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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 11

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-47




THE two preceding parts having made manifest the way of approach to God by means of sacrifice and the appointed priesthood of mediation, there follows a part having for its subject that which keeps man apart from God, namely, uncleanness, whether ceremonial uncleanness, which may be removed by ceremonial observances, or moral uncleanness, that is, unrighteousness, which, so far as it is a ceremonial offense, may be also dealt with ceremonially, but in respect to its moral character demands punishment. This part consists of four sections. The first section, comprising chapters 11-15, treats of ceremonial uncleanness, caused

(1) by unclean food (Leviticus 11:1-47);

(2) by childbirth (Leviticus 12:1-8.);

(3) by the leprosy of man and of garments and of houses (Leviticus 13:1-59, Leviticus 14:1-57);

(4) by issues (Leviticus 15:1-33).

The second section deals with the uncleanness contracted every year by the whole congregation, to be annually atoned for on the great Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1-34), followed by a parenthetical chapter as to the place in which sacrifice is to be offered—sacrifice being the means by which purification from uncleanness is to be effected (Leviticus 17:1-16). The third section is on moral uncleanness, or sin (Leviticus 18:1-30, Leviticus 19:1-37), and its punishment (Leviticus 20:1-27). The fourth relates to the ceremonial and moral uncleanness of priests (Leviticus 21:1-24, Leviticus 22:1-33).

The idea underlying ceremonial uncleanness is not peculiar to the Jews. With the Greeks the idea of moral beauty was borrowed from physical beauty, and the standard of moral excellence was the beautiful. With the Hebrews physical ugliness is taken as the symbol of moral ugliness or deformity: whatever is foul is the type of what is evil. That which we have a natural admiration for is good, said the Greek; that which we have a natural repugnance for represents to us what is evil, said the Hebrew. In either case, taste appears to take the place of moral judgment; but in Greek philosophy, moral taste and moral judgment had come to be identical, while the Hebrew knew that what taste condemned was not therefore of itself evil, but only symbolical and representative of evil.
Another principle underlies the Hebrew theory of uncleanness. It is that whatever is itself foul, and therefore symbolical of sin, conveys the quality of foulness, and therefore of ceremonial uncleanness to any one it comes in contact with, and often to anything which it touches. Thus a dead body, quickly assuming a loathsome appearance in the East, where the setting in of corruption is very rapid, is unclean itself, and conveys uncleanness to those who touch it. The leper is unclean, and transmits uncleanness by his touch; and certain foul diseases and fluxes from the human body have the same effect. These and such like things, being always repulsive, always cause uncleanness; but there are others which, while in some associations they are utterly repellent, in others are not so. For example, there are some vermin and insects which are pretty to the eye, but the thought of eating them creates a natural feeling of disgust. These, in so far as they are not repulsive, that is, as creeping or flying creatures, are not unclean, nor does their touch produce uncleanness, but as objects of food they are "an abomination."

Hence we are able to explain the distinction of clean and unclean animals. It does not rest upon a sanitary basis, though the prohibition to eat carnivorous and other animals repulsive to the taste is probably in accordance with the rules of health. Nor is it based on political reasons, though it is probable that the distinction kept the Jews apart kern other nations, and so served an important political purpose. Nor is the injunction in the main theological, though we know that in later times the favourite interpretation was that the clean animals represented the Jews, and the unclean animals the Gentiles (Acts 10:28). Rather it was that certain creatures were forbidden because they were offensive to the taste, and, being so offensive, they were symbolical of vicious things, which must be avoided, lest they make those that partake of them or touch them to become vicious like themselves.

Leviticus 15:2-8 contain the regulations relating to the eating of quadrupeds; Leviticus 15:9-12, those relating to fish; Leviticus 15:13-19, those relating to birds; Leviticus 15:20-23, those relating to flying insects; Leviticus 15:29, Leviticus 15:30, those relating to unwinged creeping things; verses 41-44, those relating to vermin. Leviticus 15:23-28 and Lev 15:31 -40 extend the defiling effect to the simple touch of the dead carouses of animals, whether edible or not.

