Sunday, February 3, 2008

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

In Lev 27 we learn that a person could choose to make a vow of dedication, but instead of providing their own life, they could pay the equivalent of their work's worth. For instance, I might want to dedicate my female servant to the temple, if so then I could keep my servant and pay a fee equal to her work. The fee chart worked like this; more money for men, less for women, more money for those who were in the "prime" physical fitness of life, less for the elderly and the young. (See previous post to read entire passage).

It's hard to read that women were "worth less" than men, without assuming women are "worthless." We bring a belief that money = power and that power = worth, both of which are suspect in terms of the kingdom of God. We wear our American glasses to this passage, when in reality (and in other cultures) wages are not proof of value or power. In some cultures value and prestige are not linked to wage earning (British titles, for instance, where one can be a lord or lady, but be relatively poor). Or in another case an orphaned, abandoned infant has great value but she is neither powerful or rich. So first things first, the monetary worth of a person's work is not always equal to their value or power.

If not, then the questions needs answering, "Why would a woman's service be worth less money?" In terms of service to the Lord in the temple, women could not do as much, not necessarily because they were the "weaker vessel" as Philip pointed out in the comment below, but because women could not be priests, could not be outfitted (Ex. 28), could not be consecrated (Ex. 29), could not make daily offerings (Ex. 30). Women were not permitted to be in God’s presence in the Holy of Holies.

But this male priesthood did not prevent God from interacting with all he loved, we know God interacted, communed, even anointed women as he did with Hagar, Deborah and Huldah. We know God even draws Gentile women, as he did with Ruth (See Carolyn Custis James' The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules). And since Jesus came, we know that God allows women to do all the work that had been limited to Jewish, Levite males. For instance, women are included in the priesthood of all believers, we are even able to "offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:5). Women are dedicated for service as priests, outfitted to be priests, fellow ministers of the gospel with men (Eph 4:11-12). We can even enter the Holy of Holies. "Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . . let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith" (Heb 10:19 & 22).

Therefore, this male dominated priesthood was only for a while, a shadow or type of the things to come, not a rule grounded in nature or creation. So why do we have this Old Testament period of male-priestliness? Not because women were less in value but because the priests had to be male to prepare the world for the Great High Priest, who came as a male. But why did God choose to incarnate as a male? I believe God wanted to come as the 2nd Adam not a 2nd Eve. So God set up a temple system with arrows all over pointing towards the way God would incarnate, as a male, helping people expect the Son in flesh.

I looked up Lev 27 in The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary a resource I'd highly recommend for hearing a woman's voice on Scripture. Dr. Susan M. Pigott (associate professor of Old Testament at Hardin-Simmons University) makes note that since only Levite males were allowed to serve in the Temple, people who wanted to serve had to donate money in the place of their physical volunteering. In contrast to other religious practices, this laid out rules preventing human sacrifice and provided a means to give in a really sacrificial way. By giving much money you were earning the privilege of offering your time and wages and essentially being a "living sacrifice." (Rom 12:1).

Even more interesting is Dr. Pigott's note that the value system outlined in Leviticus 27 is not chauvinistic. Notice that it is a combination of age+gender, not just gender (as one commenter also discovered-see comments for Part I). So a 1-5 year old male is worth less than a 5-20 year old woman. This makes sense. A 5 year old girl could do more work than a 3 year old boy. So males were not essentially worth more money than females, if they were a male of any age would always be worth more than a female of any age.

The point, Dr. Pigott writes, is that both men or women’s vows of dedication were accepted, a big deal in a patriarchal society. Both could give to the Lord. I see in this passage the broad outline for the future, when God tells us through Paul that he values both genders as unique image-bearers. "For there is neither male or female, for you are all one in Christ" (Gal 3:28). We are all valuable priests, living sacrifices, ministers and fellow-witnesses of Jesus.


Philip said...

This was helpful. I didn't see too much of a problem with the passage before, but your insights helped make better sense of it.

I have grown to the understanding that the struggle women usually have with Scripture and its seemingly hostile attitude towards feminity is not a struggle for just women. Its a human struggle in my opinion. For me, the bigger question is if God created us equally why doesn't he show more clearly? That is a question both all humans can ask with frustration.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

I'm glad this discussion helped! I could not agree more that the trouble women have owning their femininity is the same trouble men have owning their masculinity, it's just we must own different things. I believe both genders feel more homelessness as to what it means to
be faithful to God in their gender than we like to admit.

As far as that bigger question, "Why isn't God more clear about his equality for men and women?" I have a question I'd like to ask you...Do you find God ever as clear as we want about any of the essentials of our faith? I mean everything from the atonement to the Trinity is something we grow into, we must always plumb deeper and wider. In fact most "clear" ideas we feel we have in Scripture are never quite as clear as we like, not eternal security, not predestination, not men and women's roles, not slavery, not divorce, not the Godhead, not the incarnation. I'm not so surprised that God doesn't lay out a treatise of the equality of females and males when I see he never lays out any clear treatises, ever.

Scripture is about the story we get to witness and then we draw out the "clear" concepts. Perhaps clarity is not the best goal, rather some sure words, some tangible ways to walk into His story in our lives. Where does he want us, today, to value one another like he values us?

But I do know what you mean... I hunger for more clarity, too, in all these areas. This is why I am a Christ follower

Philip said...

I agree with you that clarity is not exactly what the point is. I just meant to show that this struggle can eat away at every soul, masculine or feminine. The question was not meant to be answered necessarily. I guess I was speaking more rhetorically than actually asking a question.

Mauz said...

I read with much interest all of your comments regarding this passage. As a woman, who firmly believes that God does not favor men over women, I have, also, had a hard time with this particular scripture, amongst many others, so your insights were extremely helpful to me.

However, I am still a little bewildered about one aspect of the passage in light of what I have learned from you all. If, as most have agreed on here, that the difference in monetary values between men and women were as a result of how much work they were permitted to perform at the time, then why the discrepancy in value between male and female infants?

Verse 6 says that the valuation of a male aged between 3 months and 5 years was 5 shekels and a female of the same age only 3 shekels. I would have thought that there surely wouldn't be any differentiation between what males and females could offer at such a young age. Any thoughts?

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...


A great question. Two thoughts
1- The value for the children 3months-5 years wasn't just for the age but for what they'd contribute as they grew. So sort of like investment in their growth. Like buying a bunch of seeds, they look small, but they'll grow

2- Actually a once they could walk a 2-5 year old could do quite a bit. We know Samuel's mother dedicated to him at weaning, which was probably no later than 3 years old. Once a kid has teeth he probably was encouraged to eat food.
I Samuel 1:24 says "After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh." Later it says "the boy ministered before the LORD under Eli the priest." So it seems that even young children could help quite a bit (possibly as young as 3 years). I know in ancient times (pre-1850's) children were believed to be responsible and capable enough to be full-time child caretakers for infants by the time they reached age 6. I believe children were believed to be more useful at younger ages (perhaps because life expectancy was so much shorter).

Hope this helps!