The Red Heifer

Its Ashes


Dr. John Hoole – April 14, 2013




In today’s lesson, we are going to look at 5 things:


         1.  The Red Heifer itself


         2.  The offering of the Red Heifer


         3.  The Ashes of the Red Heifer


         4.  The Cleansing of the Red Heifer’s ashes


         5.  The Red Heifer as a type of Christ


Before hearing about it in the last several lessons, how many of you had never heard of the Ashes of the Red Heifer?  Many Christians never have.


There are only two chapters in the Bible that speak of the “Ashes of the Red Heifer.”  - Numbers 19 and Hebrews 9.  There are, however, other passages that seem to allude to this ceremonially cleansing ritual.


Someone might ask, “what importance does this ritual have upon the Jews today?”  The answer is given twice in Numbers 19.  In both verses 10 & 21, this ritual is said to be an “Eternal Statute” for the Jews.  And, in verse 9, we are given the reason for this practice


Numbers 19:9 NKJV


9       Then 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.


As we noted in a recent lesson, the Jews believe there are 613 laws (mizvot) given in the Torah. 248 of them are mandatory laws – things that must be done.  365 are prohibitionary laws – things that must NOT be done.  There were 18 Mandatory Laws which dealt with “Ritual (or Ceremonial) Purity.”


Numbers 19:14-16 declared that “touching the corpse of a dead person, or even their bone or grave” causes defilement.  That makes a person unclean and needing a cleansing.  And such defilement lasts for 7 days.


All Jews, including all priests are today considered ceremonially unclean.  And without ceremonial purification, no one is able to perform priestly duties.  This ceremony of purification requires ashes from the sacrifice of a particular type of Red Heifer.  It is through the ashes of the red heifer that an unclean person is made clean.


The ceremony of the Red Heifer is found in Numbers 19.  All 22 verses of this chapter speaks to the required cleansing that comes from the ashes of the red heifer.  Let’s read the first 8 verses.


Numbers 19:1-8 NIV


1       The LORD said to Moses and Aaron:

2       "This is a requirement of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke.

3       Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence.

4       Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting.

5       While he watches, the heifer is to be burned--its hide, flesh, blood and offal.

6       The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer.

7       Then 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.

8       And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening.


Temple worship cannot be established today without the Ashes of the Red Heifer being used to cleanse both the Temple and the Priesthood.  This is the only sacrifice in the Torah that specifically required an animal of a particular color.  PARAH ADUMA – Red Heifer:  Parah = Cow (female), Aduma = Red.


I find it curious that the red heifer sacrifice was one of very few for which God demanded a female animal.  Almost all others sacrifices, where an animal is involved, were male animals.  This was the only sacrifice where all the rituals were carried out outside the camp, and later, outside the Temple complex.  That is, the “blood application” of this sacrifice occurred at a location apart from the Brazen Altar of Sacrifice near the entrance to the Temple.


A flawless red heifer is an extremely rare find.  Almost all cattle have some imperfections in their coloring.  The Talmud states that even one white hair would disqualify the heifer for this sacrifice.  According to orthodox Jews, there hasn’t been a flawless red heifer born in the land of Israel for over 1945 years.  A scroll found by archaeologists, and currently in Amman, Jordan, states that the last red heifer was sacrificed in AD 68.


In recent years, there have been several red heifers which were recorded in their earlier years as flawless.  One was born in 1997 and another in 2002, but both were disqualified when a white hair was noticed.  Another born in February 2011 is now being watched as a possible red heifer.  A number of rabbis have found her to be kosher, which means this heifer could be a candidate to be used in the purification process.  It must grow to be 3 years old before it can be used ceremonially.  And it must remain flawless.


As stated earlier, finding a pure Red Heifer is rare.  The Jewish Mishnah states that only 9 flawless red heifers had been born from the time of Moses to AD 70, when the Second Temple was destroyed.  That is a timespan of more than 1,500 years.  The Mishnah also records who the High Priest was at the time of each Red Heifer sacrifice.  The very first Red Heifer was processed by Moses and Aaron.


