Zelophehad’s Daughters

Link to Service Bulletin

Numbers 27:1-8, 2 Timothy 1:3-7

                                      by Rev. Ivy Merrill

Did you hear the news from the Amazon rainforest?  4 children from 11 months old to 13 years old survived for more than 40 days in the jungle after their mother and other adults died in a plane crash.  these daughters and sons survived. The father of the two youngest Children rightly called it a miracle. The grandmother of the children relayed that the oldest, a daughter, knew what was safe to eat in the jungle in addition to the retrieved cassava flour from the flight. Those details hardly explain how they all survived but it does Reveal some of the legacy of knowledge and resilience and courage they received from the adults who raised them, their parents other members of their indigenous community.

So I’ve been thinking this week about my two daughters. What do they carry with them as a result of my and Mark‘s influence?  Whether we are parents or not, all of us influence the children in our midst. What are they receiving because of our actions, our words, our Way of living that they observe?

The scriptures shared today lift up the faithfulness and the godly trust found in  Zelophehad’s daughters and Lois’s grandson & Eunice’s son, Timothy. These sons & daughters embodied their ancestors Godliness. Father’s Day, although not a liturgical holiday, and certainly not limited to celebrating men who are fathers,  is an apt opportunity to consider how we are effecting the generations who come after us.

 Many of us here at least have heard of Timothy. I mean there are two books of the Bible named after him, and the apostle Paul mentions him in some of his writing. How many if you know Zelophehad? Let alone his five daughters Hoglah, Milkah Noah, Tirzah, and Mahlah . 

Why should we know them? They didn’t give birth to anyone famous like Sarah didor Mary did. They didn’t perform any heroic feat like Esther, and some commentaries don’t even address the occurrence that we read from Numbers this morning. I share their story this morning because it can teach us some thing about the influence we might have on the children in our midst.

The five daughters

The five women were the only children of Zelophehad, a Jewish man, who like all Jewish men hoped for a son each time his wife gave birth. Sons carry on the family name. Sons are taught God’s law, Torah. Sons receive their father’s inheritance. with these strong Jewish traditions as his heritage Zelophehad couldn’t help being disappointed that he had no son.

He was well acquainted with disappointment & discouragement. He was a slave in Egypt during the time of Moses. He escaped in the exodus only to be among the first generation who saw God‘s promised land and also knew they would not ever live in it. They would wander in the wilderness and die there before these chosen people would receive God‘s promised inheritance.

Z. Also knew pressure from his peers. A rebellion was incited against Moses & Aaron, led by a man named Korah.  Korah managed to prey on the fears and frustrations of the weary wilderness wanderers who felt that Moses and Aaron were putting themselves above the rest, acting as though they were closer to God than anyone else. So he encouraged, and successfully gathered, countless protesters to join an insurrection to challenge the leadership of Moses & Aaron. Zelophehad stayed loyal to Moses & Aaron, rooted in his faith in God & trusted God had appointed and equipped them to lead.

The five daughters witnessed their father‘s faithfulness. Even though they didn’t know what it was like to have a stable home, even though they knew about the indignities of slavery, even though they knew their subservient place as Jewish women, they embodied the faithfulness of their father.

The incident

Zelophehad had died. His daughters were among the thousands of Hebrews waiting to enter the promised land. Moses would divide the land according to tribes and the ancestors of that first generation would settle where he directed. Hoglah & her sisters knew well that since their father did not have a son he would be forgotten and his inheritance would be divided among  other distant male relatives.

The picture scripture paints of this division of land conjures up images from a cinematic spectacular. Thousands, tens of thousands of people, waiting in the desert, looking to one man with authority, Moses, to disperse each tribe  to settle here, or there.

These five women knew their father’s name would not even be mentioned because he had no male heirs. But they were products of a righteous man who had survived slavery, believed God’s constant provision, followed God‘s chosen one faithfully, in spite of having lived a life that could easily have left him cynical and vengeful.

So, waiting with all the others, Hoglah and her sisters dared to approach Moses and the priest Eliezer and plead their father’s case.

“Our father Zelophehad was faithful. He died in the desert with the whole first generation so he is not here to receive his share. He had no son but he had five daughters and we want to receive his inheritance in the promised land.”

The audacity! This just wasn’t done. Everybody present, including the sisters, knew what they were asking was extraordinary. It had never happened before. It was out of line. Where did they get the nerve?

From their father who had nerve enough to stand up to his rebellious peers and say no. From their father who was courageous enough to remain faithful to God even knowing he would not inherit his portion of God’s promised land.

The 5 daughters of Zelophehad had received a legacy of courage, and faith from their father. They risked their future to be true to their father, their faith.

Moses was wise enough to seek out divine wisdom and give the daughters their due. Their actions changed the laws of inheritance for all time.


Whether anyone calls us mom or dad in our life, we are teaching the children in our midst BUT what are we teaching them? Because of who we are,  who are we helping our children to become? What are they equipped for?

It’s highly unlikely the Children we know will have to survive in the Amazon jungle.

But it is highly likely they will have to decide what they will stand up for, what they will resist, what they will say no to, and what they will stake their lives on. May God help us.

 Ivy Merrill 6/2023