Names/Meanings: Hoglah – a partridge or a boxer; Mahlah – sickness or disease; Milcah – queen or counsel; Noah – rest or comfort; Tirzah – pleasantness
Their Character: The sisters had the assertiveness and tenacity to declare and fight for their inheritance.
Their Sorrow: Their father passed away.
Their Triumph: They were able to win a legal battle that granted them their deceased father’s share of the promised land.
Key Scriptures: Numbers 26:33; 27:1-11; 36:1-12; Joshua 17:3
Once upon a time, women had no property rights. If a man died without sons, his daughters did not inherit his property. The property would be passed to the nearest male relative, leaving the unmarried daughters without an inheritance.
Once upon a time, five women fought for their rights after their father died. These five women were Hoglah, Mahlah, Milcah, Noah and Tirzah, and they were the daughters of Zelophehad.
The sisters lived at the end of the exodus from Egypt as the Israelites prepared to enter the promised land. Their father was a descendent of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Maker, son of Manasseh, son of Joseph. They presented a petition to Moses, Elezar the priest, tribal leaders and the community at the entrance of the Tabernacle.
Their father had died in the wilderness. The sisters pointed out that their father had not rebelled against God or leadership with Korah. Because his death was natural and did not involve any actions that would nullify his inheritance, they argued they were entitled to his share. They contended his name and family line should not disappear from his clan because he had no sons.
Moses sought God, and God said that their claim was legitimate. Because there were no male heirs, the sisters were granted the land that would have gone to their father. Furthermore, the people of Israel were given instructions. If a man died without a son to inherit, the inheritance would go to his daughters. If he had no children, the inheritance would be transferred to his brothers. If he had no brothers, the property would go to his father’s brothers. If his father had no brothers, it would go to the nearest male relative. The judgement became law among the tribes of Israel.
The decision didn’t come without some complications. Male family members came to Moses and the family members of Israel. They were concerned that if the daughters of Zelophehad married men from other tribes, the land would go to their husbands’ tribe causing the land to be lost to the ancestral tribe. This would reduce the land of the Tribe of Manasseh.
Moses ruled that land could not pass from tribe to tribe. The daughters could marry anyone they liked with the caveat that they must be from their territorial tribe. Each sister ended up marrying a cousin from their father’s side, so the land stayed within their tribe.
What a group of exceptional women. They are the first recorded women to declare for their rights, and their case is one of the earliest reported lawsuits on record. They did not sit back and let their inheritance slip from their fingers because of tradition. They fought for it, and their fight helped not only themselves but other women who would find themselves in similar situations. The decision of their case is still upheld by legal courts of law, and it is said to be one of the oldest decided cases that is cited as an authority.
Although we don’t know much about the sisters individually, we can assume that their parents raised them to be assertive. Under Jewish oral law, the sisters are referred to as wise, righteous, and students of the Torah.
Once upon a time, five remarkable women stood up to injustice and slew their dragon.