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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 19

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-10


Verses 1-10:

The Red Heifer Offering was designed for the cleansing of those who became defiled by contact with a dead body, see Le 11:24-40; 17:15.

The Red Heifer sacrifice for cleansing was necessary, because of the enormous incidence of death during the period of Israel’s wilderness wandering. The census revealed that there were 603,550 males of Israel twenty years old and upward at the time of the sin at Kadesh. All but two of these died during the 38-year period of wandering. This is an average of 43.5 deaths per day for each of the 13,870 days of this time.

The Red Heifer Offering was a model of simplicity, in contrast to the elaborate and expensive ritual of the other offerings made at the Tabernacle. A heifer was the least valuable of all sacrificial cattle. Red was the most common color of cattle. Only three priests were required to officiate: the high priest or his representative to observe, one to slaughter the animal, and another to gather the ashes.

In spite of its simplicity, the offering demanded perfection. The heifer was to be without blemish. Later Jewish tradition held that even three white hairs in the animal’s coat would render it unfit for the sacrifice. The holiness of the sacrifice was evident in that the ashes were to be "laid up" in a "clean place" outside the camp.

The simplicity of the sacrifice was such that it could be readily afforded by all.

Only one animal was required for the entire nation, in contrast to the hundreds of sacrificial animals brought to the altar before the Tabernacle.

In this text, Eleazar was the one commanded to officiate. A reason for this might be that he was to become the successor to Aaron as high priest, and he had already begun to assume some of the duties of that office.

The sacrifice was to be offered outside the boundaries of the camp. This may symbolize the sacrifice of Jesus "without the gate," Heb 13:12, 13, and the exhortation for His own to identify with Him even though it may mean rejection by men.

The heifer was to be slaughtered, and part of the blood was to be sprinkled "seven times" in the direction of the Tabernacle, in recognition that the sacrifice was offered to Him who dwells therein. "Seven" is the number of completion or perfection, Le 4:17. The remainder of the blood was to be poured upon the burning carcass of the heifer. The entire animal was to be burned, including the hair, hide, and all refuse.

Cedar, hyssop, and scarlet dye were to be cast into the fire of the sacrifice. For the significance of this, see comments on Le 14:4-6.

The priest who officiated at this ceremony became unclean by his contact with the carcass of the sacrifice. He was to follow the ritual for cleansing, and was considered to be unclean until sunset of that day.

A man who was ceremonially clean was to gather the ashes of the sacrifice, and lay them up for safe-keeping in a clean place outside the camp. This man was then considered to be unclean, and must follow the purification ritual.

"Separation," niddah, also translated "impurity," Le 20:21; "flowers (menstruous separation)," Le 15:24, 33. The term denotes separation caused by ceremonial defilement.

The Red Heifer Offering teaches that cleansing from ceremonial defilement could be effected without coming to the Tabernacle. This pictures the Christian’s daily cleansing from sin’s defilement apart from any church ritual.

Verses 11-16

Verses 11-16:

Instruction was given prior to this time, regarding defilement by contact with the dead, Le 21:1; Nu 5:2; 6:6; 9:6, 7. The present text provides additional details regarding the time involved, and the consequences of this uncleanness.

"It" (verse 12) refers to the water of separation (verse 9).

One who became defiled by contact with a corpse must follow the purification ritual precisely. The period of separation was to last for seven days. But he must purify himself with the "water of separation" on the "third day" after he began the rite, or he would not become clean the seventh day.

On the defilement of the Tabernacle, see Le 15:31.

A tent housing a corpse was considered unclean for seven days. Any open or uncovered vessel in this tent was also unclean.

Any contact with a corpse, or even with a bone or a grave, rendered one unclean.

Health and sanitation may be one reason for the importance placed upon contact with a dead body, or anything touched by death. Disease germs could have been spread by this contact, bringing a deadly plague among the people. A strict quarantine must be enforced.

Verses 17-22

Verses 17-22:

This text prescribes the manner in which the "water of separation" was to be used in the purification ritual. The ashes of the Red Heifer Offering were to be mixed with water from a stream, a spring, or an artesian well. One who was clean was then to sprinkle this water upon the unclean, using a sprig of hyssop. This was to be done twice: once on the third day, and again the seventh day.

Following the sprinkling of the water on the seventh day, both the one who was unclean, and the one who officiated with the water were to bathe, and wash their clothes. At sunset on that day, they would both be reckoned clean.

The Red Heifer Offering is alluded to in Heb 9:13, 14.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Numbers 19". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/numbers-19.html. 1985.
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