Tough Passages #10: God Hates Women? (Leviticus 12:5)

In “Tough Passages,” we’re looking at the difficult verses in the Bible that are often brought up by secular people as reasons the Bible doesn’t make sense, and discovering how they actually reveal the character, love, and glory of God in a beautiful way.  For September, we looked at a dire warning about treason and infant cannibalism.  This month, we’re talking some more about women. Specifically, mothers of baby girls.

The Verse

But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days.

Leviticus 12:5, ESV

The Secular Response

People should hold signs that say “God Hates Women” because it really will be the most accurate Christian sign you could ever make.

Ivana Wynn, ranker.com

Our Reply

Ivana’s response to this verse may make me saddest of all. God loves and cares for women, commanding the Hebrews to have a system far more fair to women than most of their contemporaries and welcoming them into the spiritual nation of Israel (as well as the church) in stark contrast to the worship practices of their neighboring countries.

But that’s a discussion for another time. This time, we’re talking about uncleanness in childbirth.

Let’s set aside the difference in unclean-time between mothers of boys and of girls. We’ll get to that later. But first: why is a new mother unclean at all?

Last week, we discussed the incredible danger humanity is in as a result of sin. That sin is inside each one of us; at birth, we’re all sinful. The disease of sin runs through our veins and is passed down from parents to children, generation to generation. Without God’s interaction to save us, we will all end up dead. That wasn’t God’s original plan, so He said that death (and everything associated with it, including blood) was unclean.

This has two effects: a symbolic one and a practical one. Practically, this led to a lower incidence of disease among the Hebrew people; in a time before disinfectant and antibiotics, the only way to stop the spread of disease was quarantine, and keeping a potentially contagious disease carrier at home and away from the Temple was a pretty effective one. But symbolically (and more importantly), it reminded the Israelites of the sobering, dire consequences of their sin and their need for God to save them from it.

So then, as suggested by the fact that this uncleanness was compared to the woman’s menstrual cycle, the unclean thing here is not the baby, but the blood involved in childbirth. Since the baby was covered in blood at birth, it reminded the parents of the difficult task before them to raise in the right worship of God a child who was born with no desire for God.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Psalm 51:5, ESV

It’s important to note that there’s little evidence that this ritual impurity came with any associated sinfulness, stigma or shame; it was simply intended to be a reminder that death (which the blood represented) is not God’s plan, but is caused by our sin. And as with all Old Testament symbolism, the earthly blood which makes us unclean points to Christ, whose redemptive blood makes us clean.

But here still is the problem of the shorter cleansing time for mothers of boys.

Part of that was clearly practical: the mother needed to be present for the boy’s circumcision, which was to happen on the eighth day, and so would have to be ritually cleansed enough by then to go to the Temple.

If there is a further reason beyond that, I don’t know it; and writers of commentaries seem somewhat baffled as well. One suggested that, since Jesus was a male, the shorter recovery time for the mother of a boy child was meant to point to Jesus’ sufficiency and the fact that His blood would defeat of the very curse of sin that this law talks about; another posited that the girl child, being blessed by God with the ability to eventually give birth herself, represented a greater holiness, and thus a greater holiness had left the mother when the daughter was born. All of them agree that the disparity in recovery time was not unique to Israel, and in fact was practiced by most ancient near-Eastern cultures.

Whatever the reason, it is a moot point to new mothers after Christ’s resurrection.

See, when Jesus died, His blood was poured out for us (both symbolically and literally); He took this part of the law upon Himself, fulfilling it completely by being the blood-soaked child that died for the sin of the world. But when He rose again, completely purified, He gave us that purity, along with a hope that we could not earn on our own; and that purity was symbolically passed to us through His blood.

Death no longer has a curse! This means that blood is no longer unclean, and we can now (and at any time) approach the throne of grace with confidence through Jesus – from the day we’re born until the day we die. Including the day our child is born.

• • •

Next month’s Tough Passages addresses life when that baby girl gets a little older. Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture; we hope you stick with us. If this isn’t a satisfying answer to you, please comment below. I’d love to talk it out.

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2 thoughts on “Tough Passages #10: God Hates Women? (Leviticus 12:5)

  1. Leviticus is one of my favorite books of the Bible for these kinds of discussions.

    So many of the ritual cleansing laws like this one had physical health components as well as spiritual. We’re able to reason some of them out using scientific knowledge, but the Israelites didn’t have that. Instead of explaining the microscopic infectious process, God just gave them a list of laws that, when followed, kept them healthy and kept them focused on what was important. And they trusted God and kept these rituals that didn’t make sense to them. We can learn from that kind of faith.

    • That’s very true, and I think when we see the Bible with an open mind as an account of actual events (rather than just trying to poke holes in it) we can find some really good examples of God blessing His people through the means of His common grace, in much the same way we are blessed today through tons of seemingly-mundane ways.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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