The Blood of the Red Heifer – Numbers 19:1-22


I was reading Spurgeon the other day when I ran across these words. “It is a marvel that any man should be a Christian at all…” When we come to understand the depth of our wickedness – our sinfulness – it is incredible that God should save us. And that anyone should think that we can save ourselves or contribute to our salvation is asinine. Spurgeon went on “It is a marvel… and a greater wonder that (any man) should continue (to be saved). Consider the weakness of the flesh, the strength of inward corruption, the fury of Satanic temptation, the seductions of wealth and the pride of life, the world and the fashion thereof: all these things are against us, and yet behold, greater is he that is for us than all they that be against us, and defying sin, and Satan, and death, and hell, the righteous (remain righteous in God’s sight).” Spurgeon understood the doctrine, but he also understood the weakness of his own heart. That God should continue to love us after saving us despite our ongoing sins and unbelief is astounding

Spurgeon has not been alone in this mental and spiritual agitation. And that is despite the fact that the Bible is crystal clear on the matter. Hebrews 7:25 – “Wherefore he (Christ) is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” I Peter 1:5 – “We are kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last day.” John 5:24 – “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Romans 8:1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” John 10:28 – I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

If a new believer is not familiar with scriptures like these, and if he has a logical mind, he might wonder about those sins that keep popping up like nasty weeds in his spiritual garden. Does God ignore the fact that we continue to sin? Does he look the other way? Absolutely not! Our current and future sins are met and conquered by the blood of Christ – just as are the sins of our past. There is no cleansing agent for sin other than the blood of Christ.

These are the facts of the case, but these verses only touch the hem of the garment. They don’t really tell us WHY and HOW our future sins are absolved and forgiven. If mother tells her son not to get grease on his new church clothes, but he does anyway; She may forgive him, but the clothes are still defiled. The Lord tells the Christian not to sin, and yet eventually we will sin again, and perhaps often. “If we (as Christians) say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” How does the Lord deal with that on-going defilement? It is still in the blood of Jesus Christ. “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is a marvelous verse, but its truth is better seen in an Old Testament illustration.

How does the Lord deal with our sins?

Just about every thing about the subject has been illustrated and prophesied in the Old Testament. There are the DIRECT prophecies – like those of Isaiah. Speaking of Christ, he said, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Then we have indirect illustrations such as the substitution of the ram for condemned Isaac. Abraham told his son that the Lord would “provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering. And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me. And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh.”

And then there were the many and various sacrifices offered by the nation of Israel. Those sacrifices were acts of faith on the part of the true believers. And their variety displayed various ways in which Christ’s death deals with our great need. No matter whether it was Passover Lamb or the Atonement Goat there was no intrinsic value in them. As Paul said, “It was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin.” But those sacrifices had great power when they were coupled to the promise of God through the faith of the believer. And those sacrifices were like a glob of paint covering a rusty metal railing. On our recent cruise there was a crew member “painting” a rail – using a trowel to get it thick enough. The blood of Christ was, and still is, thick enough to completely cover and hide our sins. Some of the other Old Testament sacrifices depict Christ carrying away our sin. “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” The trespass offerings repaired the damage caused by the sin. “Against thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight. “Lord, restore unto me the joy of thy salvation.” The peace offerings spoke of the provision and supply of the Redeemer. The meat, drink, heave and wave offerings all show the abounding love of the Lord.

But it is the offering of the Red Heifer that I’d like you to think about this morning. I have taught on this subject before, but it has been years, and it is a favorite of mine. It is the Red Heifer which illustrates the Lord’s provision for the sins of our FUTURE transgressions. And it was unusual in several ways.

For example, it was at the expense of the entire congregation, rather than any individual. It was for nation. Then there was more care in the selection of this animal than in any of the others. Like all the sacrificial animals, this was to be without blemish or scar, depicting the spotless purity of Christ. For we have not been redeemed with anything less than the perfect Lamb of God. “Christ did no sin neither was guile found in His mouth.” “He was manifested to take away our sin and in him is no sin.” Jewish historians say that if three hairs were found together on the back of this heifer which were not red then it was rejected because it wasn’t good enough. A red heifer was a fairly common color; but this one was to be uncommonly red. Some say, that the color illustrates the blood of Christ – and we can’t deny that. Others say, that the color illustrates the sinfulness of sin – and we certainly cant deny that either. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Some say the sacrifice was red – like the name “Adam” – made of common earth for common men. And another idea is that the red color depicts the fullness of life, like the rosy cheek of good health.

