Liberative and Oppressive Elements

Our foregoing analysis of the Bible has exposed the basic truth that the Bible and its interpretations exemplify both a divine and a human element regarding women. The liberative elements in the Bible regarding women stem from the divine viewpoint, the oppressive ones from the human perspective. The latter are socioculturally conditioned and, in the last analysis, sinful.

The liberative elements highlight the woman’s equality with the man, her being made conjointly with him in the image and likeness of God, of equal dignity and honour, and her being given the special advantage, akin to God’s, of bearing, mothering, as well as fostering life. The oppressive and sinful elements, on the contrary, depict her as an inferior being, subjected to the man, having no identity of her own, and eventually the cause of sin and death. All through the Bible, we meet side by side the divinely liberative plus the humanly oppressive elements regarding women.

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On the liberative side, women serve throughout the Bible as God’s co-workers and agents of life. In other words, God did not just create the woman to be the mother of all the living and leave her at that. To a certain extent, in keeping with his distinctive gift to woman of motherhood, God consistently involved women in the divine activity of giving, preserving, and redeeming life. A few instances will suffice; first Rebekah. We are all familiar with the story of how Rebekah assisted Jacob to steal the paternal blessing from Isaac (Gen. 27:1-29, 41-28:5).

Seen from the twentieth-century viewpoint, her action is not to be condoned, however in the moral code of the time, she would be praised for her ingenuity, which parallels that of Abraham in Egypt when he gives out Sara, his wife, to be his sister therefore brings disaster on innocent Egyptians (Gen. 12:10-29). In Rebekah’s case, her ingenuity was not directed toward her personal gain. Even before the children were born, God had taken her, not Isaac, into his confidence by revealing to her the destiny of the two children in her womb (Gen. 25:23).

When, thus, Rebekah secures the paternal blessing for Jacob in place of Esau, she is cooperating with God in her own way to bring about the understanding of the divine plan. In this she compares well with those Israelites who, from our viewpoint, abused other people so as to enhance their divine election. Not merely did Rebekah secure Isaac’s blessing for Jacob; she as well saved him from Esau’s destroying anger by sending him to his uncle, Laban, where he won wives from among his own kindred and abundant wealth, both significant considerations in those days. (Conrad Hyers, 1984).

Just as Rebekah served as God’s instrument at an important moment in Israel’s history, so did the women at the time of Moses, in a vital stage of Israel’s history, namely, the exodus. This group of women worked concertedly with God in preserving both the life of Israel as a nation and of Moses as God’s instrument of liberation for the nation. Whereas Pharaoh and his officials are bent on eliminating Israel lest the Israelites turn out to be their enemies, the Egyptian midwives, though of Pharaoh’s own camp, refuse to obey with his orders to kill every male child of the Hebrews; consequently, Moses is kept alive at birth.

Moved as well by the maternal instinct to preserve life, Moses’ mother devises a means of hiding the child. He is eventually rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter who, unlike her father, is moved with pity for this “Hebrew” boy. Moses’ sister then sees to it that the boy is brought up for Pharaoh’s daughter by the boy’s own mother. Hence through the concerted efforts of these women Moses is not merely kept alive but as well given the best education in the land. Afterwards, when he flees from Pharaoh, it is Zipporah who first provides a home for him as his wife, then saves him from God’s destroying anger due to his failure to circumcise his son.