Parashat Matot – Wives Submit, Husbands Sacrifice

Posted by on Jul 21, 2017 in Teachings
Parashat Matot – Wives Submit, Husbands Sacrifice

This week’s Parashat, a double portion of Matot-Masei, covers a variety of issues in conclusion of the book of Numbers. We see here Moses’ last battle against Midian/Moab, the settling of the 3 ½ tribes on the east of the Jordan (so much for the west bank), a summary of Beni-Israel’s entire wilderness journey, the borders of Israel and the establishment of the cities of Levi. However last week we opened a discussion of the value and position of women, and this week continues a similar discussion in the opening and closing chapters.

[Read Numbers 30:1-16]

Firstly we see that the chapter is about not making rash vows, and that women were allowed to make vows, “a step of great significance”[1] especially considering the historical time it was made. This shows that women were considered equal, and that the contractual agreements and vows to Adonai were just as binding as those of a man. This is shown especially when we compare vs. 2 and vs. 9. But as we see from vs. 16, the real focus of the chapter is the relationship between “a man and his wife, as well as between a father and his young daughter still living in his house.”[2]

(Vs. 3-5) This law covered unmarried women who were still under the protection of their father, and we can assume that this rule is here for the protection of women. We know from a historical study, that the women were often times left defenceless and were not treated with equality. I also notice that it states (vs. 5) that “Adonai will forgive her because her father has forbidden her.” This gives her more protection than that given to a man or independent woman in vs. 2 and 9.

(Vs. 6-8, 10-15) In the next few verses, a woman has entered into an obligation prior to being married, and after being married the new husband is in disagreement with that obligation. Here the husband can nullify the vow, but only when he initially hears it. This actually will come up again later. A passivity of the husband to not respond immediately is considered as consent. This should actually bring to mind another Biblical account of another man who, by his passivity, agreed with his wife in the direction she was taking. Do you know the story? The story of Eve being deceived is also the story of Adam being passively silent. Genesis 3:6 puts it this way, “Now the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a thing of lust for the eyes, and that the tree was desirable for imparting wisdom. So she took of its fruit and she ate.” Does anyone know the rest of the verse? “She also gave to her husband who was with her and he ate.” Adam, by his silence, wilfully sins against Adonai. Sha’ul attributes the sin and associated death in this world to Adam, not Eve, when he says, “So then, just as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, in the same way death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) This concept of silent assent is continued in the next few verses (Vs.10-15) between a married man and woman. This concludes with the statement that if a man does not respond immediately, but then changes his mind about his wife’s vow later, then he will be responsible before Adonai. In all of this the married woman, and the unmarried woman still at home, have an extra layer of protection.

What about in Yeshua’s day? Sue Bohlin, in her article titled “Christianity: The best thing that ever happened to women” says the following:

In ancient Greece, a respectable woman was not allowed to leave the house unless she was accompanied by a trustworthy male escort. A wife was not permitted to eat or interact with male guests in her husband’s home; she had to retire to her woman’s quarters. Men kept their wives under lock and key, and women had the social status of a slave. Girls were not allowed to go to school, and when they grew up they were not allowed to speak in public. Women were considered inferior to men. The Greek poets equated women with evil. Remember Pandora and her box? Woman was responsible for unleashing evil on the world.

The status of Roman women was also very low. Roman law placed a wife under the absolute control of her husband, who had ownership of her and all her possessions. He could divorce her if she went out in public without a veil. A husband had the power of life and death over his wife, just as he did his children. As with the Greeks, women were not allowed to speak in public.

Jewish women, as well, were barred from public speaking. The oral law prohibited women from reading the Torah out loud. Synagogue worship was segregated, with women never allowed to be heard.[3]

So if this was the culture into which Yeshua and his Talmidim were born, how did they act? Did they follow this same culture, or did they come against it? Last week we covered several examples of how Yeshua broke with the socio-religious protocols to include women as talmidim, to engage directly with women in conversation, and even with his first post-resurrection revelation of himself to two women, thus elevating the testimony of a woman. This week we will cover two passages of the Talmidim that deal with the honouring, respecting and elevation of women.

[Ephesians 5:21-33]

This passages starts out with addressing both men and women, and requiring that we submit to one another as a demonstration of our reverence of Messiah Yeshua. The next thing that we notice is that usually only the verses about women are ever quoted, and there are only 3 verses that pertain to wives; whereas there are 9 verses that pertain to husbands. This should be an indication of where the problem lies. Here Sha’ul says that the wives should submit to their own husbands. We notice that the context is limited only to the marital relationship and not to the congregation in general. And while the husband is called the “head” this in no way allows for “individualism or independence, or an attitude of superiority or ‘lording it over’ others.”[4] And just in case there was any ambiguity, Sha’ul compares the relationship to that of the Messiah and the congregation.

(Vs. 25-33) Sha’ul then focuses on the husbands. Whereas the wives only were required to submit, the husbands were called to sacrifice their lives for their wives in the same way that Yeshua did for His community. We, as husbands, are called to love our own wives in the same way as we love our own bodies, because in loving our wives we also love ourselves. Here I would like to ask a question of all the women; if your husband loved you in this way, if your husband laid his life down for you as Messiah did for His community, how difficult would it be to submit to him?

[1 Peter 3:1-7]

The difficulty comes when the spouse does not believe and trust in Yeshua. But this does not change the requirements for the husbands and wives in these positions. Peter states that some unbelieving spouses are won over to Yeshua because of their wives pure and reverent conduct. These unbelieving husbands are won over without a word, but simply by observing their believing wives.

(Vs. 3-5) Peter goes on to describe what this pure reverent conduct looks like. The beauty of the inner person is so much greater than the external visage, and is the “unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.”

(Vs 7) Peter also does not only address wives, but he goes on to speak directly to husbands. Peter states that women are “equal heirs of the grace of life. This means that women inherit the eternal riches that Yeshua has provided. And if we as husbands do not respect and honour our wives, we are warned that our prayers will not be answered. On judgement day, when I stand before my maker, I think God may look at me, turn to my wife and ask, “Did your husband’s behaviour demonstrate to you how I laid my life down for my community?”

[1] Ronald Allen, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 2, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2008. Pg. 392-396.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the Tree Of Life Version (TLV), 2014.

[3] Sue Bohlin, Christianity: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Women, Nov 2005. As Cited on 21 July 2017: https://probe.org/christianity-the-best-thing-that-ever-happened-to-women/

[4] William Kline, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 12, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2006. Pg. 147.

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