When Mom has a baby
If it’s a boy, stay home 33 days1 The LORD told Moses: 2 Give this message to the people of Israel:
When a woman has a baby boy, she’s ritually unclean for seven days—just as she is during her menstrual cycle. 3 When the boy is eight days old, circumcise him. Cut away the foreskin. 4 The mother needs to stay home for 33 days. This is a time of purification, to allow the bleeding from childbirth to subside. She shouldn’t touch anything that is ritually clean. She should not go onto the sacred grounds of the tent worship center.
If it’s a girl, stay home 66 days5 If a woman gives birth to a girl, double the numbers. The mother remains unclean for two weeks. This is what happens during her menstrual cycle. Also, the new mother’s time of staying home in isolation for purity extends to 66 days. This allows for the bleeding from childbirth to subside.
Mom, bring an offering6 When purification ends, the mother needs to take an offering to a priest at the tent worship center. She needs a one-year-old lamb as a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove as a sin offering. 7 She will present these to the priest who will sacrifice them to the LORD. This atones for the mother’s period of ritual uncleanness, caused by her bleeding. After that, she’s clean again. This is the law about what a woman has to do, whether she gives birth to a boy or a girl. 8 If the mother can’t afford a lamb, she can take a pair of doves or pigeons—one bird for the burnt offering, the other for the sin offering. The priest will sacrifice the birds, and she will be clean again.
The writer gives no reason for doubling the numbers when a girl is born, and there seems to be no medical reason for it, either. But it was a man’s world in this patriarchal age. And perhaps this was a tip of the hat to the times, in the way the apostle Paul would later tell runaway slaves to go back to their masters. Others might speculate that the story got garbled as people passed it on from generation to generation, before someone finally wrote it down. Or perhaps an editor later tweaked the numbers to convey the idea that Girl = good and Boys = better.
This was the most common sacrifice. Worshipers burned the entire animal. Burnt offering instructions: “Take the animal to the north side of the altar. Kill it there on this sacred site of the LORD. Aaron’s sons, the priests, will take some of the blood and splash it on all four sides of the altar. Cut the animal into pieces, including the head and the fat. A priest will set them onto the fire on the altar” (Leviticus 1:11-12). See also Leviticus 1:3-13; 6:1-6.
Leviticus 4 describes a sin offering as something the people of Israel brought to God after they realized they had accidentally broken one of God’s laws. Some scholars say a better translation is the opposite of “sin” because the sacrifice is intended to “un-sin” people, to purify them. So those scholars call it a “purification offering.”
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
The laws concerned with a woman’s sexuality seem to put menstruation in a negative light. The same negative attitude can be seen in women today who sarcastically refer to their monthly period as ‘the curse.’ More specifically, Leviticus holds that a woman is unclean after giving birth to a child—”just as she is during her menstrual cycle.” Why do you think people talked that way about something that involved the birth of children—which people in Bible times cherished?
Girls were not the only ones picked on. Baby boys had to be circumcised at the tender age of eight days. Where do you think a law like that could have come from? And from the point of view of a person in Bible times, what possible reason could there be to circumcise a baby boy?
At the end of the purification period after giving birth, a woman was required by law to offer both a burnt offering and a sin offering. Do you think that suggests giving birth was a sin?
LIFE APPLICATION. While the laws in Leviticus can seem harsh, they also could be compassionate. Although a woman who has given birth is asked to sacrifice a lamb and a pigeon or dove, God makes some concession for the poor, whom he always looked out for. They could sacrifice a bird instead of a sheep. How do we make concessions for the poor today, and how do you think we could do it better?