Numbers 19:1-10 Ashes of the Red Heifer

“For if sprinkling ceremonially unclean persons with the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer restores their outward purity, then how much more the blood of the Messiah, who, through the eternal Spirit, offered himself to God as a sacrifice without blemish, will purify our conscience from works that lead to death, so that we can serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:13-14).

In order to understand the significance of the ashes of a heifer in this verse and compare it to ‘how much more the blood of Messiah’, it is crucial to go back to the original command given in Numbers 19.

The Ordinance for the Cleansing Ashes

“Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red cow without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid.  You shall give it to Eleazar the priest.  It shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence.  Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting.  The cow shall be burned in his sight – its hide, flesh, and blood shall be burned, its dung included – and the priest shall take cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson stuff, and throw them into the fire consuming the cow.  The priest shall wash his garments and bathe his body in water, after that the priest shall wash his garments and bathe his body in water, and be unclean until evening.  A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the cow and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place, to be kept for water of purification for the Israelite community.  It is for cleansing.  He who gathers up the ashes of the cow shall also wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.  This shall be a permanent law for the Israelites and for the strangers who reside among you.”

To begin the procedure for producing the water of purification, a pure and undefiled red heifer upon which there had never been a yoke was slaughtered outside of the camp.  A heifer is a young cow that has never had a calf.  The animal must be entirely of one color.  The hair of the cow must be absolutely straight to ensure that the cow had not previously been yoked.

The heifer would be slaughtered and the High Priest would take some of the blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting.  Then, the body of the cow (hide, flesh, blood and dung) was burned.

It is recorded in Jewish history that only nine red heifers were slaughtered throughout Israel’s history until the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.  This is because the abundance of ashes lasted a long time.  Each time the ashes of the red heifer were made, they were split into three parts.  One part went to the Mount of Olives and was used to consecrate the High Priest.  The second part went to the area which surrounded the court of the Temple and was kept for future generations to mix with the next slaughtered red heifer.  The final part was divided between the 24 groups of the priesthood and remained in the priest’s home where it would be used to purify the Israelites.   It is believed that the tenth and last heifer will be slaughtered when Messiah comes.

While the red heifer was burning, cedar wood, hyssop and crimson stuff were added to the fire.  Cedar wood oil which came from the Cedars of Lebanon was used for embalming the dead in Egypt.  It was known for its ability to preserve and prevent decay. Hyssop, a plant first used at the Passover in Egypt was dipped in the lamb’s blood and wiped on the doorposts and lintel of each house so that Yahweh would ‘pass over’ the house and not take the life of the firstborn.  Hyssop was also used  by the priests in the Temple for various cleansing rituals.    Psalm 51:7 refers to hyssop  “Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”  The ashes of all of these things were mixed with ordinary water to make  the water of purification.

One of the ordinances on Day of Atonement involved two goats.  One was sacrificed for sin on the altar; the other became the scapegoat.  The High Priest laid hands on the head of the scapegoat and confessed over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites.  The goat was then sent away into the desert carrying on itself all the sins of Israel.  During the second Temple period, it became a tradition to place a scarlet or crimson cloth on the horn of the scapegoat.  It was noticed that when the sacrifice of the sin goat was fully accepted by God, the scarlet cloth on the scapegoat would turn white.

The Ordinance for the People

“He who touches the corpse of any human being shall be unclean for seven days.  He shall cleanse himself with the ashes on the third day and on the seventh day, and then be clean; if he fails to cleanse himself on the third and seventh days, he shall not be clean.  Whoever touches a corpse, the body of a person who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles YHVH’s Tabernacle; that person shall be cut off from Israel.  Since the water of purification was not dashed upon him, he remains unclean; his uncleanness is still upon him.”

This is the ritual: When a person dies in a tent, whoever enters the tent and whoever is in the tent shall be unclean seven days; and every open vessel, with no lid fastened down, shall be unclean.  And in the open, anyone who touches a person who was killed or who died naturally, or human bone, or a grave, shall be unclean for seven days.  Some of the ashes from the fire of cleansing shall be taken for the unclean person and fresh water shall be added to them in a vessel.  A person who is clean shall take hyssop, dip it in water, and sprinkle on the tent and on all the vessels and people who were there, or on him who touched the bones or the person who was killed or died naturally or the grave.  The clean person shall sprinkle it upon the unclean person on the third day and on the seventh day, thus cleansing him by the seventh day.  He shall then wash his clothes and bathe in water, and at nightfall he shall be clean.  If anyone who has become unclean fails to cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the congregation, for he has defiled YHVH’s sanctuary.  The water of purification was not dashed on him: he is unclean.”

