Scriptures

Numbers 19

Introduction

‘The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: “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. Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the tent of meeting. While he watches, the heifer is to be burned—its hide, flesh, blood and intestines. The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening. “A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They are to be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening. This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the foreigners residing among them.’ Numbers 19:1-10

The Water Of Cleansing

Many commentators suggest this chapter is dealing with the events after the plague, Numbers 16:46-50. After the plague there were many dead bodies around and so, Israel now needs to become physically and spiritually clean, Leviticus 12-15.

Prepared before the need arose, this water was used for the ceremonial cleansing of those who were impure from the defilement of sin, Numbers 8:7. On this occasion the ceremonial cleansing which took place involved a red heifer without blemish which was to be presented to Eleazar, Leviticus 4:3.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The animal is certainly not called a red cow in the New Testament, and despite the fact that the word ‘cow’ can occasionally mean an older animal, even one with a calf, 1 Samuel 6:7.’

Keil, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The word for heifer here does not generally mean cow, but a young cow, a heifer, Hebrews 9:13.’

The red heifer was slain outside the camp, Exodus 29:14 / Leviticus 4:11-12 / Leviticus 4:21, and after the sprinkling of the blood of the heifer, the animal was completely consumed on the altar of sacrifice. The ashes were then mixed with the water of separation that was used for the removal of sin.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘There was indeed a genuine and pertinent symbolism in this ceremony is certain in the light of Hebrews 9:13 / Hebrews 13:11. In that New Testament passage the sprinkling of the ashes of the heifer is ranked with all the other sacrifices as typical of the blood of Christ, the detail of the heifer’s being burnt ‘without (outside) the camp’ being applied specifically as a prophecy of Christ’s suffering ‘without the camp’.’

Notice when the heifer was burnt, the priest would also put cedar wood and hyssop, Psalm 51:7 / Matthew 27:48, and scarlet wool, Exodus 26:31 / Exodus 28:5-6 / Numbers 4:8 / Joshua 2:21 / Matthew 27:28, into the fire. Each of these three items are used in the cleansing ceremony for a leper, Leviticus 14:4-6. Each of these items has a special significance.

‘Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the LORD’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them. “This is the law that applies when a person dies in a tent: Anyone who enters the tent and anyone who is in it will be unclean for seven days, and every open container without a lid fastened on it will be unclean. “Anyone out in the open who touches someone who has been killed with a sword or someone who has died a natural death, or anyone who touches a human bone or a grave, will be unclean for seven days. “For the unclean person, put some ashes from the burned purification offering into a jar and pour fresh water over them. Then a man who is ceremonially clean is to take some hyssop, dip it in the water and sprinkle the tent and all the furnishings and the people who were there. He must also sprinkle anyone who has touched a human bone or a grave or anyone who has been killed or anyone who has died a natural death. The man who is clean is to sprinkle those who are unclean on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify them. Those who are being cleansed must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and that evening they will be clean. But if those who are unclean do not purify themselves, they must be cut off from the community, because they have defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. The water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, and they are unclean. This is a lasting ordinance for them. “The man who sprinkles the water of cleansing must also wash his clothes, and anyone who touches the water of cleansing will be unclean till evening. Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.” Numbers 19:11-22

If this chapter is dealing with the previous plague, where there were many dead bodies around, Numbers 16:46-50, then many of the Israelites would have come into contact with a dead body.

Although, it was possible to become unclean through other means, Numbers 19:14-16, here, the emphasis appears to be on those who had come into contact with a dead body, one of those who had died during the plague.

Remember, anyone who touched an unclean animal was classed as unclean, but only until evening, Leviticus 11:24-29, here, however, the uncleanness from touching the corpse of a human being lasted seven days.

This wasn’t just about being physically cleansed, but spiritually cleansed, Deuteronomy 6:4-5 / Deuteronomy 30:6 / Ezekiel 36:25-38 / 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

We must note that the priests were not even necessary in the cleansing ceremonies connected with the whole house, Matthew 23:7.

All this cleansing was very important for Israel to remain right with God, however, all the sacrifices and cleansing was a foreshadow of what was to come and be fulfilled in Christ, Hebrews 9:13-14.

Jamieson, in his commentary, says the following.

‘It taught that the purifying efficacy was not inherent in the ceremony itself, but arose from the Divine appointment, as in other ordinances of religion, which are effective means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, but solely from the grace of God.’

Go To Numbers 20

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Romans 10:9

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