Leviticus 11:1

The Lord spake unto Moses and to Aaron. Aaron, having now been consecrated high priest, is joined with Moses as the recipient of the laws on cleanness and uncleanness in Le Leviticus 11:1; Leviticus 13:1; Leviticus 14:33; Leviticus 15:1. His name is not mentioned in Le Leviticus 12:1; Leviticus 14:1; Leviticus 17:1; Leviticus 18:1; Leviticus 19:1; Leviticus 20:1; Leviticus 21:1, Leviticus 21:16; Leviticus 22:1, Leviticus 22:17, Leviticus 22:26. Probably there is no signification in these omissions.

Leviticus 11:2

These are the beasts that ye shall eat. In order that the Israelites might know how to avoid the uncleanness arising from the consumption of unclean flesh, plain rules are given them by which they may distinguish what flesh is clean and what is unclean. The first rule is that anything that dies of itself is unclean, whether it be beast, bird, or fish. The reasons of this are plain: for

(1) the flesh still retains the blood, which no Israelite might eat; and

(2) there is something loathsome in the idea of eating such flesh. Next, as to beasts, a class is marked off as edible by two plainly discernible characteristics, and instances are given to show that where there is any doubt owing to the animals possessing one of the characteristic marks only, the rule is to be construed strictly. As to fish and insects, equally plain rules, one in each case, are laid down; but as birds are not readily distinguished into large classes, the names of those that are unclean are given one by one, the remainder being all of them permissible. Thus the simple Israelite would run no risk of incurring uncleanness by inadvertently eating unclean food, whether of beast, bird, fish, or insect. The object of the regulations being to exclude all meats naturally offensive to the human taste, all carnivorous quadrupeds are shut out by the rule of chewing the cud (Leviticus 11:3), with the same purpose, birds of prey and birds that eat offal are prohibited (Leviticus 11:13-19), and scaleless fish on account of their repulsive appearance (Leviticus 11:9-12), as well as beetles, maggots, and vermin of all sorts. In the case of beasts and fish, the rules laid down to mark off those things that are offensive, being general in their application, are such as to include in the forbidden class some few which do not appear naturally loathsome. This is owing partly to the difficulty of classification, partly to a change of feeling which experience has wrought in the sentiments of mankind with regard to such edibles as swine's flesh and shell-fish.

Leviticus 11:3, Leviticus 11:4

Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, should rather be translated, Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and completely divides it, The camel parts but does not wholly divide the hoof, as there is ball at the back of the foot, of the nature of a heel.

Leviticus 11:5

The coney, Hebrew, shaphan; the Hyrax Syriacus, or wabr, still called in Southern Arabia tsofun, a little animal similar to but not identical with the rabbit. "They live in the natural caves and clefts of the rocks (Psalms 104:18), are very gregarious, being often seen seated in troops before the openings of their caves, and extremely timid, as they are quite defenseless (Proverbs 30:26). They are about the size of rabbits, of a brownish-gray or brownish-yellow color, but white under the belly; they have bright eyes, round ears, and no tail. The Arabs eat them, but do not place them before their guests" (Keil).

Leviticus 11:6

The hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof, There is little doubt that the same animal as our hare is meant. Neither the hare, however, nor the hyrax chews the cud in the strict sense of the words. But they have the appearance of doing so. The rule respecting chewing the cud was given to and by Moses as a legislator, not as an anatomist, to serve as a sign by which animals might be known to be clean for food. Phenomenal not scientific language is used here, as in Joshua 10:12, "as we might speak of whales and their congeners as fish, when there is no need of scientific accuracy" (Clark). "All these marks of distinction in the Levitical law are wisely and even necessarily made on the basis of popular observation and belief, not on that of anatomical exactness. Otherwise the people would have been continually liable to error. Scientifically, the camel would be said to divide the hoof, and the hare does not chew the cud. But laws for popular use must necessarily employ terms as they are popularly understood. These matters are often referred to as scientific errors; whereas they were simply descriptions, necessarily popular, for the understanding and enforcement of the law" (Gardiner).

