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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 19

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-22


“Ordinances respecting purification from the uncleanness of death.”

The association of death with sin (Genesis 2:17) sufficiently explains the ideas on which these ordinances are based. The principle that death and all pertaining to it, as being the manifestation and result of sin, are defiling, and so lead to interruption of the living relationship between God and His people, is not now introduced for the first time, nor is it at all peculiar to the Mosaic law. It was, on the contrary, traditional amongst the Israelites from the earliest times, is assumed in various enactments made already (cf. Numbers 5:2; Numbers 9:6, sqq.; Leviticus 10:1; Leviticus 10:7; Leviticus 11:8; Leviticus 11:11; Leviticus 11:24; Leviticus 21:1, sqq.), and is traceable in various forms amongst many nations of antiquity.…

The rites of purifying prescribed amongst these various nations have points of similarity to those laid down in this chapter; and indeed sprinklings and washings would naturally form a part in them all (cf. ch. Numbers 8:7) Moses then adopted here, as elsewhere, existing and ancient customs, with significant additions, as helps in the spiritual education of his people.

The ordinance was probably given at this time because the plague, which happened (Numbers 16:46-50) about the matter of Korah, had spread the defilement of death so widely through the camp as to seem to require some special measures of purification, more particularly as the deaths through it were in an extraordinary manner the penalty of sin. Occasion is accordingly taken to introduce a new ordinance on the whole subject, which might serve to re-assure the affrighted people at the time, supply a ready means of relief from this sort of uncleanness for the future, and by the typical character of its new elements, provide a vehicle for important instruction as to a more real Atonement afterwards to be revealed.”—Speaker’s Comm.

Numbers 19:2. The ordinance of the law. Keil and Del.: “A ‘statute of instruction,’ or law-statute. This combination of the two words commonly used for law and statute, which is only met with again in Numbers 31:21, and there, as here, in connection with a rule relating to purification from the uncleanness of death, is probably intended to give emphasis to the design of the law about to be given, to point it out as one of great importance.”

Red heifer “פָּרָה is not a cow generally, but a young cow, a heifer, δάμαλις (LXX), juvenca, between the calf and the full-grown cow.… The sacrificial animal was not to be a bullock, as in the case of the ordinary sin-offering of the congregation (Leviticus 4:14), but a female, because the female sex is the bearer of life (Genesis 3:20), a פָּרָה, i.e., lit., the fruit-bringing; and of a red colour, not because the blood-red colour points to sin, but as the colour of the most ‘intensive life,’ which has its seat in the blood, and shows itself in the red colour of the face (the cheeks and lips); and one ‘upon which no yoke had ever come,’ i.e., whose vital energy had not yet been crippled by labour under the yoke. Lastly, like all the sacrificial animals, it was to be uninjured and free from faults, inasmuch as the idea of representation, which lay at the foundation of all the sacrifices, but more especially of the sin-offerings, demanded natural sinlessness and original purity, quite as much as imputed sin and transferred uncleanness. Whilst the last-mentioned prerequisite showed that the victim was well fitted for bearing sin, the other attributes indicated the fulness of life and power in their highest forms, and qualified it to form a powerful antidote to death As thus appointed to furnish a re-agent against death and mortal corruption, the sacrificial animal was to possess throughout, viz., in colour, in sex, and in the character of its body, the fulness of life in its greatest freshness and vigour.”—Keil and Del.

Numbers 19:3. Unto Eleazar. Not unto Aaron, the high priest, because the ordinance was closely connected with death and the uncleanness arising therefrom, and such uncleanness the high priest was commanded to avoid (Leviticus 21:11).

Without the camp, because the defilement was regarded as transferred to the sacrificial animal.

Slay her. It was not the business of the priest to slay her, but she was to be slain “before his face.”

Numbers 19:4. Sprinkle of her blood directly, &c. The priest was to sprinkle the blood in the direction of the front of the tabernacle.

Seven times. Seven indicating perfection. Comp. Leviticus 4:6; Leviticus 4:17.

Numbers 19:5. Burn the heifer, &c. “The defilement, being external, extended to the whole body of the animal: hence the propriety of burning the victim entire and everything connected with it.”—Speaker’s Comm.

Numbers 19:6. Cedar-wood and hyssop, &c. “In this sacrifice, the blood, which was generally poured out at the foot of the altar, was burned along with the rest, and the ashes to be obtained were impregnated with the substance thereof. But in order still further to increase the strength of these ashes, which were already well fitted to serve as a powerful antidote to the corruption of death, as being the incorruptible residuum of the sin-offering which had not been destroyed by the fire, cedar-wood was thrown into the fire, as the symbol of the incorruptible continuance of life; and hyssop, as the symbol of purification from the corruption of death; and scarlet-wool, the deep red of which shadowed forth the strongest vital energy—(see Leviticus 14:6)—so that the ashes might be regarded as the quintessence of all that purified and strengthened life, refined and sublimated by the fire.” (Leyrer.)—Keil and Del.

Numbers 19:7-10. All who had to do with the heifer or her ashes became unclean until the evening, because of the defilement of sin and death which had been transferred to her. Comp. Leviticus 16:21-22; Leviticus 16:26.

Numbers 19:11. Unclean seven days. “How low does this lay man! He who touched a dead beast was only unclean for one day (Leviticus 11:24; Leviticus 11:27; Leviticus 11:39); but he who touches a dead man is unclean for seven days. This was certainly designed to mark the peculiar impurity of man, and to show his sinfulness—seven times worse than the vilest animal! O thou son of the morning, how art thou fallen!”—Adam Clarke, LL.D.

