Numbers 27:1-11

“Legacy” is a hefty word. We connect it with death, since many people’s life goal is to leave a legacy behind when they die. And by “legacy,” they usually don’t mean possessions like money, a house, a car, furniture, or other items. They mean personal qualities they want their descendants to emulate: honor, faithfulness, honesty, compassion, leadership, generosity, friendliness, and other qualities of good people in the world.

Our lesson title is “Legacy,” but our session text involves an inheritance—presumably money, a dwelling, or land. We read about five daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, whose father has died and left them nothing because they are women. If any of them were sons, they would receive portions of an inheritance from their father. In the culture of the day, a man’s possessions passed down to his sons. Fathers without sons left their things to their own brothers. This made girls and women vulnerable until they found husbands to give them security.

Zelophehad may not have left his daughters a physical inheritance, but they will certainly leave behind a legacy of their own. Instead of complying with society’s expectations, they go to Moses and other religious leaders with a demand: “Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers” (27:4). They appeal to tradition to get what they deserve, pointing out that their clan should be able to retain their father’s name, whether he has sons or not. These five women come before a large group of men—the ones in charge of their congregation who handle matters of the law—and ask for what is rightfully theirs.

This could have ended badly for them. Some men of the time might have refused them and perhaps turned them out of their home. After all, they are daughters, not sons. But Moses listens to the Lord and changes the law of inheritance. Sons still come first, but daughters now rank above all other kinsmen in the family. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a giant step forward in their culture.

What legacy did these women leave? A legacy of justice, courage, strength, and persistence. Indeed, their story is the reason we know their father’s name.

Discussion

• Why were Zelophehad’s daughters in such a vulnerable position? How do you imagine you would feel approaching the congregational leaders with such a countercultural request?
• Why do we remember these women today?
• What does the word “legacy” mean to you?
• If you have lost loved ones, what kind of legacy do you feel that they left for you?
• What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your loved ones when you die? How can you start building that legacy now?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theater productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she writes middle grade and young adult fiction for the pure joy of it.

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