Leviticus 11:7

The swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted. Here, again, the description is not according to anatomical analysis, but to ordinary appearance. The pig appears to be cloven-footed, and it would be misleading to give any other account of his foot in ordinary speech, but scientifically speaking, he has four toes. The prohibition of the use of swine's flesh does not arise from the fear of trichinosis or other disease, but from the disgust caused by the carnivorous and filthy habits of the Eastern pig. The repulsion originally felt for swine's flesh was natural, and, where the animal is carnivorous, is still natural, but where its habits are changed, and it has become simply graminivorous, the feeling has ceased to exist.

Leviticus 11:8

Of their carcass shall ye not touch. This prohibition is founded upon the same feeling of disgust as the prohibition of eating their flesh. Whatever is foal must be avoided.

Leviticus 11:9-12

Whatsoever hath fins and scales. The absence of fins and scales, or their apparent absence—for phenomenal language is used, as before—gives to fish a repulsive look, on which is grounded the prohibition to eat them. Eels and shell-fish are thus forbidden, though a long course of experience has now taken away the feeling of repulsion with which they were once looked upon. The flesh of the beasts for, bidden to be eaten is only described as unclean, but that of the prohibited fish, birds, insects, and vermin, is designated as an abomination unto you.

Leviticus 11:13-19

The unclean birds are those which are gross feeders, devourers of flesh or offal, and therefore offensive to the taste, beginning with the eagle and vulture tribe. It is probable that the words translated owl (Leviticus 11:16), night hawk (Leviticus 11:16), cuckow (Leviticus 11:16) should be rendered, ostrich, owl, gull, and perhaps for swan (Leviticus 11:18), heron (Leviticus 11:19), lapwing (Leviticus 11:19), should be substituted ibis, great plover, hoopoe. In the case of the bat, we have again phenomenal language used. Being generally regarded as a bird, it is classed with birds.

Leviticus 11:20-23

All fowls that creep should rather be rendered all winged creeping things, that is, all flying insects. None are allowed except the Saltatoria, or locust family. The word translated beetle signifies a sort of locust, like the other three words. That the locust was a regular article of food in Palestine is amply proved. "It is well known that locusts were eaten by many of the nations of antiquity, both in Asia and Africa, and even the ancient Greek thought the cicadas very agreeable in flavour (Arist. 'Hist. An.,' 5:30). In Arabia they are sold in the market, sometimes strung upon cords, sometimes by measure, and they are also dried and kept in bags for winter use.… They are generally cooked over hot coals, or on a plate, or in an oven, or stewed in butter, and eaten either with salt or with spice and vinegar, the head, wings, and feet being thrown away. They are also boiled in salt and water, and eaten with salt or butter. Another process is to dry them thoroughly, and then grind them into meal, and make cakes of them" (Keil). (Cf. Matthew 3:4.) The expression goeth upon all four, means groveling or going in a horizontal position, in contrast with two-legged birds, just spoken of.

Leviticus 11:24-28

These verses contain an expansion of the warning contained in Leviticus 11:8, to the effect that the touch of the dead bodies of the forbidden animals was defiling, as well as the consumption of their flesh. A further mark of an unclean animal is added in Leviticus 11:27. Whatsoever goeth upon his paws; that is, whatever has not hoofs, but goes stealthily, like beasts of prey of the eat kind. It includes also dogs.

Leviticus 11:29, Leviticus 11:30

The creeping things that creep upon the earth. This class contains things that go on their belly, but have not wings, like the previous class of creeping things (Leviticus 11:20-23). By the words translated tortoise, ferret, chameleon, lizard, snail, mole, different varieties of the lizard are probably meant. The mouse is joined by Isaiah with "eating swine's flesh and the abomination" (Isaiah 66:17).