Numbers 19:17. Running water shall be put, &c. Heb. as in margin: “Living waters shall be given.” “The waters of wells and fountains are called living waters, and are very much esteemed” (Leviticus 14:5; Leviticus 14:50; Numbers 19:17).—John Jahn, D.D.

Numbers 19:19. On the third day and on the seventh day. The double purification indicates the depth of the defilement which was to be removed.

Numbers 19:20. That soul shall be cut off, &c. This is repeated here from Numbers 19:13, to render the warning more impressive. Some interpret the phrase as meaning cut off by death; others, cut off by exclusion from the political and religious privileges of the nation. “In Exodus 31:14-15, death is prescribed as the manner of cutting off from among the people the Sabbath-breaker; see also Numbers 35:2. In Leviticus 17:4, cutting off from among the people is the penalty of killing a clean beast and not bringing it as an offering; but in Numbers 24:17, ‘He that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.’ (See also Exodus 21:12; Numbers 35:31.) In Leviticus 18:29, cutting of is the punishment for unnatural crime; in Exodus 22:19, death. So that it would appear as if cutting off generally, but not always, implied death at man’s hand.”—H. Alford, D.D., on Genesis 17:14.

(Whole Chapter.)

Let us consider—

I. The defiling nature of sin.

On this point the chapter suggests—

1. Sin is defiling in its nature. A dead body and everything pertaining thereto are represented as polluting those who came near to them. Death, and the corruption arising from it, are set forth as a Parable of sin and its influence. Most of the deaths which occurred in the wilderness were literally the punishment of sin. Thousands died by the plague on account of their rebellion (Numbers 16:49). The whole of one generation, with very few exceptions, was doomed to die in the desert because of unbelief (Numbers 14:28-30). Thus death would speak to them of the sin which caused it. Sin is a polluting thing. It defiles the soul even in its purest affections; it corrupts its principles; it poisons its motives, &c. No one can have anything to do with sin without incurring contamination.

2. The defiling power of sin is of great virulence. “The extreme virulence of the uncleanness is taught by the regulations that the victim should be wholly consumed outside the camp, whereas generally certain parts were consumed on the altar, and the offal only outside the camp (comp. Leviticus 4:11-12); that the blood was sprinkled towards and not before the sanctuary; that the officiating minister should be neither the high-priest, nor yet simply a priest, but the presumptive high priest, the office being too impure for the first, and too important for the second; that even the priest and the person that burnt the heifer were rendered unclean by reason of their contact with the victim; and, lastly, that the purification should be effected, not simply by the use of water, but of water mixed with ashes, which served as a lye, and would therefore have peculiarly cleansing properties.” The virulence of the uncleanness is also manifest in the ways in which it was incurred. If a person entered a tent, wherein anyone had died, before it was purified (Numbers 19:14), or touched the bone of a dead man, or a grave (Numbers 19:16), he became unclean; and if he, before his purification, touched anyone, the person so touched also became unclean (Numbers 19:22). We have in this a striking parable of the virulence of the contagion of sin. Association with sinners is perilous. Man’s safety is in loathing sin and shunning it in all its forms. (a).

3. The defiling power of sin is wide-spread. Death was present in the tent, and in the open field. The Israelite that would avoid its contamination had need to exercise constant watchfulness. Sin surrounds us. In this world the moral atmosphere is infected with it. The danger of contamination is great and constant. In our amusements, in literature, in society, in business, in politics, in every department of life, sin is present and active.

II. The necessity of cleansing from sin.

The legislation of this chapter was based upon that necessity. If any person failed to cleanse himself from the pollution of death, he was “cut off from among the congregation,” he was excluded from the society, and deprived of the privileges of his nation. If sin be not cleansed from the soul, it will prove its ruin. The presence and blessing of God are indispensable to our spiritual well being. But sin separates the soul from God (comp. Isaiah 59:2; Colossians 1:21), and so cuts it off from the great Source of life and light. Sin excludes from the fellowship of the people of God. Generally and as a rule it does so in this world; the Church of Christ should be pure, and striving for perfect purity. Sin invariably and infallibly excludes from Heaven (Revelation 21:27). We must get rid of sin or be utterly undone.

III. The provision for cleansing from sin.

Regarding this as illustrated by the arrangements for cleansing those who were defiled by death, we notice—

1. It is Divine in its origin. God instituted this cleansing ordinance of the Red Heifer; “the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, This is the ordinance,” &c. The provision for spiritual cleansing is of God. The idea of getting rid of sin came from Him. The sacrifice by which it is put away He bestowed. The agencies which are used in the work He instituted. He gave His Son, His Spirit, Gospel ministries, &c. Human salvation is of Divine origin.

