With these two added duties in mind it then makes total sense why God would transition Leviticus into a section whereby He now articulates to the priests and by extension the people what was “holy and unholy, clean and unclean” concerning a wide array of topics.
In chapter 11 God establishes a set of dietary guidelines for the people. In chapter 12 He’ll address the way women were to be treated following childbirth. In chapters 13-14 we’ll see a process by which the priests were to diagnose leprosy and other skin diseases. And finally, in chapter 15 God will go on the record concerning the handling of bodily fluids.
While many skip through these five chapters often referred to as the Holiness Code, the very fact God dedicates an astounding 204 verses to communicate these things to the people indicates the subject matter was important and demands our careful consideration.
As I noted last Sunday there really are two big ideas that undergird these chapters… First, there is an undeniable component to these mandates that was revolutionary. Not only did God’s commands to Israel contrast the contemporary approach of that day in age, but they transcended man’s collective understanding of the physical world at that point in time.
This simple truth is that all of these laws recorded in Leviticus 11-15 were not instituted by God to limit the enjoyment of life, but to protect their ability to live! As it pertains to the advanced science and medical wisdom behind these various rules, the reality is that the underlying concepts the Hebrew people could not have possibly understood intellectually.
They had zero awareness of microbes or the biology behind harmful bacteria. They didn’t know what caused illnesses or how infectious disease spread throughout a community. In the end, these mandates would only be beneficial if the people believed in the wisdom and reliability of God’s Word and obeyed His commands in a simple act of faith.
As we work our way through these chapters it’s also worth considering that while some of the prohibitions are no longer relevant in our modern societal context, many of the ideas remain as applicational today as they did when God first gave them to Moses.
Aside from this, you should also keep in mind these five chapters still fall within the first half of Leviticus governing man’s relationship with God. Because God wanted the Hebrews to “be holy as He is holy” (separate from the world for the purpose of being His light unto the world) He now defines this new way of being by “distinguishing” what things were “clean” (pure and permissible) from things that were “unclean” (impure and prohibited).
Again, remember none of these laws were really about the people doing something in particular, but more about them being something distinct. God wanted His people to live so differently from the world around them they’d never forget they were different from the world around them! These laws were not designed to bestow an identity, but to remind the Jews what their identity already was! They were the people of God!
Last Sunday we examined the Dietary Guidelines recorded in Leviticus 11 which perfectly illustrated this idea. If you look for a pattern in the animals God prohibited the Jews from eating you’ll end up discovering they were either predators or scavengers.
When you consider in Eastern philosophical thought you were what you ate, it would make perfect sense why God would prohibit these two classifications of animals. It’s as though in making these various distinctions God wanted His people to always remember He had not called them out of Egypt to be predators nor were they scavengers! As they entered the land of Canaan they were to trust in Him alone for His continued provisions!
Leviticus 12:1-5, “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. She shall then continue in the blood of her purification 33 days (for a male child there was a total of 40 days the woman was to be separated). 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 (14 days), as in her customary impurity, and she shall continue in the blood of her purification 66 days (in the case of a female child this process for the woman would last a total of 80 days).”
Leviticus 12:6-8, “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 the priest 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 (meaning she’s to poor to afford one), 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.”
While on the surface this passage seems rather straightforward, just below a cursory reading you will discover some profound concepts being established by God about the way He wanted women and children treated in this new society He was ordering.
Not only would these things possess a practical benefit for both, but in the end the process was designed to illustrate much deeper spiritual principles everyone needed to remember.
Before we get to the larger ideas at play in this passage, let’s take a second and look back at verse 3 because we run across one of the most significant concepts in the entire OT… In the midst of these directives pertaining to the uncleanness of the woman who’d just given birth to a boy we read, “On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.”
Back in Genesis 17 God established this act of circumcision to be the sign in their flesh of the “everlasting covenant” He’d made with Abraham and his descendants to follow. On the day of record Abraham and all the males living in his household were circumcised — with the ritual to occur moving forward “on the eighth day” following the birth of a male child.
Within the Genesis record circumcision therefore became an essential identifier of God’s promises… Abraham’s two sons Isaac and Ishmael were circumcised. The same with Isaac’s twin sons Esau and Jacob. Later on all twelve of Jacob’s sons would be circumcised as well. Beyond Genesis, the next mention of circumcision we find in Exodus 4:24-26 implying this particular practice continued during their 400 year Egyptian captivity.
