Reading Note – Isaiah 56 – To Daughters, Foreigners and Eunuchs

The status of women in the Bible is often a discussion topic, so I make a note of relevant points related to the issue whenever I find them.

  • Isaiah 56 begins with a common admonition: Keep Justice, Do Righteousness, Keep the Sabbath, Don’t do evil. If you got all the way to Isaiah and hadn’t figured any of those things out, you’re probably a normal human being.
  • Next comes a promise to foreigners. Not just foreign people living in Israel, but Foreigners who have “joined themselves to the Lord”; who minister to him, love his name, serve him, keep the Sabbath, and the covenant. The promise is that God will accept their worship, even in his temple.
  • “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” – Isaiah 56:7
  • Next comes the promise to Eunuchs. Those eunuchs who choose to serve God get a promise of recognition, “a name better better than sons and daughters”, “an everlasting name”.
  • This is important in light of the command in Deuteronomy 23:1, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” That God promises them “a monument and a name” “in his house and within his walls” is a curious thing, then.
  • These two promises suggests that God cares for eunuchs and foreigners, and herald a change in the temple policies (although not too explicitly). The passage is a message of hope to those who feel like outcasts.
  • Notice that the promises are made to those who keep God’s law, not those who deep down, in their hearts, care about God and maintain that only God can judge their actions. It’s a reminder that despite all our talk about being saved by grace through faith and not by works, actions are important to God. Our actions reveal the desire of our hearts. As Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Or as James more succinctly put it, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
  • Finally, the promise to eunuchs is a name better than “sons and daughters”, not better than sons. The comparison is to the value of children, not to the value of sons. As a hint about the cultural attitudes, it says that Hebrew culture at that time did value female children. In contrast to the “maybe we should drown them” attitude of some cultures.
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Numbers 5 – Reading Note – Test for an Unfaithful Wife

  • Up till this point, those who were unclean had not been sent out of the camp. God now orders them to be sent out (5:1-4).

The Test for an Unfaithful Wife

I was once asked about the test for an unfaithful wife and had no answer. That is one of the reasons why a Christian should read the Bible through – so that we can know. Reading this passage for the umpteenth time, I saw several things I didn’t see before. First, a summary

In the passage, a woman whose husband suspects her of having cheated on him but had no admissible evidence to back it up would take her to the priest who would administer a test to find out if she really had been unfaithful. The test was simple. The priest would take some water, put a little dust from the tabernacle floor into it, then make the woman swear that she had not been unfaithful and then make her drink it. If she had been unfaithful, she would become barren (or her abdomen would swell and her thigh waste away, what whatever that means). If she had not been unfaithful, she would be fine.

Why do this?

Thinking about it, I can come up with certain reasons to make a law like that. The first would be to find and punish a sin that might be hidden so that the people remained pure before God.

There was also the issue of protecting the woman. If a man thought his wife had cheated on him but could not prove it, he could still treat her badly – maltreat her, punish her or even divorce her. This test would provide a way of vindicating innocent women and finding out guilty ones – safely. I heard from a reliable source that in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1720 BC.), CH 132, women who were suspected of this type of infidelity were required to throw themselves into the Euphrates river–if they drown, they were guilty; if not, they were innocent (Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 171) and that in most cultures of this time, a man who suspected his wife of adultery could just kill her no questions asked1.

There is something to be noted about the water used for this ritual – there was nothing in it! It wasn’t some strange concoction. It was water, with a little dust from the tabernacle floor in it. This means that if anything happened to a woman after drinking it, it was not due to any ‘ingredients’ in it. She might get a slight stomach ache if she was the kind of woman who only drank natural spring water (which I doubt). It might also terrify her if she was guilty. If you are one of the secular-minded then you need not worry. On your view, no woman would have ever been convicted of adultery by this trial. For us Christians, it would mean that if the woman really was hurt, it was probably an act of God.

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1. Women in the Law of Moses

Leviticus 27 – Reading Note (and Commentary on the Worth of Women)

Permission is given in the text below the pict...
Permission is given in the text below the picture on the original site (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, I have a confession to make. I finished reading this chapter last Sunday but couldn’t write my reading note then because I had a problem – the first four verses. See, it talks about the money to be paid by people who made vows to dedicate themselves to God. Apparently, they would give the money to the priests in place of themselves. The problem – and I think it is easy to spot once you’ve read the text – is that the price for women was less than that of men (!).

Now, I don’t fancy myself a feminist, but I am pessimistic. So whenever I read the Bible, I find it very easy to spot all the things that could be wrong. Anything that suggests that women might be less valuable to God or less of human beings or persons, are red flags for me because I’ve been reading about women in the Bible for a while and can’t get the issue out of my head (and also because I know it is simply untrue). My study has not led me to think less of God, (or the Bible) – on the contrary. Yet, when I see things like that, the warning flags in my head go off. I imagine some skeptic leaning over my shoulder and saying ‘So, the Bible says that women are less valuable than men…’

Actually, the text never says that. It simply requires less money to be paid if a woman is vowed to the Lord than a man. It does not give reason for that so the skeptic’s conclusion would be unwarranted. To be prepared for such an eventuality, however, and to set my mind at rest by finding an answer to the ‘why’ question, I went to find some commentaries.

According to the two of them (and one was extremely liberal), the money paid was the equivalent price of the work the individual would have been able to perform in the sanctuary. If this work was tedious, men would be better able to perform it than women. This also explains why children and old people were to pay even less – not because they were less valuable or less of human beings or persons, but because they could do less work; a simple explanation for a simple statement.

But what a scare! Now I can get on with my life and the rest of this note:

  • Once again, God demonstrates his kindness by providing allowance for people who wanted to serve make such vows to him, but were too poor to provide the required money (27: 8).
  • I find it interesting that if an animal was vowed to God, the owner could not substitute a good one for it if it was bad. He could buy it back if it was ceremonially unclean (by paying the priests 20% more than it was worth), but he could not substitute another one for it (27: 9 – 13). By contrast, the tithe of animals given to God as tithes could not be bought back (redeemed) even if the animal was bad (27: 32, 33). I wonder what the reason for this was. Does anyone have any ideas?