Study Notes

Numbers 19:1-22


Tonight, we'll be discussing the ashes of the red heifer. The red heifer was brought to the forefront of the news in March of 1997, with the report that for the first time in 2,000 years, a red heifer was born in Israel. She was named "Melody," and from day one, there was controversy. By some, she was declared, "a miracle from God, signalling that we must take Temple Mount by force and build the Third Temple!" Others have balked, saying, "She's got white hairs on her tail, she's not truly a kosher red heifer!"

Some insisted that the cow be shot dead before she cause an uprising that would result in war. How could a little calf create such a disturbance? Let's first read what the Scriptures have to say about the red heifer...

19:1-2 A Red Heifer

A heifer is a young cow that has never borne a calf. God directs that a red heifer be found that was unblemished, with no defect, and that had never had a yoke upon it.

19:3-6 Eleazar's Responsibilities

Eleazer, you may recall, was one of Aaron's sons. He was a priest, and next in line to be the high priest, which we will see he becomes in chapter 20. Eleazer was to take the heifer outside the camp and have it slaughtered in his presence.

Then he would take some of the heifer's blood and sprinkle it seven times toward the tabernacle, indicating a complete cleansing.

Then the heifer was burned completely, while Eleazer tossed cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet material into the fire. These are the same three materials used in the cleansing of the leper, which we examined back in Leviticus 14.

19:7-8 Unclean

The priest, the one who burnt the heifer, and the one who gathered the ashes were all made unclean by this contact with death. It is an interesting paradox that this sacrifice, which would cleanse a sinner would also make others unclean.

19:9 The Ashes

The ashes were gathered up by a man who was ceremonially clean, and deposited in a clean place outside the camp. The ashes were kept to be mixed with water for the purpose of purification from sin.

19:10-16 Touching Death

Being in contact with the dead made a person unclean. It was an absolute requirement that any unclean person be purified with the ashes of the red heifer.

19:17-22 Sprinkled

A pinch of the ashes was put into a vessel, and flowing water would be added in with them. Hyssop was dipped into the water, and the water sprinkled over the man and his entire household. This would purify the man from uncleanness.

Something Deeper Going On?

This sounds a lot like the other sacrifices we've read about in Scripture. Why does it create such a stir? Twice in this chapter, God commands that this is to be "a perptual statute." And indeed, Israel perpetually continued this purification process. When the ashes would begin to run low, another red heifer was sacrificed, and the original ashes mixed in with the new heifer. In the history of Israel, nine red heifers were sacrificed. But when the armies of Titus Vespasian invaded, the ashes of the red heifer were lost. And in the last 1900 years, no red heifer has ever been born in the nation of Israel.

The red heifer creates a stir and is important to us because of two things: one past, one near future. Of course, I'm sure that most of you already know what I'm going to say here: the red heifer was a picture and a prophecy of Jesus Christ. Jesus said,

Matt. 5:17 "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill."

John 5:46 "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me."

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

The red heifer pointed to the Person and work of Christ. Jewish legend has it that "even King Solomon in his wisdom despaired of learning the secret meaning of the Red Heifer regulations." Tonight, you will be exposed to secret wisdom that even King Solomon is reputed not to have learned.

Unblemished, Without Yoke

The heifer was to be unblemished, and have no yoke upon it. Jesus, was of course, unblemised by sin, not having the yoke of slavery to sin upon Him. The Scriptures speak clearly:

2Cor. 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf

Hebr. 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as {we are, yet} without sin.


1John 3:5 And you know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.

To Eleazar

Notice that the heifer was first taken to a close relative of the high priest. So too with Christ.

John 18:12-13 So the {Roman} cohort and the commander, and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him, and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.

Jesus was led to a relative of the high priest first.

Outside The Camp

When the heifer was killed, it was first taken outside the camp. Jesus, too, was led outside the walls of Jerusalem to die.

Hebr. 13:11-12 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest {as an offering} for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate.

The writer of Hebrews giving us remarkable insight here.

Sprinkled Blood Seven Times

After it was killed, the blood of the heifer was sprinkled seven times. The blood symbolizes forgiveness:

Hebr. 9:22 And according to the Law, {one may} almost {say} , all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

The sprinkling of it was a foreshadowing of Jesus' own blood being sprinkled upon us.

