3 “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among Korah’s followers, who banded together against the Lord, but he died for his own sin and left no sons. 4 Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.”
5 So Moses brought their case before the Lord, 6 and the Lord said to him, 7 “What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.
Over the last number of weeks the Bible Project Podcast has been working through the scroll of Numbers. It is part of a larger project that has been walking through each scroll beginning with Genesis. Much of it has been eye opening and deeply enriching. This latest podcast (episode 321, or episode 7 in the Numbers series titled Five Women and Yahweh’s New Law) has been lingering with me since I listened to it.
It raises a couple of really important questions-
- How is it that Yahweh is persuaded to change a law after hearing the case of these women
- What is the significance of this law being changed in light of these women’s story?
Not only does Numbers get skipped over more often than not but moments like these tend to get dismissed or missed when we do engage it. How striking is it that in a heavily entrenched patriarchal society that these five women were brave enough to speak up and invite change in a system that otherwise ensured that they had no voice and no rights. Their legacy is present in this text because they sought social reform and challenged what, to them and for them, was an oppressive system.
As host Tim Mackie puts it,
“Why should our branch of the family tree be cut off from the Eden land just because we’re women?” That’s their argument … What you have is this group of daughters who are bringing to Moses and Yahweh this fact that there’s a gap in the laws of the Torah. There’s this scenario that the laws don’t address, and the laws as currently stated will lead to what they believe is injustice … When these daughters bring their case, God says they are right … Within the logic of the Torah, these daughters are to be seen as appealing to God’s core original heartbeat for the partnership of men and women over the land … If this generation is like a new Adam and Eve, there is no coincidence that you have here a story about women saying, “We can possess and have responsibility over the land too.”
Beyond this striking fact that we find buried in the text, we also gain a greater sense of how these laws or regulating rules worked in the early formation of Israel as a nation. In scripture we find three main uses of the Law- ritualistic (circumcision), formative (Torah), and functional (the letter of the law, or regulations). Regulating rules surface as the people attempt to figure out how to live as the people of God in their world, but these rules are always subservient to the Torah, the source of life and knowledge. The ritualistic form of the Law is what bound one to the Torah from which they then engaged the word around them by way of the functional.
It’s worth noting that in the NT the primary use of the word Law, or the related word “works” is the ritualistic form, followed by the formative form (often taken together). The least referenced is the functional. Why? Because the function of the law always sits in relationship to its source where it can be formed, challenged, shaped, ect in relationship. This is how Israel saw its relationship to God. This notion of a God who revealed Gods true “name”, a God who came down the mountain to dwell with creation, exists in relationship to the created world, and as such the name of God becomes the very embodiment of Torah, which is life and knowledge/wisdom (the two trees in the garden) rooted in love. This is what sets us in relationship to the world around us as well, shaping laws according to the needs and concerns of the lowly and the oppressed and the marginalized ect.. This is the movement of the Torah shaped as it is by the larger story of God’s name revealed (and being revealed) in and for the whole of creation, condemning the oppressors and raising up voices for the oppressed. Here those voices were five courageous women who staked a claim in a revolutionary movement which reformed the way the women’s voice was seen and heard in the ancient world. And don’t miss this important note- god invites our challenges, invites us to make our case based on what we know about God’s true name, when we see something not right with the system.