Women of the Word | Daughters of Zelophehad

There are many women in God’s Word who were used of God to bring His Kingdom to earth and change the status quo. Of these most of us could name a few, but do we know the story of the daughters of Zelophehad: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah?

Do we know how God used them to bring a FULLNESS OF INHERITANCE that is felt to this day?!

Join us as we learn how these five women were used of God to courageously challenge the status quo and bring about a fullness of inheritance!


During the days of Moses there was a man named Zelophehad who had no sons, but had five daughters. Their names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. When the time of the census came for the males of the tribes to be counted, Zelophehad of the tribe of Manasseh, was shown to have no sons.

“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.”

—Numbers 26:33

Now Zelophehad certainly was not a man with a connection to barrenness. After all, five is a decent number of children and the number of grace. Yet, during the time of Moses, and the generations prior, there was a certain expectation in regard to inheritance… it HAD to pass through the male line. 

This in itself may not seem bad, and in fact, it is still a practice in some parts of the world today; but at this time it left a lot of questions. What about the father’s name? Would it be remembered if there were no male offspring? What if there were only daughters? Who would inherit? And what would that mean for a family line? 

These questions were only amplified during the time of this census when those who would receive a portion of the Promised Land were being counted…

Typically an inheritance was passed to the nearest male relative in the event that a man had no sons. This could mean that the husband’s brother might inherit his possessions, or his brother’s sons, and so forth. Obviously, there were options, but that did not bring remembrance to the name of the person who died. And in the matter of the land that was expected in the Promised Land—since Zelophehad did not live to receive his portion—not only might a man’s name be forgotten, but it might even be that the land would simply be split among all the males of the tribe…

But why did this have to be? If a man had only daughters, why should they not receive God’s promise? Why should an inheritance not be passed to them to directly honor and remember their father’s name and lineage? 

These questions had never been raised before. After all, there was almost always a near male relative who could inherit—though the Promised Land inheritance was a new expectation. But why should a family’s name be essentially forgotten just because the inheritance passed away from their children? Indeed, why did it have to be taken from the children at all simply because they were female? And why could they not experience the favor of God’s provision and promise?

These are the questions that came to light when the daughters of Zelophehad had the courage to step forward and seek an inheritance…

Changing the Status Quo | The Daughters of Zelophehad

We might wonder why the daughters of Zelophehad felt they had the right to question the way things were done. Or wonder if it was acceptable for these women to go to leadership over something that the leaders did not see as a problem…

But as we will see, their courage and drive did not upset God. In fact, He used them to change the status quo…

After their father died, and before the Israelites entered into the Promised Land, a certain issue arose during the census. The five daughters of Zelophehad were not entitled to an inheritance in their father’s name, nor of the inheritance waiting in the Promised Land, leaving them without the fullness of God’s promise. 

Yet this issue of inheritance, though a weighty matter, was not the only one. Because with the inheritance came a remembrance of the father’s name that would be passed down through the generations. There was therefore a promise, not only for the one who received the inheritance but also for the memory of the one who provided it… IF their offspring received it.

So while the wealth and promise of Zelophehad might pass to his nearest male relation, his name and legacy would largely be forgotten. His inheritance would not be passed through his descendants, nor would his name be ‘attached’ to his daughters, or even to the land Zelophehad was meant to receive.

And this is why Zelophehad’s daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, took action. Not simply because they wanted the physical wealth and land that would otherwise go to more distant male relatives—if there were any available—but because they did not desire their father’s legacy to be forgotten. They wanted his name remembered because they felt his life had meaning. Because they believed inheritance and family were important to God; because God has created a family for His inheritance…

Letter on typewriter that reads my dear child, I love you, from God.

“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”

—Romans 8:16-17

“I will be a Father to you,

and you shall be My sons and daughters,

says the Lord Almighty.”

—2 Corinthians 6:18

So, the five women came to the doorway of the Tabernacle and stated their case, though this had almost certainly never been done before:

  • “And they stood before Moses, before Eleazar the priest, and before the leaders and all the congregation, by the doorway of the tabernacle of meeting, saying: ‘Our father died in the wilderness; but he was not in the company of those who gathered together against the Lord, in company with Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.’”—Numbers 27:2-4

Moses brought the case before God. And God heard their request and answered in a way that would change much of the status quo:

  • “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the relative closest to him in his family, and he shall possess it.”’ 

“And it shall be to the children of Israel a statute of judgment, just as the Lord commanded Moses.”—Numbers 27:7-11

After this point inheritance was never the same. God had given boldness to the daughters of Zelophehad to challenge the way things had been done so that His ways could take form in the inheritance. Not only for them, but for many to come.

God desired a fullness of inheritance. One that echoed the inheritance to come… the inheritance we receive today by God’s covenant in Yeshua’s precious Blood.

Yet, this is not the end of the story of the daughters of Zelophehad. There was still one more concern that was put to Moses by the male leaders of the tribe of Manasseh (of the sons of Joseph), the tribe of whom Zelophehad belonged…

They feared that if any of the five daughters of Zelophehad married outside of their tribe, then the inheritance of land would shift from the tribe of Manasseh to the tribes of their husbands…

Thus, Moses again took the case before God and was told this:

  • “… ‘What the tribe of the sons of Joseph speaks is right. This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, “Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within the family of their father’s tribe.” So the inheritance of the children of Israel shall not change hands from tribe to tribe, for every one of the children of Israel shall keep the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. And every daughter who possesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel shall be the wife of one of the family of her father’s tribe, so that the children of Israel each may possess the inheritance of his fathers. Thus no inheritance shall change hands from one tribe to another, but every tribe of the children of Israel shall keep its own inheritance.’”—Numbers 36:5-9

This was an interesting turn of events, yet the daughters of Zelophehad took it in stride. They listened to the will of the Lord and indeed married men only from within their tribe. A tribe that consisted of 52,700 men—from age twenty and above; all who were able to go to war, married and unmarried. 

  • “Just as the Lord commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad; for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married to the sons of their father’s brothers. They were married into the families of the children of Manasseh the son of Joseph, and their inheritance remained in the tribe of their father’s family.”—Numbers 36:10-12

Through their courage and obedience, the five daughters of Zelophehad, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, received an inheritance and opened the door for many inheritances to come. Echoing the fullness of inheritance that we are blessed to know today!

What is more, to this day their story teaches us the importance of not simply inheritance, but of seeking the will of the Lord; of not being afraid when God leads us to question the status quo, and then being obedient to His will.

“And they came near before Eleazar the priest, before Joshua the son of Nun, and before the rulers, saying, ‘The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brothers.’ Therefore, according to the commandment of the Lord, he gave them an inheritance among their father’s brothers.”

—Joshua 17:4