Moses brought their case before the Lord. (Bemidbar/Numbers 27:5; ESV)
I am continually struck by the practical insight God gives us through his Word. When we read “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalms/Tehillim 119:105; ESV), this is not saying that the Bible enlightens us on what might be considered as spiritual issues alone. The Scriptures illuminate every area of life, from the understanding of God and how to properly relate to him to social issues, both personal and communal.
This week’s parasha (weekly Torah reading portion) includes an interesting incident between four orphaned daughters and Moses. Before getting into the issue they brought to him, notice that there is no comment in the text about these females’ (I don’t know how old they were) approaching Moses directly. I get the impression that many people think that women and girls in ancient Jewish society had no social standing. Obviously this is not the case. I am not claiming there was no inequity between men and women back then. It’s that I think women were much more highly regarded than how some historical revisionists would have us believe.
Be that as it may, these particular females brought a legal issue to Moses. They were concerned that based on what God had commanded regarding inheritances, since their father died and had no sons, only daughters, their family would lose their right to their ancestral land. They weren’t simply looking for confirmation of their understanding of what God had said; they felt that the policy as stated was unjust. That their understanding of the existing policy was correct is clear from Moses’ lack of response to them. They rightly interpreted the God-given principle. Yet they didn’t accept it as is. But notice that Moses didn’t simply reiterate the rule and send them on their way. Instead he took their concern to God, who agreed with the daughters and provided an addendum to the policy—a policy that he himself had established. Think about this! God’s word was clear, yet both he and Moses had no issue with the daughters’ expressed concern. Not only that; God adjusted the policy accordingly.
What can we derive from this? First, I already mentioned the place of women before God may not have been what many have assumed it was. Their access to both the community’s leader and to God himself demonstrates the place and value of women at the time. Second, God’s word is not static. That’s not to say that it is unclear, since likely nothing would have happened if the policy wasn’t clear. Neither is this to say that God is fickle as if he made a rule and then changed it as soon as new details arose. God didn’t change the rule; he expanded on it based on an exceptional circumstance. We discover how the dynamic nature of God’s word is broad enough to deal with a great variety of situations. Third, God and his appointed leader were approachable. Moses knew God would be happy to hear and to address the concern of his people. Finally, we see here an example of what happens when people appropriately express their concerns. The Torah is filled with bad examples of complainers and whiners, whose grumbling was destructive. Regrettably, some people wrongly conclude from such passages that genuinely spiritual people keep their concerns to themselves. However, often those concerns emerge anyway through the complaining we strive to avoid. The lesson to be learned here is that we need to express our concerns in a way that pleases God and results in constructive outcomes.
God welcomes our pleas for justice. He wants his children to come to him with their concerns. Congregational leaders would do well to follow Moses’ example. Listen to your people and bring their concerns before God. Hear what he has to say, and do what is right unto them.
Too many New Covenant (New Testament) believers have wrongly used Paul’s words regarding the avoidance of lawsuits (see 1 Corinthians 6:1-8). He was dealing with a highly dysfunctional, self-centered community when he told them it was better for them to be defrauded than to sue each other. He wasn’t saying that every unjust action between people should go unchecked. Listening intently to people’s legitimate concerns and making fair determinations are essential to healthy, thriving community. God didn’t turn the daughters away. Neither should we.