When Your Answer Just Might Be a Question

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One of my daughters was struggling earlier this year to understand a decision her teacher made at school. All the feelings of confusion, frustration, and misunderstanding came tumbling out as she unpacked the details for me. This decision came at a cost to my daughter and to other students. My instinct was to call that teacher and give her a piece of my mind for the pain and embarrassment she had caused my girl. However, as a mama to three tween and teenage girls, it’s more important in this season of life to help them learn to respectfully articulate their concerns and to ask good questions.

Asking good questions is an art form and an advocacy tool.

  • Questions can help us cultivate curiosity about other people and their perspectives.
  • Questions can bring clarity and uncover nuances to a situation.
  • Questions can provide an avenue to challenge an injustice we see or experience.

In the book of Numbers, there is a story that will remain indelible in my heart even though it’s not often preached about. This is the story of five sisters who are part of the nation of Israel, the daughters of Zelophehad. These women in Numbers 27 are named Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. They walk a journey of deep grief and hardship when their father died, and they were left without provision.

This sister squad put their heads together and decide to go to their leader Moses with a proposal. They start with a respectful, yet pointed question: “Why should the name of our father disappear from his clan just because he had no sons? Give us property along with the rest of our relatives” Numbers 27:4 (NLT).

These girls are asking for rights to their daddy’s property. Perhaps it seems a reasonable request in our context, but in those times daughters did not own property; Sons did. Daughters were given a dowry or monetary gift when they married, but did not inherit land. If a man had no sons, his estate would pass to the nearest male relative. By asking this courageous question, these daughters are challenging the traditional rules of society. So Moses hears their question and brings their case before the Lord.

God’s response is compassionate: “The claim of the daughters of Zelophehad is legitimate. You must give them a grant of land along with their father’s relatives. Assign them the property that would have been given to their father. Numbers 27:7.

This story shows us God’s heart for women and the power of asking questions. The daughters of Zelophehad could have kept quiet. They also could have demanded the land with a sense of entitlement. Instead, they ask a question that changes history. God has Moses clarify the law so there is provision for these specific women and women in the future who might be in a similar predicament.

Later, in the book of Joshua when the leaders are divvying up the Promised Land, these same sisters appear again. They go to Eleazar the priest, Joshua, and the other leaders to remind them of how the law was changed back in Numbers 27.

Joshua gives them the land along with their uncles: “As a result, Manasseh’s total allocation came to ten parcels of land, in addition to the land of Gilead and Bashan across the Jordan River, because the female descendants of Manasseh received a grant of land along with the male descendants” (Joshua 17:5-6).

Friend, can you think of a time in your life when you were unsure of how to handle a situation? Have you ever experienced something frustrating or witnessed an injustice? Have you longed to overcome a rift in a relationship? Questions are a powerful way to engage others.

Jesus is a master at asking purposeful questions. He uses questions to teach, to defend, to challenge, to make people think, and to help center the stories of those who often went unseen or unnoticed.

He asks a chronically sick man: “Would you like to get well?” (John 5:6, NLT), tending to his faith before healing him.

He asks a lonely Samaritan woman at a well: “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7, NIV) and engages her in conversation, revealing Himself for the first time as the Messiah.

Jesus perceives the challenging thoughts of the scribes and Pharisees, and responds to them with a question: “Why do you question in your hearts? (Luke 5:22, ESV).

“But what about you?” Jesus asks His disciple Peter. “Who do you say I am?” in a poignant moment with His disciples before facing His death on the cross (Matthew 16:15, NIV)

He asks two unassuming men on the road to Emmaus: “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?” (Luke 24:17, NLT).

Jesus models how to use thoughtful questions to foster understanding, build relationships, and deepen faith among the people. 

My daughter and I talked through the situation at school, shed some tears together, and finally prayed about how to respond. I have been mentoring my girls to advocate for themselves when they find themselves in tough situations. My daughter went to school the next day equipped with some honest questions for her teacher. These questions didn’t fix the situation necessarily, but they did help bring a greater understanding and clarity. Most importantly, my daughter found a sense of peace from the Holy Spirit and resolve that has helped propel her forward as a leader among her peers.

Together we are remembering the daughters of Zelophehad who asked a brave question that changed history.

Where is God leading you to ask a question and courageously wait for an answer?


Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young is a speaker, Bible study teacher, podcaster, and multi-published author. Dorina specializes in helping people navigate grief and discover God’s glory on life’s unexpected trails. She lives with her hubby and three daughters in Central California. Connect at DorinaGilmore.com and @DorinaGilmore on Instagram


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