Monday, July 11, 2016

The Birth of a Girl and the Great Story

I saw a meme slandering the “religion” of the Bible yesterday, justifying the rejection because of this citation (I give it exactly as it appeared): A woman who bears a female child is twice as filthy as one who gives birth to a male. Leviticus 12:1-5

First, there is no verse that says this (notice the citation is for 5 verses). Second, no English translation of Leviticus 12:1-5 uses the word “filthy.”

The passage hinted at and twisted actually says this: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying: “When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days” (Leviticus 12:1-5).[1]

You can reject the Bible because of a single idea (not accurately quoted) that seems offensive in our culture and time (so much for tolerance, understanding, and pluralism, eh?). Or, you can step back and see this verse as reaching back to the first and greatest low point in human history where a promise of incredible saving grace was given…then see that this verse bridges between that bright promise on a dark day and a future day when the promise was fulfilled in the greatest gift the world has ever (or will ever) see.

Let me tell you a story. Leviticus 12:1-5 is an element of that story.

In the beginning, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule’” (Genesis 1:27,28). There’s no category of “unclean” at this point. God’s creation “was very good” (1:31). The “unclean” part comes in later.

God created a unique place of joyful communion with Him – “a garden…in Eden” (2:8). All that human beings could need was there. They could “from any tree of the garden…eat freely” (2:16). Except one tree, which was the test of faithful obedience to the Creator Who had supplied their needs and made them to be in blessed relationship with Him, the Source of Life and Goodness. The one commandment was given to them: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’” (Genesis 2:15-17).

Then something happened.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Indeed, has God said, “You shall not eat from any tree of the garden”?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.”’ The serpent said to the woman, ‘You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate…” (Genesis 3:1-6).[2]

Every verse after Genesis 3:6, and every moment of human existence (including yours and mine) afterwards, is grace. That could have been the end. But God, from before the foundation of the world, knew what would transpire and had a plan. The ending would be better than the beginning. It’s a story played out over a very long time, though. As the twisting and criticism of Leviticus 12:1-5 shows, we don’t often have the patience for a long story, no matter how beautiful.

Serpent, woman, and man are summoned to God’s tribunal for this rebellion. The serpent is cursed by God. In the curse, God makes a promise. The Promise. “I will put enmity [warfare] between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel” (3:15). Immediately after this, the woman’s punishment is announced: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth” (3:16). The woman tastes death – the punishment for rebellion – in giving birth, even shedding blood (life, as we’ll see). Every birth is a reminder of the sentence of death, a reminder that the saving serpent-Crusher promised by God is desperately needed.

A long time later, God organizes His people into a nation, giving them moral laws, civil laws, and ceremonial laws. The ceremonial laws reminded them that they were a people who lived by a different standard than all the other peoples of the world, who were alienated from Him and living however they desired (the autonomy espoused by the serpent that fateful first day of the Fall of humanity). Among those ceremonial laws was Leviticus 12:1-5. The shedding of blood was significant from a symbolic standpoint, for “…the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). Bloodshed was to be a reminder that rebellion against God forfeited the life of the rebel, and that sin had separated us from God. The blood and the ritual inconvenience was to be a reminder. Those laws under that old covenant (we call it the Old Testament) applied to all of life for God’s people – there was no aspect of life that didn’t point them to the Great Story. Including childbirth, in which (as a result of Eve’s rebellion) there is the shedding of blood, a picture of sin-caused death (alienation from God) even in the entry of life into the world. We need the serpent-Crushing Savior.

Why, though, was the ritual time of “uncleanness” longer with the birth of a girl? It’s not because God or the Bible consider girls bad. In fact, did you know that, among all the ancient religious texts, the Bible is the only one that tells us about the creation of women (Genesis 2:18-25)?[3] The Bible is filled with women who were great heroes, from the judges of Israel to prophetesses to incredible key parts of the Great Story! No, Leviticus 12:5 isn’t there because girls are worse than boys. It’s there to keep reminding us of the roots of the Great Story and The Promise. The apostle Paul later says, “the woman [Eve] being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Timothy 2:14). The birth of a girl, daughter of Eve, reminds us that through the woman Eve’s actions, sin entered humanity. Before you get angry at how unfair this seems, remember: God is not holding a grudge against the female gender because of Eve. He is reminding every generation in which a girl was born that through the “seed” of the woman the serpent-Crusher was going to enter the world. The birth of a girl brought a longer meditation on this Promise and the need for that Promise’s fulfillment than the birth of a boy.
Instead of the female of humanity being a stigma forever reminding of one woman’s sin, the female of humanity was, by the gracious plan and Promise of God, the means by which the solution to humanity’s problem was to be solved. Bloodshed and “uncleanness” were reminders that we all are under sentence of death for our rebellion against God, but through the woman a serpent-Crusher was going to come. This was worth a two weeks’ reminder with every birth of a girl among the ancient people of God.

