UNCLEANNESS DERIVED FROM CHILDBIRTH.
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 Hindoo 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).
She shall be unclean seven days. The mother is to be unclean seven days, and after that to be in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days (Leviticus 12:4). The difference between these two states maybe seen by looking on to Le Leviticus 15:19-28, and comparing that passage with Leviticus 15:4 of this chapter. In the first stage, during the seven days, she made all that she touched unclean; in the second stage, during the thirty-three days, she was only required to touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, as she was progressing towards cleanness. The number of days during which she is to be altogether unclean is to be according to the days of the separation for her infirmity, that is, seven days, as in the case of her monthly courses (see Le Leviticus 15:19). In the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. The Levitical legislation recognizes the regulation as to the day of the circumcision made at the time of the covenant with Abraham. "And he that is eight days old (or a son of eight days) shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations" (Genesis 17:12). 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 (Leviticus 7:19-21; Leviticus 22:3; Numbers 9:6; Numbers 18:11; 1 Samuel 21:5)' (Kalisch).
If she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks;… 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, anti 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 2:20, 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."
Leviticus 12:6, Leviticus 12:7
The previous verses having stated the conditions and the term of continuance of the uncleanness arising from childbirth, the three final verses describe the offerings to be made by the woman for her purification. 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.
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).
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. Where any prohibitory injunctions are given on the subject, the purpose is to avoid ceremonial, not moral, uncleanness (Exodus 19:15; 1 Samuel 21:4; cf. Le 1 Samuel 15:18).
Some fifteen hundred years after this law of purification after childbirth had been given to and by Moses, a man child was born in a country which did not at the time of the legislation of Moses belong to the Israelites, and which those whom Moses addressed had never seen. The country was Palestine, the city Bethlehem. The birth took place in a stable, for the mother was poor. For eight days she remained unclean, and on the eighth day the child was circumcised, and "his name was called Jesus" (Luke 2:21). For thirty-three days longer she continued "in the blood of her purifying" (Leviticus 12:4), and then "when the days of their purification according to the Law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice, according to that which is said in the Law of the Lord" (Luke 2:22, Luke 2:24). Had the mother been wealthy, she would have offered a lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or turtle-dove, for a sin offering, but though of the house and lineage of David, she was poor, and her sacrifice was therefore "a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons"—one of the birds being for a burnt offering, betokening the devotion of her life afresh to God after the peril that she had gone through; the other for a sin offering, recognizing her share in the penalty of Eve as partaker in original sin. "On bringing her offering, she would enter the temple through 'the gate of the firstborn,' and stand in waiting at the gate of Nicanor, from the time that the incense was kindled on the golden altar. Behind her, in the court of the women, was the crowd of worshippers, while she herself, at the top of the Levites' steps, which led up to the great court, would witness all that passed in the sanctuary. At last one of the officiating priests would come to her at the gate of Nicanor, and take from her hand the poor's offering, which she had brought. The morning sacrifice was ended, and but few would linger behind while the offering for her purification was actually made. She who brought it mingled prayer and thanksgiving with the service. And now the priest once more approached her, and, sprinkling her with the sacrificial blood, declared her cleansed. Her 'firstborn' was next redeemed at the hand of the priest with five shekels of silver; two benedictions being at the same time pronounced—one for the happy event which had enriched the family with a firstborn, the other for the law of redemption" (Edersheim, 'Temple Service '). It was probably as she descended the steps that Simeon took the babe from her arms, and blessed God and them, and that Anna "gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). "And when they had performed all things according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth" (Luke 2:39). Thus obediently did the virgin mother of the Lord submit herself to the regulations of the Levitical Law, and thus humbly and graciously did the infant Saviour begin from the day of his birth to "fulfill all righteousness'' (Matthew 3:15) in his own person, though by the hands of others.
1. To obey the positive laws and to submit to the positive institutions of the religious community to which we belong,
2. To take measures, when we have even involuntarily and without sin on our part ceased to be in open communion with God and God's people, to recover that communion.
3. To see that the measures which we take with this end are appointed by God or by his authority, and are in accordance with his will.
4. To be sure that such steps as we take be accompanied by an acknowledgment of sin and a throwing ourselves for acceptance on the merits of the sacrifice of the cross (which is our sin offering), and a consecration of ourselves to God's service (which is our burnt offering).
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The purification of the Church.