Then this was a female offering most of the other sacrifices were male. And this was an heifer, not an old cow or a young calf, but still relatively young. Again, perhaps illustrating life itself. And this animal was never to be under a yoke, which was unusual for that breed at that time. Cattle in that day were raised for their work, with milk as a second blessing. They were not generally raised for their meat. Although Israel did eat beef now and then, it was something very special. This heifer, however, had not yet been made to labour. That this animal had not been yoked reminds us of the willingness of Christ to suffer for our sins. His was a voluntary offering. And then there was the fact that the instructions for this sacrifice were given in the wilderness long after Israel had left Mount Sinai and her instructions for the other sacrifices. This was an offering for a people already redeemed through sin offerings, the Passover and the Atonement

Then there was the offering itself. First, the Red heifer was delivered to the High Priest – just as it was with our Saviour. And this delivery was made outside the camp or the city. That was the place of lepers – of quarantine – of defilement. And outside the camp was precisely the place where such an offering like this was desperately needed. Isaiah reminds us that Jesus was numbered with the transgressors. On either side of Him at the crucifixion were two other men – criminals. Paul specifically said that Jesus was sacrificed outside the city, and that there was significance in that. “We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” Outside the camp was a fitting place for the despised and rejected.

And then that poor animal was slain – quickly killed. There is no other way to deal with sin, but through death blood. “Almost all things are purged with blood and without shedding of blood there is no remission” – of sin. After that, this animal’s special sacrificial blood was sprinkled towards the Lord’s Tabernacle. This was not called an “atoning sacrifice,” and yet it was made in reference to the atonement. There is no SPECIFIC cleansing without prior THOROUGH cleansing. And that reminds us of the discussion with Peter when Jesus washed His disciples feet.

After the blood was sprinkled towards the Tabernacle, the rest was handled in a most unusual fashion. Usually it was poured on the ground around the altar, before the sacrifice was consumed by the fire. But this time the sacrifice was given completely and wholly to the flames, with the blood still involved. And when it was completed, you might say that the blood remained in the ashes of that fire.

And along with the blood there was burned: hyssop, cedar and a bit of scarlet cloth. I suppose that we could stretch all kinds of meanings out these three things. But it appears to me, that they speak of application, purity and blood in a slightly different way. David once prayed, “Lord, purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean.” Hyssop was a common little plant which grew throughout the region. It was to be used to apply the blood to the door posts of the Hebrew houses during the Passover. To me, it speaks of the application of the blood of the sacrifice. In contrast to the hyssop, cedar was something which wasn’t so common in the wilderness. Once Israel was in the Promised Land it might have been a little more accessible, but out in the desert it would take some work to find some.

Tuesday, Darren and I assisted in building a cabin in the hills above Denver. Specifically, we nailed some cedar to a section of facia. Only cedar would do because it has some natural preservative properties to it. Cedar is special wood – its odor, its strength, its long-lasting nature make it special. As for the scarlet material burned with the Red Heifer, I am reminded that Rahab was delivered from death by way of the scarlet rope she hung by faith over the wall of the city of Jericho. As the Red Heifer was being readied for the fire and the three other ingredients were brought, the priest would specifically ask: “Is this hyssop,” and his assistant would have to honestly answer. And then he would ask: This is cedar? Is this scarlet?” It was very important that all of the Lord’s rules be strictly followed or there wouldn’t have been a scriptural sacrifice – an effectual sacrifice.

Something else involved in all of this was that the Priest and his helpers became temporarily unclean. Of course, Annas and Caiaphas were definitely unclean when it came to the death of Christ. With all the rest of the mob they had shouted to Pilate – “Let his blood be upon us and upon our children.”

Then finally, when everything had been properly completed – When the proper and best animal had been chosen – When it had been slain and had been burnt along with the hyssop, cedar and scarlet – After hours of burning and cooling, the ashes were carefully collected and storedThen as it was needed, those ashes were mixed with water and used for symbolical purification. The ashes of a single red heifer could be used for years with its cleansing properties applied to countless thousands of people. According to some, there was not another red heifer sacrificed for a thousand years. Some say that there were only nine animals sacrificed in this fashion in Israel’s entire history. Others say that there were only six.

Now here is the beauty and the important uniqueness of this offering.

When an Israelite sinned, the Mosaic law required that he bring a sin offering to the altar. In faith, with application of the proper sacrificial blood, he was declared forgiven and cleansed. Usually that offering was made for a specific sin or specific sins. The sinner would put his hands on the head of the sacrifice, and by imputation he would transfer his sins to the sacrifice, and the innocence of the sacrifice was transferred to the sinner. As the knife was raised, the overseeing priest generally knew the reason for offering. But when the knife was raised over Red Heifer, it reached into the misty future – not the immediate past. The blood of this animal covered defilement yet to be incurred.

Numbers 19 begins and ends with direct reference to this very special sacrifice. But the verses in the middle of chapter appear to be unrelated. Not so.

