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Bible Commentaries
Leviticus 12

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



The code of ceremonial purity now advances from animals to persons, and sets forth the causes of their ceremonial defilement. These causes are suggestive of moral pollutions staining and disfiguring the soul. They arise from childbirth, leprosy, and certain secretions, to which is added, in Numbers 19:11-16, the pollution of touching a human corpse. There are other sources of sanitary impurity and moral defilement, the omission of which argues that those here prohibited are forbidden not for the promotion of cleanliness merely, or even for good morals, but to inculcate a higher symbolical meaning, and to lead the people up to the conception of spiritual purity. This chapter relates to women after childbirth.


(1.) An arithmetical difficulty is suggested in view of the great number of births among so large a population, and the small number of priests available for the performance of so many ceremonial purifications. The most reasonable solution of the difficulty is the theory that, in the abnormal life in the wilderness, where a majority were scattered in distant portions of the Sinaitic peninsula, (see Introduction to Numbers xx,) the sacrifices were infrequent and irregularly celebrated. Amos 5:25-26, intimates an omission of offerings.

(2.) Childbirth, the mysterious beginning of an endless stream of blissful or woful being, is here properly invested with a deep religious solemnity. No event in the physical world, not even its creation, is comparable to this, for creation is the handiwork of God, while the babe is his image, godlike in spirituality, immortality, personality, freedom, and moral nature. The significance of this event is painfully intensified by the consideration, plainly hinted in this chapter, that the human soul from its very beginning tends to flow downward to its lowest possible level, by an ineradicable proclivity, which only a supernatural grace, through the blood of sprinkling, largely available to the child through the faithfulness of the parents, can effectually reverse. Parentage involves a tremendous responsibility, inasmuch as it peoples heaven or hell. It is a remark of Oehler that “Mosaism, although it derives the propagation of man’s race from God’s blessing, still regards all events and conditions which refer to birth and generation as requiring a purifying expiation, because of the disturbance of sin.” Circumcision, called by Ewald “the offering of the body,” supposes that the natural life is corrupted by impurity, which must be purged before man can be brought into covenant with Jehovah. This is done in such a way as declares that the propagation of the race is sacred to him. Says Abarbanel, “As no one bears pains and troubles in this world without guilt, and as there is no chastisement without sin, and lastly, as every woman bears children with pain and danger, hence every one is commanded, after childbirth, to offer an expiatory sacrifice.” Leyrer remarks, that this and all other rites of purification were intended “to foster the constant humiliation of fallen man; to remind him in all the leading processes of life generation, birth, eating, disease, death how every thing, even in his own bodily nature, lies under the curse of sin. so that the law might become a schoolmaster to bring unto Christ.”

(3.) It is remarkable that we find in Leviticus no vestige of dualism. In treating of ceremonial impurities in matter in certain forms there is not the least hint of the Gnostic doctrine of the essential evil of matter, and hence of its eternal independence of the creative act. This error is Greek and not Semitic.

Verses 1-2

2. She shall be unclean It is a mystery that marriage, a sacrament of love, prefiguring the oneness of Christ and the Church, should attain its divinely appointed end only by entailing ceremonial impurity. But nothing more impressively teaches the depravity of the human race than the early announcement that both conception (Leviticus 15:16-18) and birth are inevitably attended by pollutions which imperatively demand purgation before the person of the parent can be acceptable to the holy Jehovah. This suggests the strong assertion of David respecting the moral corruption of his nature while in embryo, Psalms 51:5. When Richard Watson was asked for the strongest proof text of inherited depravity, or original sin, he quoted John 3:6.

Seven days This number of days makes the period of uncleanness the same length with the menstrual days of the separation. See Leviticus 15:19.

Verse 3

3. Foreskin… circumcised The sign of the covenant (Genesis 17:11) in the excision of a portion of the genitals, expresses with painful emphasis the fact that impurity presides over the very fountain of humanity and taints all its issues. Circumcision implies depravity and symbolizes spiritual regeneration, (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4,) as does water-baptism, which takes its place in the new covenant. Colossians 2:11-12. While all are born sinful, none are born guilty, because our race is propagated under the dispensation of mercy extending from the first gospel promise (Genesis 3:15) to the day of judgment. As every Hebrew male child inherited a right to the sign of the first covenant, so, now that the middle wall is broken down (Ephesians 2:14, note) and the disabilities of sex are abolished, (Galatians 3:28, note,) every infant has a right to the seal of the new covenant, through which he is saved until he wilfully rejects it. Under both covenants God designed that grace should flow down the ages in the family relation.

Verse 4

4. Thirty-three days At the end of seven days she ceased to be unclean, in the sense of ceremonially defiling by her contact, but she is for more than a month longer forbidden to touch any hallowed thing and to come into the sanctuary court of tabernacle or temple. She was competent to perform secular but not religious duties. Obstetrical science suggests that the seclusion of seven days relates to the lochia rubra, the red discharge, and that of thirty-three days to the lochia alba, the white issue. Mosaism makes no discrimination against the sex in respect to public worship. The Hindoos, Parsees, and Arabs require the mother to be secluded forty days, and then to be purified by bathing. The ancient Greeks had a similar usage. They suffered neither childbirth nor death to pollute consecrated places.

Verse 5

5. Maid child… threescore and six days It has not pleased God to disclose the ground of this different legislation for the sexes by doubling the period of purification after the birth of a female child. The sexes are equally honoured in the decalogue. Though woman was first in transgression, sin is not thereby more deeply ingrained in her nature, for St. Paul implies that Eve’s sin was less heinous than Adam’s, inasmuch as she was deceived, while he transgressed with his eyes wide open to the character and consequences of his act. 1 Timothy 2:14. We are not satisfied with Keil’s theory, that the ancients supposed that the impure discharges continued longer after the birth of a girl. Since this is an attested physiological fact, the all-wise God did not inflict a needless disability of forty additional days. It may also have been that both mother and daughter required double time for purification as all equivalent to the circumcision of the male child.

Verse 6

6. Burnt offering Although the self-dedicatory offering is mentioned first, the real order is after the sin offering, see Introduction, (5.) We are not to suppose that a sense of guilt was in the mind of the offerer, but only the fact of ceremonial impurity, which required purgation before the woman could be an accepted worshipper. Hence the smallest of the sin offerings was required. Yet this requirement of both mother and child teaches the doctrine of original, or birth sin. On the fortieth day after his birth Jesus, in his sinless humanity, was presented at the earthly temple; on the fortieth day after his resurrection he was presented in his glorified body in the heavenly sanctuary.

Verse 7

7. Atonement… cleansed Expiation for the soul and cleansing for the body are accomplished by the same act. Hebrews 10:22. Jehovah requires physical as well as spiritual sanctification. 2 Corinthians 7:1.

Verse 8

8. If she be not able The law of God adjusts itself to our natural and gracious ability. Nevertheless, where grace has been slighted and withdrawn, the demand of the law continues after ability had ceased. The mother of our Lord in her poverty availed herself of this concession to the poor. Luke 2:22-24.

Turtles or pigeons For the supply of these in the wilderness and in Palestine, see Introduction, (4.)

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Leviticus 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/leviticus-12.html. 1874-1909.
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