Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,XII.
(1) And the Lord spake unto Moses.—As the reason why God graciously addressed the regulation about the clean and unclean animals to Moses and Aaron conjointly (see Leviticus 11:1), no longer operates here, the Lord now addresses the laws of purification to the Lawgiver alone. The laws of defilement contracted from without by eating or coming in contact with unclean objects are naturally followed by precepts about defilement arising from within the human body itself. The spiritual guides in the time of Christ, however, account for the sequence of these laws by declaring that the arrangement follows the order of the Creation, Just as at the Creation God made the animals first, and then formed man, so in the laws of purity the animals take the precedence of man, and are treated of first.
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean.(2) If a woman have conceived seed.—Rather, if a woman bringeth forth seed, that is, is delivered of a child. (See Genesis 1:11-12; Genesis 1:29.) This general statement is afterwards specified by the phrases “and born a man child,” and “bear a maid child,” in the verse before us, and in Leviticus 12:5. Thus the regulations about impurity naturally begin with the beginning of life. According to the administrators of the law during the second Temple, the regulations here set forth with regard to the deliverance are in force even when it is an untimely birth, or when the child is born dead, provided it has a perfect shape, which it assumes after forty days of its conception. Amongst the Hindoos, too, the mother in case of a miscarriage remains in a state of defilement as many nights as months have elapsed since her conception.
And born a man child.—Better, and giveth birth to a male child. The expression rendered here in the Authorised Version by “a man child” is translated in Leviticus 12:7 simply “male.” In so short a paragraph discussing the same enactment it is important that words identical in the original should be translated uniformly in English.
She shall be unclean seven days.—Though the issue of blood which succeeds child-birth generally only lasts three or four days, yet the period of uncleanness is extended to seven days to include exceptional cases.
According to the days . . . . —Better, as in the days of the uncleanness of her monthly courses, that is, her uncleanness is to be of the same duration, and she is to observe the same rules, and be subjected to the same restraints as during the period of her menstruation. (See Leviticus 15:19.) The fact that reference is here made to the regulations about the periodical impurity of women which have not as yet been laid down shows that, like other laws, this law was already known to and generally practised by the Jews before it was finally fixed in the Levitical code.
And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.(3) And in the eighth day.—When the seven days had passed by during which the mother remained un clean, the boy is to be circumcised, since on the eighth day the first period of her extreme state of impurity ceases, and she no more imparts defilement to whomsoever or to whatsoever she touches. For the rite of circumcision, see Genesis 17:10; Genesis 17:13.
And she shall then continue in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days; she shall touch no hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.(4) Continue in the blood of her purifying.—Better, continue in the blood of purification, that is, pure blood. Though the discharge consequent upon the birth ceases after two or three weeks, the period in this case, as in the former instance, is nearly doubled, to include exceptional cases. During these thirty-three days, which constituted the second stage, the mother was only debarred from touching holy things, such as first tithes, the flesh of thank- and peace-offerings, &c, and from entering the sanctuary. Having bathed at the end of the seven days which constituted the first and defiling period, she could now partake of the second tithes, and resume conjugal intercourse, since any blood that might now appear was regarded as pure blood, in contradistinction to the (dam nidah) blood of monthly courses. Her proximity, therefore, no longer defiled. The Sadducees and the Samaritans during the second Temple, and their followers, the Karaite Jews, interpreted this law more rigidly. Though admitting that there is a difference of degree in the two periods, they maintained that the woman was too unclean for conjugal intercourse even during the second period. They therefore pointed the text differently so as to yield the rendering “blood of her purifying.” The Authorised Version, which, in this instance, follows the opinion of the Sadducees, departs from the received text.
But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her separation: and she shall continue in the blood of her purifying threescore and six days.(5) But if she bear a maid child.—Better, but if she giveth birth to a female child. (See Leviticus 12:2.)
