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Saturday, July 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14
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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 12

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-8

Leviticus 12:1-8

She shall Be unclean.

Birth-sin and its developments

The theme of the chapter is the same as that of the one preceding and the one following. The subject is sin, portrayed by symbols. In the division of the animals into clean and unclean we had the nature of sin in its general character and outward manifestations. It is a brutalisation of humanity. It has its type in all sorts of savage, noxious, vile, annoying creatures. But this chapter presents another and still more affecting phase of man’s corruption. Surveying those masses of sin and vileness which hang about our world, the question arises, Whence comes it? How are we to account for it? It is useless to attribute it to errors in the structure of society, for society itself is the mere aggregate of human life, feelings, opinions, intercourse, agreement, and doings. It is man that corrupts society, and not society that corrupts man. The one may react very powerfully upon the other, but the errors and corruptions in both must have a common source. What is that seat? Penetrating to the moral signification of this chapter, we have the true answer. Sin is not only a grovelling brutality assumed or taken upon a man from without. It is a manifestation which comes from within. It is a corruption which cleaves to the nature, mingles with the very transmissions of life, and taints the vital forces as they descend from parent to child, from generation to generation. We are unclean, not only practically and by contact with a bad world, but innately. We were conceived in sin; we were shapen in iniquity. And it is just this that forms the real subject of this chapter. It is the type of the source and seat of human vileness. The uncleanness here spoken of is no more a real uncleanness than that attributed to certain animals in the preceding chapter. The whole regulation is ceremonial, and not at all binding upon us. It is an arbitrary law, made only for the time then present, as a figure of spiritual truths. Its great significance lies in its typical nature. And a more vivid and impressive picture can hardly be conceived. It imposes a special legal disability upon woman, and so connects with the fact that “the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (1 Timothy 2:14). It is a vivid remembrancer of the occurrences in Eden. It tells us that we all have come of sinful mothers. It portrays defilement as the state in which we receive our being; for “who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one” (Job 14:4). You may plant a good seed, and surround it with all the conditions necessary to a goodly plant; but it may put forth so eccentrically, or meet with some mishap in the incipient stages of its development, in consequence of which all its subsequent growth will be marred, and all its fruits give evidence of the adversities that befell it in the beginning. You may open a pure fountain, giving forth nothing but pure, good water; yet the issuing stream may touch upon poison and take up turbid corn-mixtures at its first departure from its source, and so carry and show pollution whithersoever it goes. And so it has been with humanity. It was created pure and good, but by that power of free choice which necessarily belongs to a moral being some of its first movements were eccentric and detrimental to its original qualities. It absorbed vileness at its very beginning; and hence all its subsequent develop-merits have upon them the taint of that first mishap and contagion. It is worse in some lines than in others. The operations of Divine grace in the parent doubtless help to enfeeble it in the child. Now it is just to this universal taint of human nature, derived from the defection of Adam, that the whole outgrowth of this world’s iniquity is to be traced. By virtue of our relation to an infected parentage we come into the world with more or less affinity for evil. The presentation of the objects to which this proclivity leans awakens those biases into activity. This awakening of the power of lust is what we call temptation. There is an innate taint or bias, the presentation to which of the objects of evil desire involuntarily excites lust; and from this has flown out the flood of evil which has deluged all the earth. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

In the eighth day the flesh . . . shall be circumcised.

The ordinance of circumcision

Although the rite of circumcision here receives a new and special sanction, it had been appointed long before by God as the sign of His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14). Nor was it, probably, even then a new thing. That the ancient Egyptians practised it is well known; so also did the Arabs and Phoenicians; in fact, the custom has been very extensively observed, not only by nations with whom the Israelites came in contact, but by others who have not had, in historic times, connection with any civilised peoples, as, e.g., the Congo negroes and certain Indian tribes in South America. The fundamental idea connected with circumcision by most of the peoples who have practised it appears to have been physical purification; indeed, the Arabs call it by the name tatur, which has this precise meaning. And it deserves to be noticed that for this idea regarding circumcision there is so much reason in fact that high medical authorities have attributed to it a real hygienic value, especially in warm climates. No one need feel any difficulty in supposing that this common conception attached to the rite also in the minds of the Hebrews. Rather all the more fitting it was, if there was a basis in fact for this familiar opinion, that God should thus have taken a ceremony already known to the surrounding peoples, and in itself of a wholesome physical effect, and constituted it for Abraham and his seed a symbol of an analogous spiritual fact, namely, the purification of sin at its fountain-head, the cleansing of the evil nature with which we all are born. When the Hebrew infant was circumcised it was an outward sign and seal of the covenant of God with Abraham and with his seed to be a God to him and to his seed after him; and it signified further that this covenant of God was to be carried out and made effectual only through the putting away of the flesh, the corrupt nature with which we are born, and of all that belongs to it, in order that, thus circumcised with the circumcision of the heart, every child of Abraham might indeed be an Israelite in whom there should be no guile. And the law commands, in accord with the original command to Abraham, that the circumcision should take place on the eighth day. This is the more noticeable, that among other nations which practised or still practise the rite the time is different. The Egyptians circumcised their sons between the sixth and tenth years, the modern Mohammedans between the twelfth and fourteenth. What is the significance of this eighth day? In the first place, it is easy to see that we have in this direction a provision of God’s mercy; for if delayed beyond infancy or early childhood, as among many other peoples, the operation is much more serious, and may even involve some danger, while in so early infancy it is comparatively trifling, and attended with no risk. Further, by the administration of circumcision at the very opening of life it is suggested that in the Divine ideal the grace which was signified thereby, of the cleansing of nature, was to be bestowed upon the child, not first at a late period of life, but from its very beginning, thus anticipating the earliest awakening of the principle of inborn sin. But the question still remains, Why was the eighth day selected, and not rather, e.g., the sixth or seventh, which weald have no less perfectly represented these ideas? The answer is to be found in the symbolic significance of the eighth day. As the old creation was completed in six days, with a following Sabbath of rest, so that six is ever the number of the old creation, as under imperfection and sin, the eighth day, the first of a new week, everywhere in Scripture appears as the number symbolic of the new creation, in which all things shall be restored in the great redemption through the Second Adam. The thought finds its fullest expression in the resurrection of Christ, as the Firstborn from the dead, the Beginning and the Lord of the new creation, who in His resurrection body manifested the firstfruits in physical life of the new creation, rising from the dead on the first, or, in other words, the day after the seventh, the eighth day. (S. H. Kellogg, D. D.)

