Troublesome Topic: The Ashes of a Red Heifer

The killing of the red heifer and the preparation of its ashes can teach some important spiritual lessons.

Here is the procedure for preparing the ash and water mixture, described in Numbers chapter 19:

1. The red heifer (female cow) was killed and burned outside the camp.

The camp of the Israelites as they traveled through the desert was considered clean, while the areas outside the camp were considered unclean. When they escorted the cow outside the camp, they were taking the uncleanness out with them, to remove it from the camp. A second reason this procedure was done outside the camp was because those making it would inevitably get on them some of the ashes of the dead animal after it was burned, making them unclean; usually, once they arranged the pieces of the sacrificial animal on the altar they did not have to touch them again because they had tools such as tongs and forks for those purposes.

2. A little blood was caught in a small bowl and with his finger, the priest would shake (sprinkle) some blood toward the entrance of the sanctuary seven times.

This was probably done as if to say, “Dear God, consider this sacrifice acceptable for the purpose it was designed because blood is being shed.” The priest could not get close to the altar in this case because this process was considered unclean.

3. Other than the little bit of blood used for that sprinkling, the blood was burned up with the rest of the animal. This was unique. Usually all the blood was removed first, and it was sprinkled on the outside of the altar, but it was not burned. Blood represented life, so they did not want to burn the blood with the animal’s carcass. However, in this case the blood that was converted to ashes would play an important role, so it was not removed from the animal. The fact that the blood was burned was the primary difference between this sacrifice and all the others involving an animal. The blood was so important that we could say that it was the blood in the ashes that gave the ash and water mixture its power. It’s all about the blood!

Another difference between this and other animal sacrifices was that usually the animal was cut open and the digestive tract washed out. However, in this case the animal was burned “as is,” complete with whatever happened to be left in its digestive tract. That stuff was considered unclean, but the animal was already unclean because of receiving the uncleanness of the worshippers in need of its services, and because it was being killed in an unclean place. And remember, the blood was the most important part of these ashes, the rest did not matter very much.

4. Three things were added to the fire as it burned – Cedar wood, some hyssop, and a red piece of yarn.

Cedar was known for being durable and incorruptible meaning that the effects of the purification provided by the ash and water mixture would last; the person would not easily become contaminated again on this level, unless it once again involved a dead body.

Hyssop was an emblem of purification, enhancing the effects of the water and the blood, and the color scarlet was a representation of sin and of the blood that cleanses from sin.

5. After the carcass and its blood were totally converted to ashes, those ashes were carefully collected and taken to the tabernacle or temple.

6, Those who prepared the ashes of the red heifer were considered unclean, thus they needed to change clothes, bathe and were isolated till evening. This was because a dead body was extremely unclean and even coming close to one caused the person to need to be isolated.

7. The ashes were mixed with water and sprinkled on anyone who presented themselves to the priests due to uncleanness from touching a dead body. This sprinkling ritual was done on day 3 and day 7 after contamination.

8. The water and ash mixture caused the person sprinkling it to become unclean. Thus this mixture caused the unclean to become clean and the clean to become unclean.

Spiritual Lessons from the Ashes of a Red Heifer

1. Life is normal, death is not normal. Death is the opposite of what God wants for us. It is a reminder of the curse of sin that all humans are under because of Adam’s sin.

2. True purification from evil requires death; we deserve to die for our sins and shortcomings. If we don’t die for our sinful condition, someone else must die for us.

3. The mixture of blood and water was a very powerful purifier. Water (in the form of bathing) was sufficient for the purification from most uncleanness; blood was required for atonement from sin or our sinful condition. Together they represented the full package of God’s redemptive work to transfer a person from common and unclean, to clean and holy.

4. Sometimes we have to get dirty to clean up a mess.

Why Was This Process Considered Unclean and Other Sacrifices Were Not?

The only difference is that all the other animal sacrifices required that the blood be removed from the animal so that the blood was not burned. In this case the blood, which represents life, was actually burned. The blood was retained in the form of ashes so it could do its purifying work.

Will the Read Heifer Play an Important Role in the Fulfillment of Prophecy?

The answer is “No.”

Numbers 19:2 says the red heifer must be “sound and without defect.” Jewish tradition has come to interpret that as having no more than one hair of a different color. In fulfillment of this quest, 5 perfect red heifers were shipped in September of 2022, from the USA to Israel and received with a special ceremony.

But the word for “without blemish” was used many times of various sacrifice and it meant they could not substitute an animal of lesser market value. Here the adjective “sound, complete, whole” was added. Did this refer to a healthy animal, or to the completeness of the color red? I think it was the former, not the latter.

The prediction that the 10th red heifer will be prepared (burned) by the Messiah, is not in the Bible, but in Jewish commentary to the Mishnah, which is the first written collection of Jewish oral traditions.

The ashes of the red heifer did not actually purify, but they pointed to the purifying work of the true sacrifice that would come later – Jesus.

Reinstating the use of the ashes of a red heifer is a Jewish perspective, not a Christian one. The death of Jesus was the only efficacious sacrifice. Atonement is through Jesus alone. Nothing else is needed.

God is the only one who can reinstate the sacrifices. God established the sacrificial system of the law. God placed that system on pause during the captivity. God reinstated it. God eliminated it altogether in AD 70. Only He can bring it back. But why would He? Doing so would run contrary to almost everything the New Covenant has accomplished.

Conclusion:If the use of the ashes of a heifer are reinstated by man, it will not have the blessing of God, it will not bring atonement; it will only bring confusion. I hope it never happens!

The next lesson for the full series on covenants is Life Lessons from Other Sacrifices.