209 – Numbers 19 – Red Heifer

At the risk of losing some readers immediately, and in the interest of full disclosure, I need to tell you I’m not going to talk about the red heifer that will supposedly be used when the temple sacrifices are once again instituted in Jerusalem. I’m simply not qualified for such a discussion. I apologize if the title of the article gave you false hope that I would be talking about it. I’m gonna strive to keep the discussion about the red heifer in the context of the biblical passage in which we encounter it.

I did a search for “red heifer” in Logos Bible software and Numbers 19:2 was the only hit. I will admit it is possible other scriptures talk about this particular sacrifice but call it something else, however, I didn’t spend the time to explore that option.

Numbers 19:1-2

           1       Now [Yahweh] spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 

           2       “This is the ordinance of the law which [Yahweh] has commanded, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come. 

The first two verses of chapter nineteen introduce the red heifer. Purposing to observe the details, we discover some interesting things. First, Yahweh (poorly represented by “the LORD”), the covenant God is issuing a command to His two leaders of the people with whom He has entered into covenant relationship.

Yahweh tells them there is this special purpose sacrifice that He wants to be performed, using a red heifer. Yahweh tells the men the children of Israel are to bring the red heifer. I don’t know how rare a red heifer is, but God knew that this nation of 1.5 million (probably closer to 2 million or more) people would have a red heifer that met the qualifications of no blemish or defect and has never worn a yoke that could be used.

 Numbers 19:3-4 tell us the people were to give the qualified animal to Eleazar the priest so he could slaughter it outside the camp. I can’t include all the verses here, but I can tell you that Numbers 19:4-10 are packed full of details explaining exactly how Eleazar was to prepare the sacrifice.

Let’s take a quick peek at verse 9.

Numbers 19:9

9       Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin. 

In this context what determines a clean man? If you read this verse with the surrounding verses it is obvious it is a man who is not defiled by coming in contact with a dead body. The red heifer ashes were to be stored outside the camp in reserve for the purifying from sin which was when someone came in contact with a dead body.

I found the following excerpt from the Believer’s Bible Commentary particularly interesting.

The one historical record of the use of the ashes of a heifer is in Numbers 31. Mantle says that:

  … the ashes were regarded as a concentration of the essential properties of the sin offering, and could be resorted to at all times with comparatively little trouble and no loss of time. One red heifer availed for centuries. Only six are said to have been required during the whole of Jewish history; for the smallest quantity of the ashes availed to impart the cleansing virtue of the pure spring water.

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews argues that whereas the ashes of a red heifer could do no more than set a person apart from outward, ceremonial defilement, the blood of Christ has infinite power to produce an inward cleansing of the conscience from dead works (Heb. 9:13, 14). An unknown author comments:

  The red heifer is God’s provision for inevitable, unavoidable contact with the spiritual death that is around us. It probably has special reference to Israel’s bloodguiltiness in connection with the Messiah. It resembles the trespass offering but does not displace it.

MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. Ed. Arthur Farstad. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995. Print.

I find this scriptural passage to be yet another compelling piece of evidence that God is in the details (not the devil). He provided a very comprehensive system of restoration to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. That being true, we can rest assured that our redemption is quite thorough and complete. God has every nuance of our salvation covered.

What an amazing God!



All Scripture quotations from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.


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