The procedure that was followed after touching a dead body involved a ritual cleansing (sprinkling) and immersion in the purification water. For seven days after touching a corpse, a person would be unclean until the procedure was complete.   On the third and seventh day, he would be sprinkled with the purification water.   On seventh day, to complete the process, he would immerse himself or bathe.   Even the tent and open pots were sprinkled with the cleansing water so as not to defile the Lord’s Tabernacle (1 Cor. 6:19).

The Lasting Ordinance

The purification water made from the ashes of the heifer was used to cleanse the community of Israel from the physical contamination of dead bodies.  Until modern times, people died in their homes or ‘tents‘ with family around them.   Touching a dead body was a common occurrence.  Jewish tradition included a ritual washing of a dead body.  It was considered a high honor to receive such a washing and some Jewish people continue the practice today.   Because of the washing, there is contamination from touching a dead body.

It is interesting to note that the ritual washing of a dead body was an outward expression of a person’s faith.  It was administered as preparation for the resurrection of the dead.  Today, we know there is coming a resurrection because of Yeshua, but for some reason, we no longer ritually wash our beloved family who pass away in preparation for this glorious event.  The purification through the ashes of a red heifer was to be a lasting ordinance for both the Israelite and the alien (gentile)  living among them.  A ‘lasting ordinance’ means that the purification command has not been abolished and still remains.

“Martha said to Yeshua, ‘Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  Yeshua said to her, “your brother will rise again.”  Martha said, “I know that he will rise again at the Resurrection on the Last Day.”  Yeshua said to her, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life!  Whoever puths his trust in me will live, even if he dies; and everyone living and trusting in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  She said to hime, “Hes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world” (John 11:21-27).

Note: According to Wikipedia,  Clyde Lott, a cattle breeder in O’Neill, Nebraska is attempting to systematically breed red heifers and export them to Israel to establish a breeding line of red heifers in Israel in the hope that this will bring about the construction of the Third Temple and ultimately the Second Coming of Yeshua.

A Reality in the Shadow

In reply, Yeshua declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’

‘How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!’ 

Yeshua answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.’”  (John 3:3-5).

Unlike other sacrifices where a male animal was used, the slaughter for the purification water was a female cow.  The cow needed to be spotless and pure or the purification water would not be acceptable.  The cleansing water made from the ashes of the red heifer would be the water through which physical purification occurred.  However, Yeshua’s death brought forth cleansing water for the spirit.  “…One of the soldiers stabbed his side with a spear, and at once blood and water flowed out” (John 19:34).

The cow was completely burned with its hide, inner parts and dung.   This represents the complete suffering and death of the Messiah.   He anguished in body, soul and spirit (Is. 53).  Just as the heifer was slaughtered outside the camp (on the Mount of Olives), Yeshua was crucified outside the city of Jerusalem (Heb. 13:12).  Some even believe, contrary to Christian tradition, Yeshua may have been, like the heifer, crucified on the Mount of Olives from which the Temple and the veil was visible (Mat. 27:51, Mark 15:38-39).   In this way, his blood would be sprinkled toward the ‘Tabernacle.’

The heifer was not to have been yoked or put together with another animal.  This means that the heifer was to have walked without any external bondages.   Yeshua never took on the yoke of human regulations, earthly governments, or religious oppression.  He taught against taking on the burden of  manmade traditions if they nullified the commandments of God (Mark 7).

Along with the heifer, cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet things were burned to ash.   The cedar tree may represent the haughtiness of the sinner in rebellion against God (Ez. 31:10-11).   Cedar wood could also symbolize the wood of the cross, however, as previously mentioned, the oil of cedar wood was used to preserve bodies and prevent decay.  Cedar wood could be a reference to the fact that Yeshua would only be in the grave three days and three nights and then would rise from the dead and his body would never see decay.

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to Sheol, nor will you let your faithful one see decay” (Psalm 16:9-10).

Hyssop is known for its cleansing properties and in treating cuts, scrapes, bruises and sores.   After being beaten and bruised, a bleeding and dying Yeshua hung on the cross.   He said, “I am thirsty.”  A sponge was soaked with wine vinegar and put on a hyssop plant and lifted to Yeshua’s mouth.  “After Yeshua had taken the wine, he said, ‘It is accomplished!‘ And, letting his head droop, he delivered up his spirit”  (John 19:30).

In Matthew 27:28, after Yeshua was flogged, the soldiers mocked him.  Along with a crown of thorns and a staff, they put a scarlet robe on him.  Scarlet was a symbol of royalty.  Though they spit on him, took the staff and struck him on the head over and over, they called him the ‘King of the Jews.’

The scarlet robe can also represent sin,  blood sacrifice and forgiveness of sin.  “Come now, let us reason together,” says YHVH.  ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).   Yeshua wore our scarlet robe representing the stain of sin in our lives and gave us his robe of righteousness.  Through the shedding of his blood, our sins are forgiven. “In fact, according to Torah, almost everything is purified with blood; indeed, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”  Hebrews 9:22).  With the forgiveness of sins through Yeshua’s blood, our robes are washed.  “Then he told me, ‘These are the people who have come out of the Great Persecution.  They have washed their robes and made them white with the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).

A Paradox

“Many will purify, cleanse and refine themselves; but the wicked will keep on acting wickedly, and none of the wicked will understand. But those with discernment will understand” (Daniel 12:10).

An interesting paradox is seen in the preparation of the red heifer.  The purification from uncleanness for the physical body was done through the ashes of the red heifer, cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet things.   Through the process the one who prepared the heifer, the wood, the hyssop and the crimson stuff was made unclean as well as the one who gathered the ashes and put them in a clean place.

Just like the priests who administered purification from physical death were made unclean by the ordinance, our perfect High Priest, Yeshua, also became unclean in order to  cleanse us from spiritual defilement and death.   He took the curse of sin (death) upon himself in order to set us free from the law of sin and death.   He became defiled by our wickedness and shed his blood providing a way to cleanse us, purify us from all unrighteousness so that we might wholeheartedly serve and honor the living God.

The Epistle of Barnabas Chapter 8

“Now what do you suppose this to be a type of, that a command was given to Israel, that men of the greatest wickedness should offer a heifer, and slay and burn it, and, that then boys should take the ashes, and put these into vessels, and bind round a stick purple wool along with hyssop, and that thus the boys should sprinkle the people, one by one, in order that they might be purified from their sins? Consider how He speaks to you with simplicity.

The calf is Jesus (Yeshua): the sinful men offering it are those who led Him to the slaughter. But now the men are no longer guilty, are no longer regarded as sinners. And the boys that sprinkle are those that have proclaimed to us the remission of sins and purification of heart. To these He gave authority to preach the Gospel, being twelve in number, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel.

But why are there three boys that sprinkle? To correspond to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, because these were great with God.

And why was the wool [placed] upon the wood? Because by wood Jesus holds His kingdom, so that [through the cross] those believing on Him shall live for ever.

But why was hyssop joined with the wool? Because in His kingdom the days will be evil and polluted in which we shall be saved, [and] because he who suffers in body is cured through the cleansing efficacy of hyssop. And on this account the things which stand thus are clear to us, but obscure to them because they did not hear the voice of the Lord.”

The Purpose:  Dead to Living Works

“… how much more the blood of the Messiah … will purify our conscience from works that lead to death, so that we can serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:13-14).

Through the blood of Yeshua we have been purified in order to serve the living God.  We must remember that Yeshua is God in flesh, the living Word, the body where the fullness of Yahweh’s Spirit lives.

Just like the red heifer, Yeshua was sacrificed on behalf of His Father to bring forth the purification of a people.   The message of the cross is a love relationship.  Yeshua is passionate for us as a Husband is for His Bride.  He will not marry someone who does nothing.  He will not marry a woman who wants to sleep all day.  She has to  ‘lift her finger’ and at least prepare herself for Him: comb her hair, brush her teeth, and eat breakfast.  Yahweh desires actions from His people that are produced by the empowering grace of His Spirit.   Without His grace permeating our body, soul and spirit, our works are not true life-works and will only produce  death:  depression, nervousness, insecurity, loneliness, unhappiness, illness, anxiety.

We are called to produce the life-giving fruits of the Spirit using our body: our feet, our hair, our hands, our arms, our legs and everything inside of us.  We have a choice to give  Yahweh 24 hours a day to work for Him through His Spirit or lose the blessings He desires to give us.  Works are not just lip service, but can be seen by everyone around us.

The purification with the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer to remove man’s impurity took seven days because purification is a process.  The death of Messia and his purification that cleanses our consciences from works of death is also a process.  We must daily – moment by moment –  choose the Father’s desires, His thoughts, His feelings, His words so that our actions will transform our consciences and give us fullness of life and life-giving works.   As we are purified through the Spirit, our living works will produce love, joy and peace for all eternity and we will serve the Living God.

©2012 jsixrock

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