Today’s reading begins with a change to the laws of inheritance brought about by the daughters of Zelophehad and concludes with the explanation of the law regarding women and vows.
The reading for today contains one of the more interesting episodes in the books of the law of the Old Testament. This episode involved the daughters of Zelophehad. This group of women brought their concerns with the Law regarding inheritances before Moses, Eleazar, and the chiefs of the tribes of Israel. Their father had been one of the faithful of Israel and had not defied the LORD at the rebellion of Korah, but he had passed away before Israel had made it to the Promised Land. The Law up to this point reserved the inheritance of the land to only the sons born to a man. Daughters had no right of inheritance whatsoever. The daughters of Zelophehad felt this was unjust because their father had no sons, so the inheritance of land that he was entitled to would pass out of his family to another family in Israel; not because of faithlessness on his part, but only because of a happenstance of the gender of his children.
Moses brought the concerns of the daughters before God and the LORD told Moses that these daughters were indeed entitled to the inheritance of land due to their father. Not only did the LORD make provision for the daughters of Zelophehad, but the Law regarding the inheritance of land was changed to make provision for all instances when a father did not have any sons.
These women must have been somewhat extraordinary in their faithfulness and character as people. What is maybe even every bit as striking as the change in the Law to accommodate the circumstance of these women was the fact that each of their names were recorded. It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to observe the fact that the names of women are mentioned only on rare occasions, if at all. In this passage, every one of the daughters names were given: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
Also in today’s passage, was the passing of the mantle of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Due to Moses’ lack of faith when God had commanded that he speak to the rock for it to bring forth water, the LORD prohibited Moses from entering the Promised Land. Giving charge of the leadership of Israel to Joshua must have been a very painful episode in Moses’ life. He had borne the complaints and challenges of the people for over 40 years, and the most that God would allow for Moses was to look into the good land God had promised. To have come so close to the finish line and only be able to look at it must have been a crushing experience. This ceremony of Moses handing over the reigns of leadership to Joshua must also have served Joshua as a very striking reminder of the price to be paid for disobedience to the commands of God. Although a crushing life experience for Moses, this may have reinforced Joshua’s resolve to remain faithful and obedient.