Leviticus 12

 

 

            UNCLEANNESS DERIVED FROM CHILDBIRTH (vs. 1-8)

 

As there is a natural disgust felt for some kinds of food, which serves as a foundation for

the precepts of the last chapter, so there is an instinct which regards some of the

concomitants of childbirth, and some diseases, as foul and defiling. In accordance with

these instincts, purifying rites are commanded for the restoration of those affected to

ceremonial cleanness.  These instincts and consequent regulations respecting women in

childbirth are found in very many different nations. “The Hindu law pronounced the

mother of a newborn child to be impure for forty days, required the father to bathe as

soon as the birth had taken place, and debarred the whole family for a period from

religious rites, while they were ‘to confine themselves to an inward remembrance of the

Deity;’ in a Brahmin family this rule extended to all relations within the fourth degree, for

ten days, at the end of which they had to bathe. According to the Parsee law, the

mother and child were bathed, and the mother had to live in seclusion for forty days,

after which she had to undergo other purifying rites. The Arabs are said by Burekhardt

to regard the mother as unclean for forty days. The ancient Greeks suffered neither

childbirth nor death to take place within consecrated places; both mother and child

were bathed, and the mother was not allowed to approach an altar for forty days.

The term of forty days, it is evident, was generally regarded as a critical one for both the

mother and the child. The day on which the Romans gave the name to the child — the

eighth day for a girl, and the ninth for a boy — was called lustrieus dies, ‘the day of

purification,’ because certain lustral rites in behalf of the child were performed on the

occasion, and some sort of offering was made. The amphidromia of the Greeks was a

similar lustration for the child, when the name was given, probably between the

seventh and tenth days” (Clark).

 

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,  2 Speak unto the children of Israel,

saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be

unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity

shall she be unclean.  3 And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be

circumcised.  4 And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and

thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until

the days of her purifying be fulfilled.” - “When in a state of impurity, the Hebrews

were forbidden to enter the sanctuary, to keep the Passover, and to partake of holy food,

whether of sacrificial meat, of sacred offerings and gifts, or of shew-bread, because the

clean only were fit to approach the holy God and all that appertains to Him (chps.7:19-21;

22:3; Numbers 9:6; 18:11; I Samuel 21:5).  5 But if she bear a maid child, then

she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in

the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.” - The reason why the duration

of the mother’s uncleanness is twice as long at a girl’s birth as at a boy’s, would appear to

be that the uncleanness attached to the child as well as to the mother, but as the boy was

placed in a state of ceremonial purity at once by the act of circumcision, which took

place on the eighth day, he thereupon ceased to be unclean, and the mother’s

uncleanness alone remained; whereas in the case of a girl, both mother and child were

unclean during the period that the former was “in the blood of her purifying,” and

therefore that period had to be doubly long. See Luke 2:22, where the right reading is,

“When the days of their purification, according to the Law of Moses, were

accomplished.” For eight days the infant Saviour submitted to legal uncleanness in

fulfilling all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), and therefore the whole forty days

were spoken of as “the days of their purification.”  6 And when the days of her

purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the

first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin

offering” – Two things are noticeable here: first, that the burnt offering, symbolizing

self-devotion, is far more costly and important than the sin offering, which had

not to be offered for any individual personal sin, but only for human sin, “which had

 been indirectly manifested in her bodily condition” (Keil); and secondly, that in this

one case the sin offering appears to succeed the burnt offering instead of preceding it.

No doubt the changed order is owing to the cause just mentioned; the idea of sin,

though it may not be altogether put aside (Genesis 3:16), is not to be prominent, as

though it were peculiar to the special woman who was purified - unto the door of the

tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:  7 Who shall offer it before the

LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue

of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.  8 And if

she be not able to bring a lamb” - A concession is made to poverty, which in later

times appears to have been largely acted on. It was, as we know, taken advantage of

by the mother of our Lord (Luke 2:24) -  “then she shall bring two turtles, or two

young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering:

and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”

 

 

                                                Born in Sin

 

Generation, conception, and birth, not having anything sinful necessarily connected

with them, the sin offering in this case is rather an intimation of original sin than an

atonement for actual sin; the “sorrow” attached to childbirth being especially

connected with the fall of man as a result of Eve’s share in bringing it about

(Genesis 3:16). There is nothing in the Bible to countenance ascetic or Manichaean views

of marriage intercourse. “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled:  but

whoremongers and adulterers GOD WILL JUDGE”(Hebrews 13:4) - Where

any prohibitory injunctions are given on thesubject, the purpose is to avoid ceremonial,

not moral, uncleanness (ch.15:18; Exodus 19:15; I Samuel 21:4).

 

  • LET US START WITH THE PHYSICAL FACT THAT NATURE

            HAS ASSOCIATED WITH CHILDBIRTH A SENSE ON THE

            MOTHER’S PART OF PERSONAL UNCLEANNESS. The “issue of her

            blood(v. 7) stamps the physical process with defilement. No mother

            can avoid this sense of personal uncleanness, not even the blessed Virgin

            (Luke 2:22-24). Upon the fact it is needless to dwell.

 

  • THE MORAL COUNTERPART TO THIS IS THE FACT THAT SIN

            IS TRANSMITTED BY ORDINARY GENERATION. As David puts it

            in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my

            mother conceive me.” From generation to generation is the legacy of evil

            transmitted. Hereditary sin must be recognized as a much wider

            phenomenon than “hereditary genius.” The law of heredity must be

            accepted as at the bottom of human experience, if the mother, in spite of all

            her fondness for her babe, finds that she has transmitted sinful qualities; if

            this is the universal experience in ordinary generation, then the sense of

            uncleanness, physically induced, contracts a moral significance.

