Leadership Lessons from the Lives of Great Women: The Daughters of Zelophehad

Zelophehad was one of the many children of Israel rescued from Egyptian bondage. While the Bible does not say much about him, it does mention that he had no sons. Zelophehad had five daughters named, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. They were very unusual women. After the death of their father, all five of them stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the princes and indeed the entire congregation of Israel and said, “Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.” (Numbers 27:3-4)
Their request was a bit foreign to Moses as it was the first time women would bring such an issue before him. He was obviously unsure how to handle it so he turned to the Lord for guidance and this is what God said. “The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them. And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.” (Numbers 27:7-8)
Not only did God instruct Moses to give all five women an inheritance among their father’s brothers, He also made a law that going forward, the inheritance of a man who had no son should be passed to his daughter. Thus, in confronting Moses on this issue, the five daughters of Zelophehad not only liberated themselves, they liberated all women who would ever find themselves in a similar situation. These women were empowered women, these women were leaders.
The leadership lessons that can be learned from the lives of these great women are as follows;
Great women are liberators; they do not sit around waiting for others to liberate them from the challenges life throws at them, rather, they confront the challenges that face them and liberate not only themselves but others with them.
Great women challenge the status quo, they never accept it. These five women did not accept the status quo, that only a man could inherit his father’s possession, rather they challenged it. They said, “Our father had no sons and why should his name be erased from his family because of that?” (Paraphrased)
Great women are not afraid to go where no has gone before. Prior to this time, no woman had ever stood up to demand an inheritance amongst men but these women did not let that stop them. They had a vision and they pursued it regardless of whether anyone had done it before or not. Great women are pathfinders, trail blazers and pacesetters. They are leaders.
Great women fight for a cause bigger than them. For these women, it wasn’t about an inheritance, it was more than that. It was about ensuring that their father’s name did not die. Their father was dead but they were determined that his name would not die. Interestingly, no one knew Zelophehad while he lived, but his five daughters sounded his name not only to come before Moses and the entire congregation but as a result of their actions, his name was written in the Bible where it would be read for generations to come. They spoke for their father when he was not there to speak for himself. When he could not fight for himself, they fought to ensure that he would have a light in his tribe and they achieved much more than that.
Great women are change agents. These women brought change not only for themselves but for women that would be born many generations later. No more would a woman be unable to inherit her father’s possession. No more would a man’s name die off because he had no sons.
Great women are bold. These women were bold; they stood before Moses and the entire congregation and stated their case without fear and trembling. “Our father is dead and he had no son.” They said and went on to ask the million dollar question which had never before been asked by a woman “why should his name be lost because he had no son?” Then finally they boldly declared what they wanted. “Give us a possession among the men.” (Paraphrased) Notice that these women did not say to Moses, “Will you give us? Is it possible?” No, they placed a demand on Moses, they said, “Give us.” And Moses gave them.
Great women are an inspiration to other women. Every time I read the story of these women, I am deeply inspired. Their story makes a complete nonsense of gender inequality which many women have used as an excuse for inaction. Yes, their story sends this short but powerful message to all women, “you can too, because you’re a woman.”

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