2. It involves the sacrifice of the most perfect life. The directions concerning the sacrificial victim, given in Numbers 19:2, as to its sex, its colour, and its non-acquaintance with the yoke, all point to intensity and fulness of life and power (see Explanatory Notes on Numbers 19:2). Further, it was to be perfect: “wherein is no blemish.” Moreover the “cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet,” which were burnt with the heifer, indicated strength and continuance of life, and purifying power (see Explanatory Notes on Numbers 19:6). All this clearly points to the perfect sacrifice of the perfect life of Jesus Christ. His was the pre-eminent life. “In Him was life.” “As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.” His was the perfect life. “He offered Himself without spot to God.” He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” (b). “By His self-sacrifice, which exhibits the most perfect obedience and utter devotion to the will of God, and the fullest, sublimest expression of the love of God, Christ cleanseth the souls of men from sin. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Here is the all sufficient and the only true provision for purifying the soul of man from moral defilement. (c)

3. It is invariable in its efficacy. “He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean” (Numbers 19:12). “And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day,” &c. “If the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth 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 your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Who shall say “how much more”? The blood of Christ cleanseth completely from all sin all who seek Him in faith.

IV. The application of the provision for cleansing from sin.

The Israelite who was defiled by the dead must purify himself with the “water of separation.” “A clean person must take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day,” in order that he may be purified. If this were not done, the existence of the provision for cleansing, so far from profiting him, would rather be the occasion of condemnation; he refuses the means of cleansing provided for him, and he “shall be cut off from among the congregation” (Numbers 19:20). And if Christ be not received by faith He will profit us nothing. “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.” “Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life.” If we believe not on Him, we shall not only not be cleansed and saved from sin, but shall be condemned for unbelief (comp. John 3:18; John 3:36). On Him let us believe; for He alone can cleanse and save us. (d)


(a) The impious lives of the wicked are as contagious as the most fearful plague that infects the air. When the doves of Christ lie among such pots, their yellow feathers are stilled. You may observe that in the oven the fine bread frequently hangs upon the coarse; but the coarse very seldom adheres to the fine. If you mix an equal portion of sour vinegar and sweet wine together, you will find that the vinegar will sooner sour the wine, than the wine sweeten the vinegar. That is a sound body that continues healthy in a pest-house. It is a far greater wonder to see a saint maintain his purity among sinners, than it is to behold a sinner becoming pure among saints. Christians are not always like fish, which retain their freshness in a salt sea; or like the rose, which preserves its sweetness among the most noisome weeds; or like the fire, which burns the hottest when the season is coldest. A good man was once heard to lament, “that as often as he went into the company of the wicked, be returned less a man from them than he was before he joined with them.” The Lord’s people, by keeping evil company, are like persons who are much exposed to the sun, insensibly tanned.—William Seeker.

(b) When you contemplate the Saviour, you find all the virtues enshrined in Him; other men are stars, but He is a constellation, nay, He is the whole universe of stars gathered into one galaxy of splendour; other men are gems and jewels, but He is the crown imperial where every jewel glitters; other men furnish but a part of the picture, and the background is left, or else there is something in the foreground that is but roughly touched, but He furnishes the whole; not the minutest portion is neglected; the character is perfect and matchless. If I look at Peter, I admire his courage; if I look at Paul, I wonder at his industry and devotedness to the cause of God; if I look at John, I see the loveliness and gentleness of his bearing; but when I look to the Saviour, I am not so much attracted by any one particular virtue as by the singular combination of the whole. There are all the spices—the stacte, the onycha, and the galbanum, and the pure frankincense; the varied perfumes combine to make up one perfect confection.—C. H. Spurgeon.

For an illustration on the perfection of Christ’s sacrifice, see p. 141.

(c) It is not because God is indifferent to moral qualities that He loves sinners. His love is medicinal. His life is a world-nursing life. He cleanses whom He loves, that He may love yet more. God’s nature is infinitely healing and cleansing. They that are brought in contact with the Divine heart feel it by the growth that instantly begins in them. And His being is so capacious that all the wants of all sinful creatures, through endless ages, neither exhaust nor weary Him. Ten thousand armies might bathe in the ocean, and neither sully its purity, nor exhaust its cleansing power. But the ocean is but a cup by the side of God’s heart. Realms and orbs may bathe and rise into purity; no words will ever hint or dimly paint the height, and depth, and length, and breadth of the love of Christ. It is love that pours, endless and spontaneous, just as sunlight does—simply because God is love. By the side of Christ, a mother’s love—that on earth shines high above all other, as a star above night candles—is in comparison like those glimmering, expiring stars when the sun shines them into radiant eclipse. In the bosom of such a God there is salvation for every one that will trust Him. And what chances of safety or purity are there for those who reject Him; who light their own candle, and walk in its pale glimmer, rather than in the noonday glory of God in Christ?—H. W. Beecher.

(d) Man tries to act as a bleacher to his sin, and he dips the stained garment into the strong liquid which is to make it white, hoping that some spots will be removed; but when he takes it out again, if his eye be clear, he says, “Alas! it seems as spotted as ever. I laid it to soak in that which I thought full surely would take out the stain, but so far as I can see, there is another stain added to the rest. I find myself worse instead of better; I must add a more pungent salt, I must use a stronger lye. I must make my tears more briny, I must fetch them up from the deep salt wells of my heart.” He lays his vesture again to soak, but each time as he takes it out his own eyes become more keen, and he sees more foulness in the garment than he had observed before. Then goeth he and taketh unto himself nitre and much soap, but when be has used it all, when he has gone to his church, when he has gone to his chapel, when he has repeated his prayers, attended to ceremonies, done I know not what to prove the genuineness of his repentance, ah! the iniquity is still there, and will be there, and must be, let him do what he may. Yet what your repentings cannot do in thousands of years God can do for von sinner, and that in one single day.—C. H. Spurgeon.

For illustrations on the appropriation of the provision see pp. 142, 190.

(Whole Chapter.)

