A long ago time ago I began to appreciate how people from different cultures express their emotions and how cultural personalities vary from nation to nation. For instance, we often think of Greeks and Italians as being demonstrative in their speech, and how some cultures are more prone to politeness than others. It was not merely from travelling that I learned this, but from the Bible.
It would seem that we in the West are prone to describe our emotions in abstract ways, while the ancient world was far more concrete. Consider for example the first poem in Scripture (Genesis 2:23) in which Adam expresses his love for Eve in very concrete terms,
This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman
Because she was taken out of Man.
The Hebrews seemed to follow this literal emotional approach.
For example, when a Hebrew felt a deep sense of emotion, it was often described by the word “reins” or “kidneys.” And so, when one was “in love” and felt all strange inside, he might express his affection with these words: “I love you with all of my stomach.” If he was a little more eloquent he might exclaim, “I love you with all of my kidneys.” The budding poet might declare, “My liver leaps for you!” It is not very romantic, to be sure, but very descriptive nonetheless.
This matter of abstract versus concrete is at the heart of Leviticus 11—15: the Ceremonial Cleanliness Manual, revealing the necessary instructions for acceptable worship.
If you were to ask an ancient Hebrew what it meant to be holy, he would—assuming he was an instructed worshipper—point you to Leviticus, and especially to this section. He would do so because of God’s revealed purpose for the Cleanliness Code:
For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
We must keep before us the principle that the Bible’s declaration of something as “unclean” is not necessarily a moral statement about its nature. As we saw previously, there is no reason to conclude that some animals were intrinsically inferior or better than others by the designations “clean” and “unclean.” In fact, the Lord Jesus made it very clear, both in Mark 7 and in Acts 10, that this is not the case. However for purposes of creating pedagogical categories, the Lord made such a designation. He was teaching His people that He is holy, and this was an effective means of doing so.
You see, the concept of holiness is transcendently magnificent and so it is hard for us to grasp what it looks like. But we can understand the difference between a barbel and a perch. We can see the difference between a pigeon and an eagle. We can tell the difference between a sheep and a swine. God was simply using things in nature to teach His people that He is different. In fact, He is so different that one must be very careful about how one approaches Him. This is the point behind all of these hygienic boundaries.
The Hebrew worshipper understood the holiness of God in concrete terms. There was little room for debate about what was acceptable to God and what was not. But, having noted this, was this the full measure of holiness? Hardly!
At best this Cleanliness Code enabled the worshipper to understand something of the wholeness of God. These laws would have helped the worshipper to realise something of the perfections of God, but they, of course, would fall short of enabling him to fully appreciate the transcendence of God. These laws would have gone a long way in stressing His immanence, but they would only be a primer to instruct them about God’s majestic and indescribable holiness. Nevertheless, the daily mundane duties of life were a fitting place to start.
When God revealed Himself as holy He was declaring that He is in fact transcendently different from anyone or anything that the Hebrews could imagine. John Currid helpfully writes with reference to the word translated “holy”: “The term in Hebrew is qadosh, and it literally means ‘to be set apart, distinct, unique.’ It simply signifies that something is ‘wholly other.’”1 In other words, God is different from the way that things are.
With this mindset, old covenant worshippers would go about their daily tasks asking “Does this conform to the way that God intends for them to be or is this abnormal?” They were to appreciate that anything that was other than the way the Wholly Other intended was unacceptable. But, of course, this was a huge undertaking. Therefore God began to teach them the realities of holiness by the schoolmaster of the Law (Galatians 3:19-24). He taught them the elements of holiness by the expectation concerning cleanliness. And He began in the home. He began, quite literally, in the kitchen and then moved to the maternity ward, which in the case of the Hebrews was the bedroom.
As we study Leviticus 12 we must keep before us the main purpose of these prescriptions: to instruct us that we are unholy sinners who need a holy Saviour. We need to learn that we are other than we should be but that the gracious God, the Wholly Other, has provided the means to set things right through another, the Lord Jesus Christ. And a mother’s sacrifice is a great place to learn this.