Numbers 19:1 NKJV


         1       Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying,


Verse 3 then states they were to give the flawless Red Heifer to Eleazar the priest.  Eleazar is the son of Aaron, and the person next in line to become the High Priest.  The High Priest at the time of the subsequent Red Heifer sacrifices are:


•  Ezra was the second, during the days of the First Temple.  During the entire era of the Second Temple, only 7 more sacrifices of the Red Heifer were conducted.


•  Simon the Just – Twice.


•  Yochanan – Twice.


•  El'yhoeini ben Hakof

•  Chanamel HaMitzri


•  Yishmael ben Pi'avi


         The ashes of any Red Heifer sacrifice was added to the remaining ashes of previous red heifers.


The aim of this particular sacrifice was to purify someone from the defilement of death.  And yet, we are told the young priest who obediently completed the sacrifice of the Red Heifer, became defiled (unclean) himself until the evening of the day of the sacrifice.  To say it another way, It was the only sacrifice that ritually contaminated the priest who offered it, but made the one who was sprinkled by it clean.


One commentary sates that this sacrifice “purifies the impure, and at the same time renders impure the pure.”  The Jewish Talmud says that even Solomon in all his wisdom despaired of ever learning the meaning of divine laws regarding the red heifer sacrifice.


Despite the fact that the water of purification produced from the ashes of the red heifer were absolutely essential for the cleansing of any Jew about to enter the Temple, even the celebrated wisdom of King Solomon failed to fully understand the nature of the red heifer sacrifice.  When Solomon wrote, in Ecclesiastes 7:23, “I said, I will be wise, but it was far from me,” the Jewish Mishneh claimed that he was alluding to his inability to comprehend the paradoxes connected with God law of the Red Heifer sacrifice.  The fact that the priest conducting the sacrifice was himself made unclean by it, and yet the product of that sacrifice would cleanse all others, was even beyond the ability of Solomon, to understand.


Another interesting fact of this sacrifice is that it was not conducted on a set schedule like many others.  The sacrifices made at the brazen altar before the entrance of the Temple was often for the sins of an individual who brought his/her sacrifice to the temple.  The red heifer sacrifice was not for an individual.  Unlike other sacrifices where the blood of the animal was captured, the blood of the Red Heifer was included as part of the sacrifice.  The only exception is that during this sacrifice, the priest who kills the red heifer is instructed to dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle some of it towards the entrance to the Temple seven time.  It was the only sacrifice where the ashes were preserved and used later.  Other sacrifices required the ashes be disposed outside the camp.


And, not only did the heifer have to be 100 percent red, it could not have had a yoke laid upon its neck.  With regard to this being a type of Christ, it signifies the voluntary offer of Himself for us.  Christ had never before carried the burden, the yoke, of sin.  But Isaiah 53:6 tells us that God “laid on Him (Christ) the iniquity of us all.”


I need to also say that NOT all Jews today view the birth of a flawless red heifer with the same joy.  Secular, or Liberal, Jews have gone on record as wishing the young cow would just disappear.  Some have even suggested that it be destroyed to avoid a potential war.


Some of the world’s media covered this story more as a joke.  But it wasn’t a laughing matter to David Landau, columnist for the Liberal Israeli newspaper, the Daily Haaretz.  He called the red heifer “a four-legged bomb,” that could “set the entire region on fire.”  He was suggesting they just shoot the cow.


Arabs, who control the Temple Mount, are nervous because they believe the Jews will use the heifer as an excuse to destroy the Islamic Dome of the Rock.


Earlier, I mentioned that while there are only two chapters in the Bible that reference the Red Heifer, there are allusions to it in other passages without mentioning the heifer.  First, let’s read a couple verses in the Red Heifer chapter.


Numbers 19:20-21 NKJV


20     'But the man who is unclean and does not purify himself, that person shall be cut off from among the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. The water of purification has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean.

21     It shall be a perpetual statute for them. He who sprinkles the water of purification shall wash his clothes; and he who touches the water of purification shall be unclean until evening.