The symbols of the Jewish worship were instituted at special times. God did not put it forth as a system. It is like a house to which have been added rooms and offices and hall as the growth of the family has demanded more scope in which to maintain new and higher thoughts. One of such additions is found in the ordinance promulgated in this chapter. It had its origin in the wish to assuage the vivid fears of the people that they were not able to go near to the tabernacle and live. They had seen a terrible punishment over take the men who had attempted to interfere with the positions held by Moses and Aaron: they had been awed when a sudden destruction was smiting down thousands in the camp: and they had been made conscious that their sins rendered them utterly unfitted to be near the Holy One of Israel. But mercy has exhaustless remedies for human defilement. Aaron and the Levites are appointed to bear the sins of the holy things; a red unspotted heifer is commanded to be slain and burned, and its ashes to be used as a means of purifying the flesh from the uncleanness which hindered approach to the Lord of glory. Thus the new symbol is instituted when the people have become conscious that social impurity, impurity shared through and with others, as well as personal transgression, dooms to death. Wider views of what they need towards God cause Him to send out the beams of a light which is to dispel every doubt and fear.

In what ways did this ceremony lead into such confidence? What were the letters by which the people could spell out God’s thoughts of peace?

The chief lessons taught by the ordinance of the Red Heifer seem to be embraced in four propositions:—

I. Liability for social evil.

“All the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron” (Numbers 16:41, sqq.). Might not the survivors reason thus: “If those who have died did wrong we have been equally wrong; if we are not erased from the roll of the living, there is, notwithstanding, an evil chargeable to us; partakers in a like offence we are worthy of a like condemnation; the evil has not exhausted itself on them, and we are liable in some form for their calamities; we cannot in this state of pollution go into the presence of God—is there not needed a purification for those social ills whose last and most affecting sign is death?” A very similar feeling of liability might be impressed on the men of our own generation. There are houses in narrow streets, badly ventilated, and steaming with the odours of dirt-heaps and cesspools. Warnings have been given, that such a position is laid open to dangerous attacks on health and life; but the warnings are trifled with or disbelieved. Then comes the “noisome pestilence.” Young and old, strong and feeble, degraded and decent, are swept into the abyss of the dead.… Viewing those painful scenes, could just men, who had neglected to do as was advised, escape from self-censure and condemnation?

II. The ignominy of death.

The presence of, or contact with, the signs of the death of mankind, separated from communion with God in His sanctuary. Consciously or unconsciously no one could always avoid these. The human body becomes a loathsome thing by the stroke of death, and we are fain to bury it out of our sight. There is reason for believing that death is the openest sign of ignominy in our nature.… Only without us and above us, in the death of Christ Jesus, and in His rising from the dead, is that which shows, along with the fearfulness of sin, the means of its removal.

III. Freedom from the consequences of sin is by application of a prepared remedy.

The several parts in the process of preparing the water of cleansing bear emblems to show what God requires for freeing from sin. The slaying of the Heifer, and the sprinkling of its blood, laid bare the foundation principles that “it is the blood which maketh atonement for the soul,” that “without shedding of blood is no remission of sins.”.… Uncleanness incurred from the dead prevents approach to the holy Lord God. Separated from His presence on earth is a forecasting of an eternal separation—“that soul shall be cut off from Israel” (Numbers 19:13). But He has a remedy for this too. He provides means of purification, and thus of renewed access to Himself. Not only is the blood of bulls and goats shed, but the ashes of a heifer is also to “sprinkle the unclean, in order to sanctify to the purifying of the flesh,” and render fit for all the privileges of acceptable worship. “He shall purify himself,” &c. (Numbers 19:12). It is not enough that there are ashes, and water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop at hand; the persons needing the removal of the dangerous uncleanness must get those materials applied in the prescribed manner.

The remedy was not dependent for its efficacy upon its earthly aspects. Human hands made it ready and conveyed it to the recipients; but the sole power to take away the defilement lay in that of God which was in it. It signified to the people that there wag another sphere than that in which they moved, and in which they were rendered unworthy to dwell in the Lord’s presence; that they must stand, by faith amid the workings of God. Did the eyes of any amongst them catch a glimpse of another manifestation of the love of God, in which ONE should be made righteousness and sanctification as well as redemption—a coming sacrifice whose blood should be shed, not only to be a “propitiation for sins,” but also to be “sprinkled on the conscience to purge it from dead works to serve the living God?”.… Jesus has died, &c. The ransom price for our lives has not to be paid—it is paid, &c. “The gift of God is eternal life,” &c.

IV. To be without fitness for standing before God acceptably is inexcusable and irretrievable.

Once purified did not do away with the necessity of being purified again when another defilement had been incurred. The new impurity must be removed by a new application, and the cleansing remedy was constantly available (Numbers 19:9-10).

What could justify neglect of this remedy?—D. G. Watt, M.A.


(Numbers 19:1-10)

Much has been written on the Red Heifer as a type of Christ which appears to us to be frivolous, and in no sense worthy of regard as an exposition of this portion of Scripture, because of the absence of Scriptural evidence that such things were intended in the ordinance. But we are warranted in looking for an analogy between the Red Heifer and the Christ by the comparison between them instituted in Hebrews 9:13-14. It appears to us that the Red Heifer is an analogue of the Christ—

I. In its characteristics.

These may be classified thus:

1. Fulness of life. “A Red Heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, upon which never came yoke.” “The sex of the victim (female, and hence life-giving); its red colour (the colour of blood, the seat of life); its unimpaired vigour (never having borne the yoke); its youth; all these symbolised life in its fulness and freshness as the antidote of death.” What Divine fulness of life there was in Jesus Christ! “In Him was life.” “As the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself.” “I am He that liveth,” or “the living One.” He is the great antagonist of death and giver of life. See Acts 2:24; Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:22; John 10:10; Colossians 3:3-4.

