The Bible is full of teenaged girls who made a difference. When you realize that the custom was to marry at puberty, the list becomes longer than you thought: Esther, even five years after being chosen queen, was probably no older than 19 when she took her life in her hands and stood before King Ahasuerus. Mary traveled on that donkey (I assume she did not walk), nine months pregnant, and probably already in labor, at about 14 or 15.
And do you know about the daughters of Zelophehad? Tirzah, Mahlah, Noah, Milcah, and Hoglah—not names we are likely to give our own daughters, but good girls, nonetheless. We know they were not married, so, given the customs, the oldest was probably not more than 14. Their father, unfortunately, was one of that generation that died in the wilderness, and they had no brothers; they were left alone at the end of the wilderness wandering.
The law, that new thing they were all becoming accustomed to, said that only sons could inherit. When a daughter married, she was automatically absorbed into her husband’s tribe, so allowing a daughter to inherit land would have caused all sorts of confusion, with bits of one tribe now belonging to another, and on and on as it happened again and again until the whole land was a mess. But inheritance was important to the Israelites. It meant the name of the father would not die out as they all awaited a coming Messiah.
So what did these young girls do? They went to Moses and calmly presented their case. Our father was not one of the rebels who gathered themselves against Jehovah in the company of Korah, they explained. He was just one of the regular sinners who died in the wilderness. Why should his name die out just because he had no sons? Num 27:3,4.
Imagine that. Five young girls approaching Moses, the venerable 120 year old leader. I would never have had the courage, even if I felt my cause was just. I might have asked someone to go for me, but by myself with only four sisters even younger than I? Moses, and more important Jehovah, listened. And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: you shall surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father's brethren; and you shall cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them, vv 6,7. But what about the problems that would cause?
Zelophehad was from the tribe of Manasseh. When it came time to parcel out the land, “the heads of the fathers’ houses” went to Moses. My lord was commanded by Jehovah to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother unto his daughters. And if they be married to any of the sons of the other tribes of the children of Israel, then will their inheritance be taken away from the inheritance of our fathers, and will be added to the inheritance of the tribe whereunto they shall belong: so will it be taken away from the lot of our inheritance. Num 36:2,3.
Now we are back where we started, with the problem of land shifting ownership between tribes. And once again Moses goes to God for the solution—a pretty good lesson to be learned in itself. This is the thing which Jehovah commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, Let them be married to whom they think best; only into the family of the tribe of their father shall they be married. So shall no inheritance of the children of Israel remove from tribe to tribe, 36:6,7.
So the problem is now solved by five teenage or younger girls, who had the courage to bring up something they saw as unfairness—not toward themselves, but toward their father and other men in his circumstance. They went to Moses in an orderly fashion, presenting sound reasoning. They were not riotous, disobedient or disrespectful. When they received the inheritance they asked for, they had the maturity to realize that privilege demands responsibility. What did they do? Even as Jehovah commanded Moses, so did the daughters of Zelophehad: for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zelophehad, were married unto their father's brothers' sons. they were married into the families of the sons of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and their inheritance remained in the tribe of the family of their father. 36:10-12. If there is any question at all as to their motive, surely their following of the new law concerning the marriage of inheriting daughters, then quietly going on with their lives settles it.
One wonders how many family names were kept alive because five adolescent girls had the chutzpah to speak up, the grace to do so respectfully, and the maturity to take on the responsibilities of their answered request.
Are young women important to God? I think they are important to us all. Let’s make sure they know it.