Sharon Wilharm Bible Storyteller

Daughters of Zelophehad and the Census

Chances are, even if you’ve read the Bible through, you may very well have skimmed over the account of the five daughters of Zelophehad. That would be a shame because their story is one of courage and accomplishment.

As Israel prepared to enter Canaan, God instructed Moses to take a second census. They’d conducted one when they departed Egypt, but this was a new generation. They needed to know how many men of fighting age they had who were able to go to war for Israel. The census was also used to determine distribution of land. Each tribe received a land grant which was divided among the families.

Numbers 26 contains the census results. In the midst of a long list of names and genealogy, we come to verse 33. “Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters. And the names of the daughters of Zelophehad were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.”

This verse jumps out because the other names are men and their sons, and then we see a verse about a man having no sons but five daughters. Zelophehad had died in the wilderness. Because he had no sons, that meant that when the Hebrews moved into the promised land, his family would not receive a plot of land.

While men often had only daughters and no sons, up to this point no provision was made for the daughters. The assumption was that all women would marry and didn’t need an inheritance of their own. The daughters of Zelophehad, however, decided it was time for a change.

In Numbers 27 the five sisters approached Moses, the priest, the leaders, and the congregation, and presented their case for women to be included in the distribution of land.

Read about the daughters of Zelophehad in Scripture: Numbers 26-7

Daughters of Zelophehad and the census

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