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Fallen Man an Unclean Thing
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 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. And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 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. 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. 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: 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. 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.” (Leviticus 12:1-8)
Nothing is more delightful than the birth of a child. Nothing is more celebrated. A young lady looks forward to becoming a mother from her earliest days. Nothing gives her greater satisfaction and fulfillment as a woman than bearing her husband’s child. That is as it should be.
The young couple eagerly anticipates the day with great joy. The grand parents are just as anxious, maybe more so. In giving birth to her child, the young mother has to endure great pain. Often the travail is great, sometimes very great. Yet, she is anxious to do it. Her entire family and her friends rejoice as the day nears. Our Savior said…
“A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.” (John 16:21)
Yet, throughout the Scriptures, sin, defilement, and uncleanness are always associated with the birth of a child. We see this most clearly set forth in Leviticus 12.
What an instructive passage this is! I think Isaiah must have had this passage in mind when he spoke of the human race in Isaiah 64:6. In Job 25:4 Bildad asked, “How then can man be justified with God? Or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” David said, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).
The 12th chapter of Leviticus tells us that fallen man is an unclean thing and that our great God has provided for the cleansing of unclean, vile, filthy sinners, such as we are. Let us ever give thanks to God for that fountain opened for sin and uncleanness, Christ Jesus (Zechariah 13:1).
“There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains!”
Humbling and Comforting
Leviticus 12 is both deeply humbling and divinely comforting. The effect of all Scripture, when applied to our souls by the efficacious power and grace of God the Holy Ghost, is to lead us out of ourselves to Christ. Wherever man appears, at whatever stage of life we contemplate our nature, whether in conception, at birth, or at any point along the way, from the womb to the tomb, our entire existence, our entire being wears the double stamp of helplessness and corruption.
What poor, helpless creatures we are! We do not like to admit it. We try hard to suppress every thought of it. And it is sometimes forgotten, as we fill our days with frivolity and fun, seeking fortune and fame. We have many devices by which we try to cover what we are. We wear gaudy ornaments, gild ourselves with gold and silver and precious stones, and try to put on the appearance of strength, beauty, importance, and glory. But it is all a vain show (Psalm 39:4-6).
The glory of man is vanity. The pride of man is a hollow reed. We all enter into this world in exactly the same condition and leave it in exactly the same way. We come in naked and helpless and make our exit much the same way, possessing nothing and totally alone we go back to the dust.
Pastor Scott Richardson once said, “Life in this world begins with a slap on the bottom and ends with a shovel full of dirt in your face; and there’s nothing between but bumps and bruises.” They whose paths through this world are brightened by what man calls greatness and wealth, leave here just like everyone else in nakedness and alone. Helplessly they retreat like all others amid disease and death.
There is something worse, far worse than our helplessness. There is something worse, far worse than the emptiness of our vain lives. We are as corrupt as we are helpless. Our lives are as defiled as they are empty. We are a sinful race. Our race, the entire human race, is “an unclean thing” (Psalm 14:1-3; Romans 3:12).
In this 12th chapter of Leviticus, God the Holy Spirit shows us that the birth of a child, be it male or female, is the birth of one so corrupt, so defiled, so unclean, that the woman through whose womb the child was born was made ceremonially unclean by the law. In language that cannot be misunderstood, the Holy Spirit here teaches us that fallen man is “an unclean thing.”
We are a people in need of atonement, cleansing, and grace. Here is the comfort of this chapter. While laying us in the dust of humiliation, portraying our helplessness and uncleanness, it points us to the gracious works of God in redemption and regeneration by which unclean sinners are made clean before him. While exposing man’s ruin, Leviticus 12 also sets before us God’s remedy for our ruin.
We are all sinners in need of grace. That is what we see in verses 1 and 2.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 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.”
The woman under the law was made ceremonially unclean by the birth of a child, be it male or female. Why? Because every child born into this world (except he who was born of a virgin) is born a sinner, unclean before God. After giving birth to the unclean, the unclean woman was to be separated from the congregation of Israel for a specified period of uncleanness: seven days for a son and two weeks for a daughter.
Without question, this law and the instructions here given concerning the birth of a child were intended by God to teach Israel of old and to teach the Israel of God today three specific things.
1. By this law, preserved in his inspired Word, the Lord our God constantly holds before his people the sin and fall of our father Adam. Every time a woman is in travail with child, every time a child comes forth from the womb, every time a newborn baby cries in a burst of life, we ought, like the Jewish women of old, while in the days of their separation, hear the Lord our God saying, “Thy first father hath sinned” (Isaiah 43:27).
2. Not only did our father Adam sin in the garden, we sinned in him. — “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Adam’s sin was imputed to the entire human race. And Adam’s sin is imparted to all by natural generation. It is transmitted from generation to generation in the seed of fallen men and through the wombs of fallen women.
