I want Leviticus to be great again, or at least interesting. This is probably the most dreaded book of the Bible. And I get it! I really do. On the surface it is monotonous, out of date and difficult for animal lovers. Right? But when we peel back the surface we discover some pretty amazing things.
Every year it seems a new translation is published and hailed as the best. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the efforts that have been made to give us God’s Word with a clearer understanding. And I also believe we need a fresh translation, every so often, to keep up with recent discoveries that give better understanding of ancient words and practices. The problem is versions can paint over some of the unusual words in order to make a sentence have a better flow.
For example, in my last blog we looked at the word consumed or destroyed (אבל), which was used of the fire of Yahweh that consumed the offering and ultimately Nadab and Abihu (9:23-24; 10:2). These words makes sense when applied with fire. However, the Hebrew also means “to eat” and is the most common word for eating a meal in Biblical Hebrew. By a closer examination, eating is the theme of chapters 9-11. So we lose something when we use a word that makes more sense to our 21st Century minds.
The same is true with Leviticus 12. On the surface this is about impurity laws for women who bear children. They need to do to be purified. You may even find this chapter disgusting. All the men are like, seriously, why do I need to read this? And the women pretty much feel the same way. But the real question is why would God put this in here among the things that make one ritualistically unclean?
As I have mentioned before, being unclean was not always the result of sinfulness. But why would a new mother be considered impure? She is following the Creators command to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28).
As we peel back the layers of Leviticus 12, we find ourselves back in the Garden of Eden at the Fall. The language alludes to the curse of childbirth. Leviticus 11 pointed to the snake in the garden and the curse of death. Chapter 13 will also point to the curse, which I will write about in my next blog. Laws of ritual impurity were intended to remind the people of the contamination of God’s good creation. And this included the reproduction of humanity.
Leviticus 12:4, She must not touch any holy things or go into the sanctuary until completing her days of purification. (emphasis mine)
As long as she was impure, she could not join the worshiping community at the Tabernacle. The goal of creation was the same as the Mosaic covenant – the worship of Yahweh! Just as Adam and Eve were cast out of the presence of the Creator in the Garden (Gen. 3:24-25), so was anyone considered unclean by God’s Law. They could not come before Yahweh in his sacred place. But the unclean mother could enjoy everyday life in the community. This law applied to the sanctuary of God.
We find an interesting word in the text. The Hebrew for becomes pregnant (12:2 – זרע) is not the usual word for a woman who gets pregnant. It is, however, the same word used in Genesis 1 for plants and fruit trees.
Genesis 1:11-12, Then God said, “Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing (זרע) plants and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds.” And it was so. The earth produced vegetation: seed-bearing (זרע) plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed (זרע) in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. (emphasis mine)
This is the same word used in Leviticus 12:2. The Hebrew word means “to sow, be sown, yield seed. In its basic sense, to sow or spread seed. This verb commonly refers to planting crops by sowing or scattering seed.” (Lexham Theological Wordbook) The best translation of this word comes out of the King James Version – If a woman have conceived seed.
But why has the author chosen to use this word? Think about it for a moment. When the Creator was handing down the consequences of the Fall, what was said to the snake?
Genesis 3:15, I will put hostility between you and the woman,/ and between your seed (זרע) and her seed (זרע)./ He will strike your head,/ and you will strike his heel. (emphasis mine)
It is the same word used in Leviticus 12 and Genesis 1. When we put these together we discover seed multiplies according to their kinds (Gen. 1:11-12). Since the Fall, humanity has produced according to their kind. That is, Eve reproduced a seed that will fall like herself and her children produced seeds that will fall, etc. Everything we have read in the Pentateuch has illustrated this point. So Leviticus 12 points back to the Fall and why one is unclean.
Let’s pick back up with Genesis 3:15 for a moment, because we find a blessing amidst the curse. The Seed of woman will rise up and destroy the seed of the snake that produces children of sin/flesh (Rom. 9:8). This Seed, the Messiah, rose up and crushed the head of the snake!
I John 3:8-10, The one who commits sin is of the Devil, for the Devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the Devil’s work. Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because His seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God. This is how God’s children – and the Devil’s children – are made evident. (emphasis mine)
The ritual purification laws reminded Israel of their need for the Seed of woman, who would eventually arrive and purify the uncleanliness of the world. And not just Israel but all the nations as promised to their forefather Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3).
Galatians 3:16, Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say “and to seeds,” as though referring to many, but referring to one, and to your seed, who is Christ. (emphasis mine)
Folks, “seed” language is found throughout the Scriptures. It is not a coincidence, anymore than a seed produces fruit. Fruit? Have you seen this analogy in Scripture? It is made of the same DNA. The language is everywhere. When we see it, especially when an author goes out of his way to use it, we are to sit up and take notice.
A friend of mine, Marilyn Yergler, wrote a blog some time back called “How Are Christians Like Seeds?” She demonstrates how this principle isn’t completely lost on our culture. She writes, “We all have heard sermons about how a seed has to die before it can germinate and become a plant just as we have to die to our sins in baptism and rise up a new creature in Christ.”
Without the seed of woman we were doomed, unclean, impure. Thanks be to God for the gift of His Son!
*All Scripture quoted from the Holman Christian Standard Bible
*Blog resources: The Pentateuch as Narrative by John H. Sailhamer; The Principle of the Seed by Bradford Scott; blog myramblings429.wordpress.com