Summary: The Red Heifer was a foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Understanding the Red Heifer
District Elder M.L. Maughmer, Jr.
The Talmud (a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, customs, and history) claims that the red heifer sacrifice was the only one of God’s commands that King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, claimed he did not understand.
The red heifer, as well as all the other specifications in the Torah ( the most important document in Judaism, revered as the inspired word of God, traditionally said to have been revealed to Moses. The Torah, or Law, comprises the first five books of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. Christian Bibles incorporate the Hebrew Bible into its canon, where it is known as the Old Testament. Though different Christian denominations have slightly different versions of the Old Testament in their Bibles, the five books of Moses (which are also called the Pentateuch or "the Law") are common to them all), was an allusion which ultimately pointed to Jesus Christ, as Paul points out in Hebrews 9:13, 14: “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: 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”?
Solomon apparently did not understand why Numbers 19 declared that the priest would be "unclean until evening." This unusual sacrifice symbolically pointed to Jesus Christ and His sacrifice because our Lord, who was perfectly sinless, judicially took upon Himself the sins of the world so that we who are sinful could become righteous before God.
The Heifer was not a sacrifice in the sense of a blood covering for sin, but was a means or a process that was to bring a cleansing from defilement, or sin. It wasn’t a substitutional sacrifice like the male goat of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), but a day by day cleansing as needed. It was a cow and not a bull.
The purification by the Red Heifer is a subject that has been a mystery even to the Jews who were given this ritual to perform. It has been understood by the Jewish Rabbis in the sense of an act of obedience. In other words do these things and do it in this way and your cleansing can be assumed. But from the perspective of the church there may be a little more insight that is not apparent to the Rabbis. Lets look first at the ritual and see if we can understand some of this mystery.
Numbers 19:1-10 “And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, This [is] the ordinance of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein [is] no blemish, [and] upon which never came yoke: And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, that he may bring her forth without the camp, and [one] shall slay her before his face: And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before the tabernacle of the congregation seven times: And [one] shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn: And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast [it] into the midst of the burning of the heifer. 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. And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even. 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. 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.