There are many misinformed and foolish people who say the Bible is misogynistic. They characterize God as a woman-hating male supreme being that wants to put women down and keep them in their place (barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen?). In their culturally deluded thinking, they believe that what they imagine is the situation today was the same at the time of ancient Israel. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The culture depicted in Scripture was a product of the times. The pagan nations surrounding Israel had immense influence. We see this in many ways throughout the Bible. For instance, the Abrahamic Covenant that Yahweh made with Israel was patterned after a Mesopotamian Suzerain Vassal Treaty. Such a covenant had a greater party and a lesser party who came to terms. In this case the greater party was Yahweh – the Suzerain – and the lesser party was Israel – the Vassal. The suzerain would provide certain benefits such as protection and land rights, while the vassal would be the debtor and owe its master loyalty and financial tribute. Yahweh and Israel had such a relationship.
That kind of covenant is foreign to us; we are more familiar with agreements in which both parties are more or less equals, such as in a contract to purchase a house.
In order to understand much of what happens in the Bible, we simply cannot look at it through the lens of what we know today. Our culture is not what the culture was in the Ancient Near East (ANE). With that in mind, how women were seen and generally treated in Scripture was how things were back then.
However, just like with the issue of slavery, which is another sticking point with people who don’t understand this concept of now-then cultural differences, simply because this was the way things were didn’t mean that God was satisfied with or promoted them. Yahweh worked within the system and changed it from the inside out. (Come to think of it, that’s how God works in our hearts and lives to transform us!) Slavery was a fact of the cultural milieu. God gradually showed there was a better way. In time, His people promoted His love to demonstrate the value of human worth. That came from God’s people and from within the church. It was the church of Jesus Christ that brought about the end of slavery.
ANE society had a lesser view of women. They were often valued at half the price of a man, or worse. The people of Israel didn’t know any better until God started changing the terms of the game. Yes, the Bible depicts a male dominated society, but consider what happened when the Israelites were about to finally cross the Jordan River to take possession of the land that God had promised them.
God declared that each tribe would have its portion of land based on the size of the tribe (Numbers 26:54). They took a census, and the men leading each tribe were listed along with its number of people. Then an anomaly occurred.
The four daughters of Zelophehad came to Moses with a request. Their father hadn’t had any sons to whom the land could be apportioned. They would be left out and the name of their father forgotten if something wasn’t done. They said in Numbers 27:4:
“Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”
Would an unjust, misogynistic deity pay any attention to such an appeal? Of course not. Moses brought their case before Yahweh who agreed with them. He said in Numbers 27:7:
“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.”
In fact, seeing the justness of this situation, God went further and made the outcome of their case a statute. In the next verse, Numbers 27:8, God says:
“And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter.”
From this incident, we understand that God has nothing against women. They are His children, daughters of the Most High, and are as much heirs to the throne of Heaven as are men who are His sons.
God values all humanity. He made us for a purpose – men and women. He made us different so as to accomplish His purposes, but the message of these first feminists is that God values each and every one of us and showers each of us with His lovingkindness.