2. Perfection of life. “A Red Heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish.” “Christ offered Himself without spot to God.” He was “the Holy One and the Just;” “tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin;” “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners;” “Christ.… a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (a)

II. In the treatment to which it was subjected.

1. The heifer was sacrificed. “One shall slay her before” the face of the priest. She was regarded as bearing the uncleanness of the people, and was slain as “a sin-offering” (חַטָּאת, A. V., “a purification for sin,” Numbers 19:9; Numbers 19:17) for the people. Christ “bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (comp. Isaiah 53:5-9; John 6:51; Romans 5:6; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Thessalonians 5:10; Hebrews 10:10). (b)

2. The heifer was sacrificed “without the camp.” It was taken outside the camp because it was regarded as bearing the uncleanness for which it was to be sacrificed. Our Lord was crucified “without the gate” of Jerusalem, between two thieves, as if He were the vilest of men (comp. John 19:17-18; Hebrews 13:11-12).

3. The heifer was completely consumed. “One shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn.” The sacrifice of Christ was unreserved. He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” He offered Himself wholly, body, soul, and spirit, to God, for the redemption of man from sin.

III. In the purpose for which it was designed.

1. The red heifer was intended to cleanse from ceremonial defilement. The ashes of the heifer were to be put in spring water; this water was to be sprinkled upon the unclean for their purification (comp. Hebrews 9:13-14). Christ “appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”

2. The ashes of the heifer were efficacious for this purpose (Numbers 19:12; Numbers 19:19). The efficacy was not in the ashes themselves, but in the appointment of God, and the faith and obedience of His people. “How much more shall the blood of Christ?” &c. He can cleanse from sins of deepest dye, and make the soul radiant in purity (comp. 1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 7:14; Ephesians 5:26-27). (c)

3. The ashes of the heifer were amply sufficient for this purpose.

(1) As to number. They were intended for all the congregation of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them (Numbers 19:10), and were enough for all. Christ “died for all,” and His salvation is sufficient for all, free for all, offered to all (1 John 2:2).

(2) As to time. The Jews say that the ashes of this heifer served till the captivity, or nearly a thousand years. This statement is very questionable; but they would certainly last for a long time, as it was necessary to use very little at a time. Moreover, ashes are very incorruptible; so they symbolise the abiding efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ. “He offered one sacrifice for sins for ever … For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”

“Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood

Shall never lose its power,

Till the whole ransomed Church of God

Be saved to sin no more.”—Cowper. (d)

4. The ashes of the heifer had to be personally applied to be efficacious. The unclean person must be sprinkled with “the water of separation” on the third day and on the seventh day for his cleansing. Without this, the cleansing element was of no avail to him. So Christ must be accepted by faith, or His sacrificial life and death will profit us nothing.


We are all defiled by sin: let us seek by faith to be cleansed by “the precious blood of Christ.”


(a) In Jesus Christ there was no sin. He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” His humanity was without stain or flaw, pure and perfect as on the day when “God saw everything He had made, and behold, it was very good.” In Him there were no rebellious insurgences of appetite and passion, no disorderly conflict between the lower nature and the higher, but the flesh was in absolute subjection to the spirit, and His whole mind and heart in entire and strictest harmony with the mind and heart of God. So that there He stood, the very “beauty of holiness,” the living human image of God; the perfect embodiment of the Divine ideal of humanity; of all mankind the only genuine Man. The Man on whom all eyes and hearts were to best and fasten.—J. H. Smith, M.A.

(b) As the Son of Man, he took our place under the law, and stood representatively in our stead, that He might satisfy the law in our behalf; that he might render it perfect obedience, and offer Himself a public substitutionary victim to its offended majesty, redeeming us from its curse by “being made a curse for us. “He thus “suffered for us,” “the fast for the unjust,” suffered for us, not merely beneficially, as a nursing-mother may suffer for her child, or a soldier for his country’s good, but substitutionally and penally, in our place and stead. His person was substituted for our persons, His sufferings for our sufferings. “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.” He, the sinless, consented to be treated as a sinner, that we sinners might be treated as sinless. In this great, this public capacity, then, He, the Man, officially suffered, and officially died. There on the cross He hung, spotlessly pure and perfect, agonising under the imputation of the world’s guilt, the sinless substitute for man’s sinful race, the substitutionary Man, the representative sinner! There He hung, a voluntary victim to the violated majesty of the law, and in Him mankind representatively died. “For we thus judge,” says St. Paul, “that if one died for all, then all died.”—Ibid.

(c) “We have some little difficulty,” said a scientific lecturer, “with the iron dyes; but the most troublesome of all are Turkey red rags. You see I have dipped this into my solution, its red is paler, but it is still strong. If I steep it long enough to efface the colour entirely, the fibre will be destroyed; it will be useless for our manufacture. How, then, are we to dispose of our red rags? We leave their indelible dye as it is, and make them into blotting paper. Perhaps you wonder why your writing-pad is red. Now you know the reason.”

