New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Lev 12:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
Most primitive societies had legislation similar to this about childbirth; some kind of offering and period of uncleanness, and then a period confined at home without contact with others. And usually the periods were longer for a female child than for a male child. So this would be an example of where the Mosaic law recognized the religious needs of the time, and sought to meet them in a way which glorified Yahweh. We marvel at God's concessions to human weakness, and His understanding of the situation and need of every generation.

Lev 12:2 Speak to the children of Israel, saying, ‘If a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her monthly period she shall be unclean-
The reference to conception before bearing a male child may allude to the incorrect but strongly held ideas of the time- that a woman who releases her egg or achieves orgasm before contact with the male sperm in orgasm will bear a male child. This is the explanation of this passage which the Rabbis tend to give. This would then be in line with the suggestion on :1, that the following legislation is a concession to human weakness of understanding at the time. If Israel had not been given this legislation, likely they would have used the pagan rituals concerning childbirth which involved idol worship.

Lev 12:3 In the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised-
I suggest this is added at this point because we read in :2 that the mother was to be unclean seven days after birth. The God who is apparently so far away could foresee human experience so accurately and sympathetically. For He knew that the circumcision would be an event to be celebrated. And so it would be nice for the mother to have had a week to recover from the childbirth, and to be in a ritually clean state so she could celebrate and mix freely with the others present. This is also noteworthy because it is the only time circumcision is commanded under the old covenant. It had already been commanded to Abraham, but within the series of promises which were to become the new covenant. We see here a tacit recognition of the difference between the two covenants. The command for circumcision had to be repeated rather than assumed as still binding.   

Col. 2:12 presents baptism as the equivalent in our day if we wish to enter the new covenant, which is based upon the same promises to Abraham. But there is more to new covenant relationship than simply the ritual of baptism. Circumcision spoke of a cutting off of the flesh in the most private and intimate place. We always read of circumcision as being done to a person. Water baptism enables us to receive the birth of the Spirit, whereby the Lord will work through the Spirit to change our hearts, to cut off our flesh in the most private and personal recesses of human hearts. Cuttings of the flesh as a sign of tribal affiliation were common amongst the surrounding tribes, as they are to this day in less developed tribal areas of the world. The signs are always public and immediately evident- you can tell instantly that a person belongs to this or that tribe by a cut in the ear or nose or cheek, or the removal of certain teeth, or the painting of a certain symbol on a visible part of the body. But circumcision was not at all outwardly evident. It was not mere tribalism; it taught that God's demands were upon the most private part of human life. Women also could be in covenant, and they must have wondered what was required for them. They would've quickly figured that lack of physical cutting was not to say they weren't in covenant, and that therefore, the real token of the covenant was not circumcision in itself, but what circumcision represented- the cutting off of the flesh in our most personal areas. 

Lev 12:4 She shall continue in the blood of purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any holy thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed-
A woman in this case was not unclean for 33 days after the birth of a son, but was still involved in the blood of purification. For after seven days she was ritually clean, but not allowed to enter the sanctuary. It can be no accident that the Lord lived for 33 years- in such close association with the purification of humanity that He was identified with our absolute human situation. 

The command not to come into the sanctuary reminds us that women as well as men were allowed to enter the sanctuary. Relationship with Yahweh was not a mere male hobby as it was in many religions. We must however remember that Leviticus is specifically the commands given to the Levites at their inauguration, so possibly the woman in view here is specifically a woman from the tribe of Levi who was accustomed to entering the sanctuary to eat the priestly portions.

Lev 12:5 But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her period; and she shall continue in the blood of purification sixty-six days-
This doesn't mean that females somehow need more purification than males. I suggest that the shorter period of purification for males was in order to demonstrate the great value of their circumcision, which was as it were worth 33 days of being "in the blood of purification". 

The longer length of purification required for the woman is also found in many pagan religions. The reason was that it was believed that various demons and bad gods sought to kill female babies more than they sought male babies. And so for female babies there was a greater sense of gratitude for a live birth. Perhaps this legislation reflected how God was making concessions to the wrong or misinformed gut feelings of His people. Just as He often does to us. Likewise it may be a concession to the common but incorrect belief that bleeding and watery discharge continued longer after the birth of a girl than after that of a boy. Likewise the wrong ideas about 'demons' are as it were tolerated in the New Testament.

Lev 12:6 When the days of her purification are completed-
Let us note that the woman was unclean for a period, and she then needed purification- not her child. We cannot therefore reason from this that the Lord Jesus was unclean by reason of His birth. It is no sin to be born a human.

For a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the door of the Tent of Meeting, a year old lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering-
This was to remind them that the Passover deliverance through the lamb was effectively ongoing. The Passover lamb was likewise to be a year old (Ex. 12:5). We too are to live constantly under the impression of the Lord's sacrifice and redemption of us. Israel were asked to use a lamb of the first year to record various times when they should be thankful for God's redemption of them in the events which comprise life (Lev. 9:3; 12:6; 23:12,18,19; Num. 6:12,14; 7:15,17,21; 28:3,9,11,19; 29:2,8,13). This was to continually recall to them the events of their great redemption through the Red Sea. And the essence of our redemption, our baptism and salvation through the blood of the lamb, must likewise be brought ever before us.

We note that the sin offering was of far lower value than the burnt offering in this case. Perhaps this was to reflect how whilst God does indeed want recognition of sin and the fact we are born into a sinful environment, far more significant to Him is our desire to dedicate life to Him, despite that background and environment which we have. We also note that this is about the only time when the order sin offering - burnt offering is reversed. Usually there was to be conviction of sin resulting in dedication, the burnt offering. But a newborn child is not sinful, there is no "sin" somehow buried physically in human flesh; for all we posit about human nature, we say about the Lord Jesus who fully shared that nature. So the idea was that the child was dedicated to Yahweh, that was the sense of the offering, along with an awareness that indeed we are all sinful in practice, and we recognize that the child is being born into a sinful family and environment.

Lev 12:7 and he shall offer it before Yahweh, and make atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the fountain of her blood. ‘This is the law for her who bears, whether a male or a female-
It is commonly stated in the Mosaic law that the priest made atonement. Any thoughtful person would have soon concluded that indeed the blood of bulls and goats could not of itself atone for sin (Heb. 10:4). The role of the priest in bringing about the atonement was therefore critical. And yet they too were flawed. So this invited the spiritually minded to look forward to the coming of an ideal priest, the Lord Jesus.

Lev 12:8 If she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves, or two young pigeons: the one for a burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean’-
The poverty of Mary the mother of Jesus is indicated by the fact she offered doves and not a lamb (Lk. 2:24). He knew poverty. Even within the bird offerings there was a gradation. Turtledoves were larger than pigeons and more valuable, but they are only in Israel at certain times of the year; whereas pigeons are in Israel all year round, were easier to catch and were therefore cheaper. The various possible levels within God's law reflect our opportunities to serve on different levels, just as the good soil of the sower parable brings forth different amounts. Some will make more of God's truth than others. The very existence of these levels, rather than a simple binary demand of obedience / disobedience, pass / fail, of itself inspires us to serve God as extensively as we can. For who can be a minimalist in response to His love.