NUMBERS 27: THE DAUGHTERS OF ZELOPHEHAD
LISTEN TO A SONG BY BRYAN MOYER SUDERMAN
Our friend Bryan Moyer Suderman revives the story of the Daughters of Zelophehad for some who might not hear this story otherwise. The story is buried deep in this book that is deceptively (because people think it's all just censuses, or is it censi?) full of some of the Hebrew Bible's best stories. So I've placed a Youtube version of Bryan's song, but I'm recommending you purchase Bryan's music. Bryan will be returning to The Journey Fall 2018 to reprise his last year visit to our retreat. This time he will come both to our retreat and to our Tulsa Sunday worship.
DR. LISA DAVISON
Another friend and for me professor at Phillips Seminary who has peeled back further layers of this important story is Dr. Lisa Wilson Davison.
In her book, Preaching the Women of the Bible, Dr. Davison lays a foundation of the historical, cultural, and textual context and then provides a printed sermon she has likely delivered in churches titled, "A Daughter's Inheritance" (Numbers 27:1-11).
Dr. Davison points out that just as we begin as children with an innate sense of justice -- "That's not fair!" -- so also five women who had no brothers and whose father had died in the wilderness were about to lose out on a land inheritance that was a huge part of the story of Numbers and identity of Israel. Dr. Davison says they were about to lose out on "an inheritance in God's future." That's when these five women spoke up. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah -- who someone Bryan figures out how to sing about -- "decided to be proactive in dealing with their situation." They took a risk and spoke up and said, "This is not fair!" Dr. Davison points out that this was not only risky to speak up but the rhetorical way they spoke was wise. They appealed to the patriarchal honor of their father, and injustice of it, in order to change the culture.
Moses inquired of the Lord and as as Dr. Davison says, "received a divine confirmation that they were right." And Dr. Davison continues,
"These five aggressive and astute women were the original legal 'Dream Team.' Their actions become even more amazing when we realize that as part of the earlier generation of Israelites, those who came out of Egypt and were involved in the golden calf incident, these five women would not actually live to take possession of their inheritance. They, like Moses and the others of that generation, would die outside of the promised land. Their motives for demanding their fair share were not selfish. No! Their request was on the behalf of their family's next generation. They took a risk to ensure that future daughters would not suffer the same injustice."
Dr. Davison ends her sermon with reflection on her own experience and that of women who have by the church been told they must not receive an inheritance of leadership, that positions of leadership go to male and older women while younger women are often relegated to positions of children's and youth ministry, even when they do not feel called to those ministries. She told the story of Laura Elaine Fitt who experienced this kind of discrimination but did not lose faith but kept seeking a place where her "inheritance" would be granted as with the Daughters of Zelophehad. She cried, "It's not fair," and sought out leadership in areas not traditionally offered to young women, such as preaching and top-level administration of the church, and found a place where the leaders inquired of the Lord like Moses and were also convinced, "This daughter's request is indeed just."
We pray for all contemporary Daughters of Zelophehad to stand up and say of sexual abuse, sexual harassment of women, any kind of discrimination, "This is not fair, this is not right!" and may we inquire of you, Lord, and see where they are right and act in justice.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.