By Joshua Spurlock
Did you ever know someone who just wouldn’t quit? Some of the most inspiring examples are those disabled athletes who push past their physical limitations and strive for their goal. For many of them, it’s not about winning a prize—it’s about crossing the finish line well.
That kind of passionate perseverance is what the daughters of Tzelafkhad (Zelophehad) demonstrated in Parashat Pinchas (Bamidbar / Numbers 25:10-30:1). It took courage, insistence, and a healthy dose of chutzpah for these women to stand up for the promises of God.
We should all do likewise.
Stand Up & Stand Out
The previous generation of Bnei Yisrael (the children of Israel) had been sentenced to die in the wilderness, and a new generation had been counted and prepped to take the Promised Land (Cf. Bamidbar / Numbers 26).
As Tzelafkhad had no sons to be counted among those who inherited in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), his death as a member of the previous generation seemed to end his line’s chance of receiving the promised inheritance.
Yet while the men are the ones slated to inherit the land, Tzelafkhad’s daughters realized that no prohibition had been issued by HaShem (the L-RD) through His servant Moshe against daughters inheriting where there are no sons. Still, they could have kept silent and assumed there was no chance at receiving their portion of the promise.
That, however, is not how those who are zealous for the promises of God behave. Following the Torah’s framework for resolving difficult questions of law, they went right to the top authority.
“And they stood before Moses [Moshe] and before Eleazar [Elazar] the priest [Kohen] and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah [Korakh], but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.’”
– Bamidbar (Numbers) 27:2-4, ESV
Think about it: Five single women walked up to the greatest Navi (Prophet) in Yisrael—Moshe (Moses)—and the new Kohen Gadol (Chief Priest), and the chiefs of the Bnei Yisrael, and the entire congregation to make case plea. Just imagine it.
The eyes of millions are on you. The most respected men in your nation are before you. No one has ever asked what you are asking. You and your four sisters are alone in front of the masses to insist on a right no one has ever considered.
Unless you’re one of those truly fearless public speakers who can handle pressure with flair, you’re probably mildly terrified just thinking about that scenario. But that’s what Tzelafkhad’s daughters—Makhlah (Mahlah), Noah, Chaglah (Hoglah), Milcah, and Tirtzah (Tirzah)—did. And HaShem gave them His approval.
Moshe went to HaShem for an answer to the daughters’ request. And the response was entirely affirmative.
“The daughters of Zelophehad [Tzelafkhad] are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them.”
– Bamidbar (Numbers) 27:7, ESV
Then, HaShem issues a new decree in light of their claim.
“And you shall speak to the people of Israel [Am Yisrael], saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. And 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 nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. And it shall be for the people of Israel [Am Yisrael] a statute and rule, as the Lord [HaShem] commanded Moses [Moshe].’”
– Bamidbar 27:8-11, ESV
Not only does HaShem approve of their reasoning, He gives a new ordinance on account of them. That’s a big deal. The Jewish sage Rashi notes the significance of having this mitzvah (commandment) decreed by HaShem because of the women. It was a tremendous honor.
These women honored HaShem by counting His promises as more important to them than their social standing and the pressure of their peers. And so HaShem honored them in return.
Shaul (Paul) exercised a similar courage:
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God [Elohim]? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ [Mashiakh].”
– Galatians 1:10, ESV
When was the last time you stood up for the promises of God? Do you believe seriously that everyone who puts their trust in Yeshua HaMashiakh (Jesus the Christ) and the atoning work of His death and resurrection will be saved (Cf. Ma’aseh / Acts 16:31)? Do you speak that truth even when it’s unpopular?
Do you believe that HaShem rewards the righteous and that doing the mitzvot (commandments) is worth more to you than compromising them for the short term (Cf. Tehillim / Psalms 19:9-11)?
Then act like it—the right way.
The Right Kind of Zeal
It would be easy to presume based on B’midbar (Numbers) 27 that the daughters of Tzelafkhad were typical go-getters, A-types who make their own rules and that somehow that is what HaShem wants. That assumption, however, would be wrong, and the daughters show us why.
In demonstrating such righteous zeal for the promises of God, the daughters also show their submission to HaShem’s Torah and the authority He has established through His servant Moshe.
The heroic stand by the daughters prompts a follow-up question from their relatives, who are also concerned about retaining HaShem’s promises. The leaders of their family in Shivei Manasheh (the tribe of Manasseh) raise the possibility that the daughters could take the inheritance with them by marrying out of the tribe, and thereby shrink the tribe’s portion of Eretz Yisrael forever.
HaShem acknowledges their point is valid as well.
