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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 19

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 2

This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke:

This is the ordinance of the law (Leviticus 4:14: cf. Hebrews 9:13) - an institution of a special nature ordained by law for the purification of sin, and provided at the public expense, because it was for the good of the whole community.

Red heifer ... This is the only case in which the colour of the victim is specified; and it has been supposed the ordinance was designed in opposition to the superstitious notions of the Egyptians (Maimonides, 'De Vacca rufa;' Hengstenberg, 'Egypt and Books of Moses,' pp. 173-180; Carpenter, 'Scripture Natural History,' p. 845; Spencer, 'De Vitula rufa'). That people never offered a vow but they sacrificed a red bull, the greatest care being taken by their priests in examining whether it possessed the requisite characteristics; and it was an annual offering to Typhon, their evil being. By the choice, both of the sex and the colour, provision was made for eradicating from the minds of the Israelites a favourite Egyptian superstition regarding two objects of their animal worship. 'The truth probably is,' says Hardwick ('Christ and other Masters,' vol. 2:, p. 338), 'that the adoption of the red colour in both cases corresponded only because of its inherent fitness to express the thought which it was made to symbolize in each community. It was the colour of blood; and while in Egypt the idea was readily connected with the deadly, scathing, sanguinary powers of Typhon, it became in the more ethical system of the Hebrews a remembrancer of moral evil flowing out into its penal consequences, or an image of unpardoned sin (cf. Isaiah 1:15; Isaiah 1:18).

Verse 3

And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, that he may bring her forth without the camp, and one shall slay her before his face:

Ye shall give her unto Eleazar. He was the second or deputy high priest, and he was selected for this duty because the execution of it entailed temporary defilement, from which the acting high priest was to be preserved with the greatest care. It was led "forth without the camp," in accordance with the law regarding victims laden with the sins of the people, and thus typical of Christ (Hebrews 13:12; also Leviticus 24:14). The priest was to sprinkle the blood "seven times" before-literally, toward or near-the tabernacle; a description which seems to imply either that he carried portion of the blood in a basin to the door of the tabernacle (Leviticus 4:17), or that in the act of sprinkling he turned his face toward the sacred edifice, being disqualified through the defiling influence of this operation from approaching close to it. By this attitude he indicated that he was presenting an expiatory sacrifice, for the acceptance of which he hoped in the grace of God, by looking to the mercy-seat.

Every part of it was consumed by fire, except the blood used in sprinkling; and the ingredients mixed with the ashes were the same as those employed in the sprinkling of lepers (see the notes at Leviticus 14:4-7) 'The place at which the red heifer was burnt to ashes, in later times, was situated at the east terminus of the double-arched causeway that spanned the Kedron, reaching from Moriah to Olivet, in front of the gate Shushan. It was vaulted below for fear of pollution, like the southeast corner of the temple and the notable places in the city, for raising "clean persons" (Barclay's 'City of the Great King,' p. 63). The purifying liquid was a water of separation - i:e., of "sanctification" for the people of Israel.

Verses 4-6

And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before the tabernacle of the congregation seven times:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 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.

The priest shall be unclean until the even. The ceremonies prescribed show the imperfection of the Levitical priesthood, while they typify the condition of Christ when expiating our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Verses 8-10

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

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 11-22

He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days.

He that toucheth the dead body of any man. This law is noticed here to show the uses to which the water of separation was applied. The case of a death is one; and as in every family which sustained a bereavement the members of the household became defiled, so in an immense population, where instances of mortality and other cases of uncleanness would be daily occurring, the water of separation must have been in constant requisition. To afford the necessary supply of the cleansing mixture, the Jewish writers say that red heifer was sacrificed every year, and that the ashes, mingled with the sprinkling ingredients, were distributed through all the cities and towns of Israel.

Verse 12. Purify himself ... the third day. The necessity of applying the water on the third day is inexplicable on any natural or moral ground; and therefore the regulation has been generally supposed to have had a typical reference to the resurrection, on that day, of Christ, by whom His people are sanctified; while the process of ceremonial purification, being extended over seven days, was intended to show that sanctification is progressive and incomplete until the arrival of the eternal Sabbath. Everyone knowingly and presumptuously neglecting to have himself sprinkled with this water was guilty of an offence which was presumptuously neglecting to have himself sprinkled with this water was guilty of an offence which was punished by excommunication.

Verse 14. When a man dieth in a tent ... The instances adduced appear very minute and trivial; but important ends both of a religious and of a sanitary nature were promoted by carrying the idea of pollution from contact with dead bodies to so great an extent (see the note at Numbers 31:19). While it would effectually prevent that Egyptianized race of Israelites imitating the superstitious custom of the Egyptians, who kept in their houses the mummied remains of their ancestors, it ensured a speedy interment to all; thus not only keeping burial-places at a distance, but removing from the habitations of the living the corpses of persons who died from infectious disorders, and from the open field the unburied remains of strangers and foreigners who fell in battle.

Verse 21. He that sprinkleth ... he that toucheth the water of separation. The opposite effects ascribed to the water of separation-of cleansing one person and defiling another-are very singular, and not capable of very satisfactory explanation. One important lesson, however, was thus taught, that its purifying efficacy was not inherent in itself, but arose from the divine appointment, as in other ordinances of religion, which are effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them or in him that administers them, but solely through the grace of God communicated thereby.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 19". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/numbers-19.html. 1871-8.
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