The Israelite purity codes point out potent, momentous elements of life and tell Israel to pay careful attention. Go slow here. Warning. There is something glorious here. What you eat, what you touch, your bodies, death and dying, sexuality, and childbearing are potent, powerful forces in the world that God made. Under God’s blessing, they are forces for good, but in our fallen state, they naturally become forces for evil, harm, and destruction. Uncleanness points to our natural fallen state, and points to our need for a new Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, and urges care, wisdom, repentance, worship, and obedience in all things.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying if a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days” (Lev. 12:1-8).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
When a woman gave birth to a son, she was ceremonially unclean for seven days, the son was to be circumcised on the 8th day, and then she continued in a state of purifying for another 33 days, for a total of 40 days (12:1-4). When a woman bore a daughter, she was unclean for fourteen days, and then continued in a state of purifying for another 66 days, for a total of 80 days (12:5). At the end of the time of purifying, the new mother was to bring an ascension offering and a sin offering to the tabernacle, one for atonement and one for cleansing from her blood, with a provision for the poor (12:6-8).
THE PROMISE OF THE SEED
While these ceremonies can seem strange or even offensive to modern ears, there really is a logic to it all and something profoundly glorious is going on here. Remember, that God blessed Adam and Eve with the command to be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and ruling over all the creatures (Gen. 1:28). This means that conception and childbearing was originally blessed by God and is part of what God pronounced “very good” (Gen. 1:31). But Adam sinned, and God pronounced curses on the ground that man worked and greater pain in a woman’s childbearing, and promised that now death would come upon all (Gen. 3:16-19). This general curse of sin and death in the world is what theologians call “original sin,” and all people (except for Jesus) are conceived and born with this covenantal guilt and natural proclivity to sin and corruption (Ps. 51: 5, Is. 48:8, Rom. 3:23, 5:12-19, 6:23). This is part of what God was teaching Israel in their purity codes: sin and death infects everything to some extent, and Israel cannot approach God unless He makes a way of cleansing. However, God also promised Adam and Eve a “seed” (a descendent) who would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). God promised that through the seed of the woman, the curse would be reversed.
FULFILLED IN JESUS
This text is fulfilled in the gospel initially in the circumcision of Jesus and Mary’s purification (Lk. 2:21-24). Circumcision was the Old Covenant sign that pictured the need for the shedding of blood for our sins and the cutting off of our sinful flesh. This is why the time for purification is cut in half for a baby boy because the baby boy at least symbolically shared the other half of the purification process. Jesus did not need to receive the sign of removal of sin for any personal sins anymore than He needed to be baptized for the remission of any sins, but in both cases it was to stand with us as our representative (covenant) head, to fulfill all righteousness (cf. Mt. 3:15). All of this was completely fulfilled in the cross, which Paul figuratively calls “the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11), where our sins and the “uncircumcision” of our flesh was forgiven and all the condemnation of the law was nailed to His cross (Col. 2:13-14).
It’s particularly glorious that Jesus rose from the dead on the “8th Day,” the day of circumcision, which is of course also the first day of the week, the day of new creation, the day of the removal of the curse.
Part of what this text underlines and which is highly offensive to modern sensibilities is the inequality of the sexes. We have been catechized and discipled by modern secularism to jump at every hint of inequality and to presume that this necessarily implies inequality of value. But men and women are gloriously unequal (1 Cor. 11:3, 7-11), and both bear the image of God equally in creation and are co-heirs of the grace of life in Christ (Gen. 1:27, 1 Pet. 3:7).
God loves the glorious differences and inequalities of male and female, and He loves how they image Him. And so should we, and therefore we hate the sexual promiscuity that makes light of this glory, the utter fruitlessness and impossibility of homosexuality, and the utter confusion and blasphemy of transgenderism.
This text points us to the glory of childbearing, the profound beauty of motherhood, the way that the curse of sin and death has attempted to infect it, and it all points to the glory of Christ who is now in the process of redeeming it all. By His blood, He has removed the ceremonial curse, and while we still battle with the presence of the curse in this world and in our bodies, Christ has commandeered death itself, such that even the remaining signs of the curse are turned into marks of the cross for those who are in Christ Jesus (cf. Gal. 6:17).
The reason our culture rages against motherhood is because it is so beautiful and powerful (Ps. 139). There is nothing more potent in this world than people made in the image of God. This is why marriage and the gift of children are so central to the working out of the gospel. This is why the Bible even says that a woman may be “saved through childbirth” (1 Tim. 2:15). This does not mean that a single or barren woman cannot be saved, but it does mean that all women are called to embrace by faith the vocation of motherhood. Whether or not you bear your own children, you are to be fruitful in your home, cultivate beauty, feed the hungry, and in all of it, be the glory of man.