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Monday, July 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 19

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-22

Numbers 19:2 . A red heifer, a young and spotless cow, which in the third year had nearly come to her full growth. The whole body of this victim was burnt with holy fire from the altar. From her ashes the water was secreted which purged from sin, and brought the unclean near to the tabernacle. The rabbins make many remarks on this sacrifice, as indeed do the prophets. They say that these ashes were conveyed to every city of Israel, and that the sprinkling was made with three sprigs of hyssop. The christian fathers also are fertile in remarks on this singular and hallowed victim, which made all the priests and levites unclean by the tragic deed, and then purified them by its mystical virtues. Augustine, Theodoret, and others affirm that these waters prefigured baptism, the outward sign of regeneration and purity. Most christian churches baptize infants; and if the sprinkling of these waters was perfect in figure, no man can condemn sprinkling with water. It is the contumacy of the wicked, not the modes of worship, which destroys the souls of men.

Numbers 19:9 . A water of separation; that is, a water of sprinkling, of expiation, of purifying, or of cleansing, as the versions read.

Numbers 19:12 . The Septuagint and other copies read, He shall be purified with it the third day, and the seventh day, and shall be clean. So Numbers 19:18-19.


We now come to the grand atoning sacrifice of the Jewish nation, a sacrifice which St. Paul has particularly noticed in the ninth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews. Seven days before this beast was burnt, the priest was secluded from society, that no ceremonial impurity might he contracted to obstruct his officiating on this most solemn occasion. The Lord required a red heifer. This might mark first, our Saviour’s name, as the second Adam, which signifies red earth, but it is more generally understood to indicate the bloody state of his body when scourged and crucified, Isaiah 63:1; and the deep and grievous colour of our sins, which are compared to scarlet and crimson. Isaiah 1:18. This heifer was to be without blemish, to indicate the spotless nature of Christ. It was to be slain without the camp; and on subsequent occasions, it was slain with a vast parade of the elders, without the gates of Jerusalem, to presignify that our Saviour should be crucified on Calvary, without the gate of the city. The victim being led without the camp, marked its great impurity, for it bore the whole iniquity of the Jewish nation; on Jesus also was laid the sins of the whole world. Leviticus 24:14. Hebrews 13:12. Let us glory in his shame, and go without the camp, bearing his reproach. The priest having slain the beast and secured the blood, next applied his burning torch to the pile, and the whole victim was consumed, to indicate that the whole humanity of Christ suffered for us. And what shall we say? Was he consumed by the unrelenting fire of justice, or was it by the flame of divine love which constrained him to devote his life for our redemption? After the victim was thus consumed, the priest proceeded to sprinkle the blood before the tabernacle seven times; and the frequency of this sprinkling not only marks the perfection of the atonement, but also that it may often be repeated to take away our sin. Here we are consequently reminded, that the theory of religion does nothing for us, unless we are actually purged with the blood of Christ. The cedar, the hyssop, and the scarlet lace, or cloth thrown into the pile, evidently associate this oblation of the victim with all the other sin-offerings in which these were used. Leviticus 14:6-7. Showing in fact, that there is but one atoning sacrifice for man, but one altar, but one redemption.

Nor were the ashes of this typical victim suffered to be trampled under foot; the heifer being but occasionally offered, its ashes were carefully preserved; and being daily mixed with running water, the congregation was sprinkled with it, and cleansed from every species of uncleanness. In this water we see the Holy Spirit conveying to our hearts and consciences the purifying merits of the Redeemer’s blood. Here justification and sanctification are joined in one act of approach to Christ by faith. And if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean Hebrew or stranger, sanctified to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge our conscience from dead works, to serve the living and the true God?

Every person who assisted at this awful sacrifice, whether priest or levite, was made unclean. This is a very remarkable circumstance, which, according to good bishop Babington, marks the great sin of those who crucified the Lord. Their crimes were of a double dye. It also shows that purification did not proceed from the burnt victim, but from the crucified Redeemer, which it presignified. They were all defiled by the dead; but we are sanctified by an approach to his covenant.

These are the highly famed waters to cleanse the Hebrew nation, and universally applied to every species of uncleanness mentioned in the levitical law. But Ezekiel, viewing in the Spirit their insufficiency, says, Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall he clean. Let us then avail ourselves of the double sprinkling here prescribed, the one on the third, and the other on the seventh day. Let us seek in Christ Jesus to be redeemed from all iniquity, to be purified to God as a peculiar people, zealous of good works. If God has cleansed our hearts from guilt, let us look for the second and great cleansing of the heart from all unrighteousness. The devout servant can never he satisfied till he resembles his Lord and Master, and is in all things conformed unto his death.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 19". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/numbers-19.html. 1835.
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