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The ashes of a red heifer

Query for the Month


September 2010

Next up-date: October 1st 2010 (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.

Some of the comments on this page 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.


Hebrews 9:13-14

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 [is OK for an earthly picture]: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, [really] purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? 

Just what part do the ashes of a heifer take in the ceremonies of dealing with sin?


Not all is clear in our understanding of the meaning of this special ceremony, but no doubt, that will change as time advances and we get nearer the second advent, for it has a special meaning for that time.  The ashes were really a ceremonial way of dealing with THE RESULT of earthly sins – which is the contamination of physical death, the “last  enemy”.  1 Corinthians 15:26.  The blood of bulls and goats was used in the sanctuary to ritually deal with THE GUILT of sins as we have seen, but the ashes were used OUTSIDE of the sanctuary, wherever and whenever death occurred.  Because of this, it is easy to overlook them in the present period, just as many have overlooked the real significance of the Passover.  One came at the beginning of the new life – the other at its end.

In our day, of course, the ceremony has a spiritual meaning as well as a physical one.  Let’s see if we can discover it. 

Ashes were often used in conjunction with “sackcloth” as a sign of contrition.  They absorb, and were therefore also used as a cleansing agent.  God says, “O daughter of My people, gird you with sackcloth, and wallow yourself in ashes: make you mourning, as for an only son, most bitter lamentation: for the spoiler shall suddenly come upon us”.  Jeremiah 6:26. 

In similar circumstances, the great prophet wrote, “And I set my face to the LORD God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes”.  Daniel 9:3.  And, speaking to some of His favourite cities, Jesus said, “Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes”.  Luke 10:13.  Job used them to absorb the discharge from his sores.  “So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.  And he took him a potsherd to scrape himself withal; and he sat down among the ashes”.  Job 2:7-8.

With this mind, let us read about the ritual:

***************(Begin Quote)

Numbers 19:

1 And the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 

2 “This is the ordinance [ritual] 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”.

***************(End Quote) 

The children of Israel were anciently commanded to make an offering available for the entire congregation to purify them from the ceremonial defilement of death.  

Lateral thought:

Death and the grave are of Satan’s kingdom and he complained bitterly when one was redeemed for there.  “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil [when] he disputed about the body of Moses, durst [dared] not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, ‘The LORD rebuke you’.”  Jude 1:9.

Here’s another version:

9 The Archangel Michael, who went to the mat with the Devil as they fought over the body of Moses, wouldn't have dared level him with a blasphemous curse, but said simply, "No you don't. God will take care of you!"  Jude 1:9 (The Message version.)

This illustration was made through a red heifer to represent the more perfect offering that would redeem from the pollution of sin.  This was an occasional sacrifice for the purification of all those who had necessarily or accidentally touched the dead.  All who came in contact with death in any way were considered ceremonially unclean, and although that was physical in those days, now it applies to all of us who are in contact with spiritual “death”, that is, the defilements of this world even if we have ceased to actively partake of them.  

Thus it is written; “And you has He quickened [made alive], who were dead in trespasses and sins: wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now [still] works in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation [behaviour] in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others”.  Ephesians 2:1-2.

The ceremony was designed to forcibly impress the minds of the Hebrews with the fact that death came in consequence of sin, and therefore is a representative of sin.  The one heifer, the one ark (Exodus 25:10-16), the one brass serpent (Numbers 21:9), impressively point to the one great offering, the sacrifice of Christ, but in different ways. 

This virgin cow was to be red, which was a symbol of blood.  It must be without spot or blemish, and one that had never borne a yoke.  Here, again, Christ was typified.  The Son of God came voluntarily to accomplish the work of atonement.  There was no yoke upon Him, for He was independent and above all law.  The angels, as God's created messengers, were under the yoke of obligation; no personal sacrifice of theirs could atone for the guilt of fallen man.  Christ alone was free from the claims of the law to undertake the redemption of the sinful race.  He alone has creative power.  He told us that He had power to lay down His life and to take it up again.  (John 10:17-18.)  And it is said of Him, “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God”.  Philippians 2:6.  Yet this glorious Being loves us poor sinners and took upon Himself “the form of a servant” that He might suffer and die to show us what He does in our behalf.  Verse 7. 

