The Red Heifer

The Red Heifer Numbers 19

Numbers 19:1-10 NLTse The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, (2) “Here is another legal requirement commanded by the LORD: Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer, a perfect animal that has no defects and has never been yoked to a plow. (3) Give it to Eleazar the priest, and it will be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. (4) Eleazar will take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tabernacle. (5) As Eleazar watches, the heifer must be burned–its hide, meat, blood, and dung. (6) Eleazar the priest must then take a stick of cedar, a hyssop branch, and some scarlet yarn and throw them into the fire where the heifer is burning. (7) “Then the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself in water. Afterward he may return to the camp, though he will remain ceremonially unclean until evening. (8) The man who burns the animal must also wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and he, too, will remain unclean until evening. (9) Then someone who is ceremonially clean will gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them in a purified place outside the camp. They will be kept there for the community of Israel to use in the water for the purification ceremony. This ceremony is performed for the removal of sin. (10) The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he will remain ceremonially unclean until evening. This is a permanent law for the people of Israel and any foreigners who live among them.

This is one of the strangest ceremonies in the Bible. I have never been sure what it means or what it points to. But we can begin to unravel this mystery like we have been doing. By looking back and trying to find spiritual connections with events leading up to this one.

I’ve heard stories about red heifers. People have written a lot about sacrificing a red heifer. A few years ago I heard one was born in Israel and they thought it marked the beginning of something. I’m not sure what it was. But let’s not pay attention to those fables. Let’s see if scripture will tell us what we need to know. The first place to look is at the conclusion of the previous chapter.

Numbers 18:25-32 NLTse The LORD also told Moses, (26) “Give these instructions to the Levites: When you receive from the people of Israel the tithes I have assigned as your allotment, give a tenth of the tithes you receive–a tithe of the tithe–to the LORD as a sacred offering. (27) The LORD will consider this offering to be your harvest offering, as though it were the first grain from your own threshing floor or wine from your own winepress. (28) You must present one-tenth of the tithe received from the Israelites as a sacred offering to the LORD. This is the LORD’s sacred portion, and you must present it to Aaron the priest. (29) Be sure to give to the LORD the best portions of the gifts given to you. (30) “Also, give these instructions to the Levites: When you present the best part as your offering, it will be considered as though it came from your own threshing floor or winepress. (31) You Levites and your families may eat this food anywhere you wish, for it is your compensation for serving in the Tabernacle. (32) You will not be considered guilty for accepting the LORD’s tithes if you give the best portion to the priests. But be careful not to treat the holy gifts of the people of Israel as though they were common. If you do, you will die.”

The first detail we see is, instructions for the tithe were given to the Levites. The commandment about the red heifer was given to the people. The tithes were supposed to be the best of the best. The red heifer was supposed to be without defects. Notice how both those instructions were repeated.

Now this is where we see details varying from previous instructions. The red heifer was given to Eleazar, Aaron’s son. Why the sudden change? Something has got to be up. Something we are missing up to this point. As usual, the next best place to check is the introduction to the previous chapter.

The previous chapter dwelt with the Levites. Chapter 19 expanded out to the entire community. We’ve seen this pattern before as well as the enemie’s pattern moving from the outside of the camp to the inside. But what does that pattern have to do with a red heifer?

As we’ve seen, that heifer has to be perfect, without blemishes. If nothing else, that tells us the interpretation should be perfect. But what is it? How do we know we got it right? I looked up the words red and heifer, actually the Hebrew words. I followed them through scripture, but didn’t find anything. We have no other choice at this point than to follow this story and see if any details help us to understand.

This is a new requirement. This task was given to Aaron’s son, Eleazar. The heifer was provided by the people. This story follows a series of laws or commands pointed at the priests and Levites. The last command involved the priest’s tithe. We noticed those instructions didn’t include details about what to do with that tithe. Instructions for the red heifer are very specific.

God told Eleazar to perform this ceremony to point to the fact, it was taken outside the camp and slaughtered. God had a reason to have Eleazar walk through the camp. God wanted Eleazar to see the people and their needs as he walked from the Tabernacle to the outskirts of the camp. God wanted Eleazar to see where that tithe from the priests could be used.

Isn’t God wonderful? God left the use of that tithe up to the priests. Then God gave them a hint. Walk through the camp. Look at the people. See their needs. Get the hint?

