Psalm 16 is called, “A Michtam of David.” “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage” (Ps. 16:5, 6). Michtam means contemplation, and these words are worth contemplating often. This is a happy, hopeful contemplation, is it not? What an inheritance God has promised! Surely, our cup runneth over. We and our believing children are adopted by God and heirs of a staggering, unheard of, massive inheritance. Nothing is greater than our portion—the presence and blessing of God in His eternal kingdom. Are you not stunned by the scope of it?
Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah certainly were. Albeit these five young sisters lived long before Psalm 16, they lived with the truth of it deep in their hearts. Though spiritual, heavenly riches are eternal and beyond measure, Old Testament Israel lived in a time of pictures, casting of lots, and measuring lines. God promised to give Abraham and his future seed a land forever (Gen. 13:15). The word forever helps in understanding that the earthly picture (a place in the land of Canaan) was typical and pointed to the reality (a place in God’s heavenly, everlasting kingdom). The sisters firmly believed they would receive both.
From the tribe of Manasseh, possibly in their teens, the sisters are recorded in three different accounts. They represented a new generation of Israel ready to take the promised land of Canaan. Perhaps you have teens at home and can direct them to learn from their example. Here are just a few virtues worth noting: their faith and trust in God; the honor they showed their father and officebearers; their submission, contentment, and their importunity. By God’s grace, their commendable conduct was inseparably connected with keeping a single eye on their portion in Christ.
The sisters are first mentioned in the book of Numbers after a new census was taken to determine the size of the tribes for the dividing of the land. The first census was no longer accurate. The previous generation had perished in the wilderness because of unbelief and disobedience. However, this second census revealed to the sisters that they had a predicament. Ask your child if he or she has ever waited in line to receive a piece of candy but was passed over while all the others received theirs. Well, the sisters had a somewhat similar situation, but on a much larger scale, of course.
Their father, Zelophehad, and most likely their mother, already died in the wilderness. The census revealed none of their father’s children would receive a possession in the promised land because Zelophehad had no sons. This meant their father’s name would be scratched from among his family—disinherited.
Sometimes the Lord has us go through circumstances that seem unresolvable. What our life is now is not what we envisioned it to be. The daughters of Zelophehad may have been tempted to backslide into bitter hopelessness. By God’s grace, they did not fall into that. They were from a believing family and trusted in the Lord’s unfailing promises. In all our struggles and trials, good times and bad, may we remember the same.
The daughters of Zelophehad trusted God. They sought help from divinely appointed officebearers, just as we do in the church of Jesus Christ today. They did not come to demand their rights as feminists do. Actually, no one had rights to the land. It was the Lord’s and for Him to give freely through the casting of lots. God determined the boundary lines whether large or small, north or south. He graciously portions and maintains our lot in life, too, in which we learn contentment and trust. Trust is why the sisters went to the messengers of God. They did not take matters into their own hands by simply informing the leaders that they were going to stake a piece of land on their own. They trusted God to speak and come to their aide through these men. This was exactly what took place:
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, 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. 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. And Moses brought their cause before the Lord. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 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. 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 (Num. 27:2-8).
The daughters of Zelophehad honored their father and officebearers. This was not a victory for a women’s movement that pushes around men. If they had come to Moses in a contentious way, the meeting would have gone quite differently. Had they chosen to stir up the people by accusing their leaders of being unfaithful or railing on them for their lack of wisdom and foresight, it would not have had a good outcome. Rather, the sisters showed respect. They honored their deceased father by ensuring his name would be listed among those who had a name and a place in the land. When his daughters bore future sons, their sons would be recorded as sons of Zelophehad rather than from the paternal side. Further, the sisters made clear their father played no part in Korah’s rebellion. Those who followed Korah were disinherited.
An example of the opposite of honoring those in authority is the story of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram to which the daughters refer in Numbers 16. Unlike Zelophehad’s family, these men undermined the authority of Moses and Aaron by stirring up the people with their false accusations. Men of renown joined the schism, some 250 princes of the assembly. Moses summoned Dathan and Abiram to a meeting but they refused to appear. They needed to repent. Ongoing repentance is crucial in our own life. For we are not relying on God’s promises when we are refusing to obey His commands.
The daughters of Zelophehad were submissive and content. If some wrongly conclude that Numbers 27 promotes feminism, Numbers 36 is altogether different. The men of Manasseh met with Moses and the leaders regarding the new inheritance law because they saw a problem. If a land-owning daughter marries a man from another tribe, her land would then be taken from Manasseh’s inheritance and given to the other tribe. Once again Moses sought the Lord and another law was made. “Let them marry to whom they think best; only to the family of the tribe of their father shall they marry” (Num. 36:6). Did the sisters argue, claiming their rights? Maybe they had an eye on a young man from Asher or Zebulun, but we are not told. Rather, they submitted with contentment and married their father’s brothers’ sons. All five of them did. Perceived restriction is a mercy if it comes from God’s Word. In His kindness He does not deprive us. We shall inherit all things. Marry only in the Lord is a commandment of God. Yes, our young people must search from a relatively small number, but by faith we know this is good for us.
The daughters of Zelophehad showed importunity— an important aspect of prayer. “God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with sincere desires continually ask them of Him, and are thankful for them” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 116). As Joshua led the Israelites into battle, the sisters waited and watched in awe as God’s promises were being fulfilled. They came to their leaders once again and said, “… The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brethren” (Josh. 17:4). Moses had died and years had passed. Their hope had not dimmed in the least. They persevered with the same importunity as father Jacob when he wrestled with the Lord saying, “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Gen. 32:26). Joshua gave them the land.
Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah were quite young in age, but will always be remembered as godly examples who kept a single eye on the Lord’s promised inheritance. May this encourage our young people to pray for such grace in a day of self-centeredness and carnality. A goodly heritage is ours. We are currently being fit for a precise place in His kingdom. The more we long for the full realization of it when Jesus returns, the less we yearn for the things of this world—and that is a good thing.
We want to have thankful children, do we not? Like the daughters of Zelophehad, we must keep talking about our promised inheritance in Christ. Has your child been called cruel names, experienced fear, or loneliness? In Christ we have an everlasting name in whom we have perfect peace and safety. One of the very first verses our young ones learn is, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). “I shall not want” means—I lack nothing! He is our rich portion all the time, including difficult times. He never changes and our portion is never lost.
Psalm 16 is a happy, hopeful contemplation. “I have set the Lord always before me…. Therefore my heart is glad…” (Ps. 16:8, 9). With gladness in your heart sing Psalter 27:
The Lord is my inheritance, the Lord alone remains the fullness of my cup of bliss; the Lord my lot maintains.
The lines are fallen unto me in places large and fair; a goodly heritage is mine, marked out with gracious care.