Last month The Economist ran an article, “The Worldwide War on Baby Girls,” that addressed the devastating effect of “son preference” on a number of societies. The author noted that “mothers in some developing countries say they want sons, not daughters, by margins of ten to one. In China midwives charge more for delivering a son than a daughter.” It’s sad how much the world devalues girls. And sometimes such thinking even penetrates the church.
Some time back a reader responded to one of my blog posts by saying, “I notice you are in favor of defining women in a good light from a biblical standpoint. This is an issue I have difficulty with. It seems that sometimes the Bible is slanted toward men being the better sex, (such as the Levitical unleanliness of a female birth lasting longer than a male birth). But that leaves me wondering why I should be happy to be a woman at all.”
Here’s the thing. When it comes to the Levitical law about girls being unclean for twice as long as boys, many people have a similar (and fundamental) misunderstanding that damages how they view women.
The Levitical laws about being “clean” and “unclean” refer to ritual impurity, not sinfulness. Under the Law men were unclean following sexual relations, for example, yet we know God created sex, and Song of Songs tells us He even celebrates it with “Imbibe deeply, O lovers.”
The Levitical law in question relates to bodily discharges. According to our best understanding the nations around Israel used bodily fluids, semen and urine, liberally as part of their sicko worship practices. And God wanted His children to be holy, set apart and different from the nations that refused to fear Him. So He made a big deal of separating bodily fluids from worship. I think that’s why God’s tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem had an outer court for women that kept them further away from the Holy of Holies than the court for Jewish men. The set-up probably had to do with women's potential for menstruation at unexpected times. It had nothing to do with relative worth.
Likewise, the rule about girl babies vs. boy babies has nothing to do with relative worth, either. If a mom nurses her girl, sometimes the estrogen from Mom causes a clear discharge in the baby girl during the first month. Consider this from the ECureMe medical info site:
“Very young baby girls (less than three months old) often have a vaginal discharge and may sometimes develop vaginal spotting or bleeding. Both conditions are temporary and normal. These changes are caused by exposure to maternal estrogen [via breastfeeding], a hormone that crosses the placenta and enters the baby's bloodstream before birth. Because a newborn baby's body takes longer than an adult female's to remove this hormone, it remains after birth. This hormone has the effect of making a newborn's body ‘think’ that she is in puberty, and discharge and bleeding occur. As the hormone levels drop, the effects disappear.” (See http://www.ecureme.com/emyhealth/Pediatrics/Vaginal_Discharge_in_Infants.asp.)
I suspect it’s because of this potential for a discharge in the girl that the mom's time of ritual impurity was twice as long for a girl baby as for a boy, who does not have that same response to estrogen. (Ob-gyn Dr. Bill Cutrer was the first person to bring this phenomenon to my attention.)
As for passages that talk about a male’s life being worth more money than a female’s, we must also think of that in terms of insurance, not relative worth. When our family purchased insurance, we took out a larger policy on my husband than on me because we depended more on his income. That does not mean my demise would create less of a personal loss for my family or that my husband is worth more to me than I am to him.
God created woman in His image every bit as much as He created man in His image. Man by himself in the garden was the only creation that was “not good.” It took woman and man together created in the image of God to make “very good.” That has been God’s perspective since the beginning of humanity.
It’s also worth noting that when Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple that separated humans, male and female, from the innermost Holy of Holies was ripped apart. So now, because of what Jesus did, both men and women have equal access to approach boldly the throne of grace—regardless of what time of the month it is.