Tradition Versus Justice

Mar 06, 2003 11:48 AM EST

Numbers 27:1-11 (NRSV)

Then the daughters of Zelophehad came forward. Zelophehad was son of Hepher son of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh son of Joseph, a member of the Manassite clans. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders, and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and they said, "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, 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."

Moses brought their case before the LORD. And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: The daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance among their father's brothers and pass the inheritance of their father on to them. You shall also say to the Israelites, "If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall pass his inheritance on to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 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. It shall be for the Israelites a statute and ordinance, as the LORD commanded Moses."

They went to Eleazar the priest, Joshua son of Nun, and the leaders and said, "The LORD commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brothers." So Joshua gave them an inheritance along with the brothers of their father, according to the LORD's command. - Joshua 17:4 (NIV)

ANCIENT Hebrew law allowed only sons to inherit property. Zelophehad fathered no sons but had five daughters who believed they had a right to their father's inheritance. They took their case to Moses, who in turn took it to the Lord. The decision was made to give the daughters what was rightfully theirs.

How often do we make decisions based solely on how things have always been done? Moses listened with wisdom to Zelophehad's daughters and understood that their situation was unique. Following God's will, he evaluated the problem and did what was right, even though it went against long-standing tradition.

It may take a few extra moments to listen to those around us, to try to understand what each person is experiencing and what each one's individual needs are. But doing so can enable us to treat them with God's care, even if that means breaking old habits and reaching out to them in a way no one else has done.

Prayer: Lord, help us to respond in individual ways to each person whose path we cross today. Amen.


Do I treat people by tradition's standards or by God's?


Those who seek justice

By Karen J. Briggs, New York