A Woman’s Seed
The chapter opens by speaking of the woman’s seed.
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.’”
These verses speak of male offspring, but the chapter also recognises the birth of “a female child” (12:5).
The text further speaks of “her customary impurity,” or, in simple terms, “her menstruation” (ESV). Leviticus 15:19-30 sheds further light on “the days of her customary impurity.”
A Woman’s Vulnerability
When God established Eden as the dwelling place for humanity He also gave the wonderful command to be fruitful and to multiply and to replenish the earth. Children are a gift of God and are deemed to be a blessing (Psalm 127; 128; etc.).
It is a wonderful and unique joy to hold a newborn baby. What a thrill to see a married couple become new parents. But when a woman becomes a mother, not only is there great joy—for it is a profound privilege not to be taken for granted—there is also a great sense of responsibility. There is much that is sacrificed. And this law—this birth day boundary—gives us some insight into this matter.
So why, if children are such a blessing, was a woman required to undergo a prolonged time of ritual purification after childbirth before she could be admitted to the sanctuary? Currid answers, “There is nothing wrong or immoral about giving birth. The problem here is that the woman’s bodily discharge of blood makes her unclean.” As [Mary] Douglas points out, ‘All bodily discharges are defiling and disqualify from approach to the tabernacle.’”2
Blood is taboo. And losing blood is a sign of not being whole or complete. If one sheds blood, he is imperfect and thus unclean.2 Wenham adds his voice: “There is no mention of the baby being unclean, but it is the discharge (lochia) that follows childbirth that make the woman unclean.”4
You will note that cleanliness laws address situations that are natural. That is, each of these cases involves a condition that is, for the most part, beyond the responsibility of the individual. After all, a shark is not responsible for being born without scales and a camel can’t decide the design of its feet. A house cannot control the onslaught of mildew and a person with psoriasis is not responsible for that condition. These are natural phenomena which exist in our world. Neither can a woman be responsible for the build-up of fluids that will be secreted after childbirth.
But it should also be noted that most of these conditions are in some way associated with the curse that attended the fall. That is, in most of the situations in which something was considered unclean, there was some link to the fall of man. This is particularly the case in Leviticus 12. Perhaps there is no other scenario in which the fall is as prominent as in this area. Let me explain.
This law is with reference to childbirth. And childbirth is very connected to the fall of man. Just ask any woman who has been in labour. It is painful and dangerous. In fact, it is, in a very real sense, death-defying. But this was not how it was meant to be. The pain and sorrow in childbearing came about because sin entered the world (Genesis 3:16).
Eveson notes, “At the time that a mother delivers new life she also loses life in that she loses blood. In the law, blood is a symbol of life. A discharge of blood can therefore be life-threatening. Losing blood after childbirth mean a diminution of life. Unless it stopped it could lead to death. Death was considered a most unnatural and totally unwholesome state. This flow of blood was quite incompatible with God, the source of life and of all that is wholesome. Anything suggesting death, therefore, was treated as unclean and unfit to come near God’s presence.”5 That is, it pointed to the fall. It pointed to man’s sin. But, thank God, it also pointed to hope.
Bearing children is still a blessing but it is one that reminds us that things are not as they should be. They are not as they could be. They are not as they will be. A mother’s seed is a blessing to behold, but it is also a lesson from which there is much to learn. For example, David spoke of conception and childbirth in terms of sin:
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
But it is important for us to consider again that childbirth was (and is) risky for a mother. There is a real sacrifice involved in childbearing. The loss of blood indicates a potential loss of life. It is to render a woman “incomplete,” less than physically whole. It is to place her in a position of being “diseased.” Any woman who has experienced either her monthly cycle or labour and childbirth will testify to the accuracy of that statement. There are a lot of tasteless and insensitive jokes and jesting about PMS; but to a woman, none of them are funny. A woman, by her physical nature, is vulnerable. And this is one reason that God established this boundary: It was to be a blessing to one who was so often the most vulnerable. And perhaps she is at her most vulnerable after childbirth. The curse has made a woman’s life difficult, and here we see God’s care for her.
