After reading this passage, with new eyes, I could see what a tremendous blessing of rest these laws offer to new mothers!
"Rest? How did you get rest out of that?" A friend asked.
First of all, its important to clarify that I'm interpreting this passage based on my own personal world view of scripture. I fully trust that we worship a God of grace from Gen 1:1 to Rev 22:21. His character is unchanging from the beginning to the end. With that in mind, in simple terms, I believe and all commands of God are present to bless us.
Consider that Duet 6:1-3:
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, 2 so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. 3 O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. NASB
In summation, this passage explains that the commands of God are to be passed down so that our days might be prolonged, and it might be well with us. The law can be viewed as a gift of grace for wellness, health, and good relationships.
Next, its important to get past the word "unclean" and not let that be a stumbling block for missing a revelation. In the Hebraic context, unclean means just that... unclean. It has more to do with health and susceptibility to contract and spread illness than how we typically process it as "dirty" or "unholy." Historically, the women's movement has used the laws of motherhood and niddah to paint the bible as anti-woman, portraying menstruation and childbirth as sinful and dirty because of the word "unclean." That's simply not the case. A women in this situation isn't dirty, but rather vulnerable.
Then, you have to use some inductive understanding about what it means to be unclean to get the full concept of the Laws of Motherhood, and Niddah. An unclean women wasn't permitted to have sex or go into the temple, and she also wasn't permitted to participate in society. She was socially isolated because anything she touched, person or object, became ritually unclean. That's one of the things that makes the story of the woman with the issue of blood so profound. When she touched Yeshua, she knew she was making him ritually unclean. Lev 15 offers some further explanation. In terms of objects, this passage explains that chairs and beds associated with an unclean women also become unclean. Traditionally with niddah laws, this idea is extended to other house hold objects and food as well.
The pattern goes as follows:
Anything an unclean women touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touched something ritually unclean also became ritually unclean until evening.
So if she cooked in a pot.. the pot became unclean through her touch... and anyone who ate from the pot would also become unclean. This might simply be a rabbinical application of this passage, but its derived from other Levitical passages about how to deal with objects that have become ritually unclean. Because of this, I speculate that this is possibly how this Law was literally interpreted by the early nation of Israel as well.
Now, a women who is not permitted to go into the Temple, be out in society, or cook or clean for her family is bound to what?
I look at the laws of motherhood and interpret that passage as a special time the Lord has designated to set a woman and her new baby apart for bonding and postpartum recovery. By limiting her social and family responsibilities, the Lord is giving provision for her body to heal and the breastfeeding relationship to be established. Other women of the community were likely present to care for her, and the needs of her home. She was blessed to be totally free to focus her care and attention on the new baby, because she's not busy with household chores. In the words of the doula movement, I suspect the community was "Taking care of the mother so she could take care of the baby."
The laws of Motherhood also differentiate between the requirements for the birth of baby boys and baby girls. The instruction is that a mother remains set apart for 33 days postpartum after the birth of a boy and 66 days after the birth of a girl. Because God is infinitely wise, I suspect that there is more than just symbolism involved in this difference. Just recently I found out that girls are more likely than boys to sustain injuries or death in car accidents because their pelvic bones are not fully develop until puberty. That makes me wonder what other sorts of mysteries surround the health of new born baby girls, and their mothers, that would double the time of separation. Of course, this is just my own heart's wonderings as I personally seek the Lord's wisdom.
In all posts about the Law, I also like to clarify this primary point: We are not bound by any measure of the Law for righteousness. The NT is VERY clear about that. Our righteous standing is through the Blood of Yeshua alone. But if we believe that God loved Israel and instituted the Law to bless and prosper a nation set apart, we can also trust that many of those same laws carry blessings for us today. God is the unchanging creator of the universe. He knows how we work even if we don't fully scientifically or medically understand it today.
Are we sinning if we are out and about, and busy at home, earlier than 33 or 66 days? I don't think so, but we could be missing out on a blessing by not abiding by the principle behind the law. And I think that's just it... we don't follow the letter of the Law, but rather say, "Ok, God... your word gives women a time to be separate after childbirth. How do you want me to implement this in my life... my family... so that you might be glorified and our days might be prolonged?"
And the great gift of grace:
God loves mothers and babies so much that He ordained a set apart season for bonding! Embrace it, and love on your little one!
Whether you eat or drink, whatever you do, do it all for the Glory of God. 1 Cor 10:31
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The Power of Brit Milah