3. Sin separates us from God. Adam and Eve were driven from the garden because of sin. The woman who gave birth to a child was ceremonially unclean and held in separation from all that was ceremonially holy, because she brought forth that which was unclean. — “We are all as an unclean thing” (Isaiah 64:6).
Every man tries hard to convince himself that he is clean, that he can do that which is righteous and good. But at heart, in the core of your being, you know that you are unclean. When you have elated yourself with high thoughts, when your pride swells with a sense of accomplishment, when you are “humbled” with your proud sense of having done something good, your conscience screams, “Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!” In doing so, it echoes the testimony of God’s holy law (Ephesians 2:1-3).
The Lord our God, the God of all grace, makes sinners clean by the operation of his almighty grace.
“And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 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. 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.” (vv. 3-5)
In the ceremonial law by which the male child was ceremonially made clean and brought into a covenant relationship with God we are given a picture of the new birth, a picture of the regenerating grace and saving operations of God the Holy Spirit, (Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11-12).
Circumcision was an act of ceremonial cleansing and purification. It was the sign and seal of God’s covenant and its blessings (Ephesians 1:13-14). And it was a sign of righteousness imputed (Romans 4:11).
Abraham was righteous before he was circumcised. Circumcision did not make him righteous. And circumcision did not portray the way God made him righteous. Circumcision was a sign of righteousness received by faith.
Circumcision was performed upon a child by the hands of another. It was something done to him, not something he did. It was not something for which a boy volunteered, but something for which another volunteered him.
In all these things circumcision typified the new birth, the work of God the Holy Ghost in the hearts of chosen, redeemed sinners. Circumcision portrayed the believer’s experience of grace. — Like circumcision, the new birth is a painful thing. — Like circumcision, the new birth is distinguishing. — Like circumcision, the new birth is permanent. — Like circumcision, the new birth seals us in the covenant and seals the covenant to us. — Like circumcision, the new birth is a sign of righteousness. — Like circumcision, the new birth is cleansing. (Titus 3:3-7). — Like circumcision, the new birth is something done to us by another, the work of God wrought in us. — Like circumcision, the new birth is something for which we are volunteered by our Father, not something for which we volunteer ourselves (John 1:11-13; James 1:18).
As circumcision was always performed on the eighth day (the day of new beginning), when the fulness of time was come, after the completion of seven days (portraying the grace of God), so the new birth is wrought in each of God’s elect on the eighth day, when the fulness of time is come (Galatians 4:4-6; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
After the birth of her son, every Jewish woman was required under the Mosaic law to keep forty days of separation from the holy things, called “the days of her purifying.” I am certain that I have not yet grasped all that God has put into those words; but I am equally certain that “the days of her purifying” were neither accidental nor insignificant.
God’s wrath was poured out in judgment upon the earth for forty days. It rained for forty days (Genesis 7:4, 12, 17). Thus, sin was judged. Moses was in Mount Sinai for forty days (Exodus 24:18; 34:28). There sin was identified, exposed, and condemned. Israel searched out Canaan for forty days (Numbers 13:25). During those days God’s grace and salvation was both revealed and despised. Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years (one year for every day they spied out the land), because they believed not God (Numbers 14:33-34). Goliath berated Israel for forty days, while Israel trembled in unbelief (1 Samuel 17:16). Even so, Satan and sin, guilt and condemnation berate our souls and make us tremble like the giant did Israel until we see our great David slay the giant. When Elijah fled from Jezebel like a scared rabbit, he was made to see that he was no better than his fathers. He sat down under a juniper tree and wished to die. When he saw his nothingness, his weakness, and his sin, the Angel of the Lord (the Lord Jesus Christ) appeared to him, commanded him to arise, fed him with bread and water, and he walked in the strength of that bread for forty days, all the way to Horeb, the mount of God (1 Kings 19:1-8). Ezekiel was commanded of God to lay on his right side, bearing the sins of Judah, for forty days (Ezekiel 4:6). Nineveh was under the sentence of death for forty days (Jonah 3:4). Our blessed Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God and tempted of the devil for forty days (Matthew 4:2). There were forty days between the resurrection of our Redeemer and his ascension into glory (Acts 1:3).
Andrew Bonar suggested that as our Lord Jesus Christ (the last Adam) was on the earth forty days after his resurrection (after he restored that which he took not away), so it may have been that Adam and Eve remained only forty days in innocence before the fall. This much is certain, every time “forty days” is used in the Scriptures it seems to be like the ringing of a great bell to remind us of two things: Paradise lost and Paradise regained, bondage and liberty, sin and salvation, death and life.
When a Jewish mother gave birth to a daughter, the days of her purification were doubled. — “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” (v. 5).