“And Moses [Moshe] commanded the people of Israel [Am Yisrael] according to the word of the LORD, saying, ‘The tribe of the people of Joseph [Yosef] is right. This is what the LORD commands concerning the daughters of Tzelafkhad: ‘Let them marry whom they think best, only they shall marry within the clan of the tribe of their father. The inheritance of the people of Israel [Am Yisrael] shall not be transferred from one tribe to another, for every one of the people of Israel [Am Yisrael] shall hold on to the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers.’”
– Bamidbar (Numbers) 36:5-7, ESV
And just like that, the daughters of Tzelafkhad obey (Cf. Bamidbar / Numbers 36:10-12). Their obedience to this restriction proves their claim wasn’t an effort to assert their “rights” or stand up for themselves. Instead, their greatest desire was to grow closer to HaShem, abiding in His will and receiving His blessings.
The daughters weren’t rebels. They were righteous zealots. We should follow their example.
Too often people run with zeal in the wrong direction. They think that because their cause is just, that justifies any means necessary to attain it. They think that the authorities over them should be rebuffed easily and that the more people dislike them, the more zealous they must be. But this is not the way of HaShem.
Ask Questions First
HaShem has placed a variety of authorities over us for a reason. They aren’t to be disregarded easily. One of the greatest commandments, and the first one with a promise, is for children to honor their parents (Cf. Ephesians 6:1-3). That doesn’t end when a child turns 18-years-old or leaves home.
In his rebuke of the hypocrites, our Lord Yeshua HaMashiakh (Jesus the Christ) makes it clear that even adults are to honor their parents.
“For God [Elohim] commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, ‘What you would have gained from me is given to God,’ he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.”
– Mattityahu (Matthew) 15:4-6, ESV
That doesn’t mean that a married adult has the same relationship with his or her parents that a child has, but neither should he or she disregard them. This can be difficult when parents don’t understand or accept a son or daughter’s faith, but the instruction in the Torah to honor one’s parents nevertheless applies.
For children living at home, this responsibility is even greater. Even when parents dismiss your faith, you should seek to obey them as much as possible without violating HaShem’s Word.
If it’s not in His written Word, but just a word He’s given to you, treating parental approval as a sign to prove the word was from HaShem is a wise way to approach the issue (Cf. Shemot / Exodus 4:18, Yirmeyahu / Jeremiah 35:6). HaShem can and does change the hearts of parents.
Rebellion in general is a serious issue. HaShem compares it to witchcraft (Cf. Shmuel Alef / 1 Samuel 15:23) and Shaul makes it clear that the governmental authorities are put in place by HaShem.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.”
– Romans 13:1-5, ESV
But what about the times when we think the authorities are wrong? My parents, who were rarely—if ever—wrong, taught me to follow the appeal system used by Daniel.
Even though the authorities above him were prepared to force him to eat non-kosher food in a clear violation of HaShem’s mitzvot, Daniel still tried to find creative alternatives to their decree before he was willing to rebel.
First, Daniel asked if he could avoid eating the unkosher food (Cf. Daniel 1:8). When that didn’t work, he tried to suggest an alternative to the situation by negotiating a trial run with the authority for a vegetable-only diet (Cf. Daniel 1:12-13).
The authority relented, and HaShem honored Daniel with success in his test. He was then allowed to keep a kosher diet from that point forward (Cf. Daniel 1:15-16).
Striking a deal didn’t require Daniel to compromise. In fact, his passion and zeal for HaShem led to even greater glory for El Yisrael (the G-d of Israel). Rather than become an immediate martyr, Daniel used his zeal in the right way to achieve miracles. So it should be with us.
Does your boss want you to lie to customers or work on Shabbat (the Sabbath)? Try the Daniel approach of appealing before rebelling or quitting. ’Let your light shine,’ as Messiah Yeshua says.
And shining that light must also be done the right way. Far too often do people let their passion for the promises of the Gospel of Yeshua lead them to do things the wrong way. We should always preach the truth in love (Cf. Ephesians 4:15), submit to authority (Romans 13:1), and honour everyone (Kefa Alef / 1 Peter 2:17).
And as Shaul says,
“And the LORD servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God [Elohim] may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil [HaSatan], after being captured by him to do his will.”
– 2 Timothy 2:24-26, ESV
Pursue with Passion
While you should be wise in your zeal and do it the right way, you still should be sure not to let your caution wipe out your zeal. Don’t excuse fear by claiming wisdom. Be like the daughters of Tzelafkhad and pursue the promises of God with passion.
Most importantly, don’t compromise HaShem’s time, resources, or values in order to increase your own pleasure or convenience.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
– Ivrim (Hebrews) 12:1, ESV
Someday, may we stand with Shaul to say,
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the LORD, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
– 2 Timothy 4:7-8, ESV
May you be bold for that promise of HaShem this week, in the grace of Yeshua HaMashiakh.