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The ashes of a heifer

Query for the Month


June 2014

Next up-date: July 1st 2014 (God willing).

Previous "Queries" are available. Click here to access.

Some perpetual questions ....

Is there really an immortal soul?

Do you know the difference between the "love" that is of Christianity
and the "love" that is of the world?
Click here to find out!

Click on the link for a good book on the character of our God which you can download for free and share amongst your friends.   It's called "Light through Darkness" and is one of the best books on this subject that I have ever read! 

(when you get to the site just click "cancel" and it will let you in.  Then click "order" to obtain a copy. )

In the meantime, try this site.    And here's one where you can read it online.


Here's another great site on the character of God written in a way that's very easy to understand.

In this reply the old-fashioned words of the KJV have been modernised, and in some instances, the man-made punctuation has been altered for greater understanding.  Some of the comments are adapted from books in my library.  No recognition is given because they are not intended as authorities, but are used because they express my understanding clearly.  All the ideas expressed in this article, right or wrong, are my own.   


Numbers 19:

1 And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 This is the ordinance [rules] of the law which the LORD has commanded, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke: 3 and you shall give her to Eleazar the [son of the high] priest, that he may bring her forth without the camp, and one shall slay her before his face.

4 And Eleazar the [son of the high] priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before [towards] the tabernacle of the congregation seven times.

5 And one shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn . . . 9 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.

This is a little known or commented on sacrifice in the Old Testament times. What connection can it have with Christians of today?


Theses ashes are mentioned in connection with the bulls and goats which were used in the sanctuary services for the ritual cleansing of the sinning Christian, so they must have something to do with that practice. Paul wrote: "For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies 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?" Hebrews 9:13-14.

In those words he has contrasted the animal sacrifices which did the job of showing sanctification in earthly terms with "the blood of Christ" which shows sanctification in heavenly terms, and then added the ashes as a teaser! Either he expected his readers to understand their relationship to the bullock’s blood, or the Spirit is urging us to investigate.

In our query text we are being told that the children of Israel were anciently commanded to make an offering for the entire congregation to purify them from the ceremonial defilement of death. This sacrifice was a red HEIFER (female) and yet represented the more perfect offering of the Son of God which should really redeem from the pollution of sin, for this was an occasional sacrifice for the purification of all those who had necessarily or accidentally touched the dead. The use of a female cow instead of a bull implies that He will not necessarily perform the action in person.

These ashes should not be confused with the ashes which were derived from the sacrifices on the brass altar in the courtyard. They were cast aside from time to time as not required, while the ashes of the heifer were carefully stored for later use. Let’s look at the ceremony. The LORD commanded that:-

Numbers 19:

". . . they [the people] bring you [Moses] a red heifer [it was not an offering for an individual] without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke: 3 and you shall give her to Eleazar the [son of the high] priest, that he may bring her forth without the camp, and one shall slay her before his face [while he watches]".

The heifer had to be a red colour to represent the blood of the Son of God; it had to be perfect in its sphere and one which had never been used as a slave – in other words it was to be a free animal/person, and young, and it had to stand in for Him. The one heifer, the one ark, the one brass serpent, impressively point to the one great offering, the sacrifice of Christ. And again, Christ was typified in the status of the animal. The Son of God came voluntarily to accomplish the work of atonement. There was no obligatory yoke upon Him, for He was independent and above all law. The angels, as God's intelligent messengers, were under the yoke of obligation therefore no personal sacrifice of theirs could atone for the guilt of fallen man. Christ alone was free from the claims of the law and able to undertake the redemption of the sinful race. He had power to lay down His life and to take it up again – He has the power to exchange lives with those who want to change. "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God". Philippians 2:6.

Then comes one of the first differences to the usual offerings – this one was officiated over by the son of the high priest (who was an ordinary priest, nobody important in the ceremonial hierarchy, yet not on the bottom either!) He leads the animal outside the camp boundary where someone else waits to kill it.

Numbers 19:

4 And Eleazar the [son of the high] priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before [towards] the tabernacle of the congregation seven times.

The animal was killed by cutting its throat and the blood was caught in a basin. Then the priest turned towards the dwelling place of God and sprinkled it seven times (the perfect number) to show the LORD that the required sacrifice had been made. So far two people have been involved in the ceremonial – the priest and the executioner. In these two it is not hard to make the connection between Christ and Satan, for it was he who tried to kill Christ the Son of man! (Most people forget that Christ offered His life – no one took it from Him!) In this ceremonial the killer is also represented by those who come to the Son of God to be saved, and are thereby those also who "kill" Him, or cause Him to die.

But now a third person enters the scene:

Numbers 19:

5 And one shall burn the heifer in his [the priest’s] sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn [a complete burnt offering, including the blood, all made a long way from the sanctuary courtyard].

6 And the priest shall take [a stick of] cedar wood, and [a bunch of] hyssop, and [some] scarlet [cloth], and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer. 7 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.

8 And he that burns her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even.

The body of the heifer was burned to ashes, which signified a whole and ample sacrifice. It is this third person who turns the sacrifice into a convenient portable package – the ashes. As this occurs the priest adds the wood of the cross, the prayers of the onlookers, and the contamination that sin brings. After that his part in the ceremony is over and he physically cleans himself, but remains ceremonially (spiritually) unclean until the end of the day, just as Christ carries our uncleanness until the end of the age.

Then the burner also washes himself and returns to his tent in the camp, but remains ceremonially "unclean" until the sun sets. There is no mention of the executioner being cleansed!

Sometime later a fourth person attends the scene: it is his privilege to gather up the cold ashes and put them in a container "without [outside] the camp" and yet in a ritually "clean" place where they can lie waiting until they are needed.

Numbers 19:

9 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 [not a forgiveness nor a cleansing].

10 And he that gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: and it shall be to the children of Israel, and to the stranger that sojourns among them, for a statute for ever.

His work finished, the storage man cleans up and retires to his tent, his part also over.

The ashes are left outside the visible church because they must be readily available to anyone who needs them, and at any time, not subject to the regulations of the administration, for they are for the "stranger" as well as the home-born. It is not specified WHERE they should be kept, but there must have been someone who was responsible for them.

Rather like the ark, which, when being to transported to Jerusalem under David’s desire, and Uzzah died, it was taken into a nearby house and left there. "So David would not remove the ark of the LORD to him into the city of David: but David carried it aside into the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of the LORD continued in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months: and the LORD blessed Obed-edom, and all his household [for he was a justified man, a Levite, a "clean man" who became a doorkeeper [guard and musician] for the ark. 1 Chronicles 15:24-25]". 2 Samuel 6:10-11.

This is a picture of the fact that over the centuries and millennia God has always had someone who has nursed the truth and practices of true religion and who passed it on, with the knowledge of it gradually increasing as time went by.

The sacrificial heifer was conducted without the camp and slain in the most imposing manner. Thus Christ suffered without the gates of Jerusalem, for Calvary was outside the city walls. This was to show that Christ was willing to "die" not just for the Hebrews alone, but for all mankind. In that action He proclaimed to a fallen world that He has come to be their Redeemer and urges them to accept the salvation He offers them. This is the story of the gospel and it is also contained in this ritual.

So far four individuals have been involved in the production of the ashes – the cold ashes – of the sacrifice. Now we can move on to their use, for they are not intended to demonstrate the exchange of lives as at conversion, but something which is required afterwards. Like the cleansings of the healed leper, this ritual is to make us aware of some of the work required AFTER conversion, and even after the resurrection of the just.

"Having therefore, brothers [and sisters], boldness to enter into the holiest [the second apartment] by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which He has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and having a High Priest over the house of God let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled [by the water containing the ashes] from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water [baptised for the burial of our past lives]. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised); and let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works". Hebrews 10:19-24.

But, as this ceremony indicates, those who read these words did NOT spiritually enter in to the second apartment for the judgment, and so the ashes had to be stored and used cold while they tarried spiritually in the first room wanting and receiving only forgiveness for their sins.

We can now move on to how the ashes were physically used.

Numbers 19:

11 He [or she] that touches the dead body of any man [or woman] shall be unclean [contaminated] seven days.

12 He shall purify himself with it [the ashes] on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean.

[They are only of use to a born-again person.]

13 Whosoever touches the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifies not himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD [in his body]; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him.

The physical picture here of the undertakers (and others) who had to handle the bodies of those who died in combat, or of old age, or disease, tells us what the ritual was all about. All of us, without exception, have lived in bodies which are dying physically, and in fact, in the LORD’s eyes are already "dead", "dead in trespasses and sins", so we too have "handled" such bodies even when He has "quickened us together with Christ". Ephesians 2:1, 5.

The contamination carries over for "seven days" which represents the term of our natural life.

