Summary: In this sermon we examine the sacrifice of the Red Heifer and how it relates to the atonement of Christ.
Laws of Purification
The Purification of the Unclean
1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 2"This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying: "Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come.
3You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him; 4and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting.
5Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned. 6And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer. 7Then the priest shall wash his clothes, he shall bathe in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp; the priest shall be unclean until evening.
8And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening. 9Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin. 10And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening. It shall be a statute forever to the children of Israel and to the stranger who dwells among them.
11"He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. 12He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean.
13Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness is still on him. (New King James Version)
At the beginning of the year, many believers start reading the Bible from cover to cover. It’s around Leviticus and Numbers that many give up. I know that’s what happened to me when I was young. We read of these bizarre religious practices and we wonder what relevance do they have for us today. I have begun to discover that in reviewing these practices closer we can see a foreshadowing of the work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The most unusual of the sacrifices is the sacrifice of the red heifer.
This morning we are going to look at this passage in Numbers 19 and how it relates to the work of Christ on the cross.
I. Significance of the Red Heifer
Why a red heifer and how does it relate to Christ?
The word for red used is the Hebrew word awdome, which is similar to the word Adam which is the name of the first man. Some commentators believe the word "Adam" stems from a word meaning "red earth." We find that God often in Scripture uses similar sounding words with different meanings to drive home a spiritual point. Some commentators believe that in using the red heifer God is pointing back to Adam and the first sin.
Unlike other sacrifices, a red heifer would be sacrificed very rarely--only when the ashes ran out. We see in Christ that He was only to be sacrificed once, but unlike the red heifer the cleansing created by His sacrifice would last for eternity. (Hebrews 10:10)
Another reason why a red heifer was chosen was because it was perfect. A completely red heifer is quite rare and the significance of it was that it represented perfection. Indeed even some modern day Jewish scholars see the red heifer as representing perfection.
What were the requirements for a red heifer? “The Mishnah (Parah, i., ii.) states that the needful age for such a red heifer had to be two to five years. And the heifer had to be completely red. Jewish law stated that “if but two hairs were black or white, it was unlawful.’’ Because of its rarity was highly valued. I think that even today if such a heifer was born it would likely be a highly priced showcase cow.
So how does all of this relate to Christ? Christ came into this world as the new Adam. We have already mentioned that the Hebrew word for red is awdome, quite similar to the word Adam. Another similarity between Christ and the red heifer is that just as the red heifer was perfect and without blemish—so Christ was spiritually perfect.