I said in Female Offerings that I might wrestle today with the theological ramifications of gendered sacrifices, particularly the issue of why the more important sacrifices had to be male.
Was the Old Testament mindset patriarchal? Yes, but the Hebrew Bible says a lot of positive things about women. Were women better off in Israel under the Torah than they were in other ancient Near Eastern societies? Not necessarily, for other countries in the ancient Near East were more egalitarian on inheritance and divorce. Plus, the Israelite religion we encounter in the Bible does not have strong female deities as do other ancient Near Eastern nations, even though there are strong women in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Deborah, the Proverbs 31 woman, etc.). And, while Jewish and Christian apologists argue that women were treated as sex objects in ancient Near Eastern fertility cults, there is debate about the existence of cultic prostitution in that region.
So I’m not sure where God is in all of this. Although Israel was more patriarchal than other ancient Near Eastern nations, maybe God was moving her in the direction of egalitarianism. The custom in Israel was for only men to inherit property, but God said that Zelophahad’s daughters could inherit, since Zelophahad didn’t have any sons (Numbers 27). That wasn’t as liberal as other ancient Near Eastern countries, some of which allowed daughters to inherit even when the father had sons. But it was more liberal than where Israel was before.
In Exodus 21, only male Hebrew slaves are released in the seventh year. In Deuteronomy 15:12, however, both men and women Hebrew slaves are released after six years of service. Exodus 23:17 states, “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord GOD” (NRSV). We see the same expression in Deuteronomy 16:16, but the chapter also mentions daughters and female slaves appearing before the LORD during his festivals. Was God, through Deuteronomy, moving Israel in an egalitarian direction?
Regarding sacrifices, God may have worked with Israel according to her patriarchal presuppositions. Perhaps he was also moving Israel beyond that mindset through other laws. I don’t know.
Could there be a practical reason that the male animals were considered more valuable? Were male animals the only ones used for agriculture, for example, since they were stronger? If so, then maybe that’s why the males were used for the more important sacrifices.