Once the heifer was slaughtered, Eleazar took some of the blood, turned back toward the Tabernacle, and sprinkled it seven times toward the front of the Tabernacle. Eleazar was facing the camp and the Tabernacle, sprinkling that blood over the camp towards the Tabernacle. A scene we have to see in vision to understand.

It doesn’t take a bunch of jumping around from book to book throughout the Bible to pull out a few choice texts to figure out the lesson, or part of the lesson God was teaching Eleazar. All we need to do is take our time, pray about it., review the story, and put ourselves in that scene.

After that blood was sprinkled toward the Tabernacle, the heifer was burned. Everything was burned. Where was it burned? Outside the camp. Why? Didn’t God say something about sacrificing outside the camp? In a previous story, God told people not to sacrifice outside the camp. Now God has Eleazar slaughter a heifer outside the camp.

Then God has Eleazar do something even stranger. Eleazar the priest must then take a stick of cedar, a hyssop branch, and some scarlet yarn and throw them into the fire where the heifer is burning. Why those items? Another obvious mystery. Again, we could jump all over the Bible looking for an answer, but will it follow the same context of this story?

There are other parts of scripture cedar is mentioned. But what do those have to do with that red heifer? The same is true with the scarlet yarn and hyssop branch. If we pulled those out of other stories, how can we establish a relationship with that red heifer?

Those items were thrown in while the entire cow was being consumed in flames. The entire cow was gone and so were those items. After the flames finished their jobs, Eleazar had to wash himself and his clothes. Eleazar was allowed back in the camp, but was considered unclean until the sun set that day. The same was true for the person burning the cow and tending the fire. They had to call in a third man who was ceremonially clean to gather the ashes and deposit them in a purified place outside the camp. After finishing that job, that man also had to wash and was ceremonially unclean until evening.

Is there another story in the Bible about two men and a priest required to conduct a service? I can’t think of one. Often times those ceremonies point to Jesus role in the Heavenly Sanctuary. But this one, I can’t place in the Heavenly Sanctuary. If there is one, you’ll have to let me know.

There is something about this heifer we still don’t understand. Maybe some obvious meaning that’s been missed for generations will one day be revealed and people will shake their heads wondering how they missed it. If you search the Internet, you’ll find the usual site making comments. Some site looked at that red heifer in much the same way it has been investigated here. Looking at the context, that is the chapter, story, and series of stories it is found in. Not one of those sites I looked at or made any claim to offer a viable solution. You know, one of those answers no one can argue with.

Other sites provide some possible links and answers to the mystery by jumping all around scripture looking for any possible connection. Some say things like the total burning of the cow represented Jesus’ total suffering. Things like that sound good, but why a female cow? And why did Isaiah use bulls as a symbol pointing to the priests present at Jesus’ execution? Still other sites jump into Jewish tradition. Like I would trust that. They missed the Messiah and still refuse to accept Jesus. I would consider their interpretation as far less than accurate. Then there are the nut cases using events from the world to interpret the meaning of the red heifer.

In short, if nothing else, that red heifer is a ceremony in the middle of a set of instructions that doesn’t seem to fit. But look at the CONTEXT. The previous story left the priests decide what to do with their tithe. That red heifer is much the same. How much time are people going to spend looking for an answer? And what are they going to rely on the find and confirm the answer? Are they going to rely on God’s Word and Spirit? Or are they going to mix the world in to make something that sounds good, and something that may sell? Think about it. The priests had a specific way of receiving money, meat, and grain. God told them how they were going to receive it. Then God tells them to offer a tithe, 10%. But God doesn’t tell the priests what to do with that 10%. The point is, it is just as important how the money is received as it is to share the tithe, the 10% given back to God.

The same is true for His Word. But in quite the opposite proportions. With God’s Word, He provides the vast majority and we add in maybe a little bit. A life story, event, or other details. But for the most part, to effectively share, the majority has to come from God.

Purification Ceremonies for Touching Dead Bodies

Numbers 19:11-22 NLTse “All those who touch a dead human body will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. (12) They must purify themselves on the third and seventh days with the water of purification; then they will be purified. But if they do not do this on the third and seventh days, they will continue to be unclean even after the seventh day. (13) All those who touch a dead body and do not purify themselves in the proper way defile the LORD’s Tabernacle, and they will be cut off from the community of Israel. Since the water of purification was not sprinkled on them, their defilement continues. (14) “This is the ritual law that applies when someone dies inside a tent: All those who enter that tent and those who were inside when the death occurred will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. (15) Any open container in the tent that was not covered with a lid is also defiled. (16) And if someone in an open field touches the corpse of someone who was killed with a sword or who died a natural death, or if someone touches a human bone or a grave, that person will be defiled for seven days. (17) “To remove the defilement, put some of the ashes from the burnt purification offering in a jar, and pour fresh water over them. (18) Then someone who is ceremonially clean must take a hyssop branch and dip it into the water. That person must sprinkle the water on the tent, on all the furnishings in the tent, and on the people who were in the tent; also on the person who touched a human bone, or touched someone who was killed or who died naturally, or touched a grave. (19) On the third and seventh days the person who is ceremonially clean must sprinkle the water on those who are defiled. Then on the seventh day the people being cleansed must wash their clothes and bathe themselves, and that evening they will be cleansed of their defilement. (20) “But those who become defiled and do not purify themselves will be cut off from the community, for they have defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. Since the water of purification has not been sprinkled on them, they remain defiled. (21) This is a permanent law for the people. Those who sprinkle the water of purification must afterward wash their clothes, and anyone who then touches the water used for purification will remain defiled until evening. (22) Anything and anyone that a defiled person touches will be ceremonially unclean until evening.”

Now we have a real paradox. What does touching dead bodies have to do with slaughtering and burning a red heifer outside the camp? There is one explanation in the previous story that may seem easy to miss. They will be kept there for the community of Israel to use in the water for the purification ceremony. This ceremony is performed for the removal of sin.

It seems that red heifer had to be burned and the ashes used to make the water for purification. It seems strange, but that’s what it says. Now we have to figure out how a totally burnt cow including its hide, meat, blood, and dung purifies water. Someone collected the ashes and threw it in water. Does that sound like purified water to you?

Many people claim that calf represented Jesus based on the fact that cow was slaughtered outside the camp. A parallel to Jesus taken outside Jerusalem and placed on that cross. The other parallel is the fact that water containing the ashes was used to purify people who touched dead bodies or bones. People tend to merge the two stories together saying the water is a symbol removing sins. But that’s not what the stories tell us. The story told us, “Then someone who is ceremonially clean will gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them in a purified place outside the camp. They will be kept there for the community of Israel to use in the water for the purification ceremony. This ceremony is performed for the removal of sin.”

There is a difference between a ceremony removing sins and water, the product of the ceremony. That is one of the major mistakes people make. Many people and entire denominations claim righteousness by faith, but ignore the process of sanctification. There are doctrines like the once saved always saved idea people teach. Others believe and teach some kind of predestination theory where somehow God determined who is saved and lost before this world was created. Funny thing is, those people don’t apply that same concept to angels. I guess there is a hole in that theory.

This ceremony with the red heifer shows, there is a process involved to forgive sins, as well as another process to purify. They cannot be interchanged. One is not good without the other. The cow’s death and burning will do nothing without the water, and an unclean person to sprinkle it on. The unclean person cannot be purified if the heifer didn’t give its life.

We see some details in these two stories pointing to Christ. But there is a difference between a symbol, which is something usually physical, and a ceremony, which normally points to another ceremony. The heifer is a physical animal. Can the cow point to Christ? In a way it can. In most cases, prophecies point to Jesus. I’ve written a series of books matching prophecies about Jesus with their recorded fulfillment. Those over 160 prophecies all have a specific recorded fulfillment. In each case, God used a specific method to record each fulfillment by following the laws of context. It is a simple process to follow.

Because the prophecy and fulfillment both cover the same theme, they both are located in chapters covering the same theme. So, the introduction and summation of the prophecy and its recorded fulfillment are found in what is referred to as parallel chapters. I haven’t looked for a parallel chapter for Numbers 19, but that’s not saying one doesn’t exist. Your welcome to look. The process usually begins by looking for related key words on the prophecy. The chapters will also share related key words in the introductions and summations.

