Leviticus 12 – Cleansing After Childbirth
A. Ceremonial impurity after giving birth.
1. (1-4) When a male child is born.
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 thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled.'”
a. If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days: The child was then circumcised on the eighth day, with the ceremonial uncleanness lasting an additional 33 days, for a total of 40 days of ceremonial impurity after giving birth to a male child.
b. She shall not touch any hallowed thing: The commanded time of ceremonial impurity should not be regarded as a negative attitude towards birth or child-bearing on God’s part. God commands child bearing, in that man is commanded to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28), children are regarded as a gift from God (Psalm 127:3), and a woman with many kids is considered blessed (Psalm 128:3).
i. The key to understanding this ceremony is to understand the idea of original sin. As wonderful as a new baby is, God wanted it to be remembered that with every birth another sinner was brought into the world, and the woman was here symbolically responsible for bringing a new sinner into the world.
ii. Perhaps just as importantly, the time of ceremonial impurity gave the new mother a time of rest and seclusion that would she no doubt welcomed.
2. (5) When a female child is born.
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.
a. If she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks: The time period for each phase was double of that when giving birth to a son. For a the birth of a daughter, a woman was unclean for 14 days followed by 66 days.
b. She shall continue in the blood of her purification sixty-six days: The longer period of ceremonial uncleanness for the birth of a daughter should not be understood as a penalty. Instead, it is linked to the idea stated in the previous verses – that the time of impurity is for the symbolic responsibility of bringing other sinners into the world. When giving birth to a female, a mother brings a sinner into the world who will bring still other sinners into the world.
i. Some also suggest the longer period of time in connection with the birth of a girl was because girls are usually smaller at birth, and this would allow more time for the mother’s focused care and attention on the child. As well, since sons were more prized, the longer time at home for a mother with a new born girl would force the family to bond more deeply, over a more extended period of time with the new born girl.
B. The purification rite for cleansing after childbirth.
1. (6-7) The sacrifice required.
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.
a. Then he shall offer it before the Lord, and make atonement for her: This was a fairly standard sacrifice for atonement, holding the woman symbolically responsible for bringing another sinner into this world. The required sacrifice was the same for her who has borne a male or a female.
2. (8) Allowances for the poor.
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.
a. If she is not able to bring a lamb: God knew that not every family in Israel could afford to bring a lamb for sacrifice at the birth of a child. Therefore, He also allowed the lesser sacrifices of two turtledoves or two young pigeons.
i. Jesus’ family offered only a pair of turtledoves (Luke 2:22-24) at birth. This shows that Jesus did not come from a wealthy family.
© 2004 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission