The Red Heifer's Ashes (Part 1)
Hebrews 9:13-14 (13) For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to 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, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? The great theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus Christ to all things: angels, Moses, Joshua, Levi (spec. the O.T. Levitical priesthood), O.T. sacrifices, O.T. inheritance, etc. The trumping and abolishing by Christ of the O.T. form of service with all of its sacrifices and purifications for uncleanness features prominently in Hebrews. They are shown to have been only a shadow (HEB 10:1), figure (HEB 9:9) and pattern (HEB 9:23) of Christ's offering of Himself in sacrifice to purify heavenly things and the inward parts of man such as the conscience (HEB 9:14). An ongoing aspect of O.T. Jewish existence was the many ritual purifications from various defilements that would (among other things) forbid one's access to the sanctuary, lest he “...defileth the tabernacle of the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel...” (NUM 19:13). These defilements were commonly of a tangible nature (e.g. touching a dead body). Most of the purifications (purgings) were done with blood, but not all: (Heb 9:22) And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. Sometimes fire and water were the elements of purification: (Num 31:23) Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water. (Num 31:24) And ye shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and ye shall be clean, and afterward ye shall come into the camp. It is interesting that these three elements (water, blood, fire) are used in the purging of this world to satisfy God's justice and holiness. God purged the world with a global flood of water in Noah's day (2PE 3:5-6). God will purge it by fire unto a new earth at the Second Coming (2PE 3:7-13). And God has purged His elect in and from this world by Christ's blood (TIT 2:14; HEB 9:14-15; GAL 1:4), the same blood which reconciled the government of all creation, visible and invisible, unto Himself (COL 1:12-20). Our text today speaks of another O.T. instrument of purification recorded in NUM 19:1-22, the ashes of an heifer which were mixed with water in a vessel (NUM 19:17-18) “...for a water of separation: it is a purification for sin” (NUM 19:9). Let it be noted that fire, water and blood were all in play in this ordinance but the emphasis is on the post-consumption value of the ashes, the significance of which will be made evident. This ordinance for purification was for ceremonial defilements from contact with the dead. In allusion to such defiling contact, Paul says of our need to separate from spiritual defilement, “...touch not the unclean thing...” (2CO 6:17). This sacrifice was outstanding from other such sacrifices which had to be made repeatedly as the situation demanded. This one, once made, was laid up outside the camp and there kept (NUM 19:9) as a continuing available source of cleansing for the defiled church member. (Num 19:1) And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, (Num 19:2) This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke: (Num 19:3) And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, that he may bring her forth without the camp, and one shall slay her before his face: (Num 19:4) And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before the tabernacle of the congregation seven times: (Num 19:5) And one shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn: This picture of Christ, as others (e.g. a lamb, 1PE 1:19) had to be without blemish or spot. Christ was blemish-free/blameless, that the elect might be “...without blame...” (EPH 1:4). It was red and Christ is the last Adam (1CO 15:45), whose name meant “red.” The heifer was thus one more red element in a long scarlet thread that began with the first bloodshed to cover sinners (GEN 3:21) and culminated in Christ. Salvation follows a red path because sin could not be remitted by any other means than blood (HEB 9:22). The path of righteousness by which God for His name's sake led us to heaven ran through Calvary. That the heifer could never have been yoked speaks of Christ Who came only once in the end of the world to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself (HEB 9:26), not in the service of man but in the service of God: “...My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” (JOH 4:34). Other animals were sacrificed at the altar of the O.T. tabernacle (LEV 1:2-9; LEV 1:14-15) and their bodies then carried outside the camp for burning (LEV 4:12; LEV 4:21; LEV 16:27). This heifer must not only be burned outside the camp but also bleed and die outside the camp. So Christ, “...that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate” (HEB 13:11-12), consumed by the fiery wrath of God against our sins which He bore in His body. This Paul uses as an inducement for the early Jewish Christians to abandon their Judaism to fully follow Christ: “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp...” (HEB 13:13-14). Based upon Paul's reasoning in HEB 13:10-14, this heifer's ashes being laid up and kept outside the camp (NUM 19:9) hinted at the end of Mosaic ceremonial purifications. With a New Testament in force by Christ's death, cleansing from defilements are now always and only available from Him and the only ones who therefore reap the cleansing benefit are believers. Hence, John (an apostle to the Jews, GAL 2:7-9) wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1JO 1:9). The Law with its “Touch not; taste not; handle not;” uncleanness ordinances (COL 2:20-21) and its ordinances for atonement and purification have been rendered obsolete by Christ. Christianity eventually became almost exclusively made up of Gentile believers who could also appeal at any time to Christ for mercy and grace to cleanse the inward man from the defilements of sin and error. Conversely, the bulk of Israel to this day either has no particular concern for such cleansing (assuming rather that circumcision, wealth or Jewishness are sufficient), or they go through the motions of their old religion, hoping that without priest, tabernacle, temple or sacrifice, their dedication to their interpretation of Moses' Law will be accepted by God Who will overlook their failings. Some of them, sensing a need for available cleansing, still await a pure red heifer, not seeing that the need for such has been abrogated by the pure red man, Jesus Christ, Who is “...the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth...” (ROM 10:4), and is that continually available “...fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (ZEC 13:1). May God's elect among Israel with a blinding vail upon the heart soften the heart to the gospel, and “...when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away” (2CO 3:15-16).