Back to the two processes. It’s easy to see how the ceremony to slaughter and burn the red heifer share a relationship to Jesus’ sacrifice. The heifer was led out of the camp like Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem. The heifer’s blood was sprinkled towards the Tabernacle. Christ’s blood flowed into the ground when His side was pierced. The heifer was burnt along with its hide, meat, blood, and dung. Jesus was placed in Joseph’s tomb. We can see the process is similar, but it is a stretch to say one is a symbol leading to another.

The heifer was gone. It’s ashes were used to make water for purification. A stick of cedar, a hyssop branch, and some scarlet yarn were added to the fire. Where are those items at the cross? It is highly unlikely the cross was cedar, an expensive wood used in home construction. Many times cedar is mentioned in the construction of palaces as well as the stone temple.

Some of the steps in the ceremony for the red heifer are similar to the process at the cross. Does that mean they point to the cross? Even when they don’t appear as accurate as some of the other ceremonies and prophecies. Or do they point to another event in prophetic history? What about Jesus’ ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary? Or the process of accepting Jesus’ sacrifice and sanctification?

Sin began in Heaven. Satan was busy deceiving angels in Heaven long before he was able to successfully tempt Eve. I wonder if Eve knew about that. If she did, would it have made a difference? Since sin began in Heaven, cleansing or purification begins in the Heavenly Sanctuary. But the Sanctuary is purified by Christ’s blood, not fire. In the end, the earth will be purified by fire. But there is no indication those ashes will be gathered. And there is no reason to make a mixture of water and ashes to purify people who touched a dead body.

We have to go back and consider the fact, that red heifer was supplied by the people. There is a connection. The ceremony was used to remove sin. Exactly what people need. But what comes after that? Like these two stories show, one process follows the other.

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins–and not only our sins but the sins of all the world. And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. (1 John 2:1-6 NLTse).

John wrote about that process. When we look at key words in the purification process we see two major groups, dead bodies and purification. It’s not very hard to see, this process is telling us, touching a physically dead body makes people unclean and they need to be purified. What do those dead bodies represent?

John wrote about living, which is a contrast to death. “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” If people who live in God live like Jesus did, those who don’t are spiritually dead. Does that make people who have contact with people who don’t live like Jesus unclean or defiled? It could. Think about it. How many Christians follow leaders who don’t exhibit the life of Christ? Could they defile people? Of course they can.

That red heifer supplied by the people was taken outside of the camp by Eleazar, not Aaron the high priest. Does that point to the role of priests today? Don’t forget, according to the New Testament, all of Christ’s followers are priests. Some live lives like Jesus, and some don’t. How can anyone reach their potential while being led by someone stuck in a rut, only half way sanctified, or less? When we look at that heifer pointing to the lives, including sins people have, we can see why the entire heifer was burned to ashes. People need to put everything behind them. Everything needs to be done away with.

Once those sins and prior life styles have been eliminated, that same process leads to a much easier transition in the work of sanctification. One step is taken when people accept Jesus’ sacrifice and begin the first stages of sanctification, or purification. To accept Jesus’ sacrifice, they have to learn about it. Most likely someone has to tell them about Jesus’ sacrifice.

For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “LORD, who has believed our message?” (Romans 10:13-16 NLTse).

There is another process to learn about Jesus. Paul tells us someone has to tell people. Are we following that process? Paul repeats one important key word, believes. How can people believe in Christ if they never saw Him? Now we begin to see a pattern opening up between people living lives like Christ, and telling people about Jesus’ sacrifice. How can people understand the ultimate sacrifice of Christ when people talking about Jesus don’t exhibit lessor sacrifices in their lives?

Someone had to give up that red heifer. Wasn’t that a sacrifice? Notice how Eleazar had to stand there and watch the heifer being burnt. That’s not much of a sacrifice, but it did require Eleazar to follow instructions. He couldn’t do things his way, he had to follow instructions given through Moses.

The ceremony made Eleazar and the other men involved unclean. What does that point to? They had to wash before going back into the camp. Why? People can lead other people to Christ, but what happens after that? Many times, people, institutions, churches, and other organizations have a set process to sort of purify people their own way, to make them acceptable for their organization.