What a striking illustration of the power of “the precious blood of Christ” to change and cleanse is furnished by the above explanation. The Spirit of God led the prophet Isaiah to write, not “though your sins be as blue as the sky, or as green as the olive leaf, or as black as night.” He chose the very colour which modern science, with all its appliances, finds to be indestructible. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”—Sunday Teacher’s Treasury.

(d) I have found it an interesting thing to stand on the edge of a noble rolling river, and to think, that although it has been flowing on for six thousand years, watering the fields, and slaking the thirst of a hundred generations, it shows no sign of waste or want. And when I have watched the rise of the sun as he shot above the crest of the mountain, or, in a sky draped with golden curtains, sprang up from his ocean-bed, I have wondered to think that he has melted the snows of so many winters, and renewed the verdure of so many springs, and planted the flowers of so many summers, and ripened the golden harvest of so many autumns, and yet shines as brilliantly as ever; his eye not dim, nor his natural strength abated, nor his natural floods of light less full, for centuries of boundless profusion. Yet what are these but images of the fulness that is in Christ? Let that feed your hopes, and cheer your hearts, and brighten your faith, and send you away this day happy and rejoicing! For when judgment flames have licked up that flowing stream, and the light of that glorious sun shall be quenched in darkness, or veiled in the smoke of a burning world, the fulness of Christ shall flow on throughout eternity, in the bliss of the redeemed.—Thomas Guthrie, D.D.

Have we outlived the efficacy of the blood of Christ, and is the tale of His Cross a sound from which all the music has gone for ever? We need the sun to-day as we have ever needed it; the wind is still the breath of health to our dying bodies; still we find in the earth the bread without which we cannot live; these are our friends of whom we never tire; can it be that the only thing of which we are weary is God’s answer to our souls deepest need? Shall we keep everything but the blood of Christ? Shall the Cross go, and the sun be left? Verily as the sun withdrew at sight of that Cross and for the moment fled away, he would shine never more were that sacred tree hewn down by furious man. The blood of Christ, it is the fountain of immortality! The blood of Christ, it makes the soul’s summer warm and beauteous! The blood of Christ, it binds all heaven, with its many mansions and throngs without number, in holy and indissoluble security! My soul, seek no other stream in which to drown thy leprosy! My lips, seek no other song with which to charge your music! My hands, seek no other task with which to prove your energy! I would be swallowed up in Christ. I would be nailed to His Cross. I would be baptized with His baptism. I would quail under the agony of His pain that I might triumph with Him in the glory of His resurrection. O my Jesus! My Saviour! Thine heart did burst for me, and all its sacred blood flowed for the cleansing of my sin. I need it all. I need it every day. I need it more and more. O search out the inmost recesses of my poor wild heart, and let Thy blood remove every stain of evil.

“E’er since by faith I saw the stream

Thy flowing wounds supply,

Redeeming love has been my theme,

And shall be till I die.”

Mighty Saviour! repeat all Thy miracles by taking away the guilt and torment of my infinite sin.—Joseph Parker, D.D.


(Numbers 19:2-3)

The particular point to which the red heifer referred, concerning Christ and His work, is just this—the provision which is made in Christ Jesus for the daily sins and failings of believers. In order to bring out our point clearly, we shall remark—

I. That even the true Israelite, the true believer in Christ, is the subject of daily defilemen.

We who have believed in Christ are free from sin before the Divine judgment seat. But in the matter of sanctification we are not, as yet, delivered from evil.
Some of our defilement arises from the fact that we do actually come into contact with sin, here imaged in the corruption of death (Numbers 19:11). We actually touch that dead thing, sin, by overt acts of transgression. We are in close connection with sin, because sin is in ourselves. Hence we need to be constantly cleansed.

Moreover, we get defilement from companionship with sinners (Numbers 19:14). The Great Physician could walk the lazar house of this world untainted by contagion, but this is not possible with us. It may be absolutely necessary for you in your calling, and more especially in your desire to bless others, to mingle with the ungodly, but you might as well attempt to carry fire in your bosom and not be burnt, or handle pitch and not be blackened therewith, as to dwell in the tents of Kedar without receiving uncleanness. Hence we need daily cleansing, &c.

One reason why we are so constantly defiled is our want of watchfulness (Numbers 19:15). You and I ought to cover up our hearts from the contamination of sin. I believe that a man might go into the most sinful places under heaven without receiving defilement, if he exercised a sufficient degree of watchfulness; but it is because we do not watch that the poisoned arrow wounds us.

Sin is so desperately evil, that the very slightest sin defiles us. He who touched a bone was unclean (Numbers 19:16). Sin is such an immeasurably vile and pestilent a thing, that the slightest iniquity makes the Christian foul—a thought, an imagination, the glancing of an eye. We have heard of some perfumes of which it is said, that a thousandth part of a grain would leave a scent for ages in the place where it had been. And certainly it is so with sin, &c.

Sin even when it is not seen, defiles, … a man was defiled who touched a grave. Oh, how many graves there are of sin—things that are fair to look upon, externally admirable, and internally abominable! Many of our customs are but the graves of sin, &c.

The Jew was in danger in the open fields (Numbers 19:16). You may go where you will, but you cannot escape from sin. We are in daily danger of defilement

II. That a purification has been provided.

If it were not so, how melancholy were your case and mine. The unclean person had no right to go up to the house of the Lord, &c. You and I would have no right to Christ, no adoption, no justification, no sanctification, for the unclean person had no right to any of these. The ultimate result in the Israelites’ case would have been death. And certainly if you and I, though believers, could live for a season without being purified, carrying about with us still the daily defilement of sin, ere long it must end in spiritual death.