As we have just read, it is not enough to be cleansed on the "third day" (the day of the resurrection to a new life), but we must also be "clean" at the end of the "seventh day", the moment of our physical death. In other words, we must carry the power of the exchange with us for the rest of our life – sometimes called "sanctification". If we refuse the "cleansing" offered on the "third" day (the day of conversion), or reject it later, then we will remain unclean until the second resurrection which is that of the rebels.

Thus we are told:

Proverbs 26:

11 As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool [a rejecter] returns to his folly.

2 Peter 2:

15 [Such] have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness [he loved money more than the LORD]; 16 but was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbade the madness of the prophet. [See Numbers 22:20-35.]

17 These are [like] wells without water, [like] clouds that are carried with a tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever. [See Jude 1:12-13.] 18 For when they speak great swelling words of vanity they allure [back] through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them [but] who live in error [continuing to sin].

19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. [The power that controls you is your master.]

20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. 21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it is happened to them according to the true proverb, "The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" [their choice].

This is because God has nothing more to offer to entice them into His kingdom.

However, if we do choose to sin after being converted, and repent of it, and are forgiven and cleansed from it, then we can ask for the ashes to be applied again, for there is no restriction on their use! Without their use the last generation of saints at the Second Coming would not be able to be translated and would have to pass through the grave, for this ceremony shows the procedure for overcoming death!

Numbers 19:

14 This is the law when a man dies in a tent: all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days. 15 And every open vessel, which has no covering bound upon it, is unclean. 16 And whosoever touches one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.

Here we are told of the all-encompassing pollution of death. It contaminates all and everything that is in its vicinity, and its effects linger. So what should be done about it?

Numbers 19:

17 And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running [fresh] water shall be put thereto in a vessel [and the two mixed together]: 18 and a clean person [the fifth] shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave.

19 And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh day he [the contaminated one] shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even [at the first resurrection].

20 But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation [and come up in the second resurrection], because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD: the water of separation has not been sprinkled upon him; he is unclean.

"And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people . . . Wherefore come out from among them, and be you separate", says the LORD, "and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty". 2 Corinthians 6:16-18.

Numbers 19:

21 And it shall be a perpetual statute to them, that he that sprinkles the water of separation shall [also] wash his clothes; and he that touches the water of separation shall be unclean until even. 22 And whatsoever the unclean person touches shall be unclean; and the soul that touches it shall be unclean until even [it is highly contagious].

Now a fifth person, one who was uncontaminated, took the ashes and mixed them with fresh water (which represented the joining of the sacrifice of the LORD and the presence of the Spirit), and, using the stick of cedar and a bunch of hyssop, sprinkled the people and the objects which have been contaminated by the atmosphere of death. This was done at conversion (the third day) and again on the seventh day. However, not until the last day did this "clean" person cease his work, for this ceremony was repeated many times in order to be thorough and was done as a purification from the wages of sin.

The more it is done, the more death is cleansed from the person. But even the sprinkler must wash because he has been in contact with it, albeit only slightly!

The priest used cedar and hyssop at the burning of the sacrifice, as did the clean man who used the ashes by dipping the stick into the cleansing water to stir it and sprinkling the unclean with the hyssop. This symbolised the combination of the death of the Son of God who continues to "die" to cleanse us from moral impurities, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The repeated sprinklings illustrate the thoroughness of the work that must be accomplished for the repenting Christian and his/her possessions. All that he or she has must be consecrated. Not only should their own heart be washed clean and pure, but they should strive to have their family, their domestic arrangements, their property, and their entire belongings consecrated to God.

After the tent had been sprinkled with the hyssop, over the door of those cleansed was spiritually written: I am not my own; LORD, I am Yours. Thus should it be (spiritually) with those who profess to be cleansed by the blood of Christ, for God is no less exacting now than He was in olden times.

The psalmist, in his prayer, refers to this symbolic ceremony when he says: "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me . . . Restore to me the joy of Your salvation; and uphold me with Your free Spirit". Psalm 51:7, 10, 12. He is not referring to conversion, but the experience of life thereafter.

The third day had many points of significance to the people of old; some physical for isolation purposes; some spiritual to illustrate important gospel truths.

Here are a few:

Numbers 31:

19 [The men of war were told] And do you abide without the camp seven days: whosoever has killed any person, and whosoever has touched any slain, purify both yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day [after the decontamination period]. 20 And purify [wash] all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats' hair, and all things made of wood.

21 And Eleazar the priest said to the men of war which went to the battle, This is the ordinance [the rules] of the law which the LORD commanded Moses; 22 only the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead, 23 every thing that may abide the fire, you shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean [purified by heat (aka persecution)]: nevertheless it shall [also] be purified with the water of separation: and all that abides not the fire you shall make go through the water [with the ashes].

