The Red Heifer – Numbers 19

The Red Heifer was a sacrifice which resembled the sin offering (v.9), yet it is not found in the priestly book of Leviticus. It was not allowed on the brazen altar, but was burned on the ground outside the camp. It is very suggestive that it is found in the wilderness book, the book of Numbers.

The sacrifice was connected with earth where the animal was burned. What we are looking at is a provision for the pilgrim who has been defiled as he passes through a defiling scene, the world. This is the provision for his restoration to fellowship with Jehovah and His people. The New Testament equivalent of this is Galatians 6:1.

An Outline of Numbers 19

  • The Problem v.11-12,14-16
  • The Penalty v.13
  • The Provision v.1-10
  • The Procedure v.17-19
  • The Price v.20-22.

The Problem: v.11-12,14-16

Defilement results from contact with death, the evidence of sin’s power and presence. Sin brings defilement just as death brings corruption and pollution. According to Ephesians 2:1-2, as unbelievers, we were part of a scene of death being , “In trespasses and sins.” According to 1 John 5:19, “The whole world lieth in wickedness.” Therefore, to be in such a world always poses the danger of defilement.

In our chapter, v.11-12 give a general statement about defilement. Then in v.14-16 we have a detailed statement about defilement. Notice that there is: death in the tent, death by the sword and death in the grave.

The tent suggests dwelling in the world and enjoying its pleasures. The sword suggests fighting for the world and endeavoring to earn its praise. The grave reminds us of being buried in the world, engrossed in its pursuits. In an extreme case, a believer can look just as a worldling and be engaged in some or all of these activities. He may become envious of unbelievers who are pursuing success in the world. This results in contamination by envious desires. Asaph, in Psalm 73, was marked by this.

The Penalty: v.13

The person who is defiled is unclean seven days. His uncleanness keeps him out of touch with God and may even cut him off from God’s people. Several Scriptures in 1 John would confirm this.

The Provision: v.1-10

The provision for defilement is a red heifer. Note the color: it was all one, marking out its consistency. It was the same from every aspect, just as our Lord Jesus was. The female speaks of passivity and subjection. It was without spot externally, and without blemish within. The moral purity and spotlessness of our Lord Jesus is here underlined.

We are told as well that the yoke had never come on this heifer. There was never any forced subjection. Christ was never under the yoke of sin (Psa 40:8; John 8:34). The Word of God contains a three fold witness to His sinlessness: Peter the man of action tells us, “He did no sin;” Paul, the man of knowledge, tells us, “He knew no sin;” John, the man of affection, says, “In Him is no sin.”

The heifer was given to Eleazar. He was Aaron’s third son. His elder brothers, Nadab and Abihu, died as a result of God’s judgment on them for their strange fire. Eleazar came to prominence because of death. He is a picture of Christ in resurrection who came to a place of power through death. This thought is consistent with the ministry of restoration available to us from our Great High Priest in glory. “He is able to succor…”

The heifer was brought forth without the camp unto the place of the sin offering where separation and judgment were known. Death took place; a life was taken, but Christ gave His life (John 10:17-18). There are three things to notice in connection with this death: the blood, the fire and the ashes.

The blood is the evidence of death and was sprinkled before God seven times, picturing complete and perfect presentation. It was sprinkled before the tabernacle seven times showing the ground of meeting and continuing fellowship with God (Heb 9:12-14).

The fire reminds us of the sufferings of death. The word for “fire” here suggests the intense heat of the burning, consuming the entire sacrifice. True, the dead animal did not feel the heat, but it typifies the judgment which Jesus felt on the cross as our sin bearer. There were three things cast into the fire: cedar wood which was from the tallest tree, hyssop which is a small weed, and scarlet. The cedar and the hyssop remind us of nature in its widest extremes, measured and judged by the suffering of Christ. That is why Paul could write Galatians 6:14. The scarlet, reminding us of the glory of the world was also to be burned or eliminated by the fire (Phil 3:4-11).

The ashes are the memorial of death. All that was left of the animal was gathered up and laid in a clean place. The corruption of death is contrasted with the incorruptibility of the ashes. There was to be no deterioration. It was always fresh. So is the remembrance of our blessed Lord in the memorials. There is no scriptural evidence that the sacrifice of the red heifer was ever repeated. This reminds us of the once for all sacrifice at Calvary (Heb 9:13; 25-26; 10:12).

The Procedure: v.17-18

The blood was not used in the ritual, it was all for God. Two elements are used: the ashes and the running or living water. The ashes reminded the people that the result of sin is death. The water is a type of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38). Taking the two together, we see the truth of Christ’s death applied in the power of the Spirit bringing about conviction, confession and restoration.

During the first two days of the seven, conscience did its work. The responsibility is on the transgressor, but others are brought into the process. On the third day he receives the services of a clean person. This is Galatians 6:1, “Ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.” Then there are three days (a longer period) to contemplate the grace of God who made a provision for the needs of His people.

The Price: v.19

The clean person who becomes involved in the restoration of the defiled person is himself unclean until the evening (John 5:19-20; Gal 1:4; Titus 2:13-14).