The Red Heifer's Ashes (Part 2)
(Hebrews 9:13) 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: (Hebrews 9:14) 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? In the previous meditation we had seen that most of the ceremonial purifications of Moses' Law were with blood but not all (HEB 9:22). Per our text, in the case of the red heifer (NUM 19), its ashes were kept as a readily available cleanser when mixed with water for “...a water of separation: it is a purification for sin” (NUM 19:9; NUM 19:17), made virtuous by the shedding and sprinkling of its own blood (NUM 19:4). As with other O.T. sacrifices which typified Jesus Christ, it was inferior to Christ, whose blood, like the ashes, is a constant and available cleanser (1JO 1:7-9) but it never runs out and it purifies the inward man rather than the flesh. We had considered NUM 19:1-5 previously but let us press on. (Num 19:6) And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer. (Num 19:7) Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even. (Num 19:8) And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even. (Num 19:9) And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation: it is a purification for sin. (Num 19:10) And he that gathereth the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: and it shall be unto the children of Israel, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statute for ever. We may observe here the addition of cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet. That combination was used also in the ritual cleansing of one healed of leprosy (LEV 14:1-7). Leprosy carried with it not only the stigma of an awful disease to be isolated from the congregation and from the sanctuary but also a reproach of sin, inasmuch as there were notable instances of God judging the disobedient with leprosy (Miriam, NUM 12:9-15; Uzziah, 2CH 26:19-21). That such important articles for cleansing should be consumed with the heifer but only the ashes of the heifer laid up for ongoing cleansing (NUM 19:9) implied the superior value of the red heifer's ashes to cleanse defilement which separated church members from one another and from God's sanctuary. It also set forth a destruction of inferior cleansing by an all-consuming sacrifice, and this speaks greatly of Christ Whose sacrifice would end all of its old inadequate figures (HEB 9:9-10) and its virtue sufficient for even the most reproachful sins that separate God's people from Himself. We may also observe from these verses that all who were involved in producing this purification (the burner, the priest, the ash-gatherer) were themselves made unclean by it. At the very least, this should remind us that all of sinners' efforts in obedience to God are tainted: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags...” (ISA 64:6). Paul said, “...when I would do good, evil is present with me” (ROM 7:21). But there is a notable curiosity set forth here, in that those who by the word of God produced a purification for others were themselves made unclean by it. So Christ was obedient in all things, even unto the death of the cross (PHIL 2:8), but “...the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (ISA 53:6), and: (2CO 5:21) For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Jesus Christ is no doubt the antitype/fulfillment of the clean man (v. 9): He alone is holy and undefiled (HEB 7:26), without sin (HEB 4:15). As did the clean man of v. 9, Christ's cleansing benefit is laid up without the camp in a clean place: heaven, where nothing that defiles can enter (REV 21:27). He is our hope laid up in heaven (COL 1:5). According to Paul's reasoning in HEB 13:10-14, that the ashes were laid up without the camp would again underscore the need for the Jewish Christians to abandon the O.T. form of service to God in favor of a superior N.T. form of service with superior cleansings. All believers (Jew or Gentile) should be applying to Christ in heaven for cleansing, not from the outward defilements of the flesh that characterized Moses Law (touch not, taste not, handle not, etc., COL 2:20-22) and which have been set aside by the N.T., but from the inward defilements: sin which begins in the heart: “...These are the things which defile a man...” (MAT 15:19-20). As the rest of Numbers 19 shows, the ashes of the red heifer were for purifying someone who was outwardly contaminated by contact with the dead. But notice our text (HEB 9:13-14). The blood of Christ is superior in that it has power to cleanse someone inwardly, someone whose conscience is defiled because he meddled with the dead works of sin (sin is served unto death, ROM 6:16), purging away the guilt and bondage of sin in order to fit one to serve the living God (HEB 9:14): “...being made free from sin, and become servants to God...” (ROM 6:22). Given the context of HEB 9:13-14 which declares that eternal redemption is an accomplished fact of Christ's work (HEB 9:12), Paul may also be countering that lingering error of law-works justification (ROM 3:20), an error not easily overcome (their history and tradition affirmed it and the natural man loves it since it appeals to his desire for control). Relying on one's works for eternal justification is relying on what could never procure it, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (GAL 3:10). Sinners' best works are overwritten with the filth of sin and death (ISA 64:6); therefore to rely on them for justification would be relying on nothing more than dead works. If the consciences of some of the Jewish Christians were still burdened about what share of eternal redemption was their personal responsibility, Paul's answer was, “none.” Paul was making it clear in Hebrews that Christ had by Himself purged sins (HEB 1:3), obtained eternal redemption for them by His blood (HEB 9:12), and by that blood remitted their sins and perfected them forever (HEB 10:10-19). Full faith in that same blood had power to purge their consciences from those kind of dead works which were frustrating grace (c/w GAL 2:21), freeing them from that bondage (c/w GAL 5:1-3) to serve the living God (HEB 9:14) as living sacrifices (ROM 12:1) “...without the camp...” (HEB 13:13), outside of Judaism with spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving (HEB 13:15). Thus abandoning all counter-productive works, they could enjoy a blessed spiritual sabbath by faith: (HEB 4:10) For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. (HEB 4:11) Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. The blood of Christ is the superior fount of cleansing for the conscience from all dead works, as our text (HEB 9:13-14) declares.