Numbers 19


The ordinance of the red heifer, 1, 2.

She shall be slain by Eleazar without the camp, and her blood

sprinkled before the tabernacle, 3, 4.

Her whole body and appurtenance shall be reduced to ashes, and

while burning, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop, shall be thrown

into the fire, 5, 6.

The priest, and he that burns her, to bathe themselves, and be

reputed unclean till the evening, 7, 8.

Her ashes to be laid up for a water of purification, 9.

How, and in what cases it is to be applied, 10-13.

The law concerning him who dies in a tent, or who is killed in

the open field, 14-16.

How the persons, tent, and vessels are to be purified by the

application of these ashes, 17-19.

The unclean person who does not apply them, to be cut off from

the congregation, 20.

This is to be a perpetual statute, 21, 22.


Verse 2. Speak unto the children of Israel that they bring

thee, &c.] The ordinance of the red heifer was a sacrifice of

general application. All the people were to have an interest in

it, and therefore the people at large are to provide the

sacrifice. This Jewish rite certainly had a reference to things

done under the Gospel, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews

has remarked: "For if," says he, "the blood of bulls and of

goats," alluding, probably, to the sin-offerings and the

scape-goat, "and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean,

sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; 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!" Heb 9:13, 14. As the principal stress of

the allusion here is to the ordinance of the red heifer, we may

certainly conclude that it was designed to typify the sacrifice of

our blessed Lord.

We may remark several curious particulars in this ordinance.

1. A heifer was appointed for a sacrifice, probably, in

opposition to the Egyptian superstition which held these sacred,

and actually worshipped their great goddess Isis under this form;

and this appears the more likely because males in general were

preferred for sacrifice, yet here the female is chosen.

2. It was to be a red heifer, because red bulls were sacrificed

to appease the evil demon Typhon, worshipped among the Egyptians.

See Spencer.

3. The heifer was to be without spot-having no mixture of any

other colour. Plutarch remarks, De Iside et de Osiride, that if

there was a single hair in the animal either white or black, it

marred the sacrifice. See Calmet, and

See Clarke on Nu 8:7.

4. Without blemish-having no kind of imperfection in her body;

the other, probably, applying to the hair or colour.

5. On which never came yoke, because any animal which had been

used for any common purpose was deemed improper to be offered in

sacrifice to God. The heathens, who appear to have borrowed much

from the Hebrews, were very scrupulous in this particular. Neither

the Greeks nor Romans, nor indeed the Egyptians, would offer an

animal in sacrifice that had been employed for agricultural

purposes. Of this we have the most positive evidence from Homer,

Porphyry, Virgil, and Macrobius.

Just such a sacrifice as that prescribed here, does Diomede vow

to offer to Pallas.-Iliad, lib. x., ver. 291.





"So now be present, O celestial maid;

So still continue to the race thine aid;

A yearling heifer falls beneath the stroke,

Untamed, unconscious of the galling yoke,

With ample forehead and with spreading horns,

Whose tapering tops refulgent gold adorns."

Altered from POPE.

In the very same words Nestor, Odyss., lib. iii., ver. 382,

promises a similar sacrifice to Pallas.

The Romans had the same religion with the Greeks, and

consequently the same kind of sacrifices; so Virgil, Georg. iv.,

ver. 550.

Quatuor eximios praestanti corpore tauros

Ducit, et intacta totidem cervice juveneas.

"---------From his herd he culls

For slaughter four the fairest of his bulls;

Four heifers from his female stock he took,

All fair, and all unknowing of the yoke."


It is very likely that the Gentiles learnt their first

sacrificial rites from the patriarchs; and on this account we need

not wonder to find so many coincidences in the sacrificial system

of the patriarchs and Jews, and all the neighbouring nations.

Verse 9. For a water of separation] That is, the ashes were to

be kept, in order to be mixed with water, Nu 19:17, and sprinkled

on those who had contracted any legal defilement.

Verse 11. He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be

unclean seven days.] How low does this lay man! He who touched a

dead beast was only unclean for one day, Le 11:24, 27, 39; but he

who touches a dead man is unclean for seven days. This was

certainly designed to mark the peculiar impurity of man, and to

show his sinfulness-seven times worse than the vilest animal!

O thou son of the morning, how art thou fallen!

Verse 12. He shall purify himself with it]

yithchatta bo, literally, he shall sin himself with it. This

Hebrew form of speech is common enough among us in other matters.

Thus to fleece, to bark, and to skin, do not signify to add a

fleece, another bark, or a skin, but to take one away; therefore,

to sin himself, in the Hebrew idiom, is not to add sin, but to

take it away, to purify. The verb chata signifies to miss

the mark, to sin, to purify from sin, and to make a

sin-offering. See Clarke on Ge 13:13.

THE Hebrews generally sacrificed males, no matter of what

colour; but here a heifer, and a heifer of a red colour, is

ordered. The reason of these circumstances is not very well


"The rabbins, with all their boldness," says Calmet, "who stick

at nothing when it is necessary to explain what they do not

understand, declare that the cause of this law is entirely

unknown; and that Solomon, with all his wisdom, could not find it


Several fathers, as well modern as ancient, profess to

understand the whole clearly. 1. The red heifer with them

signifies the flesh of our Lord, formed out of an earthly

substance. 2. Being without spot, &c., the infinite holiness of

Christ. 3. The sex of the animal, the infirmity of our flesh,

with which he clothed himself. 4. The red colour, his passion.

5. Being unyoked, his being righteous in all his conduct, and

never under the yoke of sin. 6. Eleazar's sacrificing the heifer

instead of Aaron, Nu 19:3,

signifies the change of the priesthood from the family of Aaron,

in order that a new and more perfect priesthood might take place.

7. The red heifer being taken without the camp (Nu 19:3) to be

slain, points out the crucifixion of our Lord without the city.

8. The complete consuming of the heifer by fire, the complete

offering of the whole body and soul of Christ as a sacrifice to

God for the sin of man: for as the heifer was without blemish,

the whole might be offered to God; and as Christ was immaculate,

his whole body and soul were made a sacrifice for sin. 9. As the

fire of this sacrifice ascended up to God, so it points out the

resurrection and ascension of our blessed Lord. 10. And as the

ashes of this victim communicated a legal purity to those who were

defiled, so true repentance, signified by those ashes, is

necessary for the expiation of the offences committed after

baptism. A great part of this is true in itself; but how little

evidence is there that all these things were intended in the

ordinance of the red heifer? See Clarke on Nu 8:7.

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