What does the story of Zelophehad's daughters teach us about how God's law was to be applied in the Promised Land?

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The story of Zelophehad's daughters gives us a sense of how the law was apportioned, particularly with concern for the needy and the vulnerable, the poor, in the book of Joshua. Zelophehad's daughters are widowed, and therefore, without a land allotment, and without a land allotment an Israelite would be without a provision for life, for sustenance. And so, they came to Moses in a special case and they said, "When we come into the land we will be without an inheritance unless you do something." Moses sought God's will on this, and Moses ruled, if you will, in a special provision that these daughters of Zelophehad should, in spite of their widowhood, be offered an apportion so that they would not be vulnerable and not be impoverished. And this brings out an important principle about the land. The land was never relinquished by God to Israel, but the land always was retained by God as his possession, and it was for the purpose of blessing and prospering his people. So, the land was to be administered in a way in keeping with God's will, and we know that it was God's will from the laws of Deuteronomy that the poor and the weak and the needy be provided for within Israel, such that there would — even though there would always be poor among them — that there would never be poor among them, as Deuteronomy 15 says.

Answer by Rev. Michael J. Glodo

Rev. Michael J. Glodo is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL.