The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD said, “Moses, 2tell the Israelites that a woman who gives birth to a son must remain away from taking part in sacred observances for seven days, just as she does for her monthly menstrual cycle. 3On the eighth day the boy child must be circumcised by removing his foreskin. 4The mother must then stay away from entering the sanctuary, nor shall she handle any sacred object, for thirty- three days. 5If a girl child is born she must remain apart from sacred observances for two weeks and her time of confinement shall be sixty-six days.
6“When her time of isolation is ended, she shall bring a lamb under a year old to the priest at the meeting tent entrance as a burnt offering, and a young dove or pigeon for a guilt offering. 7The priest will offer them to the LORD on her behalf and she will then be restored to full participation in the religious life of the people. This must be done whether she gives birth to a boy or a girl. 8If she can’t afford a ram, then two doves or two pigeons may be offered: one for the burnt offering and the other for the guilt offering. In this way the priest shall restore her to full participation in the worship life of the community.”
1-5: Since blood and the shedding of blood carries all kinds of spiritual repercussions, special attention has to be given to the monthly menstrual cycles of women and the bloody discharge that accompanies childbirth. In the case of the birth of a male child, she is to be regarded as “unclean,” meaning that she cannot enter the courtyard of the tabernacle or handle things dedicated for sacred use. The period of uncleanness is to last for seven days. On the eighth day the child is to be circumcised, thus marking him as one of God’s people but also curtailing the length of her prescribed purification. She is to stay away from the tabernacle and things dedicated for sacred use for another 33 days, making her time of ritual “uncleanness” a total of 40 days. The number 40 symbolizes the time required for life transitions toward some fulfillment of God’s will. If the birth is of a female child the time of purification is doubled, perhaps because in that case no blood is shed by circumcision.
6-8: When the prescribed length of time is completed she is to bring a burnt offering (a yearling lamb) and a sin offering (a pigeon or dove) which the priest will offer as a sacrifice for her atonement and thus provide the community a visible sign that her time of uncleanness is ended. If she cannot afford the lamb, a bird will suffice.
Thus Mary, mother of Jesus, presents “a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons’” (Luke 2:24). Mary and Joseph could not afford a yearling lamb.