As we study this chapter, let us by no means lose sight of the fact that our Savior is so clearly represented here! Here the Lord gave His people directions for the purification of ceremonially unclean persons. They were to bring a red heifer, which was to be killed in the presence of Aaron’s son Eleazar. He was to sprinkle its blood before the Tabernacle seven times; and then the heifer was to be entirely burned, along with cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet wool. This represented the painful sufferings of our Lord Jesus – both in soul and body – as a sacrifice made in order to satisfy God’s justice for man’s sin. After the heifer was burned, its ashes were to be laid up as a purification for sin; for although they were only intended to purify people from ceremonial uncleanness, yet they were a picture of that purification for sin which our Lord Jesus made by His death. The blood of Christ is laid up for us in the Word and sacraments, as a fountain of merit; and to this cleansing fountain, by faith, we have constant access.
No other use is mentioned for these ashes except for purification from the ceremonial uncleanness that was contracted by the touch of a dead body or a grave, or by being in the tent or house where a dead body lay (verses 11, 14, 16). A person who touched the carcass of an unclean animal, or any living person who was defiled by ceremonial uncleanness, was only made unclean until the evening; and he only needed common water to purify himself with. But anyone who came near the dead body of another human being must bear the reproach of his uncleanness for seven days; and he must be purified twice with water mixed with these ashes of the red heifer, which he could not obtain without trouble and difficulty. And until he was purified, he must not come near the sanctuary upon pain of death.
Why did the law of God make a corpse a defiling thing? Because death is the wages of sin. It entered into the world by sin, and it reigns by the power of sin. The law could not conquer nor abolish death (as the Gospel does) by bringing life and immortality to light, thereby introducing a better hope. Nevertheless, the law still painted a picture of the gracious provision that is made in the Gospel for the removal of the uncleanness of our fallen nature! Just as the ashes of the heifer pointed to the atonement and righteousness of Jesus; so also, the running water represented the precious offices of the Holy Spirit, in the washing of regeneration and the renewing of our souls by His grace. We must not overlook the essential offices of both the ashes and the water. The ashes without the water could not be efficacious. Neither do the merits of Jesus operate on our hearts, unless they are applied by the Holy Spirit. How infinitely important is the work of the Spirit upon the soul; for it is He alone Who must take the things of Jesus, and show them unto us! (John 16:7-14)
But let us not leave our study of this chapter until we have specifically noted several particulars which sweetly point to Jesus in the Divine appointment for the burning of the heifer. First, the heifer was to be red, which is not a common color for this animal. Similarly, Christ was one among a thousand! He is sometimes called the “second Adam,” and the name Adam signifies “red earth.” Hence this redness is peculiarly applicable to the Manhood of Jesus; for just as the children of men are partakers of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise took part of the same. In the Song of Solomon (5:10), the Church sings, “My beloved is white and ruddy” – white, in allusion to the spotless purity of His Divine nature; and ruddy, in allusion to the sufferings of His human nature. He was both innocent and spotless in His Person (Heb. 7:26). Perhaps the appointment of a red heifer also had a further reference to the Lord Jesus, Who was red in His apparel when – in His own blood – He had stained all His raiment in the process of redeeming His people and taking vengeance on His enemies (see Isa. 63:2- 4; Deut. 32:42; Rev. 19:13, 15). But this heifer was also to be without spot and without blemish. How clearly did this prefigure the spotless Lamb of God! (John 1:29) The heifer was never to have been put under a yoke, and here our Redeemer is represented again; for in redemption-work, none was yoked together to work alongside Jesus. No arm except His own could bring salvation; there was no one else with Him (Isa. 63:5). Neither was Jesus yoked to His service, for nothing except His own free love constrained Him. “I have power,” said He, “to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17, 18). Let us not hastily pass over these precious views of Jesus! But before we move on, let us consider another beauty in this picture of Christ – namely, that the provision of this heifer was to be made from the united expense of all the congregation. The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer.” Here we are reminded that Jesus is provided for all His people! He is the Gift of the Father to all His sons and daughters! Bless and praise His name!
Heavenly Father, everything we view in the Old Testament sacrifices and offerings paints such a clear picture of Your infinite love in giving Your Son, and also of the infinite love of Your Son in becoming the propitiation for our sins. We give thanks that we are washed, sanctified, and justified by the Holy Spirit. Cause us to see, in the consecrated ashes, the incorruptible and everlasting efficacy of our Redeemer’s righteousness; and in the running water, may we behold the preciousness of the all-cleansing grace of the Spirit. May we be cleansed daily from all filthiness of our sinful flesh, so that we may walk in holiness before You, O God! Amen.
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