[This washing was more important than sterilising by fire (i.e. persecution.)]

24 And you shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean, and afterward you shall come into the camp.

Hosea 6:

1 Come, and let us return to the LORD: for He has torn [out our old lives], and He will heal us; He has smitten, and He will bind us up [in the exchange]. 2 After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight. 3 Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the LORD: His going forth is prepared as the morning [sunrise]; and He shall come to us as the rain, as the latter and former rain to the earth [in the presence of the Spirit].

Matthew 16:

20 Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ [the Messiah, the Son of God]. 21 From that time forth began Jesus to show to His disciples, how that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.

Five people were involved, and a period of time required for the outplaying of this ashes ritual. In like manner, many people are needed to bring sanctification to God’s children, and this also needs time, for sanctification is not a quick work, but requires a whole lifetime. It is not the first flush of passion that comes when we gaze at the cross, but the steady plodding in the "marriage relationship" that shows the depths of our love for our Saviour.

Over the centuries men and women have searched the words of God and come up with doctrinal and spiritual understandings which have made plainer the way we should go. As we study their experiences in the Bible we can be thankful that they did as they did, making mistakes as well as performing good actions that we may learn easier ways to co-operate with the LORD. One day we may have the opportunity to thank them but many will remain anonymous throughout eternity, for as far as they are concerned, they just did what the Spirit asked of them at the time, not knowing how they would affect us. We can thank them like we do the "Unknown Warriors" of earthly wars.

Now we have the chance to do the same type of work for others! Let us rise and learn how and when to use the ashes!

Can you see now why it is a heifer and not a bull? Humans have a great deal to do with what this ritual represents, especially those who are "sprinkled" in the last generation. Can you see why when Paul wrote under Inspiration, he placed the ashes after the blood? ". . . if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean . . ."


Thus we have a picture of Christ in His own spotless righteousness, after shedding His precious blood, entering into the holy place to cleanse, not just the heavenly sanctuary, but also the sanctuary of the bodies of His people. And there the "crimson current" was brought into the service of reconciling man to God. Some may look upon this slaying of the heifer as a meaningless ceremony, but it was done by the command of God and bears a deep significance that has not lost its application to the present time.

All who came in contact with death in any way were considered ceremonially unclean. This was to forcibly impress the minds of the Hebrews with the fact that death came as a consequence of sin and therefore is a representative of sin. But the ashes are there to remove that consequence and allow the last generation of Christians to be translated.

This glorious Being loves us and took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might show us how He suffers and dies in our behalf. Jesus might have remained at His Father's right hand, wearing His kingly crown and royal robes, but He chose to exchange all the riches, honour, and glory of heaven for the poverty of humanity, and His station of high command for the horrors of Gethsemane and the humiliation and agony of Calvary. He became a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, that by His baptism of suffering and blood He might show that He could purify and redeem a guilty world. "Lo, I come," was the joyful assent, "to do Your will, O My God". Hebrews 10:7.

We are taught by this ritual that the sacrifice of Son of God does work, but it needs to be applied continually after the initial contact. He not only wants us to use the means He has entrusted to us for His glory, but He desires us to make a consecration of ourselves to His cause. In practical terms this ritual shows that if we have become selfish and are withholding from the LORD that which we should cheerfully give to His service, then we need the ashes of sprinkling thoroughly applied, re-consecrating us and all our possessions to God. We need to be reminded of what He has done for us; we need even the "cold" ashes to revive us!

We should watch for the first dimming of our light, the first neglect of prayer, the first symptom of spiritual slumber. It is "He that endures to the end [who] shall be saved". It is by the constant exercise of faith and love that believers are made to shine as lights in the world. We are making but poor preparation for the Master's coming if we are serving mammon while professedly serving God. When He appears, we must then present to Him the talents that we have buried in the earth, talents neglected, abused, misused – a divided love.


Who wants to add (or subtract!) from these thoughts? I won't argue as I have stated,

but I will publish your Scriptures so that we may review all the words of God on the subject.


Next query. To be discussed from July 1st 2014,

Next query:

Leviticus 1:

1 And the LORD called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the tabernacle of the congregation [the first room], saying,

2 Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you bring an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd [a bull], and [or] of the flock [a ram].

3 If his offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will [at any time] at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD. 4 And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering [to ritually transfer his life to it]; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him.

This is the first and most important of a list of offerings, and therefore it shows God’s preferred choice. What does it mean today?


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