The Law of the Red Heifer Applied
Numbers 19:1-22
And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,…

The record of the law of the red heifer unfolds some traces of the manner, times, and substance of God's teaching in those days when the children of Israel "could not steadfastly look to the end."

1. His method was largely to use symbols, but not to the withholding of words. As objects lying in darkness cannot be presented but must be represented, so the truths suited to the manhood of our race were taught in that method to earlier generations.

2. The symbols of the Jewish worship were instituted at special times. God did not put it forth as a system. He did not place it as a full-grown tree in a wood. It is like a house to which have been added rooms and offices and hall as the growth of the family has demanded more scope in which to maintain new and higher thoughts. Wider views of what they need towards God cause Him to send out the beams of a light which is to dispel every doubt and fear.

I. LIABILITY FOR SOCIAL EVIL. What was there in the fact that a virulent disease had deprived so many of life, to produce a conviction that God cannot be approached for worship? Why should contact with a corpse, or entrance into a tent in which human life had ebbed away, or even a bone, or a grave trod upon, be as a barrier blocking up the way of the people to the sanctuary? Might the survivors not reason thus: "If those who have died did wrong we have been equally wrong; if we are not erased from the roll of the living there is, notwithstanding, an evil chargeable to us; partakers in a like offence we are worthy of a like condemnation; the evil has not exhausted itself on them, and we are liable in some form for their calamities; we cannot in this state of pollution go into the presence of God — is there not needed a purification from those social ills whose last and most affecting sign is death?"

II. THE IGNOMINY OF DEATH. The law recited in this chapter distinctly informs us that the presence of, or contact with, the signs of the death of mankind, separated from communion with God in His sanctuary. Would not thought be excited of some such form as this — "It is clear that there is no moral defilement in mere closeness to the signs of death, not to come into contact with them might be a sinful act — and yet we are treated, as to our standing before God, just as if we had been guilty of gross crimes. If God-appointed duties and circumstances render it unbecoming, and even impossible, that we should keep free from those relations to the dead mentioned by this law, why should we incur such a fearful result? Surely there must be some virulent spreading poison rankling in men's death. If by its presence or touch an impassable gulf at once sinks between God and us, what an offensive attitude against Him must death assume I Much more than mere sensational shrinking should creep over us before it. How can we avoid engraving deeply on our hearts the thought that it is dishonourable to die!" What is in death to make it so? This: that death is the seal of a Divine curse on man.

III. FREEDOM FROM THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN IS BY APPLICATION OF A PREPARED REMEDY. The several parts in the process of preparing the water of cleansing bear emblems to show what God requires for freeing from sin. The slaying of the heifer and the sprinkling of its blood laid bare the foundation principles, that "it is the blood which maketh atonement for the soul" — that "without shedding of blood is no remission of sins." Everything that blocked up the way to the favour of the Lord is removed by the appointed sacrifices. He is reconcileable, and ready to count the evils of the congregation satisfied for. Were the Israelites, then, entitled to say, "The offerings of atonement are made; sins are taken away; we are free from all further hindrances to acceptance ; we need to care nothing more about what happens to us"? No. If acceptable offerings have been made for the people, yet events come to pass from which defilement will be caused to individuals, and, if this personal unfitness be not removed, perilous consequences must follow. Uncleanness incurred from the dead — the great sign of moral pollution — prevents approach to the holy Lord God. Separated from His presence on earth is a forecasting of an eternal separation — "that soul shall be cut off from Israel." But He has a remedy for this too. He provides means of purification, and thus of renewed access to Himself. Not only is the blood of bulls and of goats shed, but the ashes of a heifer is also to " sprinkle the unclean, in order to sanctify to the purifying of the flesh," and render fit for all the privileges of acceptable worship.

IV. TO BE WITHOUT FITNESS FOR STANDING BEFORE GOD ACCEPTABLY IS INEXCUSABLE AND IRRETRIEVABLE. Once purified did not do away with the necessity of being purified again, when another defilement had been incurred. The new impurity must be removed by a new application, and the cleansing remedy was constantly available (vers. 9, 10). God keeps in store that odour which can counteract the poisoning air of death; that which will restore to health at all times and never lose its efficacy; that which can be applied for with the fullest confidence that it is provided against the renewed impediments to serving God acceptably, and warrants "boldness to enter into the holiest." What could justify neglect of this remedy? What evasion was possible when the uncleanness was so manifestly chargeable, and the provision for removing it so easily procurable? Must not every trifler, delayer, or neglecter be held guilty, without any palliation, of despising his Lord's grace and might?

(D. G. Watt, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,

WEB: Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying,

Purge Me with Hyssop, and I Shall be Clean
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