Leviticus 11:31-38

As the little animals just mentioned—weasels, mice, and lizards—are more likely than those of a larger size to be found dead in domestic utensils and clothes, a further warning as to their defiling character is added, with tales for daily use. The words translated ranges for pots (Leviticus 11:35) should rather be rendered covered pots, that is, pots or kettles with lids to them. Seed which is to be sown, that is, seed corn, is not defiled by contact with these dead animals, unless it has been wetted by water being put on it, in which case the moisture would convey the corruption into the seeds.

Leviticus 11:39, Leviticus 11:40

The loathsomeness of the bodies of even clean animals that have died a natural death, makes them also the means of conveying defilement to any one who touches them.

Leviticus 11:41-43

The last class is that of vermin, which constitute a part of the un-winged creeping class already spoken of (Leviticus 11:29, Leviticus 11:30). Whatsoever goeth upon the belly indicates snakes, worms, maggots: whatsoever goeth upon all four, things that grovel, as moles, rats, hedgehogs; whatsoever hath more feet, or doth multiply feet, centipedes, caterpillars, spiders.

Leviticus 11:44-47

These concluding verses give a religious sanction to the previous regulations, and make them matters of sacred, not merely sanitary or political, obligation. They were to sanctify themselves, that is, to avoid uncleanness, because God is holy, and they were God's. They were thus taught that ceremonial cleanness of the body was a symbol of holiness of heart, and a means of attaining to the latter. For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt. It is possible that Egypt may be named as being the laud of animal-worship. To be your God; ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. The only way by which there can be communion between God and man is the way of holiness.

Jewish industry and care has counted the number of letters in the Pentateuch, and marked by the use of the letter וin larger type, in the word גָּחוֹן, which occurs in Leviticus 11:42, that that letter is the middle letter of the whole work from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy. It is easy to see what a protection to the text such minute and scrupulous care must be.


Leviticus 12:6

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).

Leviticus 12:8

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).


Leviticus 12:1-8

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.

(1) This is expressed in the ceremonial uncleanness of the mother. In case of the birth of a son, she had to remain forty days in a state of impurity. During this period she must not touch any hallowed thing, else it became polluted; and she must not enter the holy place of the temple. In case her child were a daughter, the term of this uncleanness was doubled. "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?"

(2) Her uncleanness is in her blood, which is the same as saying it is in her nature. To be "born of blood" is therefore a periphrasis for a natural birth in depravity, and it is consequently opposed to the spiritual birth (see John 1:13).

(3) This maternal uncleanness is also described as her "infirmity," in allusion to the pain, sorrow, and weakness through which she passes; and calls to remembrance the curse upon the original offense (Genesis 3:16). The birth amidst this "infirmity" shows the utter helplessness and sorrowfulness of our moral state by nature.

(4) No wonder, then, that the child also should be accounted unclean. Until the eighth day he had no sign of the covenant upon him. But an infant could not have "sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression;" therefore this exclusion from the covenant from the birth evinces hereditary depravity and guilt (Psalms 51:5; Ephesians 2:3).

2. From the rite of circumcision.

(1) It was the sign of introduction into the covenant of God (Genesis 17:9-14). This supposes a spiritual birth, since the pollutions of the natural birth excluded the child from the favour of God.

(2) The sign expressed this moral change to be the cutting off all that was forward in fleshly desires (see Deuteronomy 10:16; Romans 2:28, Romans 2:29; Philippians 3:3). These, however necessary to the natural man, must not rule us here; for when the seven days of the world are over, they will be no more (see Matthew 22:30; 1 Corinthians 15:50; 2 Corinthians 5:2-4; see also Homiletic notes on 2 Corinthians 9:1-7).