In this ceremony it is the ashes of a “heifer” and not a “bull” that is used, because 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 position of high command, for the horrors of Gethsemane and the humiliation and agony of Calvary.  In this situation He became an obedient “wife” to God and a “brother” to man.  He became a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, that by His baptism of suffering and blood He might show HOW He was purifying and redeeming a guilty world.  “Lo, I come,” was the joyful assent, “to do Your will, O My God”.  Hebrews 10:7. 

This ceremony is commented on a little further in the chapter.  “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience [purified], and our bodies washed with pure water [baptised]”.  Hebrews 10:22.

***************(Begin Quote)

Numbers 19:

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.

***************(End Quote)

Whenever needed, the sacrificial heifer was conducted outside the camp by an ordinary priest and then killed in the most imposing manner by another person.  In the reality, Himself the priest, Himself the victim, Christ suffered outside the gates of Jerusalem, for Calvary was outside the city walls.  This was to show that He did not die for the Hebrews alone, but for all mankind.  However, in this ceremony He proclaimed to the inhabitants of a fallen world that He had come to be their Redeemer as well as Saviour, and urged them to accept redemption as well as the salvation and cleansing that He offered them. 

The officiating priest was one of the ordinary priests (not the high priest) to show Christ’s connection with Christian humanity, and the executioner was a picture of one from this world, both of which we are.  Addressing Christians, Peter wrote, “You also, as lively [living] stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ . . . But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy”.  1 Peter 2:5-10. (See also Exodus 19:6 and Acts 2:36.)  

***************(Begin Quote)

Numbers 19:

4 And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before [towards] the tabernacle of the congregation seven times. [It was back in the middle of the camp.  Numbers 2:17.]

***************(End Quote)

The heifer having been slain in a most solemn manner, the priest, clothed in the pure white garments of his working uniform (Exodus 28:39-43), took some of the blood on his fingers as it issued from the body of the victim into the bowl, and cast it toward the temple seven times as a notification to God of the “death”.  The rest of the blood was burned with the body.

***************(Begin Quote)

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.

6 And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, 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.

***************(End Quote)  

The entire body and blood of the heifer was burned to ashes, which signified a whole and ample sacrifice.  This was performed by yet another “clean” person while the priest watched and threw into the fire a piece of a certain wood (which was a symbol of righteousness), a measure of scarlet cloth, and a bunch of hyssop.  His part over, he could then wash and return to the camp, although he was to remain separate until the beginning of the next day because in the service he had been associated with a death.  (A spiritual picture of the fact that he must remain on earth until the resurrection.)

***************(Begin Quote)

Numbers 19:

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 [for the same reason].

***************(End Quote) 

One important point to note in this ritual is the number of different people who were employed in the preparation and use of it.  In like manner, when a follower of the LORD needs cleansing and educating from the effects of sin, it is the combined efforts of many enquirers from the past which accomplishes this, for it is often ignorance or necessity which causes the contamination.  It also shows the unity of purpose that all need to have who participate in this ceremonial.

There is no mention of the executioner being cleansed and returning to the camp, for the sinful nature, the “old man”, which causes the death of Christ can never enter heaven, because “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be”.  Romans 8:7.

***************(Begin Quote)

Numbers 19:

9 And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without [outside] the camp in a clean [holy] place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation [from the contamination of death]: it is a PURIFICATION for sin.

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.

***************(End Quote) 

The ashes were then gathered up by a person who was uncontaminated by any contact with the dead (not even the heifer), and stored in a special place until they were needed for individuals or groups.  Then he too, washed, and returned to his place but remained separated until the beginning of the next day.

It is recorded that the ashes were for the use of anyone associated with the people of God, even if not home-born, which means anyone who comes to Christ is eligible to be sprinkled by them. (It is the ashes which are primary symbol, not the water, even though it represents the Holy Spirit.)

Now we are shown the detail of how the ashes were to be used:

***************(Begin Quote)

Numbers 19:

11 He that touches the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days [a complete period].

12 He shall purify himself with it [the ashes] on the third day [he shall request it, but not before then], 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.

13 Whosoever touches the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifies not himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD [his own body, 2 Peter 1:13-14]; 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.

***************(End Quote) 

For normal use the ash was added to pure water which was poured into a bowl, and then they were sprinkled by another “clean” man where needed, for we cannot do this to ourselves.  An important point in these verses is that the sprinkling also needed a period of time for the formerly “unclean” man to become right with God.  Many believe that once they are baptised to show the “death” of the “old man” and “resurrected” on the “third” day as Christ was, or forgiven for subsequent actions of sin during their lifetime, that they are clean immediately (which is true), but this procedure adds a note of caution to that idea, for there is more needed to be totally free from the contamination (the earthliness) of this world. 

