Question: Why does the Bible attach a higher value to males than females in Leviticus 27:3-4?
Actually, these two verses in Leviticus 27 have nothing to do with male – female equality. Rather, the focus is on a system of organization where the people of Israel would take turns serving as Temple assistants to the Levites. This was critical, because the Temple served not only as the worship center for the nation but also as the educational, legal, medical and judicial center.
It was expected that all families who were physically able to help with the Temple upkeep and services would do so, assisting the “paid staff” (the Levites). However, when a person could not fulfill their responsibility, the system in Leviticus 27:1-8 provided a way for the person to be excused. The absentee would make a payment to the Temple equivalent to the established monetary value of his or her services at the Temple—and the temple’s services to him or her.
As we see in verses 3-7, the monetary value for services rendered was based upon the person’s age as well as gender, the assumption being that a young person would perform the more demanding physical labor than a sixty-year old, and likewise a male would perform more demanding physical labor than the average female:
Lev. 27:5a …or a person between the ages of five and twenty, set the value of a male at twenty shekels and of a female at ten shekels…
This Temple tax was also formulated upon the number of people in a household, including very young children:
Lev. 27:6 …for a person between one month and five years, set the value of a male at five shekels of silver and that of a female at three shekels of silver…
Not only the age but also the gender, even of infants, reflected on the services the family would receive from the Temple throughout the year. The regulated fees served to protect the family against being unfairly charged by those who collected the fees. In fact, if a family was not in a position financially to come up with the required fee, the priests were authorized to adjust the amount down according to the individual’s financial ability.
Lev. 27:8 If anyone making the vow is too poor to pay the specified amount, the person being dedicated is to be presented to the priest, who will set the value according to what the one making the vow can afford.
Understanding the culture of the time helps us to understand that the Bible is actually promoting a fair and compassionate approach to engaging families in the support of their center of worship and its related institutions that provided essential community services. This practice foreshadows a new, future day:
Is. 2:3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.