In fact, circumcision comes up in a really bizarre way… “It came to pass on the way to Egypt, at the encampment, that the LORD met Moses and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah (Moses’ Gentile wife) took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son and cast it at Moses’ feet, and said, ‘Surely you are a husband of blood to me!’ So the LORD let Moses go. Then she said, ‘You are a husband of blood!’ — because of the circumcision.” Crazy!
While in Exodus 12 the next mention presents a requirement that Gentiles who wanted to partake in the Passover had to be circumcised, what makes this one verse in Leviticus 12 so fascinating is that it’s the only mention of circumcision in the entire Law! This is such an interesting idea I’m going set aside next Sunday for a deeper examination.
Let’s transition to what this chapter tells us about the way God wanted women and their children viewed and treated… It’s worth reiterating these words “clean and unclean” were descriptive terms used by God in order to designate something or someone as being pure and permissible or impure and prohibited within a very specific context. In this case the “distinguishing” between “clean and unclean” pertained to a woman post-childbirth.
In no way should we view this distinction that she “shall be unclean in the days of her customary impurity” to be God declaring a woman who’d just “borne a child” to be sinful… There was something morally corrupting in the process of conceiving a child through sexual intercourse, carrying the child to term, and then birthing that new life into the world.
The truth is that “conceiving and bearing a child” was done in obedience to God with His blessing. Even before the fall Genesis 1:28 tells us God not only blessed the man and the woman, but He commanded they “be fruitful, multiply, fill, and subdue the earth.”
God intentionally created a process whereby human life would be conceived and brought into this world through the woman following an intimate experience with her husband. You see it wasn’t an accident a sexual act designed to foster oneness between two separate and distinct people (“male and female”) ended up yielding another human life.
If we’re being honest this morning you and your spouse have likely been guilty of saying a truly ignorant thing upon the birth of your child… “Honey, look what we made!” Sure, the fella had two or so minutes of fun planting a seed the woman then had the joy of carrying around for nine months as it wrecks her body, but life is something only God creates!
Let me read for you a description of what happens during the first week of human life and you tell me how involved you were… “Biologically, fertilization is the beginning of human development when a man’s sperm, within several hours of ovulation, combines with a woman’s egg inside a woman’s uterine tube. The sperm makes contact with the cells surrounding the egg and mixes 23 male chromosomes with 23 female chromosomes.
What results is a single-cell embryo — the first cell of the human body. If fact, these 46 unique chromosomes tightly coil into what becomes known as DNA which contains all of the instructions needed for this single-cell embryo to develop into a full human adult.
On the sixth day after fertilization a 6-day process known as implantation begins whereby the embryo embeds into the inner wall of the mother’s uterus. By the end of the first week, the embryo has traveled extensively, multiplied from 1 single-cell to now being several hundred, dramatically changed its shape and complexity, and has begun receiving nourishment directly from the cells lining the mother’s uterus.” It’s all unbelievably complex.
Not only does this happen without the women even knowing she’s pregnant, but one non-Christian scientist I read describes this entire process during these six days as literally cells spontaneously coming into existence from nothing! Sounds a lot like creation doesn’t it?
If you have any doubts concerning the sanctity of human life following conception, I want you to consider what God says to Jeremiah (1:5), “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you and ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
If you’ve ever been in the delivery room (and I’ve had this personal experience on three occasions with the singular goal of not requiring medical attention myself as I’m a bit squeamish), there is no question there is something intrinsically divine and holy about the entire process of a woman birthing into the world a living human God created.
Yes, the process is not only painful, but terribly stressful. In her labor of bringing life into this world there is this weird brush with death required from the living. It’s all taxing! And yet, what eventually results leaves you standing there utterly speechless and filled in wonder!
I bring all of this up to be clear — this designation that a woman in this post-childbirth condition was “unclean” had nothing to do with her moral standing before God! Apart from our wedding day my wife has never been prettier. Instead, this specific classification designed to separate a woman from her normal activities for a period of time — 40 days for a boy and 80 days for a little girl — intended to be a practical blessing to her.
This phrase presented to us in the NKJV that the woman shall be unclean “in the days of her customary impurity” is a bit misleading. The KJV more accurately translates these three Hebrew words (“yowm niddah davah”) as “according to the days of the separation for her infirmity” or literally a “separation for her unwellness.” The idea is that since childbirth takes such a physical toll on the woman God commanded she be separated in order to recover.
