Then the daughters of Zelophehad came forward. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. – Numbers 27:1-2 (NRSV)
Five women stand before Moses and all the powerful men of their community. They accuse these men of enforcing sexist practices, saying, “Daughters deserve a part of their father’s inheritance. Change your laws. Stop excluding us.” Moses takes their request to God, who agrees with Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. The law changes.
What an astounding story of justice! As soon as a practice is revealed to be harmful, those with the power to make a change do so with God’s blessing.
I have scanned the footnotes in my study Bible dozens of times searching to see if there are parts omitted. Surely Moses and the other leaders formed a committee to study the impact of such a change? Surely someone made a lengthy speech about the good intentions of the law? Didn’t Eleazar the priest suggest an inheritance would actually be a burden to them?
We have too many stories of how misused power and overly complicated processes delay or deny justice. Too many stories of people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and disability communities speaking out about the harm they experience, only to be ignored or silenced. We also have the daughters of Zelophehad calling us to act with swift, prayerful conviction.
I remember the names of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, because I know that as often as I join the voices calling for change, there are times I am the one with power to make the change. That change might be in my local community, in my congregation, or in my heart. In those moments, may the daughters of Zelophehad remind me to listen, pray, and act.
Let God’s justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Liz Miller serves as the pastor of Edgewood United Church (UCC) in East Lansing, Michigan.