The Red Heifer



I’m reading through the Old Testament again with the Amplified Bible and I re-encountered the Red Heifer, The Red Heifer was and is part of the purification rites of the Mosaic Law. Just so you know, red heifers are rare, extremely rare, especially those that are without blemish. This particular sacrifice is different from all the other sin offerings and it is different for a reason. Let’s go over the information provided in the Bible and discover how and why it is different and what these differences foreshadow.

A red heifer was to be the means for the congregation of Israel to purify themselves, as specified in Numbers 19.  The red heifer must meet certain physical criteria and must be sacrificed in a certain way. Once sacrificed, the ashes are to be mixed with “clean” water and it is this mixture which is sprinkled over the “unclean.”

The heifer was to be three to five years of age and totally red in colour, blemish free and to have never born a burden and, according to Jewish tradition, to be without a single black or white hair on its body. The animal was slaughtered with the priest sprinkling its blood seven times toward the tabernacle’s entrance (later this occurred at the temple in Jerusalem from nearby Mount of Olives).

This sacrifice is different from other sin offerings because it must be performed outside the camp; the blood must be sprinkled seven times in front of the tabernacle; the entire heifer must be burned before the priest; cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet are added to the fire. In many of the Old Testament sacrifices (the two turtle doves for the cleansing of the leper, and especially the sacrifice of the red heifer), hyssop was burned in the fire, with the sacrifice, along with scarlet and cedar.

The cedar wood has a sweet fragrance, depicting the sweetness of the aroma of the sacrifice of the Messiah who died for us.

The hyssop depicts the astringent cleansing and purification of his sacrifice, removing all sin. “Purge me with hyssop,” David prayed, “and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

The “scarlet” depicts the red blood, the source of life. The life of flesh is the blood (Genesis 9:4). YEHOVAH says: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood…it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Leviticus 17:11).

The Water of Purification or Separation is then prepared by a priest, who is clean, who gathers the ashes, adds water to the ashes and then stores it outside the camp in a clean place.

The red heifer was similar to, yet different from, the other offerings for sin. Nevertheless, the purpose was the same. It was a sin offering. However, the blood was not individually applied to the sinner. The blood is mentioned only in relationship to the sacrifice, when the priest sprinkled it toward the tabernacle seven times. Neither was the heifer offered within the confines of the court as were the other sacrifices. The blood of this slain animal was not carried into the first apartment of the tabernacle. It was not sprinkled before the veil. Neither was there a fingerprint, a blood print, placed upon the horns of the altar of incense as a record of the sin committed, confessed and forgiven.

The sacrifice of the red heifer was not directly connected with the regular and usual worship service of the sanctuary. The offering of the red heifer was not only for the Israelite, but also for the stranger or gentile among them. (Num. 19:10). This offering was not a regular offering, only an occasional ceremony. Yet it was universal in its scope.

The heifer was to be totally consumed with nothing remaining but ashes. This typified the extent to which the last Adam would go. He offered Himself, both soul and body, as a sacrifice made by fire (2 Cor. 5:21; Isa. 9:18, Psa. 22:14). When Jesus spoke of His death, He never called it a sleep as in the first death. He spoke of it as it really was—eternal death, separation from the Father, the equivalent of what the Bible calls the second death. This is the depth to which Christ went in order to save the world. He went to hell for us. He offered His soul for us (Isa. 53:12). The burning to ashes represents the total consumption and destruction of sin and sinners (Mal. 4:1, 3). This is the full extent covered in the infinite sacrifice to which Christ gave himself! He took our place as the Sin-bearer. Yea, more than this. He became sin itself in order that He might destroy him who had the power of sin and death (Hebrews 2:14, 15).

The ashes were sufficient for all the people. When a person or a family needed purification, a fresh heifer was not required to be sacrificed. One was sufficient for all, including the sojourning stranger (Num. 19:10). So the sacrifice of Christ is sufficient for everyone. It is everlastingly efficacious. There is enough virtue in His sacrifice for the sins of the world. (1 John 2:2). The ashes were stored for all future needs. So the sacrifice of Christ is laid up for us as an inexhaustible fountain of merit to which we have daily access for the purging of our consciences (Heb. 9:13, 14; Zech. 13:1).

The red heifer, was a specific sacrifice which ultimately pointed to Jesus Christ, as Paul points out in Hebrews 9:13, 14 NIV: “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

When I read quotes from Atheists that state:”To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and ‘improved’ by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries” (Richard Dawkins – The God Delusion), I marvel at how someone who is supposedly so educated, can be so blatantly ignorant. The Red Heifer is just one of many threads of God’s revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, weaved throughout the Old Testament.

Worthy is the Lamb! Blessings!






Follower of Jesus, married with 5 grown up children, 6 grand children, ex-military and residing in beautiful Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. a.k.a. "Papa"

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Posted in Apologetics, Christian, New Testament, Old Testament, Religion

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