The Red Heifer

Posted: October 10, 2019 in Numbers, Uncategorized

Numbers 19, “The Red Heifer”

Hindsight is 20/20. There are a couple of different ways to apply the phrase. The first is our tendency to bone-headed mistakes (I make a lot of them!), with experience being a strict but necessary teacher, and we can look back to see the things we should have done differently. The second is our change in perspective as time moves forward. There are some things don’t make a lot of sense in the moment; it’s only when we look back that things become clear. I can think of some advice I received from my parents as a teenager (which I often ignored), only to later find out why the advice was necessary. Or it’s like some of the things you swore you’d never say to your children, only to have the strange experience of hearing come out of your mouth when you become a parent. Hindsight is 20/20.

For other things, it can be a bit more difficult to discern the purpose over the course of a few years, and what we need are decades, centuries, even millennia to see the full meaning and purpose. Such is the case with some of the commands given to Israel by God. Although many of the commands are plain and obvious in the moment (Don’t worship idols – Don’t steal – Don’t murder, etc.), others were much more mysterious. Even with the sacrifices, although they were plainly for the atonement for sin among Israel, these things didn’t truly become plain until Jesus died upon the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for all mankind.

One particular event that left people puzzled is the ritual in Numbers 19, surrounding the ashes of a red heifer (cow). God gave an unusual command about a unique ritual – and although the initial reasoning was quite clear (purification from uncleanness resulting from death), the reason why God commanded such a thing in such a way seemed quite strange. Rabbis and Jewish theologians never quite knew what to make of it, even classifying it as a command that makes sense only in the mind of God. But once again, this is something that becomes clear in Jesus. God made an unusual provision for His people, because they had a desperate need for Him, and this provision could only be applied through an act of faith. (If that’s not a picture of Christ, not much is!)

At this point in time, Israel was in the midst of their 40-year punishment. Despite the abundant mercies of God and His numerous visible miracles & presence among them, the Hebrews still refused to enter the Promised Land. As a result, they wandered, and wandered, and wandered (some of which will be detailed in the coming chapters). It was painfully obvious that they hadn’t learned to trust God, so a lengthy time-out was required. Sadly, the Hebrews continued their pattern, turning against Moses & Aaron in an attempted coup. Once more, God intervened and the primary offenders were punished. It was only after that, that finally the Hebrews started to recognize their sinful condition and their need for a priest chosen by God to intercede for them. (Just like we are desperately lost in our sin, and we need our chosen priest of Jesus!)

God provided Israel’s priest in Aaron and his sons, and because Aaron (along with the other Levites) were set apart for such a sacred duty, God commanded that they be provided for through the sacrifices and worship that the rest of the nation brought to God at the tabernacle. God Himself was the provision of the priests, and they had the honor and privilege to serve Him.

That was how the priests received their provision. Yet what was it they did? God had made it clear: the priests were to bear (lift up/carry) the iniquity of the people (Num 18:1), and they were to serve at the tabernacle in such a way that there would be no more wrath upon the children of Israel (Num 18:5). This would be done in many ways, particularly through the sacrifices of worship detailed in the first 5 chapters of Leviticus, but that list wasn’t comprehensive. There were other ways the priests served God to protect the people from God’s wrath. The priests also protected the people from ritual impurity, brought on by death, and that is what’s seen in Numbers 19.

Question: Why was this instruction needed now? Why not provide this at the beginning of Leviticus, along with the sacrifices – why include it at this point in the book of Numbers? Considering the recent past events with all the people who had died in judgment, as well as the hundreds of thousands more who would die over the course of the 40-year wandering, there was about to be a lot of impurity in Israel! The ritual God gives here was a ritual that would be performed again and again. And as much as it was a reminder of the impurity that results from sin and death, it was also a constant reminder of God’s power and grace to bring cleansing.

That’s the bottom line: the grace of God that cleanses His people from death. And although the ritual surrounding the red heifer is so obscure and unusual, that’s why it matters to God’s people (us!) today. Not only are we constantly around the things of death; we are dead in our sins. Only the unusual sacrifice of Jesus, provided by God and applied to our lives by faith, brings cleansing and life.

Death defiles; Jesus cleanses. Be cleansed by Christ!

Numbers 19

  • The red heifer, burned (1-10). God’s provision for purification.

1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2 “This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying: ‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come.

  1. First things first: what’s a red heifer? For those of us who haven’t been raised on a ranch, it’s a cow. Specifically, it’s “a young female cow that has not borne a calf” (Oxford). Although bulls and oxen have been quite commonly mentioned in Scripture to this point, female cows have not. In fact, the last time the Hebrew word was used was in the description of Pharaoh’s dream that he told to Joseph of the seven fat cows being consumed by the seven skinny cows (Gen 41). The fact that God now commands a heifer be brought for a ritual is unusual enough, but it doesn’t end there. Additionally, the cow was to be reddish in color, it was to be totally spotless or “without blemish,” and it was never to have been worked in the fields (“on which a yoke has never come”).
  2. As we might surmise, this sort of animal wasn’t too common. Of course female cows/heifers were commonplace, but the coloring combined with a total lack of defect is something else. This was a special animal, and surely whenever one was born among the nation of Israel, great care was taken to set it apart and guard it for the use of the priests.
    1. As rare as this animal was already, Jewish tradition made it even rarer. An entire 12-chapter tractate is in the Hebrew Mishnah (the rabbinic commentary of the Torah) that is dedicated to the red heifer, and the amount of requirements added to Numbers 19:2 are immense. The cow must be young but not too young, and old but not too old: 3-4 years old (Parah 1:1). The heifer not only had to be red, but perfectly red. If even two black or white hairs were found growing in one follicle, it was no good. If the wayward hairs were dispersed, one rabbi said they could be plucked, but another rabbi declared that even one black hair on the head and another on the tail invalidated the animal (Parah 2:5). These animals were so rare (and the disobedience of the people so prevalent!) that the ritual was said to performed only nine times before the destruction of the temple (Parah 3:5). Even among Jews today, this overly strict determination continues. The modern Temple Institute twice believed it found an animal that qualified as the red heifer (1997, 2002), only to withdraw it later. As of August 2018, they believe they have another candidate, but only time will tell.
    2. With due respect to the potential prophetic fulfillments with the red heifer, the problem in finding the red heifer is the danger of adding to the word of God. God already laid out His requirements for the animal in Numbers 19:2: a young female cow, red in color, without blemish, and never used in work. Everything else was the invention of men. Everything else laid a burden upon the Jews that they were never supposed to bear. Everything else took away from the authority of God’s word, and caused men to look to scholars for their answers. May that never be the case! The Bible is our highest and final authority. Any commentary that is made by men must be seen in light of the Scripture, and under the authority of the Scripture. Whether it comes from a cherished tradition, a degreed scholar, or a favorite pastor, no word of man ought to add or take away from the word of God!

3 You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him; 4 and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting. 5 Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned. 6 And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer.

  1. Notice that it’s given to Eleazar; not Aaron. Aaron would not have been forbidden from the ritual, being that he was the high priest, but the fact that Eleazar is specifically commanded as one to perform the ritual implies at least two things: (1) The sons of Aaron are seen by God as the legitimate priestly line, hearkening back to the test of the blossoming rods. (2) Aaron might not be alive long enough to see the ritual fulfilled. Although we don’t know how much time passed between this command and Aaron’s death (Num 20:28), we do know that red heifers were rare, so Aaron might not have gotten the chance to participate in this. (Instead, those who touched his dead body would have to receive of the ritual!)
  2. Notice as well that there are distinct differences between this sacrifice and the other sacrifices commanded for worship. (1) It’s a female cow; not a bull; (2) it’s taken “outside the camp”; not to the tabernacle; (3) it isn’t slain at the altar with its blood drained; it’s “slaughtered”; (4) again, the blood isn’t used at the altar; a portion is taken, and sprinkled “seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting”; (5) the altar isn’t even in view, as the entire carcass is burned in the sight of the priest outside the camp, the body as well as the blood & the offal – something never done with a sin offering; (6) there is no identification of the priest with the heifer by laying his hands on the animal, no mention of salt, no mention of grain offerings, nor anything else that normally accompanied offerings of worship; (7) there is the addition of the “cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet,” items not mentioned in any other sacrificial fire. – Bottom line: this is set up to be different! If God wanted this to stand apart from the other sacrifices, He could hardly have changed more details to point it out.
    1. Don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not that the previous sacrifices were somehow bad or insufficient (apart from the fact that they were only shadows, and could never truly take away sin). The other sacrifices were gracious commands, given by God to His people to make it possible for them to worship Him, while having their sin acknowledged by the perfectly righteous God. It’s just that this ritual was different. God wanted this to stand out to His people, in order that they might learn a particular lesson (purity from death, as will be seen). This wasn’t going to get lost or lumped in with the rest; this was going to stand out.
    2. Again, is this not what we see in Jesus? The cross and resurrection of Jesus stands out from every other religion in the world. Where is the atonement for sin in Islam? There is none – there is only good deeds that hopefully outweigh bad deeds. Where is the atonement for sin in Buddhism? There is none, because there is no concept of sin. (!) Even Judaism falls short, because (1) it attempts to use the sacrifice of animals as a substitute for humans, and thus always falls short, and (2) no sacrifices have been made since the temple destruction in 70AD. Christianity truly stands apart! In no other religion does God humble Himself, not only coming in the form as a man but actually sacrificing Himself because of the sins of mankind. In no other religion does God prove both the sufficiency of His sacrifice and His identity as God through resurrection from the dead. Jesus truly stands apart!
  3. About the additional items of cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet – is there any symbolism in them? Perhaps, although scholars and traditions vary wildly in their suggestions. We do know that two of the items are red in color (the cedar wood & scarlet), and along with the red heifer, the color red is emphasized as a likely symbol of blood. Hyssop also has an association with blood due to its use in the Passover (Exo 12:22). Additionally, all three items are associated with cleansing, particularly in regards to leprosy which had been healed (Lev 14:4). Considering that the entire ritual with the red heifer is intended to bring cleansing after death, perhaps this was another way to emphasize the cleansing nature of the sacrifice.

