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The Red Heifer

The Red Heifer details logo The LORD is near - Wednesday, November 24, 2021
by Jacob Redekop, Brian Reynolds, John van Dijk, Eugene P. Vedder Jr
The Red Heifer

For an unclean person they shall take some of the ashes of the heifer burnt for purification from sin.

Whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves

Numbers 19:17; . Numbers 31:19

The Red Heifer
All through the wilderness Israel was defiled by contact with death; but God had an answer. An unblemished red heifer was sacrificed and burned outside the camp. Its ashes were reserved for future use. When one became unclean by exposure to a dead body, the ashes mixed with water were sprinkled on the defiled person. Numbers 19 describes many other beautiful details of this process.

It is helpful here to consider what this defilement means. Scripture affirms that death is always related to sin, and sometimes contact with death is willful and disobedient. Yet that is not the primary case here; otherwise it would require the sin and trespass offerings of Leviticus. As always, the Bible explains itself so that we do not go astray. In Numbers 31:19-24 we find the red heifer applied. After Israel defeated the Midianites, one who had killed an enemy or simply touched a dead person had to be purified with that water of separation. Even the spoils of war required this. The Lord Himself had sent the people into battle, yet they had become defiled!

The meaning is that every exposure to death—the characteristic of the world and of our flesh—will make believers unclean, even if living faithfully. Israelites became unclean not only in battle but also if they simply came upon a dead body in a field or if family members died of natural causes (Num. 19:14-16). Our daily contacts demand spiritual battle: in our routines, we might pass by defiling influences; and even a believer, a “member of the family,” might expose us to his pride or a fleshly temper. These all require us to seek the ongoing cleansing provided through the work of Christ, applied to our hearts by the Word of God.

Stephen Campbell


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