Numbers 27:5-7 (ESV)
5 Moses brought their case before the Lord. 6 And the Lord said to Moses, 7 “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them.
Many times you will hear it said that the Bible subjects women to men as slaves or as personal property. I can even recall hearing that comment made by a Christian woman in a class. When I challenged her on this idea, arguing that the Bible actually freed women and valued women far more highly than did the surrounding culture, the lady responded to me with a statement that boiled down to, “Well, maybe in the New Testament it does, but the Old Testament still treated women as property.” As you might imagine, this conversation had a few more turns to take before it resolved.
In this passage in Numbers, however, we see a great example of how God showed women as far more valuable than did many of the cultures that surrounded the Israelites. Yes, in our culture, it seems foreign to think in this way, but it can help at times for us to think from the point of view of those in whose culture the statement was made. In that time and place, it was unheard of to allow women to own property. None of the Canaanite cultures around Israel would have considered such a thing. However, when Moses asked God what to do in the case of these five ladies who were the only children of their father, God said to give them their father’s inheritance and to keep the name of the family alive.
To some, this argument will prove nothing of the kindness of God or the value of women in Old Testament times, but to others, this will be a helpful passage to remember. If you are willing to think back to the time period, however, you will have to agree that God, in this passage, elevated the rights of women to a level that went far beyond the surrounding cultures. This is because God has never devalued women. God created both men and women in his image and for his glory (Gen 1:27), and he does not value one over the other.
The danger I am running now is that someone else might read this and attempt to do away with any of the biblical role distinctives between men and women. Nothing is further from my purpose. God created men and women both in his image. God also assigned men and women differing roles. Neither is more valuable, but neither should pretend that they are the same as the other. Humanity will be happiest when we realize that men and women are of equal worth, but with differing and complimentary roles to fulfill.