7 Then the priest shall wash his clothes, he shall bathe in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp; the priest shall be unclean until evening. 8 And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening.

  1. Three people were required for the ritual to be completed, and the first two were left unclean in the process of the work…including the priest! Because the priest touched the blood and body of the red heifer, he was rendered temporarily “” Likewise with the person who tended the fire, no doubt adjusting the carcass of the animal to the point that the whole thing was burned.
  2. This might have left a bit of a problem. If both the priest and his assistant are immediately rendered unclean because of their association with the sacrificial burning, what’s to be done with the remains? Neither one of them would then be qualified to handle it. That’s where the third man came in. As for him, he remained clean (at least for a time)…

9 Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin.

  1. The third man was likely a Levite who was needed not for the sacrifice, but for what remained afterwards. He gathered the “ashes of the heifer” and laid them aside for storage. What specifically happens with the ashes is told to us later in the text.
  2. Why were the ashes required at all? The text is explicit: the ashes were needed for purification. They would be used to make “the water for purification,” which was then used “for purifying from sin.” People in Israel would be impure, and they needed to be made How would it be done? Through the provision God gave them in the ashes of the red heifer.
    1. And yes, this too points to Christ! The writer of Hebrews specifically refers to this ritual: Hebrews 9:13–14, “(13) For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, (14) 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?” We need purification (as the next section in Numbers 19 will show), and God has provided that purification in Christ Jesus. And the purity He gives is far better than anything ever imagined by the Hebrews with the sacrifice of the red heifer. The purity that Jesus gives affects not only the cleanliness of our bodies, but of our souls. He washes our spirit to where we are no longer stained with sin, but we are now white as snow.
    2. This is why we hold so close to Christ! This is why we first come to Him in faith, believing upon Him for the forgiveness of sin, and this is why we remain steadfastly with Him, trusting Him for His ongoing work in our lives. When Jesus purifies us, He purifies us fully and forever! 

10 And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them.

  1. After the man dealt with the ashes, what happened? That’s when he was finally left “” Everything about the association of these ashes was defiling, until it got to the point that the ashes were later mixed with water. But because he dealt with the ashes when they were still unmixed, he too, was unclean until evening.
  2. Question: How long was this process & ritual to continue? “” Be it for the native-born Hebrew or the Gentiles who dwelled among them, there was always going to be impurity among them, and always a need for purification. If men were ever going to be clean from death, free to worship God, then they needed to have their impurity cleansed. Thankfully, God gave them a way…they just needed to appropriate it. 

At this point, all we’ve been told about this sacrifice dealing with impurity among the people is the sacrifice itself. We’ve been told of an unusual sacrifice to be brought in an unusual way that had some unusual effects.

What do we see through it? God’s provision. Even though He hadn’t yet told Moses and Aaron the many ways that the children of Israel would need to be purified, the first thing God did was give His plan for the provision of their needed purity. Although the people didn’t yet know how lost they were, God did – and God not only knew exactly what was needed to deal with it, God told this to Moses and Aaron, graciously giving them His way to deal with it. God provided for their impurity before they realized they were impure.

