Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 19

Bridgeway Bible CommentaryBridgeway Bible Commentary

Verses 1-22

More laws about cleansing (19:1-22)

God had told the people earlier that any who came in contact with a dead body were to be considered ceremonially unclean. They had to be ceremonially cleansed with water before they could again mix in the community or join in public worship. (For the significance of the laws of cleansing see introductory notes to Leviticus 11:1-33.)

Israel now received instructions concerning the preparation of the water to be used in the cleansing ritual. First of all a healthy young cow was killed, after which its blood was ritually sprinkled. The meaning was that the animal, symbolically perfect, bore the consequences of sin and uncleanness. Its carcass was then burnt and its ashes were kept in a special place to be mixed with pure water (v. 17) to form the water of cleansing. All who took part in the killing and burning of the animal were themselves ceremonially unclean for the remainder of the day (19:1-10).
The water of cleansing gained its symbolic power from the ashes of the sacrificial animal mixed with it. The ashes were proof of the animal’s death, by which the curse of sin was removed. In the cleansing ritual, the priest sprinkled the water over the person being cleansed (11-13). The tent of a dead person, along with its contents, was unclean, and the cleansing ritual again included sprinkling with the water of cleansing. Objects likely to contain some impurity, such as uncovered containers and even graves, made any person who contacted them unclean (14-19).
Uncleanness spread to anyone or anything that the unclean person touched. This was further reason for people to make sure they obeyed all the laws relating to cleanness and uncleanness (20-22).

The cleansing ritual may have been useful in teaching that sin and death kept people from God’s presence, but it was unable to bring more than ceremonial cleansing. It cleansed externally in the sense that it removed the results of physical contact with unclean things, but it could not cleanse the conscience or remove the results of sin. Only the death of Jesus Christ could do that (Hebrews 9:13-14; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 1:2; 1 Peter 1:2).

Bibliographical Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Numbers 19". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bbc/numbers-19.html. 2005.
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