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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 19

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

Verses 1-10

The Preparation of the Water

v. 1. And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,

v. 2. This is the ordinance of the Law, the most important statute of instruction dealing with Levitical purification, which the Lord hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, of a solid color, wherein is no blemish, no disease or defect of any kind, and upon which never came yoke, all these points being traits of the freshest life, of the fullness of strength;

v. 3. and ye shall give her unto Eleazar, the priest, that he may bring her forth without the camp, since the entire rite was connected most closely with the defilement of death and could therefore not take place in the court of the Tabernacle, and one shall slay her before his face;

v. 4. and Eleazar, the priest, as the presumptive successor of his father in the office of high priest, shall take of her blood with his finger, after it had been brought to the Sanctuary and kept from coagulating by constant stirring, and sprinkle of her blood directly before the Tabernacle of the Congregation seven times. By this rite the slain animal became a sacrifice, a sin-offering. In order to remind the congregation that death is the wages of sin, this antidote against the uncleanness of death was taken from a sin-offering. The life of the slain beast, sacrificed for the sin of the congregation, was thus delivered to the Lord, to signify that death itself was rendered powerless by the death of this most perfect blooming life.

v. 5. And one shall burn the heifer in his sight, Eleazar, as before, being responsible for the proper execution of everything connected with the sacrifice: her skin and her flesh and her blood with her dung shall he burn;

v. 6. and the priest shall take cedar-wood, which was a symbol of inexhaustible strength of life, and hyssop, to which were ascribed purifying properties, and scarlet, which typified the intensive power of life, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer, in order to make the ashes represent everything that was full of the highest life and strength, the very essence of indestructive power.

v. 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, as having handled, symbolically at least, the uncleanness of death.

v. 8. And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even, for the same reason as the priest.

v. 9. And a man that is clean, Levitically pure, shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, for they were now a most precious treasure, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, store them up most carefully, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation, to prepare a water intended to remove certain defilements.

v. 10. And he that gathereth the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even, for he also became Levitically defiled by the performance of this task; and it shall be unto the children of Israel and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them for a statute forever; the special rites connected with the water of purification as prepared with the ashes were to be observed as long as the Levitical priesthood and its ordinances would endure. The Lord at all times wants pure and holy people as His servants.

Verses 11-22

The Use of the Water

v. 11. He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days. It made no difference what the age of the dead person was or what relationship existed, the one that touched the dead body was defiled.

v. 12. He shall purify himself with it, the water of purification, on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean; but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean. Neglect in complying with the rules simply lengthened the time needed for purification.

v. 13. Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, of any soul, no matter of what age and sex, and purifleth not himself, deflleth the Tabernacle of the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel; a refusal to comply with the rules resulted in death to the offender; because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him. Unless atonement was made, such a person forfeited his life.

v. 14. This is the law when a man dieth in a tent: all that come into the tent and all that is in the tent shall be unclean seven days.

v. 15. And every open vessel which hath no covering bound upon it, tied firmly to it by means of a string or cord, to keep out the odor of decay, is unclean.

v. 16. And whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, even for the purpose of burial, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. It was for this reason that the Jewish elders were so strict about marking the graves, especially shortly before a large festival, lest some one inadvertently touch such a grave and be defiled. Cf Matthew 23:27.

v. 17. And for an unclean person, one defiled in the manner just described, they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto, added to and mixed with the ashes, in a vessel;

v. 18. and a clean person shall take hyssop, on account of the cleansing powers ascribed to it, and dip it in the water, as thus prepared, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, a skeleton, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave;

v. 19. and the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he, the defiled person, shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even.

v. 20. And the man that shall be unclean and shall not purify himself, deliberately and willfully neglect the act of purification, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation, as the Lord here repeats for the sake of emphasis, because he hath defiled the Sanctuary of the Lord; the water of separation hath not been sprinkled upon him; he is unclean.

v. 21. And it shall be a perpetual statute unto them, that he that sprinkleth the water of separation shall wash his clothes; and he that toucheth the water of separation shall be unclean until even, both having come in contact with the uncleanness of death in the rite of purification.

v. 22. And whatsoever the unclean person toucheth shall be unclean; and the soul that toucheth it, the water of purification, shall be unclean until even. These rites of external purification were symbols of the inner, spiritual cleansing which should be found in all true believers. "The ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh; how much more shall the blood of Christ. . purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God!" Hebrews 9:13-14. The water of purification is also a type of the water of Baptism, for by having our souls sprinkled from an evil conscience, we have boldness to enter into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, Hebrews 10:19-22.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Numbers 19". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/numbers-19.html. 1921-23.
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