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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why I thanked God for a sexist Old-Testament law

I was recently reading Numbers 30:
Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: “This is what the Lord commands: When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.
“When a young woman still living in her father’s house makes a vow to the Lord or obligates herself by a pledge and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the Lord will release her because her father has forbidden her.
...
“Any vow or obligation taken by a widow or divorced woman will be binding on her.
“If a woman living with her husband makes a vow or obligates herself by a pledge under oath and her husband hears about it but says nothing to her and does not forbid her, then all her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand. But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the Lord will release her. Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself. But if her husband says nothing to her about it from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or the pledges binding on her. He confirms them by saying nothing to her when he hears about them. If, however, he nullifies them some time after he hears about them, then he is responsible for her guilt.”

To recap: If a man makes a vow to God, he must keep his vow. If a woman makes a vow, then her husband/father has a chance to veto it.

This is sexist. 

It's sexist, and there's no room for argument on that. I'm just calling it like I see it. It is sexist.

And the lack of symmetry between men and women (especially between a husband and wife) in this law is totally not acceptable.

So what's the deal? Because I believe in a God who made both men and women in his image and is, you know, not sexist. 

Let's keep in mind, when studying the bible, one of the most important things is to be aware of the context. What was the culture like, when this was written? As far as I can tell, most ancient cultures were blatantly sexist/misogynistic, thinking of women as property who had no rights. And when we read passages in the bible with disturbing discrimination against women, we need to keep in mind that it was written to people who had never questioned the idea that women were inferior. And the laws that God gave often challenged the prejudices and pushed closer to equality.

So let's reexamine Numbers 30, to see if there's anything that looks like a push towards equality.

Aha! Yes! The man only gets 1 chance to cancel a woman's vow. If he knows she made this vow to God, and then 4 months later he tries to veto it, well I'm sorry, you missed your chance. The husband does not have unlimited authority over his wife.

If the man doesn't say anything about her vow, then she's responsible for keeping it. God sees her as an independent person, worshiping him by keeping her vow, and no man has the ability to swoop in at any time and change the rules. 

Do you think Moses et al thought that was weird? To tell the men, yes you have authority over your daughter or wife, but it only extends THIS FAR. If you confirm her vow by not saying anything about it, then you no longer have the right to tell her not to do it.

And I thank my God for giving women some independence and dignity in the midst of a horribly sexist culture. 

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