Hebr. 10:19-22 Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since {we have} a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled {clean} from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

1Pet. 1:2 ...obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood...

Why seven times? Seven in Scripture denotes completion. The blood of Jesus has cleansed us completely from sin.

Cedar Wood, Hyssop, And Scarlet In The Midst

Notice the three materials present at the death of the heifer: cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet.

As we learned in our study of the cleansing of the leper, the wood represented the cross, and of course hyssop was present at the crucifixion, when we read,

John 19:29-30 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop, and brought it up to His mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.

But what does the scarlet represent? When twins were being born to Tamar, we read...

Gen. 38:27-28 And it came about at the time she was giving birth, that behold, there were twins in her womb. Moreover, it took place while she was giving birth, one put out a hand, and the midwife took and tied a scarlet {thread} on his hand, saying, "This one came out first."

In Genesis 38, the scarlet thread marked the first-born. In the book of Joshua, we read that Rahab hid the two spies in her house before the destruction of Jericho.

Josh. 2:17-19 And the men said to her, "We shall be free from this oath to you which you have made us swear, unless, when we come into the land, you tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window through which you let us down, and gather to yourself into the house your father and your mother and your brothers and all your father's household. And it shall come about that anyone who goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood {shall be} on his own head, and we {shall be} free; but anyone who is with you in the house, his blood {shall be} on our head, if a hand is {laid} on him.

So in Joshua 2, the scarlet cord was an escape from death and a mark of deliverance. And in Leviticus 14, the bird from the heavens was fastened to the wood by the scarlet string. All three of these foreshadowings point to Jesus Christ - He is the firstborn from the dead, He is our escape and deliverance from death, and these were the things that held Him to the cross.

Clean Or Unclean?

Remember that this purifying sacrifice to make people clean also made some people unclean. Christ has the same unique ability to do this as well. In receiving Him, we are made clean, but those who reject Him are made unclean.

We have a clear picture of this in the book of 2Corinthians. The Roman Triumph was an honorary parade given to the conquering commanders of war campaigns. The procession would include incense burning, treasures displayed, and captured prisoners being led. The prisoners were divided into two groups: Those in the front of the procession were the prisoners that would be released into the Roman society, but those in the back were the ones condemned to die.

With the clouds of incense burning, the smell would mean one of two things, depending on the group of prisoners you were in. To the first group, it was the smell of freedom, of life. But to the second group, that same incense, that same smell, was the aroma of death and destruction.

So Paul says in these verses that God always leads us in HIS triumph in Christ. Christ is the conquering hero, and that smell that brings life is the true knowledge of Him. And as we preach the gospel, spreading that smell around, for some, it is an aroma of life, and to others, an aroma of death.

2Cor. 2:14-16 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life...

Depending on your standing, Christ means life or death, cleanness or uncleanness.

A Man Who Is Clean Gathers The Ashes

I love the details that God works into these typologies. Notice that the one who was to gather the remains of the heifer was to be a clean man, and he was to deposit the ashes in a clean place. The same happened to Jesus.

Luke 23:50-53 And behold, a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, a good and righteous man (he had not consented to their plan and action), {a man} from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who was waiting for the kingdom of God; this man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. And he took it down and wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid Him in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever lain.

A clean man put Jesus' remains in a clean place. Amazing!

Purifying Water

Now, the ashes were mixed with water for purification of the sinner. The Scriptures say,

Eph. 5:25-26 ...Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,

John 7:38 "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.'"

The water flowing from the death of Jesus purifies us completely. The writer of Hebrews said,

Hebr. 9:13-14 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Christ was typified in the red heifer, cleansing and purifying us by His death.

The Future

As we've seen, there have been nine red heifers in Israel's history. If Melody is ruled not to be kosher, certainly another unblemished red heifer will come along in the near future, to become the tenth. What is the big deal about the tenth? A rabbinic prophecy from Rabban Maimonides foretold that the Messiah would sacrifice the tenth red heifer at his coming. But if this prophecy is fulfilled, it will not be the true Messiah, but a false messiah - antichrist.

So many things are in place for the final seven years to begin. The church could be raptured at any moment. Are you ready?

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