A Woman’s Value
In this passage, as in chapter 11, we have echoes of Eden. The key, perhaps, is in the word “conceived” in v. 2. The Hebrew word is also translated this way in Numbers 5:28, but in almost every other case it is translated by the word “sow.” The root word is “seed.”
In a handful of instances, the Hebrew word is translated as “yielding” or “bearing,” in the context of seed. This is the case in Genesis 1:11, 29, which, of course, is in a creation context. The seeds which were said to be able to “bear” were placed in the Garden of Eden at the beginning of creation. They have reference to a plant’s ability to produce—to be actively productive. It is my conclusion that this is why this particular term is used here in Leviticus 12.
You see, God was here highlighting the active participation of the woman in reproductive conception. In the use of the other Hebrew word for “conceive” or “conception” (e.g. Genesis 4:1), the woman is seen as passively involved. She receives the seed, whereas in Leviticus 12 the woman is portrayed as actively producing the seed. And because she is active in this, she is treated by God as a responsible being. She is treated by God with the dignity of being an individual. In fact as Harrison puts it, “The cleansing ceremonies would give proper dignity to the purely hygienic aspects of the post-natal period.”6
Again, it should be noted that the purpose for these divine boundaries, as indicated by Harrison, has to do primarily, though not exclusively, with the secretions that accompany childbirth. This is important to note because chapter 15 is exclusively dedicated to bodily discharges—including that of women at their monthly period. Therefore, it may seem that the contents of chapter 12 are out of place here. But the reason, I believe, that this is placed here is because of the creation motif.
After God created Eden (His dwelling place with original man), He told Adam what he could and what he could not eat (Genesis 2:16-17). Only then did He create woman (Genesis 2:18-22). Leviticus follows such a pattern: the tabernacle had been finished, and God’s representatives (the priests) had been placed inside it. Next, God described the diet for His people, and now He focused on how a woman may have fellowship with Him. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
The point to be made is that God was here establishing boundaries so that all of His people could worship Him and enjoy Him forever—including women. The woman, as we will see later, was also invited to the sanctuary to experience forgiveness and to then worship and to fellowship with God. In other words, a provision had been made for a mother’s sacrifice.
It was very important for God’s people to recognise both the significance of women as well as the sacrifice of a mother. The woman is the weaker vessel and she was here being set apart as such—a piece of fine china. The most vulnerable are given much value. This is a lesson that is needed in the new covenant church as well (see 1 Peter 3:7).
A Woman’s Victory
Circumcision is another element in this account which points to the fall.
On the eighth day, a male newborn was to be circumcised, and with this circumcision the mother was on the path to being fully cleansed. Note vv. 2-3: “If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.”
It is pretty clear that, after the circumcision of her son, the mother was at the least on the path of being fully cleansed, if not considered fully cleansed already. She was closer to being admitted to corporate worship and fellowship. It would seem that, if the mother was faithful to have her son circumcised, that she was on the road to wholeness. Victory was not far away in return for a mother’s sacrifice.
Circumcision was instituted by God in Genesis 17 as a covenantal sign that one belonged to God. By this visible sign, a male in Israel was reminded of God’s covenant to be their God and their responsibly to be His people. But there was a particular reason for this sign. Note that the sign was not normally a visible one. Because this sign involved the male reproductive organ, it was not one for all to see—but it was a sign nonetheless. It would serve as a daily reminder of the promise on which the covenant was founded. It was a daily reminder of the promised Seed, who was announced as a judgement upon the serpent in Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” It was the daily reminder that God would one day send His Saviour to crush the works of the devil and to restore Eden forever. It was a sign that a mother’s sacrifice would one day usher in a better day.
