The Red Heifer Sacrifice– A Look at the Ceremony From Scripture
With all of the claims being made that a pure red heifer has been born (April, 2014) and that this signifies that we are in the last days, and the Jerusalem temple is about to be consecrated, I think it would be good to take a look at the actual red heifer sacrifice as described in the Old Testament.
Numbers 19 describes the important ceremony of the red heifer.
A red heifer without flaw and that had never worn a yoke was to be taken outside the camp and slain. As the entire body was burnt, cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet were to be added to the fire. When the carcass was consumed the ashes were gathered. For the purification ceremony, pure water was added to some of the ashes of the heifer sacrifice. The resulting paste was applied to anyone coming into contact with a dead body.
There are several distinctive features of the red heifer ceremony. It is the only sacrifice in Israel’s system that was offered outside the confines of the city. The remains of other sacrifices was to be burned outside the city (Leviticus 4:11-12; 9:13) etc. But this was disposal not sacrifice. The red heifer was to be slain (offered) outside the camp.
In addition, it is interesting that the one who offered the sacrifice became unclean and the one to whom it was applied became clean.
The red heifer was the only sacrifice in which the animal’s blood was burned; and the only offering in which the burning was the preliminary act. (Another sacrifice of the red heifer involved the breaking of its neck and not burning. If a corpse was found near a town the “city fathers” had to offer the heifer as a cleansing for the defilement of that death and to clear themselves of any culpability (Deuteronomy 21:1-9). In all other sacrifices the burning was the crowning act of sacrifice or was the final act after the blood was offered.
Finally, the ashes of the red heifer were for the cleansing of the defilement of death. Numbers 19:9 says the ashes were for the purification of sin. Yet the main emphasis in the text is cleansing from defilement of death. Interestingly, most commentators ignore this and focus on purification from sin. What is so important about the red heifer sacrifice is that Jesus has fulfilled its prophetic significance. We will take a look at this in the next installment.