The Lord must have provided a daily cleansing for our daily defilement, for if not, where were His wisdom, where His love? He has provided for everything else. But if this soul-destroying need had not been provided for, a failure would have occurred in a most important point. The love, the wisdom of God demands that there should be such a purification supplied.

The work of our Lord Jesus Christ assures us of this. There is a fountain open for sin and for uncleanness. It is inexhaustible. “If any man sin, we have an advocate.” He is constantly an intercessor.

The work of the Holy Spirit also meets the case, for what is His business but constantly to take of the things of Christ and reveal them unto us; constantly to quicken, to enlighten, and to comfort?

Facts show that there is purification for present guilt. The saints of old fell into sin, but they did not remain there. David. Peter. We have tried it ourselves, &c.

III. The red heifer sets forth, in a most admirable manner, the daily purification for daily sin.

It was a heifer. This red heifer stood for all the house of Israel—for the whole Church of God; and the Church is always looked upon in Scripture as being the spouse—the bride—always feminine. It was a red heifer. Probably the red was chosen from its bringing to the mind of the Israelites the idea of blood, which was always associated with atonement, and putting away of sin. When we think of Christ we always associate Him with the streaming gore, when we are under a sense of sin. It was a heifer without spot. Our Christ had no spot of original sin, no blemish of actual sin. This red heifer was one whereon never came yoke. Perhaps this sets forth how willingly Christ came to die for us. “Lo, I come,” &c. The children of Israel provided it. What for? That every man, and every woman, and every child might say, “I have a share in that heifer,” &c. Christ shed His blood for all His people, and they have all a part and all an interest in Him.

There is yet to be observed what was done with it. First, it was taken out of the camp. Christ suffered without the camp. The red cow was slain. A dying Saviour that takes away our sin. Eleazar dipped his finger in the warm blood, and sprinkled it seven times before the door of the tabernacle. Seven is the number of perfection. Jesus has perfectly presented His bloody sacrifice. All this does not purify. Atonement precedes purification. They then took the body of the slain heifer.… they consumed it utterly, &c. This sets forth the pangs of the Saviour, how God accounted Him unclean; how He was compelled to say, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” When the whole was fully burnt, or while burning, the priest threw in cedar-wood, hyssop, and scarlet. According to Maimonides, the cedar-wood was taken in logs and bound round with hyssop, and then afterwards the whole enveloped in scarlet; so what was seen by the people was the scarlet, which was at once the emblem of sin and its punishment—“Though your sins be as scarlet,” &c. Everything still continues of the red colour, to set forth atonement for sin. Inside this scarlet there is the hyssop of faith, which gives efficacy to the offering in each individual, and still within this is the cedar-wood that sent forth a sweet and fragrant smell, a perfect righteousness giving acceptance to the whole.

The pith of the matter lies in the last act, with the remains of the red cow. The cinders of the wood, the ashes of the bones, and dung, and flesh of the heifer, were all gathered together, and carried away, and laid by in a clean place. Does not this storing up suggest that there is a store of merit in Christ Jesus? There is a store of merit laid up that daily defilement may be removed as often as it comes.

The ashes were to be put with running water,—the sweet picture of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit must take of the things of Christ and reveal them unto us.

It was applied by hyssop. Hyssop is always a type of faith. “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean.”

Here are ashes for every day, cleansing for every hour, for every moment.—C. H. Spurgeon.


(Numbers 19:20)

“The man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation.”
The text suggests the following observations:—

I. Man is polluted by sin.

“We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” “If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” And, as Origen said, “Every sin sets a blot upon the soul.”

II. God has provided a cleansing element for man’s sin.

“There is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.” “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin.”

III. To be efficacious this cleansing element must be applied to man.

The unclean person had to “purify himself” by being sprinkled with “the water of separation.” There was no cleansing without the sprinkling. If we would be clean we must repent of the sin which defiles us, confess the sin to the great Cleanser, and pray to Him for pardon and purity. But especially, we must believe in the cleansing efficacy of the blood of Christ. “Purifying their hearts by faith.” “The heart,” says Dr. Dykes, “which sets out with a hunger after righteousness; which finds that, to be worth having, righteousness must be from the heart outwards; which strives against inward defilement, and, under such a sense of sin as makes it a gentle censor of other men, carries each fresh stain to the blood of sprinkling at the mercy seat: that heart does by effort and degrees attain to purity.”

IV. Man may neglect to avail himself of this cleansing element.

This neglect may arise from—

1. Self-righteousness. There are those who do not feel their need of the cleansing of the blood of Christ. (a)

2. Unbelief. Under deep conviction of sin, man sometimes feels that the defilement of his heart is so deep as to defy the efficacy of “the precious blood of Christ:” he does not believe that it has power to cleanse to the uttermost.

3. Procrastination. Some purpose to seek to be cleansed from sin at some future time; they defer the great duty until they “have a convenient season.”

Such persons often “resolve and re-resolve, and die the same.” How great is the folly! and how tremendous the peril of this neglect!

