On several occasions, I have asked rooms full of adults if anyone could relate the story of the daughters of Zelophehad to us. No one has ever been able to do it. That’s a shame. This story needs to be brought forth out of obscurity, to grace the flannel boards in Primary, to star in Family Home Evening (it does in the Smith house!), and to take its rightful place in the cozy canon alongside Jonah, Daniel and his lions, and Nephi.
On the odd chance that you aren’t familiar with this story, here ya go. It is Numbers 27:1-11:
THEN came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.
2 And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,
3 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.
4 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.
5 And Moses brought their cause before the LORD.
6 ¶ And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
7 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.
8 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.
9 And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren.
10 And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father’s brethren.
11 And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the LORD commanded Moses.
And here’s why it is important:
(1) sustaining Church leaders is a difficult concept to teach and to live in a world where we don’t trust (and probably shouldn’t trust) any secular authority or experts. My generation gets on the net for a second opinion if a doctor tells us we are sick, we second guess teachers, politicians, lawyers, and everyone else who claims to any authority. This is probably for the best, except then we show up at Church with no experience whatsoever in sustaining leaders. How do we do it? Does it mean that we never question what they say?
Numbers 27 provides an excellent example of handling disagreements with Church leaders, especially when you compare this story with Numbers 12, where Miriam is given leprosy for speaking against Moses. In each case, a person has a problem with the actions of a Church leader. But the outcome is so different. Why? Because Miriam spoke to others, the daughters of Z. spoke to Moses. Speaking behind or around is not helpful, open communication is. By the same token, the d. of Z. did not squelch, ignore, or ‘learn to live with’ their problem. They addressed it openly. Our model here is simple: when you have a problem with a Church leader, you speak to that person open and directly.
But this story is also a model for leaders. Did Moses tell them that the issue was already settled by the Law so go away? Did he castigate them for questioning the Lord? Did he chastize them for approaching a prophet? Read verse 5 again; he took their concern to the Lord. Moses recognized that he was not the head of the Church–he was the Lord’s mouthpiece. He sought the will of the Lord in prayer.
The story also teaches an important lesson about the Law: it is subject to change. The next time some hostile anti-Mormon asks why the WoW prohibits wine when Jesus began his ministry by turning water into wine, send ’em to Numbers 27.
And, by the way, we really did have a FHE about this story. You will be, as I was, shocked and saddened to hear that neither in the Church not out could I find pictures, puppets, or teaching ideas for this story. So we made our own. Good thing my husband can draw.