I hope that you realize that death is the direct, and indirect, result of sin. This is a very important Bible doctrine. Romans 5:12 – “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into the world and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Romans 6:23 – “The wages of sin is death.” Ezekiel 18:4 – “Behold all souls are mind, as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son; the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” James 1:15 – “Then when lust hath conceived it bringeth forth sin, and sin when it is finished bringeth forth death.” Sin and death go hand in hand. They have from moment Adam first transgressed the commandment of the Lord. The reason our family and friends die is due to the fact that sin flows through all our veins.

And to make sure that Israel was aware of that fact, the Lord decreed that anyone who came in contact with death was considered to be defiled or “unclean.” It didn’t matter if the deceased was a loved one, an executed man, or a casualty on the battlefield. Even if it was the accidental discovery of a hidden body, or the touching of an unmarked grave. Most sepulchres were painted white in order to warn people not to touch them and to save themselves from defilement. As far as I know Israel didn’t have funeral directors as such – each family was responsible for their own dead. But if death was an industry as it is today, then those people were nearly always defiled. The rule applied to priests and to common people alike. And that defiled person could not enter the house of worship; he was too dirty before God.

I hope that I don’t confuse you about this: but touching anything dead was not sinful. It was only an illustration of sin. If that touch really was sin, then there would have been the requirement of actual sin offerings. Never-the-less something had to be done about the defilement death brings.

Similarly when a Christian sins, he doesn’t cease to be a Christian; he doesn’t die the second death. That sin doesn’t nullify or destroy the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. But it does contaminate; it defiles us before the Lord, and breaks our fellowship with Him. Something must be done to restore us to the full fellowship of the Lord.

Now turn to I John 1:5-10 once again.

“This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

So, you say that you are a child of God – a “Christian.” There is only one way for that to have been accomplished – the application of the blood of Christ. Now as a Christian, the Lord doesn’t want you to sin. He said to one woman, as He would to any of us, “Neither do I condemn thee, go and sin no more.” Paul added, “Likewise reckon yourselves also to be dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Peter said, “But as he which has called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” The Lord doesn’t want us to sin, but He knows we do and that we will continue to struggle with sin throughout our lives. If someone says that he has progressed beyond the reach of sin, he is a liar and the truth is not in him. Sometimes there is inadvertent contact with death and sin. That Jew might have been plowing his field and run across the bones of a coyote. He might have had a dead bird fall onto his shoulder – whatever. Sin is so desperately evil, that it always defiles, whether we premeditate to kill our neighbor or he falls over with heart-attack into our lap.

Now listen to I John 2:1-2: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” What Christ did on Calvary wholly forgives every sin that you have or that you will ever commit.

Look at it this way; you were saved at age 10, 16, or 32, or 64. As the Holy Spirit convicted you, you might have remembered only SOME your sins, but there were a lot more. And yet the Lord forgave you of all sins of your past, because He is Almighty, omniscient and gracious. Just because you couldn’t remember them all, and couldn’t confess them all doesn’t mean that the Lord was ignorant of them. Neither is He ignorant of the sins you have not yet committed. The sacrifice of Christ covered and removed the guilt of all your sins – past AND future. But what about that DEFILEMENT caused by today’s sin or tomorrow’s sin? That is met by the incomparable ashes of the red heifer – Christ Jesus. The blood of Christ incorporated in those ashes restores the lost fellowship of sin.

What if there was no cleansing? Spiritually, we’d be like the ancient Israelite. Forgiveness is automatic, as far our souls are concerned. But that Christian sinner is put outside camp as far fellowship with Lord is concerned. Out there – there is no access to God, no fellowship, no power, no peace. All that Christian has is defilement by sin. Like that dirty pair of blue jeans – the stain may be forgiven but it is still too dirty to wear.

Christian, let me warn you, exhort you and then comfort you. You are going to sin off and on throughout your life. Don’t purposefully rebel, don’t sin, rather strive through the Holy Spirit for victory over your pestering, besetting sins. But when you fall, don’t despair of Christ’s grace or expect to smell the fires of Hell. “For the blood of Christ cleanseth us from ALL sin.” And where do we find this necessary blood? Typically speaking, in the blood of Red Heifer. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

However, if you not a child of God, there is a different kind of sacrifice for you. What you need is the atonement. It is still found in Christ Jesus, but it is illustrated differently in the Old Testament. And what I urge of you is to repent of your entire sinful condition – acknowledge it to God. And then trust Christ Jesus and His sacrificial death on the cross to supply the remedy for all your sins. Repent toward God the Father and put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are a Christian, but you have become defiled by sin, I urge you to return to the cross. Acknowledge and repent of your sin, “He is faithful and just to forgive you of your sin and to cleanse you of your ongoing unrighteousness.” That necessary blood of Christ is to be found in the ashes of the Red Heifer.