READ: Leviticus 12:1-8
Uncleanness in Childbirth
This is quite a passage! An explanation of a woman being considered unclean for between 40 (for boys) and 80 (for girls) days after giving birth. This chapter actually changes perspective on the clean and unclean laws by shifting focus from outward influences that would ‘defile’ a person (in the previous chapter) to inward occurrences that would cause a person to be considered unclean and therefore unholy. Remember, of course, that a state of uncleanness was not always an issue of having or losing salvation; uncleanness was an issue of not being whole and as complete as was expected and therefore was ritually considered unholy.
After giving birth a woman was considered unclean and could transmit that uncleanness for the period of her’customary impurity’ (which relates to the same length of unclean time during ‘each month’); after that 7/14 day period she became unclean only in the sense that she could not eat of holy food or go into the temple.
I guess one of the biggest questions of this passage is why childbirth was an occassion to be considered unclean!?! Maybe, the best suggestion would be the symbolism of the loss of blood after childbirth. It was through blood that atonement was bought (17:11) but at the same time a loss of blood (which has been medically suggested happens longer at the birth of a female that a male) pictured a loss of life – it was a state of incompleteness – therefore a picture of unholiness.
In light of blood being both essential and ‘defiling’ one commentator makes an interesting point that ‘Our greatest woes result from the corruption of our highest good.’ (Wenham, NICOT)
Things in life that have the greatest of potential for blessing and perfection can also be tools for curses and pollution. Take speech for example – from the same use of the tongue flows both blessing and cursing (James 3:1-12). For these areas in life to be considered practically holy they were to be used for the purpose they were created – the purpose of the tongue is not to degrade mankind.
It is an interesting exercise to think through the many practices and gifts of life and to ponder how we can ‘redeem’ those areas towards practical holiness.