The ashes of a heifer used to purify the unclean

“Wash me!” was the anguished prayer of King David."Wash!” was the message of John the Baptist."Unless I was you, you have no part with me,” said the towel draped Jesus to Peter.Without our being washed clean by the blood of Christ we will all die i … More


Laws had been given whereby a person coming in contact with a corpse would be considered unclean and disqualified from religious life and service for a period of seven days. These regulations about “clean and unclean, for those under the law,’ are spelled out in detail in Leviticus 11-15, telling the Israelites what they could eat, how they should deal with bodily waste and infections, and what to do about dead bodies. Masses of dead bodies, whether dying from plague, war, or natural causes, were a common sight to the Israelites in their dessert wanderings. If the law as prescribed by Number 5:2-4 was to be fulfilled (and it had to be), the majority of the survivors would inevitably be defiled because of proximity to dead bodies, and would find themselves very often outside the fellowship.

As we read this passage we may ask, What is the significance of the red heifer’s ashes? When a person touched a dead body; he was considered unclean and unable to approach God in worship. This ritual purified the unclean person so that once again he could offer sacrifices and worship God. Death was the most major of defilements because it was the final result of sin. Thus a special sacrifice (of a red heifer) was required and must be offered by someone who was not unclean. When it was burned on the altar, its ashes were used to purify water for the ceremonial cleansing. The unclean person then washed himself, and often his clothes and belongings, with this purified water as an act of becoming clean again. An innocent animal had to die to provide ritual cleansing for the Jews, but the innocent Lamb of God had to die to provide cleansing for all of us (John 1:29).


Today I don’t need to be concerned about external ritual cleansing, but I need to take to heart the lesson of this chapter that God wants me to be a holy person. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9).

Numbers 19:1-22 (English Standard Version)

Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, "This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come. And you shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered before him. And Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. And the heifer shall be burned in his sight. Its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned. And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. But the priest shall be unclean until evening. The one who burns the heifer shall wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water and shall be unclean until evening. And a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place. And they shall be kept for the water for impurity for the congregation of the people of Israel; it is a sin offering. And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. And this shall be a perpetual statute for the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them. "Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean. Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him. "This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent and everyone who is in the tent shall be unclean seven days. And every open vessel that has no cover fastened on it is unclean. Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel. Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave. And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean. "If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. And it shall be a statute forever for them. The one who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and the one who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. And whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening."

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