Introduction. Leviticus Chapter 12 is about childbirth. The rules in this chapter explain many of the rituals that Jesus’ mother followed after His birth. Many of the rules address the special subject of “ritual impurity” for those who entered God’s Temple. Because the Romans destroyed the Second Temple after Jesus’ death, Jews have not followed these rules for more than 2,000 years. Likewise, because Christ came to fulfill the Law, Christians do not follow these procedures either. For these reasons, it might be tempting to simply ignore this chapter. Indeed, few churches teach on it. Yet, God reveals that we can learn things in all of His Scripture: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” (2 Tim. 3:16). Like the animal sacrifices, believers must learn the symbolism and the “spiritual sacrifices” that correlate with these rules: “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5).
Once you understand that you are part of God’s holy priesthood and that you are commanded to make spiritual sacrifices, God reveals seven truths from the laws regarding birth. First, from the symbolism of unclean blood at child birth, He reminds that every person was born a sinner because of original sin. Second, from the law of circumcision, He instructs believers to establish a Covenant with Him by circumcising their hearts. Third, from the process of baby dedication that arises from both this chapter and the parallel verses in the book of Luke, Him instructs believers to circumcise the hearts of their children by raising them up in His Word. Fourth, from the rules of separation imposed upon mothers and their newborn children, He teaches all believers to be set apart from the unclean things of the world. Fifth, from the sacrifices that the mother made, He instructs that parents must atone for their sins. Sixth, with the destruction of the Second Temple following Jesus’ death, Jesus became the only means to offer atonement to God for sin. Finally, Jesus instructs that every believer must have two births. After you are born of the flesh, you must be born again of the Spirit. As a new creation in Christ, you must live by the Spirit and not the flesh.
The law of ritual uncleanness at birth. Because of original sin, God warned Moses that a woman was ritually unclean for seven days after giving birth to a boy: “1 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying: ‘When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean.’” (Lev. 12:1-2). A woman was also unclean for seven days if there was blood in her menstruation: “When a woman has a discharge, if her discharge in her body is blood, she shall continue in her menstrual impurity for seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening.” (Lev. 15:19). “Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness during her menstrual impurity.” (Lev. 18:1). God reveals through Ezekiel that menstrual blood is also a symbol of sin. Ezekiel used it as a symbol of mankind’s defilement of the land through sin: “Son of man, when the house of Israel was living in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds; their way before Me was like the uncleanness of a woman in her impurity.” (Ez. 36:17). The menstrual bleeding made the woman “ritually unclean” to be in the Temple. This was not equivalent to being “morally unclean”. Why was a woman unclean after giving birth or during her period? To answer this, a believer must understand the symbolism behind blood.
The symbolism behind postpartum and menstrual blood. As a punishment for her sin, God told Eve in the Garden of Eden that He would “multiply” her pain in childbirth, something God never meant to be either bloody or painful: “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’” (Gen. 3:16). Blood symbolizes life (Lev. 17:11). The blood inside the baby gives it life. If blood gives a baby life, the discharge of blood during childbirth symbolizes the penalty of original sin. How could a baby have sinned inside the womb? Because every person is conceived in sin because the original sin: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (Ps. 51:5). “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned . . ” (Rom. 5:12).
None are holy before God. Because we were sinful at conception, everyone is sinful before God. There is nothing that believers can do on their own to be righteous: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Ro. 3:23). “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” (Ecc. 7:20). “And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous.” (Ps. 143:2). “Can mankind be just before God? Can a man be pure before his Maker?” (Job 4:17). If you think that you can be righteous by being a good person or for your deeds, was Christ’s death on the cross necessary? (Gal. 2:21).
Sin cannot be in God’s presence. If the discharged blood symbolizes death or original sin, that blood could not be in God’ presence. The mother was temporarily separated from God by the sin of the discharged blood, even though she had done nothing wrong. The message was that sin of any kind, even unintentional or inherited sin, had to be atoned for before the woman could be in God’s presence. Moreover, there was no way for people to cleanse themselves without God: “Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one!” (Job 14:4).
The Covenant of circumcision. As one of the rituals at birth to establish the child’s Covenant with God, He commanded that every healthy male child be circumcised on the eighth day: “3 On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” (Lev. 12:3). The child was circumcised on the eighth day because Isaac was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (Gen. 21:4). The purpose of the circumcision was to symbolize a person’s Covenant with God (Gen. 17:10-11). Although the Covenant was a sign of a person’s relationship with God, it was a sign that no one else could see. God cares more about your inward relationship with Him than any outward signs. Thus, the Jews were told to also circumcise their hearts: “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” (Dt. 10:16). God later repeated this obligation when He spoke to the prophet Jeremiah: “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.” (Jer. 4:4). Paul also explained that the circumcision of the heart was what mattered most: “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” (Ro. 2:29). Does your heart show God’s Covenant through your inward desires and hopes? Or, is your Covenant only visible by outward signs that you put on for others to see?