More often than not, baptism today is a ceremony to accept people into a church or institution, not into a life of Christ. Most churches have a list of rules they call doctrines. People have to accept that list of doctrines before being baptized. That is referred to as indoctrination. Do we see that in any of the two processes in Numbers 19? That is what the Eleazar’s washing is pointing to. After the heifer’s ashes were prepared for the purification water, Eleazar stepped out of the process. When people accept Jesus and the sacrifice He offers, the people who told them about Jesus have to step out of the picture. People have to admit their limitations. What can anyone add to Jesus’ sacrifice? No one can ever add a thing. But that doesn’t stop people from trying.

Relying on other people to tell you how to live a life like Jesus is like touching dead bodies. When people think they can add to Jesus’ sacrifice, they are spiritually dead. All they do is mislead and defile people. That’s what those predestination theories and once saved always saved concepts do. They remove the process of sanctification. Those people don’t understand the process of sanctification, so they eliminated it. They do have one concept correct, they don’t have a part in sanctification. That is a personal process between the individual and God’s Spirit. But that is no reason to eliminate the process.

Other denominations error on the other side of sanctification. They preach sanctification, but they have no idea how it works. So they form a committee, look at what they feel people need to change most, then develop their own step by step process they insist will work for everyone. But God never works that way. Jesus never worked that way. Jesus followed a different plan to meet each individual He ministered to. If there was one answer for everyone, don’t you think God would have recorded it?

People confuse Jesus’ sacrifice, the forgiveness He offers, and sanctification. They often teach them as the same subject. Since there is only one form of redemption, people tend to think there is only one form of sanctification. No one seems to want to ask why they don’t understand the way sanctification works. Paul summed up the true understanding of the process.

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nothing things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. And of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glories, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:25-31 KJ2000).

Paul pointed out the fact, this world can and will teach a lot of foolish things about wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification. We’ve seen some of the strange things people teach about righteousness. The same is true about sanctification. Some people believe they have to perform some type of work to achieve righteousness. Some people also feel they have a part in sanctification, changing other peoples lives. They take teaching too far. They put too much emphasis on their doctrines. They feel if they help to change someone’s life, it somehow counts towards their own salvation. There are a lot of strange beliefs out there. No wonder God had Moses use the symbol of a dead person. When people play the part of changing lives, their spiritual life is dead. They tried to take the place of God’s Spirit, and as always, have failed.

And with all deception of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be condemned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: To which he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle. (2 Thessalonians 2:10-15 KJ2000).

I noticed some Bible transitions omitted the word sanctification from the New Testament. That goes to show how far people will go to eliminate subjects they don’t understand. If they omit the subject, they narrow chances of being asked to explain something they don’t understand. What is so hard about admitting you don’t understand everything about the Infinite God?

Notice how Paul tied salvation with sanctification? The are related, but still separate processes. We can tell people about salvation. That is part of our role in God’s plan of salvation. But sanctification is another matter. Paul called it, “sanctification of the Spirit.” Sanctification is not our role. It is part of the Spirit’s job. We’re not supposed to be taking the Spirit’s place in peoples lives. Jesus warned about that.

“Every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven–except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come. “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” (Matthew 12:31-37 NLTse).

This may be the most serious warning Jesus gave. Don’t mess around with the Spirit’s job. If you do, you’ll never be forgiven. Jesus had a reason for giving such a strict warning. When people take over the job of sanctification, they’ll always fail. That is the only outcome human effort can achieve. As soon as they fail, they try harder and harder. They think, “if only people would follow these rules.” Once they fail, they add more rules. Fail again, and add more rules. It becomes a never ending obsession doomed to fail.

On the other hand, people can see their mistake. They think they made too many rules. So they eliminate one or two of them. Fail again, and repeat the process of eliminating rules. Soon they have no rules at all. But John told us sanctification is a process that leads people to keeping God’s laws.

There is a balance. But not a man made balance. God’s Spirit works with each individual at their particular speed. We can encourage. At times we may be able to answer questions. But we had better be praying and listening to God’s Spirit to make certain we’re working on the same page. Otherwise, we’re no better than those people who want to take total control.

There’s not a lot written about sanctification. There doesn’t have to be. Sanctification is not our job, God’s Spirit has that role, and knows exactly what to do. If we were right 1% of the time, we’d be lucky. But can we afford to follow a course that looses 99 out of every 100 people?