Isn’t that how God works with us? God provided for us before we ever realized we needed His provision. God made a way for our purity long before we realized that we were impure. Paul put it this way: Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God didn’t send Jesus for us when we knew we needed Jesus – He didn’t send Jesus for us after we deserved Him (because we could never deserve Him!); God sent Jesus for us when we were still in the thrusts of our sin and rebellion against Him, when we least deserved His love and when we least understood our need for Him. That is the love of God for you & me: that He would provide for us before we knew we needed provision.

  • The need for purity (11-16). God’s requirement for purification.

11 ‘He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. 12 He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean.

  1. When is cleansing required? When someone touches a “dead body.” What stands out about this is that it has nothing (directly) due to sin. Granted, death is a result of sin, from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but just because someone touches a dead body doesn’t mean that the person has sinned. Perhaps you’re caring for your loved one on his/her deathbed – perhaps someone passes away suddenly as a result of a heart attack – perhaps a tragic accident takes place, etc. Any number of things can happen that a person can be in contact with a dead body, having nothing to do with personal sin…yet, that person is still “unclean seven days.” One touch of a dead body led to a full week of ritual defilement.
    1. Question: Is that fair? Answer: To quote Bruce Hornsby, “That’s just the way it is.” We see similar things in hospitals all the time. If workers aren’t extremely careful, infections can get passed from room to room – not from any fault on the part of the worker, but simply from being around contagious disease. Spiritually speaking, it’s no different. How is it that people are rendered unclean? Simply from being around spiritual death. News flash: everything in this world is tainted by spiritual death! We are all unclean, in need of cleansing. We are born into this world with a sinful spiritual nature, physically alive but spiritually dead in our trespasses, and everything that is in this world is infected with the same. We need cleansing!
  2. That cleansing came through the water of purification mentioned in verse 9. During the week of impurity, the third and seventh day were set apart for the application of the water, and to receive cleansing. Why twice? Why these particular days? Scripture doesn’t say. We could speculate and allegorize, saying that Jesus was raised three days after death which was also the seventh day of the week…but in the end, it’s all speculation. Better to leave the text at the text & not speak where Scripture is silent. What we do know is that God commanded the impurity to be addressed, and He wanted dedicated attention placed upon it (demonstrated in the two days of the water). Whatever other interpretation, we know this much: the impure condition wasn’t to be ignored.
  3. What happened if the ritual wasn’t followed? “He will not be clean.” The person remained in his/her impurity even beyond the seven days. Until that impurity was addressed the way God commanded it to be done, then it wasn’t going away.
    1. People often want to ignore the affects and reality of sin in their lives, thinking that they can push things off till their deathbeds. The problem is twofold: (1) we don’t know when that day will come, and (2) we remain in our sin and impurity the entire time. Sin doesn’t “go away,” it doesn’t fade with our memories. What we don’t remember will be brought to light on the day of judgment, and an account will be made. 
    2. This idea doesn’t apply only to people who don’t yet believe in Jesus. Born-again believers can sadly live with unaddressed sin in our lives, being weighed down with guilt. Again, this doesn’t go away on our own; we need the cleansing of Jesus. Confess it to Him and be cleansed! (1 Jn 1:9)

13 Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness is still on him.

  1. How can one person have an effect on the tabernacle itself, and thus, on the rest of the nation? Easy: sin spreads. Sin is contagious, and uncleanness is a picture of sin. A little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Cor 5:6). Keep in mind that for Israel, it wasn’t that someone might be accidentally unaware of his/her impurity. You know when you’ve touched a dead body. Thus, this is an instance of someone with known impurity and a stubborn refusal to do anything about it. If this sort of rebelliousness was tolerated by the rest of the nation (without them imploring the person to repent and mandating that they go through the cleansing), then it was the nation itself being rebellious. Remember that the Holy God of Israel set up His tent among them, and had His own personal glory and presence in the center of their camp. For the people to know about impurity and wink it away as if it didn’t matter was sinful rebellion.
  2. That was why this kind of impurity was not to be tolerated. The person who was defiled was to be “cut off from Israel.” Scholars differ as to whether this meant the person was to be excommunicated or executed (big difference!), but either way, this was the only way the rest of the camp could remain blameless. If someone refused to be cleansed and the nation knew it, then the nation had to cast the person out. They had placed themselves outside of the grace and purity of God, and this was the just result.
  3. The good news was that no one had to remain in that state. What was needed? That which God had already provided: “The water of purification.” Without the provision given by God, the unclean man/woman remained unclean, but with it, even the rebellious man or woman could be cleansed.
    1. This is the promise we have in Christ! No one need remain impure – no one need remain defiled. Anyone can be cleansed of sin, when they come to Jesus in true repentance and faith. Does this mean that the church winks away at sin, ignoring it? No! When sin is known, it ought to be confronted and confessed. But when it is, the cleansing of Jesus is free and abundant!

14 ‘This is the law when a man dies in a tent: All who come into the tent and all who are in the tent shall be unclean seven days; 15 and every open vessel, which has no cover fastened on it, is unclean. 16 Whoever in the open field touches one who is slain by a sword or who has died, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.

  1. Death left impurity, with no exceptions. Whether someone died in the tent or in the field, didn’t matter. If it was natural causes, or warfare, it didn’t matter. If it was an accident, or a murder…whatever the case, a dead body had the same effect as any other dead body: it made people unclean.
  2. And the impurity didn’t affect only people; items left in “open vessel[s]” were rendered unclean as well. Grain that was left in an open container needed to be thrown out. Water or wine that was left exposed needed to be drained. Even empty vessels without lids were considered themselves unclean and unfit for storage. No chances were taken.
    1. Question: Did Moses and Aaron have any clue about germs and microbial disease? Were they concerned for the spread of things like staph and C. Diff? That kind of scientific knowledge wouldn’t come for several thousand more years…but God knew it. What would have seemed to Moses, Aaron, and everyone else at the time to be over-the-top protection, had a specific purpose in the knowledge of God. For the Hebrews, they only knew to trust the Lord’s command, being obedient despite their lack of understanding as to why God commanded it. From God’s point-of-view, He knew exactly why He commanded it, which was why He commanded it in the first place.
    2. We don’t always understand why God calls us to do certain things, but we can be certain that God wouldn’t command it if He didn’t have His reasons. Even if the only reason might be for Him to be set apart as holy and glorified, that itself is reason enough!

The chapter began with God’s provision for purity, in the sacrifice of the red heifer. Here, we learned why that provision was necessary: impurity and uncleanness. When the people of Israel encountered the things of death, they were unclean…and in a nation of upwards to 2 million people (600,000+ men alone), it most likely happened every day.

We still have a need to be purified! Every single one of us comes in contact with death every single day. We don’t have to work in hospitals or morgues to do it; we just need to be around the things of sin. The stuff of the world leaves us defiled, with or without us handling it ourselves. That’s simply the state we’re in before we are made new in Jesus. That’s why it doesn’t matter if someone sins a lot, or someone sins a little – they are still defiled by death because they have a sinful nature of death. People wonder sometimes why the arrogant and liars are punished right alongside murderers and rapists in hell. Surely arrogant people didn’t sin as much as murderers, right? The activity is different; the disease is the same. All people everywhere are tainted by sin and death, and we need cleansing. That’s why we need Jesus. 

  • The ritual for purity (17-22). God’s application for purification.

17 ‘And for an unclean person they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for purification from sin, and running water shall be put on them in a vessel. 18 A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, sprinkle it on the tent, on all the vessels, on the persons who were there, or on the one who touched a bone, the slain, the dead, or a grave. 19 The clean person shall sprinkle the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, wash his clothes, and bathe in water; and at evening he shall be clean.