Covenant of Circumcision (image credit)1
The circumcision of the Holy Spirit. When you accept Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you, God will circumcise your heart: “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;” (Col. 2:11). “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” (Dt. 30:6). When you soften or circumcise your heart, God will reward you with a heart to know Him: “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.” (Jer. 24:7). ‘“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” (Jer. 31:33; Col. 2:11). One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to cause you to “remember” and obey God’s Word (Jo. 14:16-18, 26). Thus, God’s promise to circumcise the heart of the believer does not mean that there is nothing for the believer to do in this process. He expects you to respond to the Spirit with obedience motivated by love. You must make a daily effort to circumcise the sin out of your life and to keep your heart and head clean and oriented toward God (Ro. 12:1-2). Are you allowing sin to clog the arteries to your heart?
Circumcise your child’s heart by raising the child in the Lord. Leviticus Chapter 12 and the parallel verses in the book of Luke are also important because they provide the origin for baby dedications that are used by most churches today. The dedication was not just a symbol between the child and God, it also included the parents and the community of believers. As part of the dedication, believers commit to circumcising the child’s hearts by raising the child in God’s Word: “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Dt. 11:19; 4:9-10; 6:7; 31:12-13). “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6; Ps. 78:4-6). “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (Heb. 5:12; Eph. 6:4). Do you know God’s word well enough to teach it? If so, are you teaching God’s Word to your children? If you have the time, are you volunteering to teach in Sunday school to teach other kids?
Give your child a “new beginning” in Christ. After the seven-day ordination (Lev. 8:35-36), the priest’s duties began on the eighth day (Lev. 9:1). Seven is a number of completeness in the Bible. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh (Ex. 20:11). The number eight in the Bible symbolizes a new beginning. After the seven-day festival of Tabernacles, the people were together for a holy convocation to celebrate a new beginning on the eighth day (Lev. 23:36). Christ also rose from the dead on a Sunday, the first day of the week or the eighth day (Matt. 28:1). Thus, for a male child to be circumcised on the eighth day, it was a sign of a new beginning with God (Lev. 12:3). Are you subjecting your child to your own sins? Or, are you giving the child a new beginning in Christ?
The laws regarding separation following the birth of boys. After birth, the mother and her son were isolated from the Temple for a total of seven days before the circumcision. This was then followed by another 33 days, for a total of 40 days of separation. In the Bible, the number 40 is a number that symbolizes testing: “4 Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed.” (Lev. 12:4). This time of separation was one way to allow for the mother and the child to be isolated and bond together. This time of isolation also protected the child from germs that are ubiquitous in public places. The 40-day separation also symbolizes the preparation for God’s testing that will come in the wilderness of life: “You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” (Dt. 8:2, 16; 13:3; Ex. 16:4; 20:20; Jdgs. 2:22). It is your role as a parent to prepare your child for that testing by raising your child in the Lord. They will also learn from your example. Are you preparing your child for the testing that God will bring in the wilderness?
The laws regarding separation following the birth of girls. The mother and daughter were to be separated for 80 days, twice as long as for boys: “5 But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days.” (Lev. 12:5). The Bible does not tell us why this gender difference exists. If we assume, however, that the post-partum uncleanness stems from Eve’s sin and that the son can cut off that sin with the covenant of circumcision, a girl for obvious biological reasons cannot follow the exact same steps to form a covenant. But a girl can still circumcise her heart. There is again symbolism in God’s rules. The circumcision of the heart takes longer than a physical circumcision. The Church is also symbolized as the woman in the future marriage with Jesus in heaven (Eph. 5:22-23; Rev. 19:7; 21:9-10). For men or women, a circumcised heart is a better indicator of whether the person will remain set apart for God. As a believer, you must submit to a life-long process of being set apart or sanctified for God: ‘“For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.”’ (Lev. 11:45; 1 Pet. 1:16). Have you separated yourself from the unclean things of the world? Are you active in the body of Christ to ensure that the bride stays pure for its future marriage to Jesus?