Therefore, when it came to circumcising the eight-day-old boy, what otherwise might have been a very sad day (because of the pain for the child) served in fact as a joyful reminder that God had made a very happy promise.
For an important excursus please note the account of Zipporah in Exodus 4:24-26. However you interpret this strange account, it is clear that Moses’ wife understood the importance of circumcision as a covenantal sign. She may not have understood this beforehand, but she certainly came to appreciate it at that point in history. Zipporah exercised faith by circumcising her son. The result was that death was averted. God’s wrath was propitiated through faith in the action of something being cut off. Moses and his family were once again focused on the promised Seed.
And so would it be for the faithful mother of a male child.
Medically it is interesting to note that, perhaps by the fifth day, the vitamin K levels of a newborn are at 100% levels and this is essential for coagulation. Therefore, the eighth day was perfect timing for this procedure. Some have even suggested that pain levels at this stage would also be at a minimum. Be that as it may, the eighth day was biblically symbolic of a new creation. As we recently saw, the ordination of the priesthood took place on the eighth day as a means of highlighting that something new was taking place—a “new creation,” if you will.
Therefore, every time that a male child was circumcised, those involved were reminded that a new day was coming when the promised Messiah would make all things new. And He would do so, not by the circumcision of the flesh, but rather by the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6).
Again, note that, on the eight day, the mother was on the road to complete cleanness. She was on the path to sanctification so that she could eventually, at the end of the process, enjoy the blessings of the glory of the tabernacle. She was, in other words, headed for glorification. A mother’s sacrifice would be rewarded (see 1 Timothy 2:12-15).
A Mother’s Separation
After the mother had had her son circumcised, she was required to live separate from the tabernacle.
She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled.
But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her customary impurity, and she shall continue in the blood of her purification sixty-six days.
For 33 days following the initial seven (a total of forty days), she had no legitimate access to the dwelling place of God; neither could she come into contact with anything that would be in contact with the tabernacle. Her access was restored only once “the days of her purification were fulfilled.”
If she had gave birth to a daughter then after two weeks she was considered on the road to wholeness, but she would “continue in the blood of her purification” for another 66 days, bringing the total time of separation to eighty days—which, of course, is a multiple of forty.
The number forty is significant in Scripture and generally symbolises a time of testing. For example, Moses spent forty years in the wilderness as a time of testing before being used to deliver Israel from Egypt, and later forty days on Sinai receiving the Commandments before he led the Israelites toward the Promised Land. Following their unbelief, the children of Israel were in the wilderness for forty years before conquering Canaan. Elijah spent forty days on Mount Carmel after his defeat of the prophets of Baal and before further ministry. Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted for forty days prior to commencement of His ministry.
Perhaps the forty days required for this purification law were also symbolic of a time of testing the faithfulness of the mother. This time of separation from the congregation, and the ensuing time of solitude, would test her obedience to the law of God. And this time of testing, as with all those mentioned above, would be beneficial to the mother. As we will see, her sacrifice would be rewarded. Obedience to God’s boundaries always are.
The Church of England in an earlier day required a woman who had recently given birth to stay away from their services. They called this the “churching” of the mother. I don’t know their full motivation, but no doubt one of God’s motivations was to help the new mother to recover.
There are many opinions as to why the time period following the birth of a daughter doubled that of the birth of a son. Some say that it testified to the ancient view of women being inferior to men, and so the birth of a daughter was more “defiling” than that of a son. Of course, this has a couple of fatal flaws.
First, there is nothing in this text that suggests that the defilement comes from childbirth. As we have seen, the issue is that of the secretions. It was the flow of blood that called for purification rather than the birth of a child.
Second, God is not bound by cultural idiocy! The ancients may falsely have believed that women were inferior to males, but certainly God would not endorse this lie with a law.
