Skip to content Skip to cookie consent
Skip to content

Bible studies

Bible study: The daughters of Zelophehad

What does this little-known Bible passage tell us about women and land rights?

Written by Rev Dr Lydia Mwaniki 2018 Available in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish

A hand holds the page of a Bible open on Proverbs 20-21

Dona Francisca Alves Mendes (61) reads her bible in Paraíba state, Brazil. Photo: Tom Price-Ecce Opus/Tearfund

A community in rural Honduras.

From: Land rights – Footsteps 105

Why land rights are important and what we can do to protect them

Read Numbers 27:1–7 

Numbers 27:1–7 presents a scenario where women were not allowed to own land. In fact, in Israel a woman was treated like the property of her father, and was then transferred to her husband via a bridal payment. In their humility and wisdom, the five daughters of Zelophehad influenced the making of a new law by God to allow women to own land. 

The daughters of Zelophehad lived at the end of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. As time passed in the wilderness and the population changed, it was necessary to carry out a new census (Numbers 26:1–4). This was to help plan the social and economic structures of the new nation. God said that the land was to be divided among the tribes in proportion to the size of their families (Numbers 26:52–56). Each male head of household received an allotment. 

Zelophehad had died without a son. When his daughters realised that their father’s name would be excluded when the land was given out because there was no male heir, they did an extraordinary thing that had not been heard of before. They asked Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chiefs and the whole assembly for their right to inherit their father’s property. In humility, Moses brought the matter to God. God responded that the plea of the daughters was just, and that they should be granted their father’s inheritance.  

God is just and fair, and does not want women to be disadvantaged. He sees them as perfectly capable of owning and managing land.  

Most rural women depend on the land but lack secure rights to it. Illustration from Petra Röhr-Rouendaal, Where there is no artist (second edition)

Most rural women depend on the land but lack secure rights to it. Illustration from Petra Röhr-Rouendaal, Where there is no artist (second edition)

Discussion questions

  • Identify ways in which women’s rights are violated in your community. 
  • What practical measures can women and men take in your community to protect women’s land rights and all other rights? 
  • What lessons can we draw from this Bible passage about the role of leaders in promoting gender justice? 

View or download this resource

Get this resource

Written by

Written by  Rev Dr Lydia Mwaniki

Rev Dr Lydia Mwaniki is the Director of Theology, Family Life and Gender Justice for the All Africa Conference of Churches.

Share this resource

If you found this resource useful, please share it with others so they can benefit too.

Subscribe to Footsteps magazine

A free digital and print magazine for community development workers. Covering a diverse range of topics, it is published three times a year.

Sign up now - Subscribe to Footsteps magazine

Cookie preferences

Your privacy and peace of mind are important to us. We are committed to keeping your data safe. We only collect data from people for specific purposes and once that purpose has finished, we won’t hold on to the data.

For further information, including a full list of individual cookies, please see our privacy policy.

  • These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

  • These cookies allow us to measure and improve the performance of our site. All information these cookies collect is anonymous.

  • These allow for a more personalised experience. For example, they can remember the region you are in, as well as your accessibility settings.

  • These cookies help us to make our adverts personalised to you and allow us to measure the effectiveness of our campaigns.