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Ashes of the Red Heifer (1)

T Ratcliffe, Wimborne


The ministry of Numbers 19 had to do with the restoration of an individual’s communion with Jehovah, communion that had been broken through contracting defilement. The subject is not one of atonement or justification, but solely one of communion interrupted and then restored through the sprinkling of the "water of separation"; it also details the consequence if a defiled individual refuses to be cleansed. The statute (ordinance, AV) of the law specifically related to Israel and the defilements contracted as they passed through the wilderness. However, the teaching and spiritual application is very important for Christian believers today. We shall profit substantially if we get a grasp of the precious truth as the subject unfolds.

In John 13, the Lord Jesus washed the feet of the disciples before instituting the supper. Peter at first declined to allow the Lord to wash his feet, whereupon the Lord said, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me" (Jn 13.8). It was not a matter of calling into question Peter’s part "in" Christ, for that union could never be dissolved (Col 3.3), but rather the removal of anything that could hinder communion with his Lord. So it is, that from day to day we unavoidably become marked by the defiling influences of the world through which we move, and daily need to apply the "water of the word" to our souls to keep us in communion with our Lord. We recall how defiled Peter became when he denied knowing his Lord and Master and how he was totally out of communion with Him. His tears of repentance were equal to his being washed by the "water of the word" (Lk 22.59-62). We should do all we can to prevent the tarnishing of the divine relationship we have, a relationship that cannot be broken (Jn 10.29; 17.10; 1 Jn 3.1-2). As we proceed with the subject we shall see how essential it is to apply daily to our own souls the "washing of water by the word" (Eph 5.26). However, there may be times when one has been so seriously defiled that it will require others (those who are spiritual, Galatians 6.1) to apply the "water of the word", in order for such a one to be restored to precious communion with the Lord and full fellowship with the saints.


Verse 2. The Lord Jehovah specified a red heifer to typify the Person of Christ in Manhood. Red, as a noun in the Hebrew, is adom, akin to the noun adam that defines the colour of the "rams’ skins dyed red" (Ex 25.5). So the colour red typified the Lord Jesus as the "last Adam", the "second man" (1 Cor 15.45,57). Just by way of clarification, the term "Red Sea" occurs 26 times in the Old Testament, but the Hebrew noun for red in those cases is soof which is Hebrew for reed, the papyrus reed that flourishes on the banks of the Red Sea. So in the Hebrew tongue the Red Sea is call the "Soof Sea", or "Reed Sea".

There was to be no other colour in the hide of the heifer; pure red would therefore speak of the veracity of our Lord’s Manhood as the following Scriptures confirm. "For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren" (Heb 2.16-17). "And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil 2.8). "Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in flesh is of God" (1 Jn 4.2).

We might ask, "Why a heifer and not a bullock?". The answer is that the female calf speaks of the weakness of the vessel, its subjection to another’s will, and its complete dependence on another for guidance and security. How beautifully therefore does the heifer typify the character, nature, and disposition of our blessed Saviour. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples, "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (Jn 4.34), and, "I do nothing of myself: but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him" (Jn 8.28-29). What an example for us all!

A "heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish". No other animal offered for sacrifice under the law was required to have such unsullied characteristics. Accordingly, within the limits of the type, the heifer spoke of the perfection of the Lord Jesus whose life would be surrendered in sacrifice at the behest of His Father. Peter, speaking of our Lord, said that we have been redeemed "with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pet 1.19). A blemish is a mark, fault, or weakness of the body that one is born with; whereas a spot is something one acquires in life that spoils the person. Our Lord was perfect in every detail of His Person. The angel Gabriel said to Mary, "That holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God" (Lk 1.35). We are told by Paul, Peter, and John that He knew no sin, He did no sin, and in Him is no sin (2 Cor 5.21; 1 Pet 2.22; 1 Jn 3.5). What unparalleled and unspeakable perfection!

"Upon which never came yoke". So the heifer had never been used by man, and had never been yoked to another animal. Our Lord was never used by man, but His Father, our gracious God, used Him for man. How fitting therefore is the well-known verse of John 3.16. John also records the words, "The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 Jn 4.14). Furthermore, Jesus said, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly", and, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (Jn 10.10-11). What a unique commitment to the Father’s will! Our Lord was never yoked to anything stained by sin, and neither indeed could He have been. Throughout His life He was yoked to His Father, moving always in the current of His will by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord said, "I and my Father are one" (Jn 10.30). The lesson for us today is to recognise that God "has quickened us together with Christ" (Eph 2.5); this is what sovereign grace has accomplished and it cannot be annulled. However, there is the question of our walk and associations in this world. God tells us through his servant Paul, "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?" (2 Cor 6.14). This Scripture applies not only to marriage, but to all areas of our life. May God’s gracious Spirit move in our hearts to heed the words of the Lord Jesus: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Mt 11.29).

Verse 3. The heifer was to be taken by Eleazar outside the camp (away from the daily activities of the nation) and there slain by another person before Eleazar’s eyes. This simple directive confirmed, in type, that the death of the Lord Jesus was not a priestly act, but one in which he laid down His own life to be a sacrifice for sin. The vicarious death of the Lord Jesus was outside the gate (outside the judgment place of the people - see Deuteronomy 16.18; Ruth 4.1; Psalm 69.12; Hebrews 13.12). Eleazar, being a priest, represented the people, and the heifer slain before his eyes was a figure of the fact that the Lord Jesus was slain before the eyes of the world (Jn 19.20).

To be continued.


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