Reading through the Bible together

Sunday, September 16, 2012

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A big part of life is making sure we ask the right questions. Otherwise the conclusions we reach may not truly solve the real issues at stake. What is the real issue behind the questions being asked in Numbers 36 and earlier in Numbers 27? In Numbers 27, five sisters, descendants of Joseph, come before Moses and the community to discuss an issue of land ownership. What happens to a man’s land when he dies and leaves no male heirs; shouldn’t his daughters inherit what rightfully belongs to the family? Moses refers the question to God who answers that they should. The principle was the maintenance of land ownership.

 

However, in chapter 36 the issue becomes at bit more complicated. Most likely one or more of these five daughters, who had become a landowner as a result of the decision in chapter 27, talked about their desire to get married. And one of them probably had her eye on a certain lad from another tribe, because the leaders of Manasseh come to Moses with the issue at stake. If the daughters who are now landowners decide to marry someone outside our tribe, will the tribe’s property be reduced?

 

Again Moses seeks God’s counsel. The answer given is that women owning land can marry anyone they desire, as long as they marry a man within their own tribe. Freedom of choice always comes with conditions. Possessions also come with conditions. The questions raised in these chapters deal with a fundamental issue about individual rights. Are the rights of an individual ever to be determined by race, color, or gender? And how far do individual rights go? Is individual freedom limitless? In heaven one of Satan’s accusations against God was that God was unfair in his dealings. Satan desired unlimited freedom and felt restricted by God’s law of love. Sinners will always feel that God’s attitude and methods are restrictive, because selfishness is never satisfied. (see DA 761-­764).

 

God’s instruction in Numbers 27 indicated that women should have the right to own property - which, if you think about it in the cultural context of that day, might have seemed a rather radical position in their male-dominated society. But God’s answer in Numbers 36 is one that limits individual rights in favor of the tribe’s rights. Freedom has limits, and land ownership has conditions. Throughout eternity there will always be limits and conditions. The law of cause and effect will not suddenly disappear at the second coming. Now, what would happen if we bring this story into a church setting? Even theological interpretation can be influenced by the enculturation process and by local cultural norms. In certain parts of our world, women (even races) are viewed on a different level and their leadership role in that culture is not welcome. Inequality in our world is never right, but on a sin-infected planet inequality unfortunately happens. In Numbers 36, the solution for Moses was that a woman with property must remain and marry within her tribe so as not to upset the balance. So the question for our day becomes: Shouldn’t our denomination maintain policies in such a way as to not upset the cultural balance between divisions, unions and conferences?

 

Fred Knopper

Adventist Media Center