  1. The ashes and water was combined for a mixture. The ashes wouldn’t ever dissolve; they’d just be dispersed through the water, making it muddy and dark (depending how much was used). That water was specifically said to be “running water,” or fresh, flowing water – water that might come from a spring. Apparently the mixture could be made and the priest could keep it on-hand for whenever the need arose. Just stir it up, pour it out, and use it as needed.
  2. Just like hyssop was used in the burning of the heifer, hyssop was used in applying the water. No reason is given. It is shown to be a consistent feature in cleansing and covering from death, so it is used again here.
  3. The result? “He shall be clean.” No matter how defiled he was prior to this point, all of his defilement was washed away. No matter how many dead bodies he touched, or what his circumstances were in touching them, he was touched by something different: the grace of God in the waters of purification. He was clean, brand-new, fully free to worship the God who cleansed him!
    1. Praise God for the cleanness we receive in Christ! It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, or with what we’ve been involved. There is nothing from which Jesus cannot cleanse us!
  4. Keep in mind that all of this is ritual. There’s nothing scientific about it (no medicinal properties of the ashy-water), nor is it magical. There’s nothing here that implies that the water carries some kind of supernatural power, nor that there are any magic words/incantations spoken over it. When the person received the waters of purification, what he/she did was simply an act of faith, trusting God to work according to His word. God said He would cleanse, so they trusted Him to cleanse. It was all by faith.
    1. Sometimes what God commands seems a bit strange. Getting splashed with ash-ridden water by a bunch of hyssop is strange, and even among a people used to various rituals like the Hebrews, this would have seemed strange. But God commanded it, so they did it, and they trusted God to do what He said. [Like Joshua & Jericho. Strange command, but fulfilled promise.]
    2. There is no doubt that from a certain perspective, the gospel sounds strange. Consider it: The Creator God makes Himself like one of His creations, comes in the form of a man, dwells among sinful people teaching them about Himself and demonstrating His miraculous power. Instead of His created people rejoicing over Him, they reject Him, and sentence Him to a torturous death on a cross. Yet that was God’s plan all along, and not only did He submit His only begotten Son to death, but the Son served as a substitute for the rebellious people, and when the Son rose from the dead, God offered the rebellious people forgiveness and eternal life. How is that not strange? Any other sovereign king would have come with armies to destroy the rebels – any other false gods of other religion would have left the people to rot in judgment. This God (the true God) didn’t. This God loved rebellious people enough to provide a way for them to become His own children. That’s strange…but it’s true. And what do we need? Faith! The only way we can appropriate the gift He makes available in Jesus is for us to put our faith and trust in Him. It is to believe God at His word, and trust Him that He will do what He said He will do. He’ll cleanse because He said He’ll cleanse; He’ll forgive because He said He’ll forgive. It’s all through Jesus, and it’s all through faith. 

20 ‘But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person shall be cut off from among the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. The water of purification has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean.

  1. This was addressed earlier, but reiterated. Unclean people remain cut off from the nation. To remain unclean is an offense against God. Especially when we consider the fact that God had already made His provision available. It’s not like the unclean Hebrew people had to come up with some new way to be made pure; the sacrifice of the red heifer was already done and freely available. To remain in impurity was to knowingly and willingly turn away from God’s mercies and grace. It is no wonder that he/she remained unclean.
    1. Don’t spurn the grace of God! Don’t turn away from His mercies! He’s already provided Jesus…all you need do is repent and believe.

21 It shall be a perpetual statute for them. He who sprinkles the water of purification shall wash his clothes; and he who touches the water of purification shall be unclean until evening. 22 Whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the person who touches it shall be unclean until evening.’ ”

  1. Again, a bit of repetition to wrap up the command. There was good news for those who abide by the ritual: uncleanness can be cleansed! And when God promised this purity, they could be certain that they would receive it.

It’s not enough to know about your need and God’s provision. At some point, something must be done about it. We need to apply God’s provision, and for that we need faith.


Such a strange ritual! Such a common need. Death brought impurity to the Hebrew camp, and that was something that required cleansing. After all, the infinitely Holy God dwelled in the midst of Israel. How could He dwell among an unclean people? It couldn’t be done. Either God couldn’t be there, or His holiness would destroy all of the unclean people around Him. That’s why God graciously gave provision to purify the people – that’s why He showed them their need for purity – that’s why He told them to apply His purity. God wanted to be with His people, and to have fellowship with Him, and this was the only way it could be done.

God wants us to be with Him for all eternity! The Bible is clear that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and His desire is that all men would repent and come to the knowledge of the truth. He wants us to be cleansed from sin & death, to be forgiven, and to live in forever fellowship with Him.

It only happens one way: through the purity of Jesus. He’s already been provided for us, and God’s word shows us our need for Him…all that is left is for us to apply Him by faith.

For many of us, that’s a joyful decision we made a long time ago, and we praise God for it. Here’s what we need to remember: we don’t leave that decision in the past. That isn’t a one-time thing for us, under the assumption that we never again need cleansing and purity. Beloved, we live in the purity of Jesus, and we are dependent upon Him for it every single day! That’s why we cling to Him, and that’s why we trust His promises. That’s why we continually take to Him our confessions, and we continually live according to His grace and power. He is the one who purifies us, yes for eternity, but also for our every day.

  1. Borromeo Marissa says:

    Excellent and very detailed analysis! Only the Holy Spirit can show this light. It is right to ask the questions who, what, when, where and why when we study the bible . there is so much to learn and study in such a very short chapter! The word of God is so rich and it is always so great to meditate on it feeding ourselves with wisdom and so we can know Him and understand His purposes and be able to fear Him and walk with Him and love Him truly because it shows His greatness, holiness, faithfulness, great mercy and Love! Praise God and i thank you Pastor Tim for such dedicatedness to preach to us His word and being faithful not to add nor subtract from it!!!

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