Others suggest that the reason was because of issues related to the lochia. Lochia is the discharge of bleeding that follows the birth of a child and can last several weeks. Listen to this:
Every new mum bleeds after having her baby. This will be the case whether you gave birth vaginally or by caesarean section. This bleeding is called lochia. It’s how your body gets rid of the lining of your uterus (womb) after birth.
The bleeding will change colour and become lighter as your uterus heals and returns to its pre-pregnancy size. At first the flow of lochia will be heavy and bright red, and may have clots in it. Gradually, it will change to pink then brownish and, eventually, to yellow-white.7
There has been the suggestion that, following the birth of a female child, the lochia remains much longer than in the case of giving birth to a son—but not all are convinced by the medical evidence.
Regardless of the specific reason for the extended time period, it is clear that, long before medical textbooks on obstetrics were available, God gave a law to help the mother during this time of discomfort. What many over the generations have designated “confinement” was, in fact, a divinely given means of recovery. After nine months of pregnancy and the ordeal of labour and delivery, God prescribed a boundary in order to give mom a break.
Listen to this modern advice:
You may bleed for as little as two to three weeks or as long as six weeks after having your baby. The flow will diminish very gradually. Red lochia usually tapers off within the first couple of weeks, although if you try to do too much too soon it may start flowing again. If you see bright red blood, it’s a sign to slow down.8
If you have been observant, you will have noticed how difficult it can be at times to have a baby (or babies!) in a household. Perhaps it was due to this trying reality that God prescribed this law as a means to remove some of the burden from the mother. While it is true that she could not attend the sanctuary during this time of confinement, nevertheless the restriction would have served to lighten her load. Her husband or other members of the household would have needed to shoulder some of her household responsibilities while she recovered.
This raises another potential reason for the length of recovery: God was giving mothers “me time”! Well, not quite, but the principle probably was that God was making sure that mothers would not be overtaxed. Contrary to the liberal idea that “mothers can have it all,” this law said the opposite. Perhaps you can have it all, but not all at the same time!
This law is another example of God’s care for women. I will be the first to say that this was not the main purpose of the law, but clearly it highlights God’s care for women. God’s attention to this topic was gracious. He desired her worship and her fellowship but He wanted her fit, complete and whole so as to enjoy the Wholly Other.
As a woman was confined largely to her home she not only had time to rest but also had plenty of time for reflection. As concerned as God was about the mother’s recuperation, He was even more concerned about her spiritual condition. And for this reason He also imposed this boundary. Her “me time” was to give her time for a prolonged “quiet time.”
This time of divinely imposed confinement would afford her much time to contemplate the things of the Lord, especially His holiness and His promised Saviour. It would drive home the important lessons of God ordained boundaries. It would be a time of preparation for greater blessings. In the mother’s case, it would prepare her for the eventual celebration at the sanctuary (vv. 6-8).
She would have time to consider the principles that undergirded this ritual. And, as she did so, she would probably consider several things, which ultimately would point her to the gospel. And if there were other children in the home, this time could well be used to teach this gospel to them also.
John Calvin believed that the existence of a depraved offspring in the womb created uncleanliness. I am not so sure about this, but there is no doubt that, as the mother contemplated God’s postpartum ritual, she would be reminded that sin passes from one generation to the next. There is little doubt that a reflective woman among God’s covenantal people would ponder the curse of Genesis 3:16 and the fact that sin had brought death and suffering. She would have had opportunity through these purification and cleanliness rituals to consider the truth that she and her children needed a Saviour.
As she changed her son’s nappies she would have been reminded of God’s covenantal promise. She would have been encouraged that God saves households and would have taken gospel comfort in this as well as gospel motivation to raise her child(ren) according to God’s promises. She perhaps would have reflected on the truth that the heart of covenant-keeping is promise-believing. She perhaps would have used this extra time to diligently seek the Lord, believing that He rewards those who do so. In other words, as a keeper at home the gospel was to be predominant.