 

  • THERE IS AT THE SAME TIME A SENSE OF JOY AND

            TRIUMPH ASSOCIATED WITH THE BIRTH OF CHILDREN. If there

            is an element of sorrow and of judgment, as God indicates by his utterance

            at the Fall (Genesis 3:16), there is also an element of triumph, caught

            from the “protevangelium,” which speaks of victory through the woman’s

            seed (Genesis 3:15). Our Lord even speaks of it as an appropriate

            figure of the coming apostolic joy: “A woman when she is in travail hath

            sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the

            child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born

            into the world” (John 16:21). The sorrow is the preliminary of joy, the joy

            is its crown.

 

  • THE TWO ELEMENTS OF JOY AND JUDGMENT HAD THEIR

            EXPRESSION IN THE BURNT AND SIN OFFERING THE MOTHER

            WAS DIRECTED TO PRESENT TO THE LORD. The ritual is the same

            whether it be a son or a daughter. The difference in the time of separation

            was due to a supposed physical fact that “a female child causes the mother

            more labour and a longer illness. This belief,” continues Ewald, “(even

            though it may have little ground in fact), was itself caused by the well

            known primitive disfavour with which the birth of a girl was regarded.”

            No moral significance is to be attached, therefore, to the difference in the

            duration of the mother’s separation. But at the end of either period there is

            to be brought a burnt offering and a sin offering. The burnt offering is to

            be, if the mother can afford it, “a lamb of the first year,” while the sin

            offering is only to be “a young pigeon” or a “turtledove.” It is evident,

            therefore, that, while a poor mother might bring as her burnt offering a

            turtledove or “young pigeon,” the ritual attaches emphasis to the burnt

            offering rather than to the sin offering. It has even been supposed that the

            burnt offering took precedence in the order of time in this particular

            instance. At all events, the joy of consecration, which the burnt offering

            expresses, is more emphatic in this ritual than the atonement for

            unavoidable defilement, which is expressed by the sin offering. The

            undertone of judgment is certainly discernible, but high above it sound the

            notes of grateful, holy joy. The mother rejoiced that, though unavoidably

            unclean in her child-bearing, the Lord had put away her uncleanness, and

            she was ready to dedicate herself and her child unto the Lord in the rite of

            the burnt offering.

 

  • THIS RITUAL RECEIVES PECULIAR EMPHASIS FROM ITS

            CELEBRATION BY THE ‘VIRGIN’ MOTHER. Mary had the usual

            physical concomitants in the birth of Jesus, we have every reason to

            believe, the termination of which this ritual of purification was intended to

            celebrate. The sense of uncleanness was manifestly hers, since she enters

            upon the ritual as no exception to the general rule and law. Not only so,

            but Luke boldly states, “when the days of their purification, according to

            the Law of Moses, were fulfilled” (tou~ kaqarismou~ aujtw~n, not aujth~v),

            including Jesus along with Mary, for Oosterzee’s notion that it is Joseph

            and Mary, not Jesus and Mary, will not satisfy the case. In what sense,

            then, was Jesus associated with his mother in a ritual of purification? It is

            certain that there was not transmitted to Jesus any sinful disposition or

            qualities, as in ordinary generation. His whole life belied this idea. He was

            holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” – (Hebrews 7:26)

            But this does not prevent the idea being accepted that there was transmitted in

            His extraordinary generation responsibility for human sin. In other words,

            Jesus Christ was born with a liability on account of the sins of others.

            Having entered into the human family, having condescended to be born, He

            became liable for the responsibilities and debts of the human family, and the

            ritual so regarded Him. Not only so, but our Lord had entered upon His

            bloody passion” when at eight days old he had passed through the painful

            operation of circumcision. The rites in the temple thirty-three days after

            only expressed in legal form the liability on account of human sin upon

            which he had already entered. But if the atonement of the sin offering has

            thus a distinctive meaning in this exceptional case, the burnt offering had

            also its fulfillment. Mary dedicated, not only herself, but her Son,

            according to the Law of the Lord, “Every male that openeth the womb

            shall be called holy to the Lord.” Simeon and Anna recognized in the infant

            the dedicated Messiah. (Luke 2:25-38) - Thus did Mary, as mother of Jesus,

            fulfill all righteousness.

 

  • WE ARE SURELY TAUGHT HERE THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE

            THAT IT IS THROUGH SORROW AND HUMILIATION THAT

            TRIUMPH IS REACHED. The hope of a triumphant woman’s seed

            sustained Jewish mothers in their sorrow. They looked for salvation

            through child-bearing, according to the idea of the apostle (I Timothy

            2:15). God’s meaning was through the child-bearing (dia< th~v

          teknogoni>av), that is, the motherhood of the Virgin. Yet the hope

            sustained multitudes of mothers in their agonies. At length the Conqueror

            of the devil appeared. He came as an infant, and braved the dangers of

            development, and became “the Man of sorrows and acquainted with

            grief (Isaiah 53:3) and passed through death to victory. To the same law

            we must constantly conform. Humiliation is the price of exaltation in the

            case of Jesus and of all His people. The apostles had their season of sorrow in  

            connection with Christ’s crucifixion, and so sore it was that our Lord does not  

            hesitate to compare it to a woman’s travail; but at Pentecost they got the joy

            and exhilaration which compensated for all. The law of the kingdom is that we   

            enter it through much tribulation. (Acts 14:22) - “He that humbleth himself   

            shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11). When we humble ourselves under a sense of

            sin, when we humble ourselves under a sense of unprofitableness, then are we   

            treading the path which leads to power and triumph.

 

 

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