V. Neglecting to avail himself of this cleansing element, man excludes himself from the highest and richest privileges.

“The man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation.” The man who is guilty of this great neglect excludes himself—

1. From the Church on earth. Its privileges are for those only who are “purifying their hearts by faith,” and “washing their robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

2. From the blessedness of heaven. No impurity can enter heaven. The redeemed there constitute “a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but holy and without blemish.” Only “the pure in heart shall see God.” “Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (comp. Psalms 24:3-4; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 21:27). (b)

Let us not be guilty of this ruinous neglect; but let us by faith hasten to the fountain of the Saviour’s blood, and there wash and be clean.


(a) But we cannot realise the blood until we have realised the sin. Where there is no conviction of sin—conviction amounting to the very anguish of the lost in hell—there can be no felt need of so extreme a remedy as is offered by the outpouring of the blood of Christ. A self-palliating iniquity may be cleansed by water. The light duet which bespots the outer garments may be removed by gentle means. When a man feels that he has not sinned deeply, he is in no mood to receive what be considers the tragic appeals of the gospel; they exceed the case; they destroy themselves by exaggeration; they speak with self-defeating violence. But let another kind of action be set up in the heart; let the man be brought to talk thus with himself—“I have sinned until my very soul is thrust down into hell; my sins have clouded out the mercy of God, so that I see it no longer; I have wounded the Almighty, I have out myself off from the fountain of life, I have blown out every light that was meant to help me upward, I am undone, lost, damned,” and then he needs no painted cross, no typical sacrament, no ceremonial attitude no priestly enchantment, he can be met by nothing but the sacrificial blood, the personal blood, the living blood, the precious blood of Christ.—Joseph Parker, D D.

(b) If a man without religion (supposing it possible) were admitted into heaven, doubtless he would sustain a great disappointment. Before, indeed, be fancied that he could be happy there; but when he arrived there he could find no discourse but that which he had shunned on earth; no pursuits but those he had disliked or despised; nothing which bound him to aught else in the universe, that made him feel at home; nothing which he could enter into and rest upon. He would perceive himself to be an isolated being, cut away by Supreme Power from those objects which were still entwined about his heart. Nay, he would be in the presence of that Supreme Power whom he never on earth could bring himself steadily to think upon, and whom now he regarded only as the destroyer of all that was precious and dear to him. Ah! he could not bear the face of the Living God; the Holy God would be no object of joy to him. “Let us alone! what have we to do with Thee?” is the sole thought and desire of unclean souls, even while they acknowledge His majesty. None but the holy can look upon the Holy One: without holiness no man can endure to see the Lord.

Holiness, or inward separation from the world, is necessary to our admission into heaven, because heaven is not heaven, is not a place of happiness, except to the holy. There are bodily indispositions which affect the taste, so that the sweetest flavours become ungrateful to the palate; and indispositions which impair the sight, tinging the fair face of nature with some sickly hue. In like manner there is a moral malady which disorders the inward sight and taste, and no man labouring under it is in a condition to enjoy what Scripture calls “the fulness of joy in God’s presence, and pleasures at His right hand for evermore.”

Nay, I will venture to say more than this—it is fearful, but it is right to say it—that if we wished to imagine a punishment for an unholy, reprobate soul, we perhaps could not fancy a greater than to summon it to heaven. Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man. We know how unhappy we are apt to feel at present, when alone in the midst of strangers, or of men of different tastes and habits to ourselves. How miserable, for example, would it be to have to live in a foreign land, among a people whose faces we never saw before, and whose language we could not learn. And this is but a faint illustration of the loneliness of a man of earthly dispositions and tastes thrown into the society of saints and angels. How forlorn would he wander through the courts of heaven! He would find no one like himself, he would see in every direction the marks of God’s holiness, and these would make him shudder. He would feel himself always in His presence. He could no longer turn his thoughts another way, as he does now, when conscience reproaches him. He would know that the eternal eye was ever upon him; and that eye of holiness, which is joy and life to holy creatures, would seem to him an eye of wrath and punishment. God cannot change His nature. Holy He must ever be. But while He is holy no unholy soul can be happy in heaven. Fire does not inflame iron, but it inflames straw. It would cease to be fire if it did not. And so heaven itself would be fire to those who would fain escape across the great gulf from the torments of hell. The finger of Lazarus would but increase their thirst. The very “heaven that is over their heads” will be “brass” to them.—J. H. Newman, D.D.

Have we a hope that “when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is?” Then must “every man that hath this hope in Him purify himself, even as He is pure.” For in at the gates of that City—so unlike the cities of this world—“there shall in no wise enter anything that defileth.” That City’s streets are of gold that is pure; the river which waters it is a pure river; and the fine linen in which its sainted citizens do walk is clean and white. Even the elder Church could answer its own question,

“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who shall stand in His holy place?” by saying,

“He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.”

Sin-stained and evil-hearted men as we are, it is here, and now, that this purification must be wrought. What need have we to have often upon our lips the prayer,
“O God, make clean our hearts within us!” Yet let us not be dismayed. Some little purity of heart he must have began to possess who ever looked at all into the face of Jesus Christ as the image of His Father’s grace and truth. Now, therefore, let us continue to gaze on Him, with whatever openness of eye we have to see His glory; for it is the pure-heartedness of Jesus which maketh the disciple’s heart pure; and we all, if “with open face” we do but “behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord,” shall be “changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” So may God change us like the pure-hearted Son, and bring us one day where with all His servants we shall “see His face” in the endless beatific vision of the Celestial City.—J. O. Dykes, M.A., D.D.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 19". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/numbers-19.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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