Let’s fast-forward. The Bible tells us that, “when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4), including the “Law” contained in Leviticus 12:1-5. The serpent-Crusher didn’t come through the “seed” of a man. This is why Mary’s conceiving of Christ as a virgin is theologically important – it fulfills the promise of the first pages of the Bible! The messenger-angel said this to Mary upon bringing her the news: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The same messenger-angel assured Mary’s fiancé Joseph with this revelation: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child Who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20,21).

The regulation of Leviticus 12:1-5 isn’t there to stigmatize women and infant girls. It’s there as a reminder that humanity’s greatest problem, brought into the world by the first woman’s sin, will be incredibly and gloriously solved by God through a woman. The beginning was tragic, but it is infinitely out-shined by the ending. Like any good story, the tension was maintained and built throughout the telling, and Leviticus 12:1-5 was part of that.

It’d be a shame to miss out on the whole Story.

Genesis 3:15 has been fulfilled by God when He sent His Son into the world through a woman - not just one famous woman (Mary), but through women who were providentially brought into the Christ-story even though their backgrounds should have excluded them. Ruth was from Moab, not Israel…she wasn’t part of the nation God was using to bring His Son into the world, but by His incredible gracious plan to “purchase for God with [Christ’s blood]…from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9), she was included. Her name is in Jesus Christ’s genealogy (Matthew 1:5). Rahab was a harlot in Jericho…the same Jericho filled with idol-worshipers consigned to destruction (Joshua 6:1-27). But by God’s providential plan and grace, Rahab and her family were saved out of the destruction. And she became part of the Old Testament people of God, Israel. Her name is in Jesus Christ’s genealogy (Matthew 1:5).

The ceremonial regulation of Leviticus 12:1-5 doesn’t apply to new covenant (New Testament) believers anymore, because it was fulfilled in Christ, the serpent-Crushing seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15. Now “you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you” (Galatians 3:26-29, New Living Translation). Men and women are equal in the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ (the same equality by which both are described as the image of God back in Genesis 1:27). In Christ, a woman is to be honored “as a fellow heir of the grace of life.” God doesn’t even hear the prayers of anyone who treats her less than this (1 Peter 3:7)!

Let me finish up the story by taking us to the words of the apostle Paul: “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness - with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she [Eve] will be saved through childbearing [her “Seed,” Jesus Christ] - if they [female Christians] continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Timothy 2:8-15, English Standard Version). The mandate that women not be pastor-teachers in the Church isn’t a punishment. It is, like Leviticus 12:1-5, a telling of the Gospel story in the role women play in the Church. Women still speak the truth of God’s Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, what the Bible calls “prophecy” (Acts 2:17; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5). But they don’t take the leading teaching role in the Church, as a telling of the story of Eve and the eventual salvation that came through her “Seed,” Jesus Christ. Children of Eve, tell this story by continuing in “faith” in her “Seed,” Jesus Christ, in “love and holiness, with self-control.”

I’ve heard for decades now that the attention span of the average American is continually shrinking. I wonder if we’re capable of reading beyond a meme or bumper sticker anymore. Please don’t reject the Grand Story of God’s Love because of a single tiny falsehood that popped up on your screen appealing to your innate desire to rebel against everything.

“‘She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [in Isaiah 7:14]: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:21-23).

Believe in Jesus Christ, this “Seed” of the woman, the great serpent-Crusher, the Defeater of the sin-penalty of eternal death, the Savior of all – men and women equally – who call on His name, the Reconcilion to our Creator, and the Demonstration of the love of God.

Yes, the love of God. “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world [as the “Seed” of the woman] so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son [as the “Seed” of the woman] to be the propitiation [punishment-taker] for our sins” (1 John 4:9,10).


[1] New American Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.
[2] What’s sad about this is that the serpent hasn’t had to change his strategy in the least since that moment. The meme slandering the “religion” of the Bible is a modern expression of that “serpent of old” (Revelation 12:9): twist the Word of God, then outright deny the Word of God. It worked then, and still works today. The Bible says these continuing followers of the serpent’s way are in “the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). God grant them freedom to the truth of the Bible!
[3] Some will chafe at the creation of the woman – wife to the first man – as a “helper” (Genesis 2:18). “The term ‘helper,’ which is also used by God to identify Himself (Exod. 18:4; Deut. 33:7), describes the woman God created to become a partner with the man in the overwhelming task of exercising dominion over the world and extending the generations (Gen. 1:28; 2:18). When you call upon God to be your ‘Helper,’ you are not suggesting that He divest Himself of His deity and supernatural powers. Rather you ask Him to come to your aid with the powers of His divine person. There is no hint of inferiority in the term. It describes function (what she does) rather than worth (who she is).” Dorothy Kelley Patterson, “The Family,” in Baptist Faith & Message 2000: Critical Issues in America’s Largest Protestant Denomination, ed. Douglas K. Blount and Joseph D. Wooddell (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 188.

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