Consider that in being designated “unclean” for either 40 or 80 days depending on the sex of the child several important things resulted… First, sexual intercourse with her husband was strictly prohibited affording her the sufficient amount of time to recover physically.
Secondly, verse 4 is clear the woman, during this period following childbirth, was forbidden from “touching any hallowed thing.” Because she was “unclean” the woman was prohibited from her household responsibilities (cooking and cleaning) in order to rest. Not only did her husband have to abstain from sex, but he had to step up around the house as well!
Third, since this “unclean” condition prohibited her from entering public spaces — including the tabernacle for this period of time, God was naturally minimizing her and the baby’s exposure to infections and diseases. They were quarantined by staying at home.
Finally, you can imagine this particular separation stemming from this designation ended up giving this new mom ample time to focus solely on nursing and caring for her newborn. In many ways Leviticus 12 presents an ancient form of maternity leave.
You see the entire idea behind declaring the woman to be “unclean” following childbirth wasn’t to stigmatize her as being defiled or sinful… Instead, God simply wanted her to have enough time to recover both physically and emotionally.
Aside from this, we can also see how God wanted this vulnerable newborn child to be protected, nourished, and given time to develop that important bond with its mother.
Now the logical question is why did God designate twice as much time if the child was a female (80 days) as opposed to if the child was a boy (40 days)? Medically speaking, we understand the baby’s gender plays no role in a woman’s experience. Physiologically, the time needed to heal is also identical — typically landing somewhere between 4 to 6 weeks.
While it’s true we really can’t say for sure why we find this particular designation, the best theory I’ve come across boils down to the psychological connection with the mother.
It’s true the bonds children naturally develop with their parents are uniquely predicated upon gender distinctions. With this in mind… Since little girls bond more naturally with their fathers, maybe God knew they need more time with mom. On the flip side… Since boys connect more quickly with their mothers, maybe God wanted to limit their exposure so that they didn’t become overly attached… A nation of “mommas boys.” Who knows?
Regardless, the fundamental concept articulated in this chapter is radicle. In ancient cultures woman were seen as being the property of their husbands. Women had few human rights. Their primary purpose was pleasure, birthing children, and caring for the home.
And yet, in His ordering of this new society, God wanted His view of women reflected. Women were to be treated with honor and respect — especially after birthing a child.
It’s as though God is saying to the men that made up this society, “Your wife just did something incredible! She brought into this world the life I created in her womb. It was not fun and took an incredible toll on her. Fellas, for a period of time give your woman some space! You need to respect her and don’t you dare try to have sex with her until she’s good. Not only that, but for the next several weeks she’s getting a vacation. You’ll need to step up around the house and cover her responsibilities. Leave her alone and let her heal.”
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how revolutionary this idea really was in that day in age. God was creating a distinction between the Hebrew men and the rest of the world in the way they treated their wives! Women were to be protected and cherished. Fella’s, in the NT this ideal remains the same. Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her!” The way we treat women is important!
It’s also worth pointing out the child, whether it was a “male or a female,” wasn’t considered by God to be “unclean” or seen in anyway as being downer. In Psalms 127:3-5 King Solomon describes children as being “a heritage from the LORD!” He then adds, “The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed.”
In this divine ideal of how God wanted society structured bringing children into the world was of such importance He issued a Law commanding that women and their newborns be given plenty of time to rest and bond before returning to the normal flow of life!
As a church community this is a perfect example where the wisdom articulated in these ancient mandates still remains practical and relevant. Broadly speaking, we need to place a higher esteem on having children. As Solomon wrote “children are a heritage from the LORD” or literally an inheritance that God gives us — “the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Yes, raising children is not easy, but I will say I’ve learned more about God in the process.
Specifically, as husbands we all need to do a better job helping our wives. If your wife has just given birth or about too, the application is obvious. For the rest of us may we not forget the Scriptures never present a married couple with only one party parenting.
As a community seeking to honor the things God honors… We should celebrate our new moms, do what we can to help them rest and recover, and in the end give them space, grace, and time as they naturally transition back into a normal routine with a newborn.
To this point, there is another phenomenal idea sitting just below the surface specifically pertaining to children we should take note of… In verse 6 we read how the LORD required the woman to “bring to the priests a burnt and sin offering” specifically “when the days of her purification were fulfilled (after 40 or 80 days), whether for a son or a daughter.”