Her purifying.--Purification after child-birth

The teaching of this law is twofold: it concerns, first, the woman, and, secondly, the child which she bears. As regards the woman, it emphasises the fact that, because “first in the transgression,” she is under special pains and penalties in virtue of her sex. The capacity of motherhood, which is her crown and glory, though still a precious privilege, has yet been made, because of sin, an inevitable instrument of pain, and that because of her relation to the first sin. We are thus reminded that the specific curse denounced against the woman (Genesis 3:16) is no dead letter, but a fact. No doubt the conception is one which raises difficulties which in themselves are great, and to modern thought are greater than ever. Nevertheless, the fact abides unaltered that even to this day woman is under special pains and disabilities inseparably connected with her power of motherhood. But why should all the daughters of Eve suffer because of her sin? Where is the justice in such an ordinance? A question this is to which we cannot yet give any satisfactory answer. But it does not follow that because in any proposition there are difficulties which at present we are unable to solve therefore the proposition is false. And, further, it is important to observe that this law, under which womanhood abides, is after all only a special case under that law of the Divine government by which the iniquities of the fathers are visited upon the children. It is most certainly a law which, to our apprehension, suggests great moral difficulties, even to the most reverent spirits; but it is no less certainly a law which represents a conspicuous and tremendous fact, which is illustrated, e.g., in the family of every drunkard in the world. And it is well worth observing that while the ceremonial law, which was specially intended to keep this fact before the mind and the conscience, is abrogated, tile fact that woman is stiff under certain Divinely-imposed disabilities because of that first sin is reaffirmed in the New Testament, and is by apostolic authority applied in the administration of Church government (1 Timothy 2:12-13). But, in the second place, we may also derive abiding instruction from this law concerning the child which is of man begotten and of woman born. It teaches us that not only has the curse thus fallen on the woman, but that, because she is herself a sinful creature, she can only bring forth another sinful creature like herself; and if a daughter, then a daughter inheriting all her own peculiar infirmities and disabilities. The law, as regards both mother and child, expresses in the language of symbolism those words of David in his penitential confession (Psalms 51:5). Men may contemptuously call this “theology,” or even rail at it as “Calvinism”; but it is more than theology, more than Calvinism; it is a fact, to which until this present time history has seen but one exception, even that mysterious Son of the Virgin, who claimed, however, to be no mere man, but the Christ, the Son of the Blessed! And yet many, who surely can think but superficially upon the solemn facts of life, still object to this most strenuously, that even the new-born child should be regarded as in nature sinful and unclean. Difficulty here we must all admit--difficulty so great that it is hard to overstate it--regarding the bearing of this fact on the character of the holy and merciful God, who in the beginning made man; and yet, surely, deeper thought must confess that herein the Mosaic view of infant nature--a view which is assumed and taught throughout Holy Scripture--however humbling to our natural pride, is only in strictest accord with what the admitted principles of the most exact science compel us to admit. For whenever, in any case, we find all creatures of the same class doing, under all circumstances, any one thing, we conclude that the reason for this can only lie in the nature of such creatures, antecedent to any influence of a tendency to imitation. If, for instance, the ox everywhere and always eats the green thing of the earth, and not flesh, the reason, we say, is found simply in the nature of the ox as he comes into being. So when we see all men everywhere, under all circumstances, as soon as ever they come to the time of free moral choice, always choosing and committing sin, what can we conclude--regarding this not as a theological, but merely as a scientific question--but that man, as he comes into the world, must have a sinful nature? And this being so, then why must not the law of heredity apply, according to which, by a law which knows of no exceptions, like ever produces its like? Least of all, then, should those object to the view of child-nature which is represented in this law who accept these commonplaces of modern science as representing facts. Wiser it were to turn attention to the other teaching of the law, that, notwithstanding these sad and humiliating facts, there is provision made by God, through the cleansing by grace of the very nature in which we are born and atonement for the sin which without our fault we inherit, for a complete redemption from all the inherited corruption and guilt. And especially should Christian parents with joy and thankfulness receive the manifest teaching of this law, that God our Father offers to parental faith Himself to take in hand our children, even from the earliest beginning of their infant days, and, purifying the fountain of their life through “a circumcision made without hands,” receive the little ones into covenant relation with Himself, to their eternal salvation. (S. H. Kellogg D. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Leviticus 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/leviticus-12.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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