As in her separation.—Better, as in the time of her monthly courses. (See Leviticus 12:2.) In the case of a daughter the days of purification in both stages is exactly double that prescribed at the birth of a son. The reason for this difference is probably owing to the fact that the ancients believed that the physical derangement of the system is far greater at the birth of a girl than at the birth of a boy, and that it requires a longer time for the effects to pass away. Similar laws obtained among other nations of antiquity, and exist to this day among many Eastern tribes. The Greeks held that the man who had been near a woman in childbirth defiled the altar if he approached it. One of the means adopted during the Peloponnesian war for purifying the island of Delos was to proscribe women keeping their confinement on the island. The Hindoos go so far as to regard all the relations of a new-born child as impure; the father has to undergo lustrations, and the mother remains unclean till the tenth day, when the child receives its name. Among the Arabs the mother continues unclean for forty days.
In the blood of her purifying.—Better, in the blood of purification, that is, pure blood. (See Leviticus 12:4.) It will be seen that the law here only legislates for ordinary cases, and that it passes over in silence cases of twins. The administrators of the law during the second Temple had therefore, in this instance, as in many other points, to supplement the Mosaic legislation. They therefore enacted that when a mother had twins, and if they were a boy and a girl, the two stages of her uncleanness were those for a girl. If one of the twins was a boy and the other sexless, or bi-sexual, she continued unclean for both male and female. If, on the contrary, one was a female and the other of neither sex, or bi-sexual, her separation was only for a female.
And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:(6) And when the days . . . —Having described in the previous verses the conditions of defilement arising from childbirth, the legislator now prescribes the offerings to be brought for the purification of the woman. The offerings were brought at the expiration of the fortieth day in the case of a boy, and at the end of the eightieth day in the case of a girl, that is, on the forty-first and on the eighty-first respectively.
For a son, or for a daughter.—That is, with regard to a son or a daughter, to either of which she had given birth. The purification was for herself, and was owing to the defiling discharges connected with childbirth, and not for the child to which she gave birth, since the baby was not unclean.
She shall bring a lamb of the first year.—Or, as the Margin has it, a son of his year, that is, a lamb which was within the year of its birth. This burnt offering was an expression of gratitude for the Divine mercy vouchsafed to her in the hours of sorrow and danger, or, as some ancients suggest, it was designed as a confession of impatient and reproachful thoughts harboured by the mother during her pregnancy and the time of parturition (comp. Genesis 25:22); whilst the sin offering was to atone for sinful and violent expressions which she may have heedlessly uttered in the hours of labour and agony. Though when the two sacrifices are mentioned together, the sin offering generally precedes the burnt offering (see Leviticus 5:7; Leviticus 14:31; Leviticus 15:15; Leviticus 15:30; Leviticus 16:3; Leviticus 16:5, &c.), here the burnt offering takes precedence, because it is the more costly of the two. Besides the mother after child-birth (Leviticus 12:6; Leviticus 12:8), there were three other unclean persons who had to bring a sin offering for their uncleanness: the leper (Leviticus 14:19; Leviticus 14:31), the woman that had an issue (Leviticus 15:15), and the man that had an issue (Leviticus 15:30).
Unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.—Better, to the entrance of the tent of meeting. (See Leviticus 1:3.) During the time of the second Temple these sacrifices were brought to the eastern gate, called the Gate of Nicanor. Here the lying-in women were purified and the lepers cleansed. (See Leviticus 14:13.)
Who shall offer it before the LORD, and make an atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female.(7) Who shall offer it.—Better, and he shall offer it, that is, the priest shall offer the sin offering. Though two sacrifices were brought—a burnt offering and a sin offering—yet stress is laid on the sin offering, for on it depended the purification and atonement of the mother. Even if the mother gave birth to twins, the administrators of the law during the second Temple decided that the one sin offering here prescribed sufficed.
And if she be not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean.(8) And if she be not able.—As a merciful provision for those who were too poor to bring a lamb, the law permits them to bring a turtle-dove or a pigeon for a burnt offering, provided only it is the same kind of bird as the one brought for a sin offering; that is, they must either be both turtle-doves or both pigeons, and not one turtle-dove and one pigeon. Turtle-doves and pigeons were plentiful and cheap in Palestine (see Leviticus 1:14). It was therefore the poor woman’s sacrifice which the mother of our Lord offered, when, in accordance with this commutation, she offered a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons, on presenting herself for purification at the Temple with the child Jesus, on the expiration of the prescribed term of uncleanness (Luke 2:24), and the priest, after sprinkling her with the blood of the humble sacrifice, declared her cleansed.