The five sisters had each other, but that wasn’t going to cut it. Together or apart they would be destitute. As they well knew, they had two options for survival: begging and prostituting. And not necessarily in that order.
They wouldn’t be in this situation if just one of them had been born a boy. Or if they had had a brother. But how was any of that their fault? Why should the inheritance laws punish them? They hadn’t done anything to deserve this bleak future. No protector. No provider. No family home.
Against all odds this sisterhood decided on a bold action. An act that no woman before them had dared. Defying the set-in-stone rules of their patriarchal society, they banded together and went to court.
Their hearts beat faster with each step that threaded their way through the onlookers to the judgment bar. Would they get justice there from the tribal leaders, the high priest, and Moses–the lawgiver himself–whom they now faced? They had to try.
Clasping each other’s clammy hands in this daring deed, the sisters stood tall and voiced their grievance against existing law: “Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives” (Numbers 27:4 NIV).
Mighty Moses, realizing this matter was above his pay grade, took it to the highest authority. “So Moses brought their case before the LORD” (Numbers 27:5 NIV).
And this was God’s verdict: “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” (Numbers 27:7 NIV).
But there was more. This was not to be a one-time exception. God went on to clarify that henceforth whenever there were no sons, daughters would have first inheritance rights. In a male-dominated society the courage of these sisters resulted in that legal precedent. Evidence, indeed, that God is on the side of the marginalized.
You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.
(Psalm 10:17-18 NIV)