During these days, the covenant-keeping, promise-believing mother no doubt marked off each day on the calendar, waiting for the day that her purification ended and she could head to the sanctuary to offer her sacrifices and enjoy corporate worship and fellowship. This purification was preparation for celebration.
I would assume, from my own observations, that a mother can become so involved in the duties of motherhood and household that it is quite easy to lose sight of some important issues, such as thankfulness. But as the mother recuperated in prescribed solitude, she had opportunity to appreciate God’s grace in a greater way, and this would have prepared her for the time when she had opportunity to reconnect at the tabernacle and to celebrate with others God’s kindness in giving her a child and sparing her life. After all, “the occasion was frequently fraught with danger, but when mother and child survived the ordeal it was a time of happiness in the family. The agonies of childbirth would certainly impress themselves upon all who witnessed them, and would help to deepen the parents’ own sense of responsibility towards each other and their offspring.”9 This would have made the anticipated trip back to the tabernacle ever sweeter.
A Mother’s Salvation
Though there were certainly some pluses to this vacation, “the real disadvantage to being in a state of impurity was that the individual would not be able to enter the tabernacle, so the person would be prevented from worshiping God with the covenant community.”10 But God provide a means for a reconnection with the covenant community, and this was made possible through a sacrifice. Eveson observes, “While her own blood made her unclean, she could come near God’s holy place with a substitute blood sacrifice that was acceptable to God for her complete purification.”11
When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female.
And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.
These final verses instruct the woman who had recuperated from childbirth how she could enjoy tabernacle privileges once again. This involved three major things.
First, after her period of confinement, she was once again admitted to the tabernacle. “When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting” (v. 6).
Without belabouring the point it is important for us to recognise that, once the new mother had fulfilled the prescribed process of purification, she was given access once again to the door of the tabernacle. This must have been a joyous day for her and for her family.
She would bring two sacrifices. The first, a lamb, was for a burnt offering, and the second, a pigeon or turtledove, was for a sin or purification offering. It should be observed that the mother was the one who brought the offering; God wanted her worship and her fellowship. This is further proof that God values women as much as He values men. In fact, note in v. 6 that the same offering was required whether the newborn was male or female. There was equality of dignity before God. But what was the purpose of these sacrifices? Among other reasons, this whole ritual was a means of making an important announcement. It was announcement of good news.
As she came “to the door of the tabernacle of meeting” (v. 6), the new mother no doubt came with an exciting announcement.
As the woman came to the tabernacle with her sacrifices, her demeanour no doubt would have been that of one who was excited and in a mood of celebration. Remember, her newborn would doubtless have been with her. How grateful she would have been for God’s kindness shown to her! Truly, she would have celebrated God’s grace. She would have celebrated not only that her family had grown, but also the fact that she belonged to God’s family and, by extension, so did her child. She would have celebrated, contrary to popular contemporary evangelical opinion, that parenting was not a coin toss.
But further, this action was also a public announcement that she had been purified or consecrated and therefore her worship would be accepted. The sin offering spoke of purification, while the burnt offering spoke of consecration. In the light of God’s grace shown to her, she was offering sacrifice her “reasonable service” (Romans 12:1-2). She had obeyed God’s laws and now was saying, “Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God.” But she was also publically declaring that she would raise her child to do so as well. This act of consecration was not only for herself but also for her child. She was offering a living sacrifice along with the lamb to be slain (see Luke 2:21-24).
A mother’s sacrifice does not end with the cutting of the umbilical cord or with the last late night feed. Rather, it continues until the child itself comes to the point when he or she credibly confesses, “Here I am to worship.” And it will require plenty of sacrifice for this to happen. For some, it will require the sacrifice of a career, or the sacrifice of hobbies and other pursuits. For most, it will require the sacrifice of leisure and of material goods. It will require the sacrifice of “acceptability” by a superficial society deceived by a godless and self-absorbed worldview. Whatever the case, the mother who will raise children to follow the Lord is embarking on a life of sacrifice. But the end result is well worth the cost!
