Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Leviticus 12

Leviticus 12: Rules for “purification” after childbirth

Synopsis

I’m not ashamed to say that I don’t understand the rules in this chapter at all. So I’m just going to present it as-is. (Well, that’s what I always try to do; but in this case, I have even less opinion than usual, getting in the way of reporting what the text says.)

  • When a woman gave birth to a son, she was to be considered ceremonially unclean for seven days.
    • It says that she was unclean “just as she [was] unclean during her monthly period” (verse 2), which means that there will probably be rules later on for uncleanness during a woman’s period.
    • On the eighth day, the boy was to be circumcised.
    • The woman was to then wait 33 days to be purified for her bleeding; she wasn’t to touch anything sacred, or go to the sanctuary, until the 33 days were up.
  • If the woman gave birth to a daughter, the rules were similar, but doubled: She was to be considered unclean for 14 days, instead of 7, and had to wait 66 days to be purified from her bleeding, instead of 33.
  • Son or daughter, when the days of her purification were over, she was to bring a year-old lamb to the priest, at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, for a sin offering, as well as a pigeon or dove for a sin offering.
    • If she couldn’t afford a lamb, she was to bring two doves or pigeons; one would be offered for the burnt offering, and the other for the sin offering.
    • The priest would then offer them for her “to make atonement for her”, and then she would be “ceremonially clean from her flow of blood” (verse 7).

Thoughts

My first thought, when reading this, was similar to something I mentioned in the last chapter: When the Old Testament is talking about “uncleanness”, it’s not the same as “sin”—just because you’re unclean, it doesn’t mean you have sinned. So when I read about a woman being unclean after childbirth, I figured “well, okay, so she’s unclean—she’s not able to worship in the same ways, and can’t touch holy things, etc.—but it doesn’t mean she sinned.” But then I read about her having to bring a “sin offering” after the childbirth. So what’s going on? Am I wrong about this—is uncleanness really sin?

I have a thought, on why this might be: During her uncleanness, the woman was not allowed to go to the sanctuary, or touch anything holy, or worship the LORD. So perhaps the sin offering she is offering is for any sins she committed during her purification period? I mean, she hasn’t been able to offer sacrifices during that time, so any sins she would have committed for that 33 or 66 days haven’t been atoned for.

The other thing I don’t understand, from this chapter, is why the period of uncleanness, and then the period of purification, were doubled when the woman gave birth to a daughter, instead of a son. I don’t have any theories on this.
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