Stories are powerful! I can understand better the happenings in my life when I study a story about women in the Bible. Their lives speak to me, and I believe you will find that they speak into your life as well. The following story embedded in the Old Testament is a study of how five women advanced their country’s understanding of the place of women in the eyes of the Lord.
Does God Favor Men over Women?
To answer that question, let’s begin with the story of five sisters, daughters of a deceased father. The customs of the time in which they lived left them disinherited since they were not men. These sisters/daughters had no rights after their father died. The law declared that when the father died, the inheritance went to the son(s). If there was no son, the estate went to the father’s brothers or closest relative who was not a woman.
And so the five sisters were left to fight for whatever they could get. They were not on the front page or prime time news; they had to stand up for themselves. They had to play the role of advocate. In the end they brought about change in the laws which affected the statutory rights of inheritance for future generations. (Numbers 27:1-11)
Generally, in the ancient Near East, women were precluded from property ownership. The five daughters of Zelophehad (“Tz’lof’chad”) brought their case to Moses, who brought their case before Adonai (LORD), who ruled in their favor even though the tradition was to pass on the property only to sons.
—Notes on Numbers 27:6-7, CJB)
Notes from the NLT Study Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., on Numbers 27:1-11 and chapter 36, give further confirmation that God sanctioned the request of the daughters of Zelophehad, and readily granted and provided the justice needed for the tribe of Manasseh.
That was the snapshot; now back to the beginning. The five women (daughters of Zelophehad) were left without any property inheritance because they had no brothers. The law said that when a father died, and he had no sons, the property would not be passed down. In our world it would mean that the property went to the state. Zelophehad’s lack of male heirs created an opportunity to refine the inheritance laws for the better.
We Have Our Rights!!!
These five sisters reeked with the fragrance of disinheritance. They lived in a society where men alone mattered. They stood up and questioned the decision, thereby changing property inheritance laws in Israel’s history. They did so by appealing to the foundational values of their tradition. They were faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They acted on behalf of not just themselves but a family, tribe, nation, and the traditions of God’s people. They asked for an exception to the law.
The Lord accepted the women’s appeal. The family's property remained in the family of Zelophehad; new inheritance laws were established.
I have for some years felt in my spirit that women would play a vital role in the end time renewal of the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus favored women; it was the traditions of men that put women in second place.
Just look at these prominent women in Old Testament times, and in the New Testament church. A woman judge, Deborah, conquered the enemy (Judges 4-5). Priscilla was an early evangelist (Acts 18:26). Lydia was the first to open her home to a house church (Acts 16:15). A Samaritan woman proclaimed, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" (John 4:29, NKJV). The Bible lists women as prophetesses. Today women still answer the call to step forward on behalf of nations, families, and cultures.
Do we continue to wear the fragrance of disinheritance, rejection, and second best? Let me ask you, would you purchase a fragrance with the name of Disinheritance or Rejection or Second-best? No way! Names are important! Names had meaning and purpose in biblical times.
Zelophehad named his daughters after towns:
Mahlah, the first daughter's name meant disease.
Noah's name meant rest or comfort.
Hoglah's name meant partridge, a bird like a dove.
Milcah's name meant queen.
Tirzah's name meant pleasure. She was the youngest of the sisters.
The daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, joined efforts and carried their case to Moses.
I just love verse 5 of Chapter 27 in the Book of Numbers (NKJV): So Moses brought their case before the LORD. These daughters of the tribe of Manasseh had no attorney. They were their own advocates; they pled their own case. They took the matter to the leaders of Israel. Notice in the biblical writings that they stood in front of Moses and the leaders and the whole community at the entrance to the tent of meeting (Numbers 27:2). Now remember, in that time women were considered a segregated sect.
Numbers 27:6-7,11b (NKJV): And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them.” And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, just as the LORD commanded Moses.
There is no segregation with God. Five women changed a law for all generations. God has a plan for females. Zelophehad's daughters would have been destitute without an inheritance. Instead they were filled with courage, determined not to settle for the status quo. They united and presented their situation to Moses. They didn’t picket in the streets. They didn’t yell, nor did they scream demanding their rights.
Moses knew what to do. He took the matter to the highest court, to the LORD. God judged their case as just; they would inherit their father’s estate.
The actions of these women and Moses broke through the social mores of the day in setting a new precedent for Israel by changing the civil code. They trusted Moses who was God’s man for the hour, and they trusted Moses’ God.
What lessons can we learn from this story?
How can we imitate these five sisters and give due diligence to bettering our circumstances, or those of our families and communities?
Psalm 68 is a favorite of mine. Let me give you just a synopsis of this portion of the Psalms. David is celebrating a great victory. God is showing up big time. The uncompromisingly right-living people are happy, and they are giving God praise and glory. Everyone is in high spirits. God is reconstructing families, and taking care of the homeless and the widows and the fatherless. He is definitely Judge and Protector. When God “marched through the wilderness”, He restored and confirmed His heritage! One of my favorite verses in this Psalm is verse 11: The Lord gives the word [of power]; the women who bear and publish [the news] are a great host (AMPC).
What role(s) do you play in your church? Are you fulfilling your calling, or just serving to fill a vacancy where women are approved? Are you part of the great company of women proclaiming the Good News, rightfully standing within the true fragrance of your inheritance?
What does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
—Micah 6:8, NKJV
(The scripture references used in this story are from The Amplified Bible Classic Edition, Zondervan, and The Complete Jewish Study Bible, 2016, David H. Stern, Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC, and from the NKJV, American Woman’s Bible, 2016, Dr. Richard Lee General Editor, Thomas Nelson Publishers.)