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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Leviticus Chapter 12


lev 12:0

Laws of Purification - Leviticus 12-15

The laws concerning defilement through eating unclean animals, or through contact with those that had died a natural death, are followed by rules relating to defilements proceeding from the human body, in consequence of which persons contaminated by them were excluded for a longer or shorter period from the fellowship of the sanctuary, and sometimes even from intercourse with their fellow-countrymen, and which had to be removed by washing, by significant lustrations, and by expiatory sacrifices. They comprised the uncleanness of a woman in consequence of child-bearing (Lev 12:1-8), leprosy (ch. 13 and 14), and both natural and diseased secretions from the sexual organs of either male or female (emissio seminis and gonorrhaea, also menses and flux: ch. 15); and to these there is added in Num 19:11-22, defilement proceeding from a human corpse. Involuntary emission defiled the man; voluntary emission, in sexual intercourse, both the man and the woman and any clothes upon which it might come, for an entire day, and this defilement was to be removed in the evening by bathing the body, and by washing the clothes, etc. (Lev 15:16-18). Secretions from the sexual organs, whether of a normal kind, such as the menses and those connected with child-birth, or the result of disease, rendered not only the persons affected with them unclean, but even their couches and seats, and any persons who might sit down upon them; and this uncleanness was even communicated to persons who touched those who were diseased, or to anything with which they had come in contact (Lev 15:3-12, Lev 15:19-27). In the case of the menses, the uncleanness lasted seven days (Lev 15:19, Lev 15:24); in that of child-birth, either seven or fourteen days, and then still further thirty-three or sixty-six, according to circumstances (Lev 12:2, Lev 12:4-5); and in that of a diseased flux, as long as the disease itself lasted, and seven days afterwards (Lev 15:13, Lev 15:28); but the uncleanness communicated to others only lasted till the evening. In all these cases the purification consisted in the bathing of the body and washing of the clothes and other objects. But if the uncleanness lasted more than seven days, on the day after the purification with water a sin-offering and a burnt-offering were to be offered, that the priest might pronounce the person clean, or receive him once more into the fellowship of the holy God (Lev 12:6, Lev 12:8; Lev 15:14-15, Lev 15:29-30). Leprosy made those who were affected with it so unclean, that they were excluded from all intercourse with the clean (Lev 13:45-46): and on their recovery they were to be cleansed by a solemn lustration, and received again with sacrifices into the congregation of the Lord (Lev 14:1-32). There are no express instructions as to the communicability of leprosy; but this is implied in the separation of the leper from the clean (Lev 13:45-46), as well as from the fact that a house affected by the leprosy rendered all who entered it, or slept in it, unclean (Lev 14:46-47). The defilement caused by a death was apparently greater still. Not only the corpse of a person who had died a natural death, as well as of one who had been killed by violence, but a dead body or grave defiled, for a period of seven days, both those who touched them, and (in the case of the corpse) the house in which the man had died, all the persons who were in it or might enter it, and all the open vessels that were there (Num 19:11, Num 19:14-16). Uncleanness of this kind could only be removed by sprinkling water prepared from running water and the ashes of a sin-offering (Num 19:12, Num 19:17.), and would even spread from the persons defiled to persons and things with which they came in contact, so as to render them unclean till the evening (Num 19:22); whereas the defilement caused by contact with a dead animal lasted only a day, and then, like every other kind of uncleanness that only lasted till the evening, could be removed by bathing the persons or washing the things (Lev 11:25.).

But whilst, according to this, generation and birth as well as death were affected with uncleanness; generation and death, the coming into being and the going out of being, were not defiling in themselves, or regarded as the two poles which bound, determine, and enclose the finite existence, so as to warrant us in tracing the principle which lay at the foundation of the laws of purification, as Bhr supposes, "to the antithesis between the infinite and the finite being, which falls into the sphere of the sinful when regarded ethically as the opposite to the absolutely holy." Finite existence was created by God, quite as much as the corporeality of man; and both came forth from His hand pure and good. Moreover it is not begetting, giving birth, and dying, that are said to defile; but the secretions connected with generation and child-bearing, and the corpses of those who had died. In the decomposition which follows death, the effect of sin, of which death is the wages, is made manifest in the body. Decomposition, as the embodiment of the unholy nature of sin, is uncleanness κατ ̓ ἐξοχξήν; and this the Israelite, who was called to sanctification in fellowship with God, was to avoid and abhor. Hence the human corpse produced the greatest amount of defilement; so great, in fact, that to remove it a sprinkling water was necessary, which had been strengthened by the ashes of a sin-offering into a kind of sacred alkali. Next to the corpse, there came on the one hand leprosy, that bodily image of death which produced all the symptoms of decomposition even in the living body, and on the other hand the offensive secretions from the organs of generation, which resemble the putrid secretions that are the signs in the corpse of the internal dissolution of the bodily organs and the commencement of decomposition. From the fact that the impurities, for which special rites of purification were enjoined, are restricted to these three forms of manifestation in the human body, it is very evident that the laws of purification laid down in the O.T. were not regulations for the promotion of cleanliness or of good morals and decency, that is to say, were not police regulations for the protection of the life of the body from contagious diseases and other things injurious to health; but that their simple object was "to impress upon the mind a deep horror of everything that is and is called death in the creature, and thereby to foster an utter abhorrence of everything that is or is called sin, and also, to the constant humiliation of fallen man, to remind him in all the leading processes of the natural life-generation, birth, eating, disease, death - how everything, even his own bodily nature, lies under the curse of sin (Gen 3:14-19), that so the law might become a 'schoolmaster to bring unto Christ,' and awaken and sustain the longing for a Redeemer from the curse which had fallen upon his body also (see Gal 3:24; Rom 7:24; Rom 8:19.; Phi 3:21)." Leyrer.