We are not told why this was the case. Perhaps it was because the woman was the first transgressor and led Adam into transgression (1 Timothy 2:14). Perhaps it was because the woman is the weaker vessel. The serpent beguiled Eve, not Adam (2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Peter 3:7). Perhaps it was to remind every woman and all who observed the ordinance of God of the fall and of God’s promised grace and salvation in Christ Jesus to his elect (1 Timothy 2:14-15).
Grace Come to Sinners
The Lord our God condescends to meet sinners in grace where they are. — Grace does not wait for us to rise. Grace comes down to us!
“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: 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. 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.” (vv. 6-8)
The woman’s uncleanness brought her to the altar at the appointed time. She came with a burnt offering and a sin offering, an offering for atonement and an offering of consecration. She brought the sacrifice God required, the sacrifice God provided, to the place God appointed, and offered it by the hands of the priest God accepted.
Every Jewish mother was required to do this, the rich and the poor. The Lord God graciously condescended in magnificent mercy and love to the needs of the sinner. If the woman was too poor to bring a lamb, she could bring a pair of turtledoves or a pair of pigeons.
The only remedy for our ruin, the only cleansing for our corruption, the only deliverance from our defilement is the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, represented in these sacrifices.
“What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Oh! Precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow!
No other fount I know!
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”
Wherever Christ’s glorious, sin-atoning work is apprehended by faith, perfect cleansing is enjoyed. The apprehension of faith may be feeble. The faith may be but the wavering finger that touches the Master’s garment. The experience of faith may be shallow. But it is not the depth of our experience, the stability of our faith, or the strength of our apprehension that gives us acceptance with God. Rather, our acceptance, our atonement, our cleansing, our forgiveness lies altogether in the merit, value, and efficacy of our Sacrifice, Christ Jesus. Understand that and you will find rest for your soul, peace for your heart, and joy in believing.
The sacrifice of Christ is the same to every member of the God’s Israel. It matters not who you are, what you have, what you have done, or what your status is. God requires the same sacrifice from every sinner who comes to him for cleansing. The tenderness, compassion, love, and grace of our all-merciful God are seen in the fact that the blood of a turtledove was as efficacious for the poor, as the blood of a lamb for the rich. It was not the animal that mattered, but him of whom the animal spoke, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We see the same thing in the case of the leper in chapter 14. — “And if he be poor and cannot get so much, then he shall take…And he shall offer the one of the turtle doves, or of the young pigeons, such as he can get; even such as he is able to get…This is the law of him in whom is the plague of leprosy, whose hand is not able to get that which pertaineth to his cleansing” (vv. 21, 30-32).
God’s grace condescends to our need. He comes down to us. He never waits for us to come up to him. How I love those words, “If he be poor! — If she be not able!” Grace comes to those who are poor and helpless. When we cannot bring a sacrifice to God, grace brings his Sacrifice to us (Isaiah 46:13; 55:1; Romans 4:5; 10:5-9).
Savior of the Poor
One more delightful thing is revealed in this chapter. Compare verse 8 with Luke 2:24, and you will see that the Lord Jesus Christ is particularly and distinctly the Savior of the poor. — “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” (v. 8).
The Lord of Glory, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ is specifically, distinctly, and only the Savior of the poor, not the poor in purse, but the poor in spirit. He will never save a rich man, a man who thinks himself rich before God. But he will never refuse to save a poor sinner — “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
He humbled himself that we might be exalted. He emptied himself that we might be filled. He stripped himself that we might be clothed. He became poor that we through his poverty might be made rich. He travelled all the way down from the height of heaven’s wealth and glory to the ruin of our poverty and condemnation that he might lift us up from the dunghill of fallen humanity to sit as princes with him in glory. He died that we might live.
O Spirit of God, ever make it our joy to feed upon the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, upon that redemption and grace found in him, by which we have been made rich for time and for eternity! Oh, may the experience and knowledge of this grace, wrought in our hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost, constrain us to an unreserved surrender of ourselves to him who loved us and gave himself for us, to whom we owe our present and everlasting blessedness, our riches, our life, our all!
 Throughout the New Testament we are taught that the circumcision of the Old Testament was a picture, type, and symbol of the new birth. Nowhere is there the slightest indication that circumcision was the Old Testament equivalent of New Testament baptism.
 As we shall see in the next section of this chapter, circumcision preceded atonement under the law in the experience of the child, because atonement cannot be known until the chosen, redeemed sinner is born again. Then, as faith is given, God the Holy Spirit sprinkles the sin-atoning blood of Christ upon the heart. Yet, just as surely as atonement was made for the child on that night when God passed through Egypt in judgment and passed over Israel because his eye was on the blood, so atonement was made for us and righteousness was accomplished for us when Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us at Calvary!