For all kinds of reasons in the ancient cultures the birth of boys was held in higher regards than girls. In pagan, religious customs during this time period, the birth of a boy would be celebrated as a gift of the gods with no such fanfare ever made for the birth of a female. Today, we see a similar perspective in the 2-child policy of the People’s Republic of China.
How interesting that at this tent whereby the people of Israel would come and meet with God the identical offering was to be made whether the child was a boy or a girl! The imagery of this would have completely contrasted Israel with all other nations. In the eyes of God all human life was divine, sacred, and valued whether it was male or female.
Before we wrap up this chapter, there is another aspect to these things we need to discuss because it rounds out what’s really taking place… If you think back to the Fall of Man, the consequences for the woman were rather straightforward. Her curse was as follows: Genesis 3:16, “To the woman the LORD said: ‘I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children…’” It would seem before sin entered the human condition childbirth was a much different experience for the woman than it is today.
According to studies done by the World Health Organization historically the death rate for women giving birth has plummeted in the last 100 years. While today approximately 830 women will die in childbirth equating to about one woman dying every two minutes, between 1990 and 2017 the “maternal mortality rate” declined 44% globally. Sadly, the majority of these death largely take place in the undeveloped world and are preventable.
It’s really crazy to consider, but until the 20th century childbirth was the leading cause of death for women. Some historians who specifically study the evolution of women’s health estimate that in ancient times a third of all women ultimately died giving birth!
Again, in our modern context such a dynamic doesn’t jive with our present reality; and yet, imagine being a women in ancient Israel figuring out you were pregnant! Yes, there was undoubtedly a real joy, but this exuberance would be mitigated by an ominous fact…
Bringing life into this world would likely require a brush with death. For the woman the curse of sin was unavoidable. It was something she was forced to experience. The pain was tangible and the risk of death daunting. Surviving the labor was not a guarantee.
With this in mind, the idea of God now granting this woman time to rest following childbirth is beautiful. Here we have a woman who’s just experienced the effects of sin in a radicle way. Not only has she survived, but on the other side she’s met with God’s grace! There is a tenderness and a care in the way in which He wanted this woman to be treated.
From the macro-perspective there is a lesson here… When we find ourselves in a situation where we must endure the consequences of our sin or more broadly the effects of the curse, take heart knowing you will always be met on the other side with God’s grace. In His tenderness He wants you to have time to heal and recover. It’s important to Him.
But that’s not all happening here… Notice “when the days of her purification were fulfilled” God invites this woman to come to the tabernacle and offer both a “Burnt and Sin Offering.” In making the “Sin Offering” she was acknowledging the reality of her own short-comings. She knew the “wages of sin was death” and all life a gift! But in also making the “Burnt Offering” before the Lord she was placing her faith towards the ultimate Sacrifice.
It’s worth pointing out this is the first time a woman was instructed to come and make an offering without her husband. In fact, the only other time this happens is in Leviticus 15 when a woman had to make an offering after she was “cleansed of her discharge.”
What this tells us is that following childbirth there was an important interaction this woman needed to have with God that had nothing to do with her husband. In Genesis 3:15, as God pronounces a curse on Lucifer, He also provided a promise to humanity. “The LORD God said to the Serpent, ‘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.’”
We’ve already noted that every human life is the byproduct of the man, woman, and God working in concert. The man provides the seed (which bestows a sin nature). The woman becomes the incubator. And God creates a life the women then has to birth. What’s rad is according to Genesis 3:15 the redemption of mankind would be accomplished with just God and the woman working together. The seed of fallen man was excluded!
With every pregnancy a Hebrew woman was reminded of two realities: First, in spite of the curse and her sin God was still gracious enough to use her to bring life into this world — life through her curse. Secondly, she was reminded that in the end God would work through this experience of childbirth to bring forth a Savior! Everlasting life would also come through her curse. God would work through a woman’s labor to bring salvation into this world!
While all of this is awesome, I also believe there was one more reason God commanded the woman to come to the tabernacle to offer these sacrifices — and it had nothing to do with the woman, but instead the child one woman would bring with her. In fact, this mandate in Leviticus 12 may have existed simply to produce the scene we find in Luke 2!
Following the birth of Christ in the stable outside Bethlehem… “And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. (Circumcision was typically done at home and not at the Temple as many falsely conclude. That would have not been practical.)
Now when the days of Mary’s purification according to the law of Moses were completed (32 days after circumcision), they brought Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD’), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.’” (Proof Mary and Joseph were extremely poor.)
“And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him… So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: ‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.’ And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Jesus.”
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