Have you ever met someone who hates babies? I’ve always found that so weird. Babies are the most innocent human beings alive – like, that’s a fact. They’re so adorable and fascinating. It’s so wonderful to watch their eyes dart around, focusing on one thing and then another, or to watch them wriggle their arms and legs, unable to control their movements but somehow able to make them so beautiful. In short, babies are great. Everyone knows this.
Even the Israelites thought babies were awesome. There was a whole special service to be performed when a baby was born. After giving the mother sometime to recover from the birth, a young lamb and a young pigeon or dove were to be offered as burnt and sin offerings (verse 8). And just like that, a new life began.
The Treasures Within:
A Baby Blessing
An offering after every birth. A service for every new existence. Not a baby was born without God noticing, and rejoicing. It’s a beautiful thing to think of God looking down from heaven at His children and their children. Imagine the love He felt. Imagine the excitement He felt, and the hope for this new baby boy or girl. Imagine the blessing of knowing, as a parent walking away from the sacrifice, that God was watching over you and your newborn and that your lives were forever safe in His strong hands.
There Are Always Questions
Only the service wasn’t really a baby blessing. Yes, God looked down with joy and love over this new life. No, there wasn’t a birth that took place that escaped His tender gaze. But the service wasn’t called a baby blessing. It was an offering to make atonement for the woman after her childbirth. It was the last step in a purification process. The first step was being pronounced ceremonially unclean for one week or two weeks, and thus unable to visit the tabernacle or touch anyone else who wanted to visit the tabernacle. The second step was waiting either thirty-three days or sixty-six days to become purified from her childbirth. Finally, after either 40 or 80 days of waiting, the woman could offer a sacrifice, become ceremonially clean, and complete the birth process.
But why did she have to wait at all? After going through one of the most difficult physical experiences anyone can go through, a mother has to be kept away from God’s presence at the tabernacle. Why? Wouldn’t that suggest that childbirth in and of itself was unclean or unholy? Or that a woman’s body was unclean? And for such a long time, too! Forty or eighty days. Do you know what the difference was? The gender of the baby. If a woman gave birth to a boy, she would have to wait forty days to be clean. If she had a daughter, she would have to wait eighty.
But why? Why? The Bible gives no simple answers here. This is an uncomfortable, weird and gross feeling – that the Bible might have some casual misogyny, unexplained, embedded in its sacred, delicate pages. But that feeling lasts only until we realize that this is how it’s supposed to be. This strange rule was written and included on purpose. God wants us to ask Him – why?
Well, why? These verses imply a difference between the genders. Women, not men, must be ceremonially cleansed after giving birth, even though both a man and a woman are necessary in order to create a child. Maybe the difference is physical? Childbirth is a process that needs to be sterile, and a mother who has just given birth needs rest. Perhaps the period of waiting was established to ensure she was kept safe from germs, disease, and strenuous labor? But that doesn’t explain the time difference in the waiting periods. Could the difference also be symbolic? Maybe God wanted to remind women that they represent His people. We are all God’s people and we are all unclean and sinful, no exceptions. Even as newborns, we are born into sin. It’s only because of God’s mercy that we live through our births and continue to grow. It’s only because of God’s mercy that a mother gets to experience the joy of her newborn baby. Maybe these thoughts were meant to fill the Israelite mothers’ minds as they completed their atonement. Maybe that’s what God wanted us to consider when we ask the question, why?
God’s Message To Us:
“You are here for a reason.” God was present for your birth and mine. And everyone’s. He hasn’t missed a single labor pain. He has heard every first cry. He was there, protecting our mothers and allowing our first breaths, because He loves us. He wants us to be here. He wants us to draw breath and experience life. And to live is to love. To live is to hold a hand. To live is to experience relationship, in all of its forms. To live is to know another heart. To live is to understand. To live is to think. God designed us to experience these things. And the questions we have about Him, the struggles that take place in our minds, the debates we engage in about His word – they are all a part of the life God wants to give us. They all point to the reason we are here – because of Him. We are here to love Him. We are here to glorify Him. We are here to choose Him, and then live forever with Him. But we will never experience those things if we don’t start asking questions. So we ask, believing that if we are indeed here for a reason, then the Reason will explain it all.
What do you think? Why do you think women needed to be purified longer after giving birth to a girl than after giving birth to a boy? What did God teach you from this chapter of the Bible?