Every other year, I make it a point to read through the Bible. This is my “every” year and being sick has helped the cause tremendously because—even though I could no sooner stare at a page of the Bible than run a marathon—I was able to listen to Exodus and Leviticus in large portions (compliments of my free Bible app.)
The people who complain about “all the Old Testament laws” were never sick on their beds listening to someone read the US Code. Or the Code of Federal Regulations. Or the Federal Reporter. Or the Internal Revenue Code. God condensed an entire country’s laws into a book a lay person could understand between cups of chicken soup and herbal tea. That’s remarkable.
Anyway…so here’s the piece that really got me thinking this time. In fact, I dare you to chew on this:
To give it context—God sets up the year of “Jubilee” every 50 years (roughly once in each person’s lifetime). During the year of Jubilee, every debt is forgiven and every slave is freed. The year of Jubilee gave everyone a new beginning as they would be restored to their lands; reunited with their families; and given a year off while the land had rest.
As further context, if someone was selling themselves into slavery to pay off a debt, they would count the value of a person based on the number of years left between the sale and the year of Jubilee. Apparently, there was no inflation in Israel’s commodity based system, and for a man, the value was 50 shekels of silver per year; and for a woman it was 30 shekels per year.
Talk about a wage-gender gap. The value of a man age 20 and up was 1.67 times that of a woman.
I’m no feminist. In fact, all the chatter of a wage-gender gap in current culture has never ruffled my feathers.
From what I’ve read, the more reliable studies show there is no wage-gender bias.
From what little I know from life itself, if you work hard and earn your keep, people will pay you. And if they don’t, one of the beauties of this great country is that you can go work somewhere else. If no one will pay you what you think you are worth, then chances are you are not worth what you think you are worth—whether man or woman. Pretty simple.
So back to Exodus. The price of men was 50 shekels. The price of women was 30 shekels.
That’s what God said.
I chewed on that for a while. Was it because the jobs that were available—tending fields and herding flocks—were just jobs men were better suited to? Women in those rolls weren’t able to keep up and it would take 1.67 of them to do what men could do?
This explanation didn’t seem quite right. Some women can out work some men in the field. God knows that.
Besides, surely whoever was out hiring servants also needed people to cook and clean and watch kids—things that women tend to excel at. It just might take 1.67 men to do what some moms do in a day. And anyway, in our culture, we’ve done a pretty good job of convincing ourselves that those things are just as valuable even if they don’t tend to pay as well.
If anyone ever had the ability to equal out the pay and settle that debate once and for all, it would be God right at that moment. So why didn’t he?
As a second thought—was it because of the law of supply and demand? Were more women than men to be sold into slavery? Was the price lower so that women could find the security of a buyer? Men at the front of the store. Women on the clearance rack.
I thought about “Pirates of the Caribbean”—perhaps the most politically incorrect ride at Disney— portraying women being chained and sold on the auction block to drunken sailors and thieving reprobates. That just seems so outrageously inconsistent with the character of God. God is not an inebriated pirate.
So why the difference in value? Is God the sexist bigot that certain unbelievers would paint him to be? Has he changed since the days of Leviticus?
I thought about the well-quoted verse in Proverbs, Who can find a virtuous woman? Her worth is far above rubies. Apparently, that is what Solomon’s mother told him. And apparently, despite the fact that he probably had the rubies available to buy his way to the top of an eligible bachelor contest, he never found one. Or maybe he found several. We don’t really know. But at any rate, put in context, that statement appears to be some motherly advice and not an attempt to put a dollar value on a woman’s work.
Still, it just seems that there must be reasonable explanation consistent with God’s unchanging character.
And after mulling it over, I’ll tell you my conclusion. Next blog.