(3) Hence, the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" is another way for expressing the "circumcision of the heart," and therefore it is called the "circumcision of Christ," or of Christianity (Colossians 2:11, Colossians 2:12). By parity of reason, the "baptism of water" corresponds to the "circumcision which is outward in the flesh."

(4) Circumcision was proper to express the necessity of a spiritual birth in the dispensation of the covenant before Christ came, as it figured his sacrificial death (the "cutting off" of the" Holy Seed"), through which we claim the blessings of salvation. Now he has come, the type is fittingly abolished, and the baptismal water introduced, which is the emblem of the purifying spirit of the gospel.


1. The Church is the mother of the children of God.

(1) Every man was intended to be a figure of Christ. The first man was such (Romans 5:14). This privilege is shared by his male descendants (Genesis 1:26, Genesis 1:27; 1 Corinthians 11:7). So every woman was intended to be a figure of the Church of God (1 Corinthians 11:7-9). The marriage union, therefore, represents the union between Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5:22-32). And the fruit of marriage should represent the children of God (see Isaiah 54:1-8; Isaiah 49:20-23; Galatians 4:25-31).

(2) But all this may be reversed. Men, through perversity, may come to represent Belial rather than Christ. Women may become idolatrous, and represent an anti-Christian rather than a Christian Church. Thus Jezebel, who demoralized Ahab, became a type of those anti-Christian State Churches which demoralize the kings of the nations (see Revelation 2:20-23; Revelation 17:1-18.).

2. In her present state she is impure.

(1) Under the Law she was far from perfect. The elaborate system of ceremonial purifications imposed upon her evinced this. Her history and the judgments she suffered go to the same conclusion. The uncleanness of the mother in the text is not an exaggerated picture,

(2) Nor is she perfect under the gospel. The saints are in her. Many of her children have experienced the circumcision of the heart. But many more have only had that which is outward in the flesh. The "tares"—hypocrites and unbelievers—are mingled with the "wheat," a state of things which is destined to continue "until the harvest" (Matthew 13:30, Matthew 13:39).

3. But she is in the process of her purification.

(1) The first stage in this process was marked by the rite of circumcision. During the time prior to that event, she was in her "separation," viz. from her husband and friends, and those in necessary attendance upon her were unclean. This indicates the great difference which the cutting off of the Great Purifier of his people makes to the spiritual liberty of the Church (Romans 7:1-4).

(2) Still the period of her uncleanness was extended to forty days from the beginning. Her "separation" terminated on the eighth day, but during the whole period she must not eat the Passover, nor the peace offerings, nor come into the sanctuary (verse 4). These forty days may be presumed to be similar in typical expression to the forty years of the Church in the wilderness before it was fit to enter Canaan (see Deuteronomy 8:2, Deuteronomy 8:16).

(3) In the case of the birth of a female this period of forty days was doubled. This may be designed to show that under the gospel, where the distinction of male and female is abolished (Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11), still the wilderness state of the Church is continued. Our Lord was forty days upon earth before he entered into his glory, and in that state represented the state of the Church that is spiritually risen with him, but not yet glorified.

(4) The entrance of the mother into the temple when her purification was perfected represented the state of the Church in heaven (see Ephesians 5:27). The offerings with which she entered showed that her happiness is the purchase of the Redeemer's passion. Her feasting upon the holy things expressed those joys of the heavenly state elsewhere described as "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (Revelation 19:7-9).—J.A.M.


Leviticus 12:1-8

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.


Leviticus 12:1-8

The statutes on maternity.

We may seek—

I. THE EXPLANATION or THIS STATUTE. And we shall find the explanation

(1) not in the notion that any actual sin is involved in it;

(2) but in the fact that there is connected with it that which is painfully suggestive of sin. (There was nothing actually "unclean" in the camel or hare, but it was constituted so because it was fairly suggestive of it.)

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.


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.


Leviticus 12:2-7

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.


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.


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.


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.


Chapters 12-15

Ceremonial purifications,

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.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Leviticus 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/leviticus-11.html. 1897.
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