Let’s read on:

***************(Begin Quote)

Numbers 19:

14 This is the law, when a man dies in a tent [at home]: 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.

***************(End Quote) 

Even “natural” death brings with it a common pollution which must be dealt with.  This could be likened to the disinfecting or sterilising that we would do today, but with a spiritual aspect.  Nor is it used for one that is “dead” in confession of sin in the sanctuary, for that “death” is transferred to another.  This “pollution” must be cleansed by a “sprinkling”.

***************(Begin Quote)

Numbers 19:

17 And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel:

18 And a clean [or fit] person 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 sprinkled one] shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even.

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

***************(End Quote)  

The ashes were placed in a vessel containing water from a running (living) stream (or poured from a vessel) to represent the presence of the Holy Spirit.  A clean and pure person then took a cedar stick wrapped with scarlet cloth to stir it, and a bunch of hyssop which was used to sprinkle the contents of the vessel upon the tent and the people assembled.  This sprinkling was repeated several times in order to be thorough. 

It was done as a purification from the results of sin. 

It had nothing to do with forgiveness for individual sins, for that was accomplished in the sanctuary and through the blood of a goat or a bull.

We should note that although originally sprinkled on the third day, there was a need for another sprinkling on the seventh day also.  Although we are “clean” all over after baptism, and “clean” again after any confession of a sin (having had our “dirty feet” washed), there is still need of a final “cleansing” before we can rejoin the congregation (the people of the universe).  This points us to the fact that THE atonement which covers ALL the sins of ALL Israel is not made until near the end of the sanctuary service year.  (See Leviticus 16:21; 30.)  In the type this was only done once in a ceremonial year.  (There were other atonements for other reasons which were made at various times throughout the year, but they were not the final.)

Thus Christ, in His own spotless righteousness, after making His offering as a servant, the Son of man, entered into the first apartment of the heavenly sanctuary as a picture of His officiating as the High Priest for the daily or continual forgiveness of sins.  Hebrews 5:14-16.  (He had been doing this as the Son of God since the foundation of the world, of course, but after Calvary it became more apparent to those who looked there.)  Then, when the time came, He moved into the second apartment into the immediate presence of God the Father to show that the second phase of His ministry was now available to mankind.

But it is at “home” that the “ashes” are brought into the service of reconciling man to God from the “wages” of sin.  (See Romans 6:23.)  Therefore, although needed on the “seventh” or final day, it was NOT included as part of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary.  Of necessity, it would have had to have preceded that ceremony.  Yet the only record we have of its being used is twice in all the Bible, for both Enoch and Elijah have obviously been sprinkled with it!  Moses should have been also, but at the last minute he turned away from it.

During the exodus Satan had been trying hard to find something with which to accuse Moses before the angels.  When Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it, and called the people “Rebels” (a damning accusation), Satan exulted at his success in leading him to separate from God, and he told the angels that in the same way he would be able to overcome the Saviour of the world when He should come to redeem man.  Numbers 20:10-12.  Because of his transgression, Moses came under the power of Satan - the dominion of death.  Had he remained steadfast, the LORD would have been able to bring him to the Promised Land, and would then have translated him to heaven without his seeing death.

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. God is no less exacting now than He was in olden times and we do well to study it.  A solemn statement was made to ancient Israel that the man who should remain unclean and refuse to purify himself, (or rather, be purified by another) would be cut off from among the congregation. This has a special meaning for us.  If it was necessary in ancient times for the “unclean” to be purified by the sprinkling of ashes after contact with the death, how essential for those living in the perils of the last days, and exposed to the full temptations of Satan, to have the ashes of Christ applied to their hearts daily to be cleansed from them and be ready for translation.

On earth the clean person used cedar and hyssop, dipping them into the cleansing water containing the ashes, and then sprinkling the unclean.  This symbolized the life of Christ given to cleanse us from moral impurities, which can be applied by any faithful person here on earth – it does NOT need an ordained pastor or priest, for the power is in the “ashes” not the man.  (The “ashes” represent the “life” given by the Son of God [not the Son of man] “from the foundation of the world”.  Revelation 13:8.)