Verses 7-8 show how atonement was achieved by virtue of the commanded sacrifice.
Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female.
And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.
It needs to be stated one more time that there is nothing sinful about having a child. A child is a gift from God. Childbearing is not the reason for the sin offering. Rather, most likely, this offering was prescribed because, after forty or eighty days of separation from the church, a covenantally faithful woman would sense her own sinfulness and her need for a Saviour.
I would think that many new moms who have endured many late nights, followed by very early mornings, interspersed with crying babies and sometimes clueless husbands, would have plenty of sin to confess! But what a beautiful sight, in one sense, of this penitent mother laying her hands on the head of a lamb, offering a pigeon or a turtledove and then hearing from the priest, “Forgiven, accepted, reconciled! All is well; your sins have been atoned for!” Currid writes,
Through these two sacrifices the woman is being readmitted to the religious life of Israel; she is being restored to a right relationship with God, to the community and to the sanctuary. And, most importantly, it is she who is bringing the offering. It is not her husband who brings it, for she is the one who needs purification and restoration.”12
Such sacrifices are good news; this is gospel. And with such good news ringing in her ears she would also take comfort in the thought that God had promised to forgive, reconcile, and accept her sinful child. She would rejoice that the bloodshed of God’s appointed sacrifice was His gospel promise to save all who came to Him in this way. And you can be sure that she would be more committed than ever to be sure that her child did so.
Alan Ross concludes from this chapter,
It was not childbirth per say that was unclean, but the ritual defilement that immediately followed childbirth. Childbirth is blessed by God; it is part of his plan of creation. But it is very physical, very earthy or “this-worldly,” and not the usual normal, healthy condition for the woman. And therein lies the problem, for access into the sanctuary of the LORD required the individual to be whole.13
Therefore this entire ritual purification was designed by God to point the nation, and especially mothers, to the reality that one needs to be whole if they will be accepted by God. And, by a spotless, substitutionary sacrifice, this could be their privilege.
The gospel proclaims this same message. It is a profound thought that it is blood that defiles, but also blood that delivers. And the blood that delivers is available to all and sundry who will repent and call upon the name of the Lord for salvation.
Like the mothers of Israel, all you need to do is to lay your hand on the Lamb who is blameless, confessing your sin and confessing Him as your Saviour, and you too will receive the atonement. You see, the Lamb of God made atonement for all who realise that they are unclean and yet who want to be cleansed by His blood.
One day, a young Jewish girl found out that, by the Holy Spirit, she would carry the Seed that God had promised so long ago. And one day Mary had that little lamb, whose life was white as snow. This young lady found herself in solitude and separation, not only because of this law, but also because of an unbelieving world.
Mary knew that she needed salvation for she sang these words, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46-47). And one day an older Mary would stand and watch her Son be sacrificed as the Lamb of God to take away, not only her sins, but also the sins of the world. A mother’s sacrifice was used by a sovereign God to bring the Son of God into the world, who would be a sacrifice for His mother. To God be the glory, great things He has done!
And you? Will you, like Mary, embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for your sins? Do so today and join the chorus of the redeemed who sing, “For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:49).
- John D. Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2004), 140. ↩
- Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus, 162-63. ↩
- Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus, 162-63. ↩
- Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 188. ↩
- Philip H. Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness: The Book of Leviticus Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2007), 166. ↩
- R. K. Harrison, Leviticus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1980), 135. ↩
- BabyCentre Medical Advisory Board, “Lochia (postnatal bleeding),” http://goo.gl/5vXBn, retrieved 12 August 2012. ↩
- BabyCentre, “Lochia (postnatal bleeding).” ↩
- Harrison, Leviticus, 136. ↩
- Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 182. ↩
- Eveson, The Beauty of Holiness, 168. ↩
- Currid, Study Commentary on Leviticus, 165. ↩
- Alan P. Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 267. ↩