Inherited sin must be atoned for like other sins. Any child is a gift from God: “children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” (Ps. 127:3). Yet, every parent passes sin down to their child at conception: “. . . in sin my mother conceived me.” (Ps. 51:5(b)). To atone for this inherited sin, the parent made both a burnt offering and a sin offering: “6 ‘When the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. 7 Then he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her, and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female.” (Lev. 12:6-7). For the mother who could not afford a lamb, she could instead offer a young pigeon or a turtle dove: “8 But if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’” (Lev. 12:8). Whether rich or poor, all sin needed to be atoned for. If the mother did not make an offering for her own sins, she was liable to pass her sin onto her child and even grandchildren (e.g., Ex. 34:6-7).
Even our small sins are revolting to God. With either the lamb or the birds, the priest needed to break the neck without severing it. The priest would then pour blood on the altar (Lev. 5:9). This would be gross to look at. This was again a visual reminder of how gross our sins appear to God. Even the smallest of our sins and the ones that we inherit at birth are revolting to God.
Our confession of sin to Christ should also be made with spiritual sacrifices. The animals each have symbolic spiritual meanings. The lamb represents the humility that comes from the sinner’s submission to God. The birds symbolize a life in sacrifice to the will of the Holy Spirit. The different kinds of sacrifices suggest that we should give in proportion to God’s blessings upon the person. Yet, God does not want sacrifice out of obligation. He wants only “spiritual sacrifices” to Christ in gratitude for what He did for every sinner (1 Pet. 2:5).
Foreshadow of the Immaculate Conception. In most English Bibles, Leviticus 12:2 reads “When a woman gives birth and bears a male child…” Yet, in Hebrew the actual words translate: “When a woman conceives and gives birth and bears a male . . .” Normally, the Bible says who the husband is before saying that he “knew her,” and they bore a child. (i.e., Gen. 4:1). Indeed, Mary protested about her news: “How can this be, seeing a husband I do not know?” (Lk. 1:34). The woman here without the husband foreshadows Christ. He would come through the immaculate conception to remove sin in the world and to offer a spiritual rebirth to all who confess Him as Lord and Savior (Ro. 10:9; Jo. 3:16).
Jesus fulfilled the Law of sacrifice and circumcision. Before Jesus’ birth, an angel told Mary that she had “found favor” with God (Lk. 1:30). Some Catholics further believe that Mary had been without sin to be chosen to be Jesus’ mother. Yet, the Bible tells us that she made a sin offering eight days after Jesus’ birth because of her sin: “21 And when eight days had passed, before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. 22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male that opens the womb shall be called Holy to the LORD’), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons’” (Lk. 2:21-24). Mary made a sacrifice because she was a sinner just like everyone else (Ro. 5:12). Jesus, however, later fulfilled the need for a blood sacrifice. While the atonement process required the sacrifice of a lamb for those who could afford it, Jesus was the lamb without defect offered for the sins of every person: “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”’ (Jo. 1:29; Gen. 22:8; Isa. 53:7). He was also the sacrificial bird, symbolized by the Spirit. He came to offer atonement for all, both rich and poor.
Be born again of the Spirit. Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven: “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” (Jo. 3:3). After Nicodemus questions how this is possible, Jesus repeated: ‘“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” (John 3:5). You also have a new beginning in Christ. Because of His death and the Spirit within you: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ez. 36:26; 2 Tim 1:14; Rom. 8:9).
As a new creation, live by faith and do the good works of the Spirit. When you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, you become a “new creation,” just like a newborn baby: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17). “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:24). As a new creation, you were created for fellowship with God. You were also created to do His good works: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10). “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” (Jam. 3:13). Are you giving the best of your time, talent, and treasure to God? If you are not doing anything for God, does your faith have much of a pulse by God’s standards? “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” (Jam. 2:26).
As a new creation, don’t let the guilt of your old sins hold you back from service. The devil will try to prevent you from doing God’s good works by calling you a hypocrite. He will tell you that you have no business serving God because of your past. Yet, as a new creation, God promises to forget your old sins: “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” (Heb. 8:12). “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro. 8:1). God used Moses even though he murdered an Egyptian. He used David even after his adultery. He used Paul after he murdered God’s believers. Is there any sin of yours that is too great for God to forgive? If the devil calls you a hypocrite, do you have the faith to ignore him? If you are condemning a brother or sister who repents, are you doing God’s work or the work of the devil?
As a new creation, make no provision for the flesh. As a new creation, you are also commanded to make no provision for the flesh: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Ro. 13:14). “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16). “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24). “[K]nowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;” (Ro. 6:6). Part of living by the Spirit requires that you renew your mind every day to live according to the Spirit: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:2). Are you renewing your mind daily to let the Spirit guide you?