Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Is God Playing Favorites in Leviticus 27:1-8? Part I

(A note to my email subscribers- this is Part I, if you received Part II in your inbox please delete it as I mistakenly hit "send post" rather than "save post." It was a rough draft version. I will post Part II in a few days. Thank you for your patience with my mistake.)

After a Ruby Slippers Retreat, one female leader wrote me with this provocative email:

I have a question: stumbled upon Leviticus 27 tonight and I am troubled by the Lord's disparity between the monetary value of male vs. female. It bothers me that God, when talking to the Israelites, knowing how they valued money, said consistently that the life of a dedicated male had more financial value than that of a female. It doesn’t seem consistent with what we know of Him and his value of us.

Why didn’t God buck the cultural norms and say we’re of equal value? He did lots of other times. It uses the term ‘equivalent values’. That really chides me. The ages of the people change the value, too, though, and we know God’s soul-level opinion of us doesn’t change as we age, and I suppose that is another cultural value he’s confirming. But I don’t like it, either.

What are your thoughts?

In poring over this passage and reading up on it, I figured this passage deserved some public attention.

Leviticus 27 (TNIV)

Redeeming What Is the LORD 's
1 The LORD said to Moses, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'If anyone makes a special vow to dedicate a person to the LORD by giving the equivalent value, 3 set the value of a male between the ages of 20 and 60 at fifty shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel; 4 for a female, set her value at thirty shekels; 5 for a person between the ages of 5 and 20, set the value of a male at twenty shekels and of a female at ten shekels; 6 for a person between 1 month and 5 years, set the value of a male at five shekels of silver and that of a female at three shekels of silver; 7 for a person 60 years old or more, set the value of a male at fifteen shekels and of a female at ten shekels. 8 If anyone making the vow is too poor to pay the specified amount, the person being dedicated is to be presented to the priest, who will set the value according to what the one making the vow can afford.
So dear readers, I ask you, "Why would God seem to value people differently based on gender? or even age? What is your understanding of this passage?" I will post my thoughts next time. But I'd like to heard from you first.


Anonymous said...

To me, this chapter doesn't assess the worth of men and women when standing before God. It is placing a value on their work before men. At the time, in Israel, your sex and age would determine what you were able to do and that determined the value of your work. In both the Old and New Testament there is evidence of God's equal value for both men and women. Gen 1:26-28, Gal 3:28, Eph 5:21. I can see how this chapter would seem chauvinistic but our Father created us equally and loves us equally. Anyway, you asked our thoughts on this subject and those are mine. I'm sure others differ. Be blessed.

Di said...

Just a caution: the question may in some sense be flawed. Is the passage intending to communicate that women are "worth less" than men to God? the aged and the very young "worth less" than able-bodied young adults? If we answer "no, that is not its intent" then can we re-frame the question to address the passage's own concerns?

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Great comment Di- let me re-phrase
"What is this passage intending to communicate? Why would women, young people and older people be "cashed in" at a lesser amount? What would be God's point in including this among the laws?

Anonymous above- I think you're on to something by noting the amount of work a person could do in this nomad society as a key part in figuring their monetary price.

Philip said...

I think the first poster is putting it in the right perspective. From my understanding this was almost a sort of tithe towards God for the upkeep of the Tabernacle. For anyone who did not want to give his or her services to the Lord by way of helping in the Tabernacle had to pay a fee to still give their effort to it. Notice that people in the prime of their lives were asked to give more. Matthew Henry said in his commentary that this is because they would have been able to help more in service than older men or children. Furthermore, it holds to the view that females' services would not have been as effective (going along with the "weaker vessel" idea in the New Testament). It doesn't tell us what the jobs were or anything, but I would think they were not cutting women down or demeaning them. It is clear that Christ sees gender as equal worth (Gal. 3:28), but nonetheless different in make-up.

That's the way I would roughly respond to the girl. It's always dangerous to take a particular and universalize it.