The idea of a person being “unclean” has a negative connotation. We think about the unwashed masses of humanity, people we don’t really want to be around, people who smell badly or talk poorly or don’t live up to our own standards.
It is wrong for us to think this way about anybody. No one is more “unclean” than we are!
According to Leviticus 12, a new mother was “unclean,” and we might think there was something really wrong with her – that she did not please God.
I don’t think that’s the case at all. Child-bearing is the chief purpose of humanity, laid out at the very beginning. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it …” (Genesis 1:28).
If God blessed humanity and gave them this first commandment, it cannot be that God was somehow unpleased with a new mother when she was obedient to the commandment.
I think this has more to do with flesh, blood, and the holiness of God. There is a messiness and brokenness to being human, as we shall see in this chapter and in the two that follow. In our lives in the flesh, we go through periods and seasons when we are not whole. I think “wholeness” might be a better way to think about “clean” and “unclean” here.
When we go through seasons when our bodies are not whole, our bodies are not operating in the normal way. Things are on us or come out of us that we wouldn’t always want to be on us or come out of us.
God wants humanity to come into his presence in wholeness – in wellness. And we will never be fully well or whole until we stand in front of God in our resurrected bodies. That’s the main point we need to take away from this text as Christians.
The purification process is a reminder that we are not what we need to be, physically or spiritually, in order to stand before a perfectly holy God. Sin broke both our spirits and our flesh. All of life is marked by the brokenness caused by sin. And Jesus provides the cure for both our broke spirits and our broken bodies.
Moreover, when a woman gives birth, she is marked by blood and other bodily fluids. I’ve been a close eyewitness to this on four separate occasions! When blood comes out of a person, it is a sign of a weakening of that person. Blood signifies life, after all, and God wanted his people to take the flow of blood seriously.
Consider the use of blood in the sacrificial system. Only one kind of blood was to be brought into the holy places – the blood of the sacrifices approved by God himself.
And so a new mother was able to take respite during her time of purification. No sacrifices were asked of her for 33 or 66 days. The birth of boys or girls were treated differently – male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27), and this difference was acknowledged in the Law.
But fundamentally, this text is one that pointed out to God’s people – yet again – their inherent brokenness and imperfection in light of their holy God. They needed to find wholeness before they could enter into his presence.
It points us to the resurrection.
The apostle Paul said, “I tell you this, brothers, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:50-53).
We must understand this as Christians. Blood flowed out of the body of Jesus Christ when he was put to death outside Jerusalem. It was the ultimate blood of atonement that covers over our sins.
But we still are living in our flesh and blood. We cannot stand, as it is, in the physical presence of God. We still are being sanctified as we live out our days in this life. But a day will come when we can stand in the holy places, when we receive our perfectly whole resurrected bodies.
Today, perhaps, might be a day to think about the way in which your body is telling you it is “perishable.” What is breaking down? What isn’t functioning correctly? What is un-whole about your body right now? Now think about the resurrection. There is much hope for us in Christ!