At the commencement of his treatise on this Book of Leviticus, Cyril of Alexandria truly says, that as the Word of God came into the world arrayed in flesh, in which bodily appearance he was seen of all, while his divinity was seen only by the elect; so has the written Word a letter, or outward sense, which is obvious to ordinary perception, and an inward meaning which must be spiritually discerned. According to this rule, the purification of the Church is the subject of the text, which is presented under two aspects. It is—
I. DISTRIBUTIVELY CONSIDERED. The necessity of the spiritual birth may be collected:
1. From the impurity of the natural.
2. From the rite of circumcision.
II. COLLECTIVELY CONSIDERED.
1. The Church is the mother of the children of God.
2. In her present state she is impure.
3. But she is in the process of her purification.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Born in sin.
cf. Genesis 3:16; Psalms 51:5; Luke 2:21; 1 Timothy 2:15. From the division of the animals into clean and unclean, and the sanctity thereby inculcated, we are invited to proceed to those personal liabilities to uncleanness for which due rites were provided. The first of these takes life at its fountain-head, and refers to the uncleanness connected with birth. Motherhood involved a longer or shorter period of ceremonial separation—forty days in the case of a son, seventy days in the case of a daughter, after which a burnt offering and a sin offering are to be presented to the Lord, and atonement made for her that she may be clean.
I. 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" (1 Timothy 2:7) stamps the physical process with defilement. No mother can avoid this sense of personal uncleanness, not even the blessed Virgin (Luke 3:22-24). Upon the fact it is needless to dwell.
II. THE MORAL COUNTERPART TO THIS IS THE FACT THAT SIN IS TRANSMITTED BY ORDINARY GENERATION. As David puts it in Psalms 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.
III. 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.
IV. 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, ", 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.
V. 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" ( τοῦ καθαρισμοῦ αὐτῶν, not αὐτῆς), 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." 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. Thus did Mary, as mother of Jesus, fulfill all righteousness.
VI. 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 (1 Timothy 2:15). God's meaning was through the child-bearing ( διὰ τῆς τεκνογονίας), 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 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. "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.—R.M.E.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The statutes on maternity.
We may seek—
I. THE EXPLANATION or THIS STATUTE. And we shall find the explanation
1. The sorrow of maternity (John 16:21) points clearly to the primeval curse, and therefore to the primeval sin (Genesis 3:16).
2. The birth of a human child means the entrance into the world of one in whom are the germs of sin (Psalms 51:5; Psalms 58:3; Ephesians 2:3).
3. Maternity suggests the sexual relation, and that suggests the abounding and baneful sin of impurity. Hence sin is associated with the birth of the human infant, and the physical condition (Leviticus 12:7) attending it is typical of sin, constitutes "uncleanness," and necessitates purification.
II. THE THOUGHTS WE GAIN FROM THIS STATUTE. We learn:
1. The communicativeness of sin. We transmit our follies, our errors, our iniquities, by ordinary generation. Our children, because they are our children, will go astray, and will be in danger of those very errors into which we ourselves have fallen. Those who become parents must take the responsibility of bringing into the world children like themselves, who will inherit their dispositions, their habits of thought, their character. Sin is communicated from generation to generation through heredity, and also through the contagiousness of evil example. There is nothing more diffusive.
2. The extension of the consequences of sin. How sin sends forth its stream of sorrow! The pangs of maternity, answered by the opening cry of the infant as it enters the world—do these not speak the truth, that a world of sin is a world of sorrow, that succeeding generations of sinners are succeeding generations of sufferers, and that this will he so to the end of the world?
3. The removableness of guilt from the sight of God. The "uncleanness" of the mother was not irremovable. It did temporarily but did not permanently separate her from the sanctuary (Leviticus 12:4). After a limited retirement she might come with her sin offering and her burnt offering to "the door of the tabernacle" (Leviticus 12:6). If she were poor she might bring an offering within the reach of the poorest (Leviticus 12:8), and the priest would "make atonement," and she would "be clean" (Leviticus 12:8). Whatever guilt we contract, whether in communicating evil to others or as the indirect consequence of the sin of others, by whatsoever our souls have been defiled, our lives stained and corrupted, we may all come to the cross of the Redeemer, and through his atoning sacrifice be made clean in the sight of God. And thus coming, our sin offering will not be unaccompanied by a burnt offering; the forgiveness of our sin will be followed by the dedication of our whole selves to the service of the Lord.—C.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
Woman under the Law and under the gospel.
Every childbirth re-echoes in the ears of woman the sentence passed upon her ancestress Eve. That such a season of rejoicing should be attended with such throes of agony speaks loudly of the curse entailed by sin. There is no earthly pleasure entirely free from its shadow, pain. Great movements of society, deep thoughts, even inspiring melodies, are not ushered into the world without the pangs of travail.
