with the new nation, begin to parcel off the land of Canaan which God promised to the children of Israel.  In chapter 26 of Numbers, we find the leadership of Israel (all male) takes a census.  They count every adult male 20 or more years old; however, females and children ARE NOT counted.  The land grants are parceled out to each particular tribe, to the clan, to the family, to the father, to the son.  Without a male headed household, there is no land grant – so for the daughters of Zelophehad, instead of inheritance, there is disinheritance and marginalization.

The five sisters:  Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkah, and Tirzah, are second generation Israelites whose parents experienced Egyptian slavery; but, were also freed by the mighty hand of Yahweh.  While God’s people have yet to enter  into the Promised Land, there is the understanding that they will be victorious, through God’s divine intervention.  So the issue of land holdings in this story is actually promised inheritance (think of 40 acres and a mule, as a working analogy).

Yet for these five sisters, as well as other women without male representation, the promised inheritance of land did not apply.  Their father, Mr. Zelophehad has died, and they have no brothers for their father’s inheritance.  Their gender, as female, excluded them from any hope of gaining what legally belonged to their father.  In other words, as women, they were not counted in the land grants and ultimately they did not matter.

While this perspective was held by the all male leadership of Israel, their story demonstrates their gender did not stop these five sisters from DEMANDING what was rightfully theirs.  Understanding their plight was a matter of justice, bold determination, audacity, and fearlessness pushed the sisters into formation to go and get what rightfully belonged to them.  Walking together as a sisterhood, they traverse to the “entrance of the tent of meeting” to state their case before Moses, the great leader and prophet of Israel; Eleazar, the High Priest, the tribal chieftains, and the entire assembly of men.  Rather than requesting consideration for their inheritance, we read the daughters of Zelophehad demand what they knew was already theirs:  “Give us property among our father’s relatives,” they state at the Tent of Meeting before the all-male leadership.

Their demand for land inheritance had no legal precedent in Mosaic law.  These five sisters were forging new ground.  Moses, acting as their legal support, takes their case before the Lord.  The Lord acts with favor and swift decisiveness for these five sisters.  As a result,  the Israelites are confronted with new case law:   “Say to the Israelites, ‘If a man dies and leaves no son, give his inheritance to his daughter.”

Without benefit of a father or brother to state their case before Moses and the tribal chieftains, the Daughters of Zelophehad do it for themselves.  Their victory stands, not just for them; but, for all Israelite women born into similar circumstances into perpetuity.  Because of their fierce courage and determination, women were included in the most important construct of wealth in ancient Israel:  PROPERTY.  The daughters of Zelophehad demand and win justice for themselves and for Israeli women who come after them.

                          WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE DAUGHTERS OF ZELOPHEHAD

(1) – KNOW WHO YOU ARE –  “Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance, who seek the Lord!  Consider the quarry from which you were mined, the rock from which you were cut! (Isaiah 51: 1).  The Daughters of Zelophehad, the sisterhood, obviously knew who they were and to whom they belonged.  They boldly stood before Moses and the male leadership and state their status: Their father was a man of integrity and they were his daughters.  The daughters teach us that living your truth, knowing your roots and legacy, and living in this power is important in understanding who you are.

(2)  USE YOUR VOICE & SPEAK YOUR TRUTH –  We see, in the narrative, the sisterhood fearlessly state their case.  Standing in front of the entire male leadership, they do not shirk or shrink in front of perceived power.  Using the strength of five, their collective voice rings out to demand what they knew was theirs.  The sisters demonstrate that when God is with you, NOBODY can be against you!

(3)  ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT – As women, we are notoriously known for under negotiating.  Men are taught to ask/demand what they want, while women are taught to concede and to fold.  The daughters could have suggested, inquired, or folded in front of the leadership; but instead, we see them DEMANDING their inheritance.

(4) PRAY TOGETHER AND STAY TOGETHER –  The formation of five sisters were constant and consistent.  There was no big I or little me.  The narrative presents each name of the sisters (very important) and does not offer any one sister as more important than the other.  We can also assume because of their combined success, they were on one accord.  Each contributed to the whole of the assignment.

(5) KNOW THAT GOD IS WITH YOU (US) & GOD WANTS US TO WIN –  The Daughters of Zelophehad were confident in their victory or they would have never sent out to The Tent of Meeting.  Intuitively, they knew that God was on their side and we see this in their confident presentation.  Their fearlessness was connected to knowing they were not only the daughters of Zelophehad, but they were God’s favorite daughters – All they could do is WIN!  With this blessed assurance, our confidence is victory is the same as theirs.  God is always with us and with God on our side, all we can do is win!  We claim it, we name it, and we LIVE it!

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

The story of the Daughters of Zelophehad is a story of women’s empowerment.  It teaches us that despite the circumstance, taking ahold of our lives with our own hands is what God desires for His daughters.  It teaches us that God is invested in sisterhood – in fact, God created sisterhood!  It clearly demonstrates that when we work diligently on behalf of  justice, and in good faith, we earn victory for ourselves and leave a blessed legacy for others.

Despite what the current media images are for women, we must reject identities which seek to denigrate and minimize our character and strength.  We do this for ourselves, for our daughters, as well as women who come after us.  We then agree with what Dr. King urges us to consider:  “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?”

QUESTIONS FOR OUR CONSIDERATION AND DISCUSSION:

This is an ancient story with contemporary implications.  Property is still considered as a primary way to achieve wealth and status.  Without any legal precedence to follow, why do you think these sisters acted in the fashion that is shown in the story?

What does this story teach us about women’s empowerment and sisterhood?

What does this story teach us about legacy and forward action?

Imagine these five sisters planning their strategy meeting before they go before Moses and the Elders.  What do you think they considered as most important for their case?  What were some of the character traits they possess, as women, to demand what was rightfully theirs?

What does this story tell us about God and God’s favor towards women?

Finally, does this story have any application or implications for your own life?  Explain.

OUR SENDING PRAYER

Oh Lord, there is none like You!  Assist us now, Oh God, to walk with You in the light of Your prosperity, love, healing, and deliverance for Your daughters.  With You, all things are possible.  We are Your favorite daughters and we desire to live out our destiny and victory as agents of Your Kingdom.  We declare this in the precious name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen and Ase.

“The enclosed materials are the property of Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters Empowerment Series.  They may be used by you with our permission which may be revoked at any time.  All copies of the materials must include the following notice:  “This material is Copyright [2015] Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters and is distributed with permission.”

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