The story of Zelophehad’s daughters is a story of family, love for a father, and a lasting legacy. With only fifty words they had their wish come true, their father’s name did not “disappear” just because he had no sons (Numbers 27:1-11). Now, this did not happen without conditions (Numbers 36) and a little reminder to Joshua and the elders (Joshua 17:4), twelve more words. Their story is recorded in three books of the Bible-Numbers, Joshua, and 1 Chronicles. If you timeline this, Numbers 27 occurs and then the elders of Manasseh in Numbers 36 are worried about land that has not even been won yet but God agrees and sets conditions for inherited land and how it should be passed on if no son was born to a father. After Numbers 27 + 36 Moses is called to go up the mountain, view the land and die so this may have been the last set of rules he sought God on.
The girls loved their father and he had brought them up to be obedient and independent. They had a strong sense of justice and knew that just because there was no male descendant that they should not exclude them from their rights in the Promised Land. So they looked to God and the authorities to do the right thing.
Zelophehad’s daughters were very conscious of politics in the camp and were aware that their father had made some wrong choices. So they start their petition for the inheritance with the fact that he died for his own sins, not Korah’s. Korah wanted to be a priest (Numbers 16) and lead a rebellion against Moses and Aaron (see Jude 11). The daughters were very aware that he was not a perfect man when they said he died for his own sins, which would have been grumbling, complaining, and wanting to go back to Egypt.
Names are important in the Bible and it is always interesting to see what the names of people mean. (I know that sometimes I make too much of the meaning.) I always assume that the name we see was the one given them at birth but it is always possible that it could have been changed as they grew or that they were nicknames. With that said here are the meaning for the daughters’ names from my Strong’s/Vines Concordance for the KJV.
- Mahlah – 4244 – weak one
- Noah – 5270 – movement (not exactly the same of Noah of the Ark)
- Hoglah – 2295 – partridge
- Milcah – 4435 – queen
- Tirzah – 8656 – delightsomeness
Zelophehad’s name is used 11x in KJV and 9x in the NIV. In the Strong’s Concordance it is not given a meaning but in the NIV Concordance, it listed as – shadow of dread, terror or protection from dread. He is also the son of Hepher (pit or shame). Maybe the Dead Sea Scroll’s shed new light on the root words that made up his name.
As part of Manasseh, the girls received land on the west side of the Jordan not in Gilead that was for the shepherds of the family.
The last mention of them is in 1 Chronicles 7:15. Where again it is pointed out that God had done something special for Zelophehad and his daughters. The land was the inheritance and it was important but his daughters gave him the gift of being remembered because they were brave enough to stand up for their family name and their father.