Chapter 19


The Red Heifer and the Water of Purification

    • The Lord gave Moses and Aaron another command for the Israelites:

      • Tell the Israelites they must bring you an unblemished red heifer that has never been placed under a yoke. Give this heifer to Eleazar (Aaron’s son and priest) and he must personally watch it be slaughtered outside the camp. Then, Eleazar must put some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tabernacle. Eleazar must personally watch the entire heifer (hide, meat, blood, and dung) be burned. While the heifer is burning, Eleazar must take a stick of cedar, branch of hyssop, and some scarlet yarn and throw them into the fire. Both Eleazer and the man actually burning the heifer must then wash their clothes and take a bath in water. After this they may come back into camp, but they will be considered ceremonially unclean until evening. Someone who is ceremonially clean must go gather up the heifer’s ashes and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside of camp. These ashes will remain in this place in order for the community of Israel to use in the water for their purification ceremony as a sin offering for purification from their sins. The man who gathers the ashes must then wash his clothes and will be considered ceremonially unclean until evening. This is a permanent law that applies to the Israelites as well as the foreigners who live among them.”

        • Guzik notes “A heifer is a cow which has never been pregnant, and thus cannot yet give milk. They had to find one with a red color – which, of course, would be somewhat rare…Unlike every other sacrifice in the Old Testament, the blood of the red heifer is burnt along with the sacrifice, instead of being completely drained out at the jugular. Blood was to be part of the ashes that would come forth from the burning of the carcass of the red heifer.”

        • On the cedar, hyssop, and scarlet thread Guzik writes, “In Leviticus 14:4-6, each of these three items are used in the cleansing ceremony for a leper. Each of these items has a special significance….Cedar is extremely resistant to disease and rot, and is well known for its quality and preciousness. These properties may be the reason for including it here – as well as a symbolic reference to the wood of the cross. Some even think the cross Jesus was crucified on was made of cedar… Hyssop was used not only with the cleansing ceremony for lepers, but also Jesus was offered drink from a hyssop branch on the cross (Matthew 27:48), and when David said purge me with hyssop in Psalm 51:7, he was admitted he was a bad as a leper…Scarlet, the color of blood, pictures the cleansing blood of Jesus on the cross. Scarlet was used in the veil and curtains of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:31), in the garments of the high priest (Exodus 28:5-6), the covering for the table of showbread (Numbers 4:8), the sign of Rahab’s salvation (Joshua 2:21), and the color of the mocking “king’s robe” put on Jesus at His torture by the soldiers (Matthew 27:28).”

      • Anyone who touches a human corpse will be ceremonially unclean for 7 days. They must purify themselves with the water for purification on the 3rd and 7th days- if they fail to do this, they will continue to be considered ceremonially unclean. Anyone who doesn’t purify themselves properly after touching a dead body defiles the Tabernacle and must be cut off from the community.”

        • HCSB commentary notes, “The sacrifice of the red cow was originally mandated for purification from contamination resulting from exposure to death. The demise of thousands in the Korah rebellion necessitated a means of ritual purification from such contamination. A theme in chapter 18 is the responsibility of the priests and Levites to protect the sanctuary from encroachment by the people, who may have come in contact with the bodies of those who perished.”

        • HCSB commentary also adds, “All three priests responsible for preparing the ashes for purification ritual are deemed unclean until evening. The ashes alone cause uncleanness, but when mixed with water they become a purification agent. This seeming paradox is similar to that of blood, which is used for purification of the holy place on the Day of Atonement, yet renders one manifestly unclean if improperly utilized or consumed.”

      • The following is the ritual law that applies when a person dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent or is already in the tent will be ceremonially unclean for 7 days. Also, any open container with no lid is unclean.”

      • Anyone out in an open field who touches any of the following: someone who has been killed by a sword or died a natural death, a human bone, or a grave, will be considered ceremonially unclean for 7 days.”

      • These ceremonially unclean people must take some of the ashes from the sin offering and mix it in a jar with fresh water. Then, a person who is ceremonially clean is to dip hyssop in this water and sprinkle it on the tent, everything inside the tent, and all the people who were there. The same goes for anyone who touched a grave, the body of someone who died naturally, or the body of someone who was killed. The clean person must sprinkle the unclean people on the 3rd and 7th days. After the unclean person is sprinkled on the 7th day, they must wash their clothes and bath in water. After all this, the person will be considered ceremonially clean by that evening. However, anyone who has become ceremonially unclean and does not purify themselves in the appropriate manner will defile the Tabernacle and therefore be cut off from the community. The clean person who sprinkles the water on the unclean people must wash their clothes. Anyone who touches the water for purification becomes ceremonially unclean until that evening. This is a permanent law.”

        • Guzik writes, “Thus, ashes of the red heifer (which the ingredients all speak of the work of Jesus on our behalf), combined with water (which speaks of the work of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit) combine together to bring cleansing. It can cleanse even the uncleanness brought about by death… All this cleansing is a precious picture; but the reality is in Jesus: For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:13-14)”