“This is a requirement of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. <Num. 19:2 (NIV)>
NOTE! This is the only reference in the Scriptures to a “red heifer”. There are 14 other references to “heifer”, “heifer: a young cow (female) over 1 year old; that has not produced a calf’, (Webster’s Dictionary)
THE REQUIREMENT: A red heifer without defect or blemish that has never been under a yoke (yoke: a device for joining together, for work, two animals – e.g. oxen; (Webster’s Dictionary).
THE PROCEDURE: The animal is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in the presence of Eleazar the priest. (Eleazar – Aaron’s third son, and Ithamar Aaron’s fourth son, served in the priest’s office after the death of Nadab and Abihu Aaron’s first and second sons. ). Eleazar is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it toward the front of the Tent of Meeting. The heifer is to be burned in its entirety, in Eleazar’s presence, and he is to throw some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool onto the heifer while it is burning. Eleazar must then wash his clothes, bathe himself in water and then return to the camp: he is ceremonially unclean until the evening. A man who is clean (ceremonially) is to gather the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp.
NOTE! This is not a sacrifice (a male/female of the species) as outlined in Lev. 1-7. All sacrifices were burnt in their entirety on the Altar, after the blood had been collected and sprinkled on the Altar.
THE PURPOSE: The ash of the heifer is for use in the water of cleansing for purification from sin.
THE NECESSITY FOR CLEANSING
THE CLEANSING PROCEDURE: put some of the heifer’s ashes into a jar and pour fresh water over them. A man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle the person or the objects that have become unclean. The person being cleansed must wash his clothes and bathe in water, and will be clean in the evening of that day. The man who sprinkles the water of cleansing must also do the same, and he too will be clean in the evening. “But if a person who is unclean does not purify himself, he must be cut off from the community, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on him, and he is unclean”. <Num.19:20 (NIV)>
THE SIGNIFICANCE: A clear conscience before God! Any and all Israelites are here instructed that, in the sight of God, they are unclean and therefore unfit to be part of the community if they come in contact with a dead body intentionally or unintentionally. When this occurs, as it inevitably did, they must be cleansed or be “cut off’ from the community. The parable of the “Good Samaritan” is an example of Jewish leaders avoiding contact with a person who, in their estimation, was either dead or very close to death. Paul’s instruction to the church in 2 Cor.7:1 is similar in its application, as we purify ourselves “out of reverence for God”.
Num.31:1-24 describes an outward cleansing symbolizing what was really necessary – a cleansing of the heart, which was not possible under the old Levitical Covenant, what was needed was a better or lasting cleansing which Zechariah spoke of in his prophecy . The writer of the Hebrew Epistle continues this thought as he compares the animal sacrifices to the eternal sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, in that our cleansing is internal rather than external only . There is no one who can claim to be without sin. We may be saved from the eternal penalty of sin, but in this life we are constantly in the presence of sin and therefore prone to sinning. Consequently there is the daily necessity to confess our sins to God and seek to be cleansed from such sin. This brings to us the reality of the “water of cleansing”, which to the Jew was the ashes of the red heifer . Because of the fact that each and every one of us is prone to sinning, Paul writing to the Corinthians instructs them that they should examine themselves and seek God’s cleansing before partaking at the Lord’s Supper; and that one of the reasons for their ineffectiveness in their service for God was the fact that there were those who were sharing in this feast in an unworthy manner .
David knew the results of this situation as is expressed in Psalm 51:1-9. Here in this Psalm we see in vs. 4-6 “The necessity for cleansing”, in vs.7-12 “The process for cleansing”, and in vs. 13-19 “The results of cleansing” .
CONCLUSION: The sacrifices and the significance they represent to us cannot be complete without the ashes of the red heifer. All of the sacrifices picture our Lord Jesus in His life of service, His death burial and resurrection and we see in them that there is no eternal remission of sin without the shed blood of our eternal sacrifice: but “the sacrifice is o’er” there is no more shed blood on the altar, there is no more smoke rising to heaven. Yet still the work of redemption and cleansing has not ceased; daily “washing” is necessary as we become contaminated by sin and “death” in the world around us. So we must be like David, let us rise from “the place of death”, “wash ourselves” and “change our clothes”, and enter God’s presence in worship as we present our “eternal sacrifice”.