Leviticus 12:1

lev 12:1

Uncleanness and Purification after Child-Birth. - Lev 12:2-4. "If a woman bring forth (תּזריע) seed and bear a boy, she shall be unclean seven days as in the days of the uncleanness of her (monthly) sickness." נדּה, from נדד to flow, lit., that which is to flow, is applied more especially to the uncleanness of a woman's secretions (Lev 15:19). דּותהּ, inf. of דּוה, to be sickly or ill, is applied here and in Lev 15:33; Lev 20:18, to the suffering connected with an issue of blood.

Leviticus 12:3

lev 12:3

After the expiration of this period, on the eighth day, the boy was to be circumcised (see at Gen 17). She was then to sit, i.e., remain at home, thirty-three days in the blood of purification, without touching anything holy or coming to the sanctuary (she was not to take any part, therefore, in the sacrificial meals, the Passover, etc.), until the days of her purification were full, i.e., had expired.

Leviticus 12:5

lev 12:5

But if she had given birth to a girl, she was to be unclean two weeks (14 days), as in her menstruation, and then after that to remain at home 66 days. The distinction between the seven (or fourteen) days of the "separation for her infirmity," and the thirty-three (or sixty-six) days of the "blood of her purifying," had a natural ground in the bodily secretions connected with child-birth, which are stronger and have more blood in them in the first week (lochia rubra) than the more watery discharge of the lochia alba, which may last as much as five weeks, so that the normal state may not be restored till about six weeks after the birth of the child. The prolongation of the period, in connection with the birth of a girl, was also founded upon the notion, which was very common in antiquity, that the bleeding and watery discharge continued longer after the birth of a girl than after that of a boy (Hippocr. Opp. ed. Khn. i. p. 393; Aristot. h. an. 6, 22; 7, 3, cf. Burdach, Physiologie iii. p. 34). But the extension of the period to 40 and 80 days can only be accounted for from the significance of the numbers, which we meet with repeatedly, more especially the number forty (see at Exo 24:18).

Leviticus 12:6

lev 12:6

After the expiration of the days of her purification "with regard to a son or a daughter," i.e., according as she had given birth to a son or a daughter (not for the son or daughter, for the woman needed purification for herself, and not for the child to which she had given birth, and it was the woman, not the child, that was unclean), she was to bring to the priest a yearling lamb for a burnt-offering, and a young pigeon or turtle-dove for a sin-offering, that he might make atonement for her before Jehovah and she might become clean from the course of her issue. שׁנתו בּן, lit., son of his year, which is a year old (cf. Lev 23:12; Num 6:12, Num 6:14; Num 7:15, Num 7:21, etc.), is used interchangeably with שׁנה בּן (Exo 12:5), and with שׁנה בּני in the plural (Lev 23:18-19; Exo 29:38; Num 7:17, Num 7:23, Num 7:29). דּמים דּמור, fountain of bleeding (see at Gen 4:10), equivalent to hemorrhage (cf. Lev 20:18). The purification by bathing and washing is not specially mentioned, as being a matter of course; nor is anything stated with reference to the communication of her uncleanness to persons who touched either her or her couch, since the instructions with regard to the period of menstruation no doubt applied to the first seven and fourteen days respectively. For her restoration to the Lord and His sanctuary, she was to come and be cleansed with a sin-offering and a burnt-offering, on account of the uncleanness in which the sin of nature had manifested itself; because she had been obliged to absent herself in consequence for a whole week from the sanctuary and fellowship of the Lord. But as this purification had reference, not to any special moral guilt, but only to sin which had been indirectly manifested in her bodily condition, a pigeon was sufficient for the sin-offering, that is to say, the smallest of the bleeding sacrifices; whereas a yearling lamb was required for a burnt-offering, to express the importance and strength of her surrender of herself to the Lord after so long a separation from Him. But in cases of great poverty a pigeon might be substituted for the lamb (Lev 12:8, cf. Lev 5:7, Lev 5:11).

Next: Leviticus Chapter 13