I. THE LAW REMINDS US HERE OF WOMAN'S CONNECTION WITH THE PRIMAL SIN.
1. She is to be considered "unclean" for a fixed period after bringing forth a child. In the first part of "separation for her infirmity," she communicates defilement to whatever she touches, and must therefore, as far as possible, remain apart. But in the succeeding thirty-three or sixty-six "days of her purifying," she may fulfill her domestic duties, only she must not come into contact with hallowed things, not partake of sacrificial meals, nor enter the sanctuary, Thus the fulfillment of her maternal hopes renders her unfit for a season to join in the worship of the holy God. She is led to rejoice with trembling; she is at once exalted and depressed. She sees that the new life is not separate from corruption, is allied to uncleanness and death, and in order to be redeemed requires hallowing by obedience to God's ordinances.
2. To cleanse the mother from the stains of childbirth and to allow of restored fellowship with God, atonement is requisite. First a burnt offering, that the life spared and secluded temporarily may be wholly surrendered in spirit to the Author and Sustainer of life. Then a sin offering to expiate all ceremonial offenses connected with the begetting of children. If these rites appertain simply to the parent, yet must the knowledge of them afterwards acquaint the child with the state of separation from God into which it was the unwitting instrument of introducing the parent, and there is at least a hint that the origin of life is not free from taint.
II. THE LAW INDICATES THE INFERIOR ESTEEM IN WHICH WOMAN WAS ANCIENTLY HELD.
1. The uncleanness contracted by bearing a female child lasted twice as long as when a boy was born. This has indeed been explained on physiological grounds, as formerly maintained, But there is ample warrant for the other view (see 1 Samuel 1:11; Jeremiah 20:15, and John 16:21, for the joy caused by the birth of a male child). In Le Leviticus 27:5, the female is esteemed at half the price of the male. Each mother of a male might cherish the hope that to her was granted the promised seed—the Messiah.
2. No rite of initiation into the covenant for the female. The Jews regarded circumcision as the badge of honour, the mark of privilege and blessing. Woman entered the nation without special recognition. She was not capable of becoming the head of a family, on whose proved nationality so much depended, for if she married she became a member of her husband's family.
III. THE GOSPEL DIGNIFIES THE POSITION OF WOMAN.
1. It abolishes before the Lord distinctions of sex. "There is neither male nor female; ye are all one in Christ Jesus." "There is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision." Woman has equal rights with man, saving only what natural modesty forbids her claiming, and what is the general law promulgated from the first (Genesis 3:16), that the husband shall rule over her. Both men and women are baptized (Acts 8:12) and endowed with the Spirit.
2. It is the glory of woman to have been the medium of the incarnation of the Son of God. Her shame is removed. Even the poverty of woman is ennobled by the example of the Virgin Mary bringing her "pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."
3. Woman's quick appreciation of truth and steadfast fidelity are specially notable under the preaching of Christ and the apostles. Ready to adore the Lord. as an intent, to supply his wants during his ministry, to bathe his feet with repentant, grateful tears, to anoint him before his burial, to follow him on the road to Calvary, to be nearest to him at the cross, and the first at his grave on the Resurrection morn, woman occupies a place in the gospel records alike conspicuous and honourable. Nor are the faith and love and devotion of woman less marked in the Acts and the Epistles. Well has woman striven to erase the stigma of the first transgression. Eighteen centuries of the continually progressive elevation of woman in the social and mental scale have only attested the cardinal principles of Christianity. The position of woman in any nation now serves as an index to the stage of civilization which it has reached.—S.R.A.
HOMILIES BY R.A. REDFORD
For defilement from secretions and from leprosy. The double object—to exalt the sacred laws, to honour the natural laws of health and cleanliness. Thus we are taught—
I. RELIGION PRESERVES, PURIFIES, EXALTS HUMAN NATURE. The facts of family life are to be connected with the sanctuary. The more we think of both the joyful and the sorrowful events of our individual and social life as intimately bound up with our religion, the better we shall be prepared to find God's blessing always both preserving and sanctifying.
II. ALL REGULATIONS WHICH CONCERN THE BODILY LIFE AND THE TEMPORAL HAPPINESS OF MEN SHOULD BE SURROUNDED WITH RELIGIOUS REVERENCE. Science is a curse to the world unless it is the handmaid to religion. Oar bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost. Our earthly life is the threshold of eternity.
III. TYPICALLY. Leprosy represents human depravity and misery. We see it brought into relation to the cleansing blood of atonement. The sin which works death both by the individual acts and by contact with others, both in person and in condition, is cleansed away both in guilt and in power. The leper is not excluded from mercy, but is dealt with by the priest as having his place in the covenant. Our vileness does not shut us out from the love or' God, but his love is revealed as an atoning love. "He is able to save unto the uttermost," but it is "those who come unto God by him."—R.