Bible Society of South Africa

Patriarchy: Our land, our women – Day 4

Bible text(s)

The Daughters of Zelophehad

1Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah were the daughters of Zelophehad son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, son of Joseph. 2They went and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and the whole community at the entrance of the Tent of the LORD's presence and said, 3“Our father died in the wilderness without leaving any sons. He was not among the followers of Korah, who rebelled against the LORD; he died because of his own sin. 4Just because he had no sons, why should our father's name disappear from Israel? Give us property among our father's relatives.”

5Moses presented their case to the LORD, 6and the LORD said to him, 7“What the daughters of Zelophehad request is right; give them property among their father's relatives. Let his inheritance pass on to them. 8Tell the people of Israel that whenever a man dies without leaving a son, his daughter is to inherit his property. 9If he has no daughter, his brothers are to inherit it. 10If he has no brothers, his father's brothers are to inherit it. 11If he has no brothers or uncles, then his nearest relative is to inherit it and hold it as his own property. The people of Israel are to observe this as a legal requirement, just as I, the LORD, have commanded you.”

Numbers 27:1-11GNBOpen in Bible reader

The Inheritance of Married Women

1The heads of the families in the clan of Gilead, the son of Machir and grandson of Manasseh son of Joseph, went to Moses and the other leaders. 2They said, “The LORD commanded you to distribute the land to the people of Israel by drawing lots. He also commanded you to give the property of our relative Zelophehad to his daughters. 3But remember, if they marry men of another tribe, their property will then belong to that tribe, and the total allotted to us will be reduced. 4In the Year of Restoration, when all property that has been sold is restored to its original owners, the property of Zelophehad's daughters will be permanently added to the tribe into which they marry and will be lost to our tribe.”

5So Moses gave the people of Israel the following command from the LORD. He said, “What the tribe of Manasseh says is right, 6and so the LORD says that the daughters of Zelophehad are free to marry anyone they wish but only within their own tribe. 7The property of every Israelite will remain attached to his tribe. 8Every woman who inherits property in an Israelite tribe must marry a man belonging to that tribe. In this way all Israelites will inherit the property of their ancestors, 9and the property will not pass from one tribe to another. Each tribe will continue to possess its own property.”

10-11So Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, did as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they married their cousins. 12They married within the clans of the tribe of Manasseh son of Joseph, and their property remained in their father's tribe.

Numbers 36:1-12GNBOpen in Bible reader

1. The idea that sons (and not daughters) carry a father’s name and memory is evident in verse 1 where the genealogy of Zelophehad traces his roots to his great-grandfather and all the way back to Joseph (Gen 41:51). Zelophehad had died during the journey from Egypt (Num 27:3), leaving no sons to inherit land allotted to him and his brothers (Num 34:2). The names of Zelophehad’s five daughters are listed and their agency recorded as they reason with Moses that, for the sake of their dead father’s name and memory, his inheritance ought to be given to them and not his brothers.
(a) Are there incidences in your context today where sons only inherit their parents’ property? If so, why do you think this is still the case?
(b) Look at the well-thought-through reasons the daughters give (Num 27:3-4), basing their appeal on their father’s loyalty to Moses and to God. What would daughters who might find themselves in a similar situation today base their arguments on?

2. The outcome of the daughters’ appeal against their property going to men in the family is clear, “If a man dies and leaves no son, turn his inheritance over to his daughter” (Num 27:8).

3. Reflect on Numbers 36: 1-12
(a) What are your thoughts about:
(i) The counter-argument made by the male relatives of Zelophehad (36:2-4)?
(ii) God’s “change of mind” and the setting of restrictions for the five sisters (Num 36:5-9)

4. Are there instances in your context where counter arguments are made against gender justice?

5. The five sisters complied with the conditions set, and married their cousins on their father’s side (Num 36:10-12).
(a) What do you think might be the reasons the sisters complied?
(b) Do you know of any instances today where women have to comply with conditions or restriction because their views are dismissed or because their reasoning/ views do not count?

6. What insights have you gained from doing this study on Numbers 27 and 36 and how could you apply it in your personal and communal life?

Bible Society of South Africav.4.18.6
Find us on