Leviticus 12 (NRSV)
Purification of Women after Childbirth
The commanded time of ceremonial impurity should not be regarded as a negative attitude towards birth or child-bearing on God’s part. God commands child bearing, in that man is commanded to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28), children are regarded as a gift from God (Psalm 127:3), and a woman with many children is considered blessed (Psalm 128:3). The key to understanding this ceremony is to understand the idea of original sin. As wonderful as a new baby is, God wanted it to be remembered that with every birth another sinner was brought into the world, and the woman was here symbolically responsible for bringing a new sinner into the world. Perhaps just as importantly, the time of ceremonial impurity gave the new mother a time of rest and seclusion that she would no doubt have welcomed.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
And I remember with much joy and thanksgiving another little boy born exactly 100 years ago today — my father, Jasper Riskedahl, now absent from the body but present with the Lord!
2Speak to the people of Israel, saying: If a woman conceives and bears a male child, she shall be ceremonially unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. 3On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4Her time of blood purification shall be thirty-three days; she shall not touch any holy thing, or come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed.
5If she bears a female child, she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation; her time of blood purification shall be sixty-six days.
Psalm 127:3 (Contemporary English Version)
Children are a blessing
and a gift from the LORD.
6When the days of her purification are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. 7He shall offer it before the Lord, and make atonement on her behalf; then she shall be clean from her flow of blood.
a sin offering — not that the act of sex for the purpose of creating a child is sinful, but rather that the woman, aware of her own sinfulness, asks God to let it be that her baby is born from a forgiven sinner.
This is the law for her who bears a child, male or female. 8If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean.
Joseph and Mary observed this “law for her who bears a child” — there’s Simeon holding the Baby Jesus as Mary smiles, while Anna is looking on and Joseph is bringing the pair of doves as an offering.
Luke 2:22-24 (New International Version)
When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”, and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Speaking of children: One of my very most favorite hymns (it was sung at my wedding) is something of a lullaby. “Children of the Heavenly Father,” written by the Swedish poet and hymn-writer Caroline V. Sandell Berg, is sung HERE by the Concordia College Choir from Moorhead, MN. Imagine how well we would sleep if we listened to this piece each night as we lay down in bed!
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.