The phrase “water of purification” is mentioned three times in these two verses.  It is also found twice earlier in the chapter, in verses 9 & 13.  Of the five times this phrase is used in this chapter, 3 also mention it being sprinkled on a person to cleanse them.


What we have here is the ashes of the red heifer, along with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet material.  All of these ingredients are burned.  So where does the water come from?  Verse 17 gives us the answer.  They are to “put some ashes from the purification offering into a jar and pour running water over it.”  A branch or twig of hyssop is then dipped into the solution to be sprinkled over a person or object to purify them.


We find something similar in Ezekiel 36 that most probably is a reference to the ashes of the red heifer and the water of purification.  Ezekiel 36 & 37 are passages speaking of the last day gathering of the Jews to their homeland.  Chapter 37 is the passage that speaks of the dry bones being brought back to life.  I want to read a few verses from chapter 36.


Ezekiel 36:24-27 NKJV


24     For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.

25     Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.

26     I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

27     I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.


This reference to the water that is sprinkled on the end-time Jews certainly appears to have the Ashes of the Red Heifer and if purification in mind.


Another Scriptural example of the ritual of the Red Heifer is found in the Psalms.  The Hyssop plant was part of the ingredients of this sacrifice.  A twig of Hyssop was also used in sprinkling the “water of purification.”


We find this mentioned in Psalm51, where King David repents of his adultery with Bathsheba and the killing of Uriah, her husband.


Psalms 51:7 NKJV

7       Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Even with a qualified red heifer, a sacrifice cannot be made until there is an already-qualified priest to sacrifice it.  The solution for this is already underway.  In 1998, Rabbi Elboim began searching for 20 couples who would be willing to dedicate their yet unborn male children to a special program designed to produce a purified priesthood.  Some parents have agreed to this proposal.


One plan is to take  these newborn boys to a secluded compound in the Jerusalem hills, where they would be brought up in a specially construction building with a floor that has been elevated to prevent contact with the ground.  The reason for this is that the ground could have been, in the past, an unmarked grave, which would cause defilement.  The seclusion would prevent these boys from being ritually contaminated.  When they reach their 13th birthday, they will be qualified to burn the red heifer and distribute its ashes.


Before these young men can exercise the rites of the priesthood, and before Temple worship can begin, the Jewish people need to regain access to the Temple Mount.


However the battle may begin or be resolved that will allow the Jews access to the Mount, we know that events must lead to the building of a Third Temple somewhere early in the Tribulation period.




Earlier, I mentioned that Hebrews 9 is the only other place where the ashes of the Red Heifer is mentioned.


Hebrews 9:13-14 NIV


13     The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.

14     How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!


The book of Hebrews suggests that the sacrifice of the ashes of the red heifer and the resulting water of purification are a symbol of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.  In an analogous fashion, Christ “became sin for us” during His sacrifice on the Cross in order that we might become the righteousness of Christ.


1.       The heifer is a rare find.  Jesus Christ is unlike any other person who walked on this earth.  No one is like our Lord.  For several days prior to His death, our Lord had been inspected by the priest and rulers, only to have one of them say, “I find no fault in Him.”


2.       The red heifer must be without blemish throughout their entire life.  Christ was without blemish, in that He never sinned during his life.  He who was clean became contaminated by offering Himself as sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).


3.       The red heifer was taken outside the camp to be slaughtered.  Christ was, according to Hebrews 13:12, slain “outside the gate.”


4.       The red heifer was a means of cleansing for all people.  Jesus gave his life and blood for all people.  Any that submit to His cleansing will be made white as snow.


5.       The blood of the red heifer was part of the sacrifice.  The blood of Jesus was also part of the sacrifice.  His sprinkling makes us clean.


1 Peter 1:1-2 NKJV


1       Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,

2       elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.


6.       The red heifer was taken by a clean person to a ceremonially clean place outside the camp.  It was Joseph of Aramathea and Nicodemus who delivered the Lord’s body to it resting place, which was an undefiled tomb in which no man had ever been laid.


One thing that strike me about the acts of Joseph and Nicodemus, is that they were willing to become unclean themselves, so that others could become clean through Christ.