The repeated sprinklings in the tent illustrate the thoroughness of the work that must be accomplished for the repenting follower of God.  All that he has must be consecrated.  Not only should his own heart be washed clean and pure, but he should strive to have his family, his domestic arrangements, his property, and his entire belongings consecrated to God.  This is also explained in the various offerings, such as the “burnt” one to show the dedication of his life (Leviticus 1), the “meat [flour]” one to cover his possessions (Leviticus 2), the sacrifice of “peace” to represent “Thank You” (Leviticus 3), which was shared with as many as the offerer could get to a feast.  

***************(Begin Quote)

Numbers 19:

21 And it shall be a perpetual statute [rule] to them, that he that sprinkles the water of separation shall 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. 

***************(End Quote)

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”.  Psalm 51:7.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and RENEW a right spirit within me”. Verse 10.  “RESTORE to me the joy of Your salvation; and uphold me with Your free Spirit”.  Verse 12.  He is NOT here asking for conversion, but for a cleansing from having come into contact with “death”.

In answer to the request, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” the LORD purifies the heart very much as we air a room.  We do not close the doors and windows, and throw in some purifying substance; but we open the doors and throw wide the windows, and let heaven's purifying atmosphere flow in.  The windows of impulse, of feeling, must be opened up toward heaven, and the dust of selfishness and earthliness must be expelled.  The grace of God must sweep through the chambers of the mind, the imagination must have heavenly themes for contemplation, and every element of the nature must be purified and vitalized by the Spirit of God.  

He or she who lives the principles of Bible religion, will not be found weak in moral power.  Under the ennobling influence of the Holy Spirit, the tastes and inclinations can become pure and holy.  Nothing takes so strong a hold upon the affections, nothing reaches so fully down to the deepest motives of action, nothing exerts so potent an influence upon the life, and gives so great firmness and stability to the character, as the religion of Christ.  It leads its possessor ever upward, inspiring him or her with noble purposes, teaching decency of manners, and imparting a becoming dignity to every action.  

The Spirit of God is interested in the salvation of man, and is ready to pour out His beneficent gifts, if we will comply with the conditions Christ has made: “Come out from among them, and be you separate, says the LORD, and touch not the unclean”.  2 Corinthians 6:17.  

In the religious life of every Christian who is finally victorious there will be scenes of terrible perplexity and trial; but his or her knowledge of the Scriptures will enable each one to bring to mind the encouraging promises of God, which will comfort their hearts and strengthen their faith in the power of the Mighty One.  They will read, “. . . that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found to praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ”. 1 Peter 1:7. 

The trial of faith is more precious than gold! 

All should learn that this is a part of the discipline in the school of Christ, which is essential to purify and refine them from the dross of earthliness.  If the truths of the Bible are woven into practical life, they will bring the mind up from its earthliness and debasement, its contact with “death”.  Those who are conversant with the Scriptures will be found to be men and women who exert an elevating influence. 

In searching for the heaven-revealed truths, the sincere searcher of the Scriptures is brought into close connection with the Spirit of God.  The understanding that He gives of the revealed will of God enlarges the mind, expands, elevates, and endows it with new vigour, by bringing its faculties in contact with stupendous truths.  If the study of the Scriptures is made a secondary consideration, great loss is sustained. 

The Bible was for centuries excluded from Europe, and thus Satan found a rich field in which he worked with marvellous rapidity, and gathered a harvest to his liking.

But now it is time for the harvest of the LORD.   


The opinion is widely held that the sacrifices and offerings of the Hebrews possess no significance for Christians, and can be of no interest to them.  This opinion is without foundation.  It is true that the physical ceremonies of the Mosaic law are not now to be observed; but, when rightly understood, they are seen to be all aglow with sacred and important truths.  These rites, appointed by the LORD Himself, were like so many beacons to light up the path of God's ancient people, and to direct their minds to the great sacrifice to be offered for the sins of men.  Viewed in the light of the cross, they contain most precious lessons for the people of God today.  

Our Father 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.  After our “tent” has been sprinkled with the hyssop, over the door we could write:

“I am not my own; LORD, I am Yours”.  This is how it should be with those who profess to being cleansed by the “ashes” of Christ. 

They are efficacious, but they need to be applied often.


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 October 1st 2010,

Isaiah 11:6-9 

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid [of the goats]; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling [will be] together; and a little child shall lead them.  And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw [grass] like the ox.  And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp [a snake], and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den [another snake].  

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. 

Do these words mean that animals and pets will be in the new world?

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