The Red Heifer Riddle Print E-mail
Written by Victoria Radin   

The Waters of Purification

“Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come. You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him....Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight....And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer....Then a man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and store them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for the water of purification; it is for purifying from sin.” (excerpts from Numbers 19:2-9)

Most people are totally unaware of the significance of the Red Heifer in the unraveling of biblical prophecy. The instructions for the Red Heifer Sacrifice indicate that its ultimate purpose is to take away the defilement of death––that which separates man from G-d. Its ashes were to be gathered and stored for use in mixing with water to form The Waters of Purification that had to be sprinkled on everything and everyone connected with the performance of all Temple rituals.

As part of the groundwork for the current plan to rebuild G-d’s Temple in Israel, therefore, the Jews must prepare The Waters of Purification. They must raise a completely red cow that meets all requirements of the Law and slaughter it in its third year. The writings of the Jewish sages state that there have been only nine red cows burned in the history of Judaism and that the tenth heifer will be burned in the time of the Messiah. Thus, the current preparation in Israel for the burning of the tenth Red Heifer is a harbinger of the coming of the Messiah.

The mysterious mandate for this sacrifice was and continues to be a riddle to the rabbis. They conclude that even the wisest of all men, King Solomon, was confounded by the Red Heifer commandment. They say that when Solomon wrote, “I said I would acquire wisdom, but it is far from me” (Ecclesiastes 7:23), he was referring to the Red Heifer ritual.  Knowledge gleaned from the New Testament, however, lifts the veil of obscurity surrounding this puzzling ceremony. All the Old Testament sacrifices, we have learned, pointed to different aspects of the atonement procured by the Messiah in His first appearance. The burning of the Red Heifer is no exception.

The Red Heifer was led through the Eastern Gate over an arched roadway that spanned the Kidron Valley to the “Place of Burning” on the Mount of Olives. The Heifer would be bound and thrust into a pit filled with firewood prepared for the ritual. After being slain by the priest, the firewood was ignited. Then, the mysterious cedar wood and hyssop, bound by a thread of scarlet wool, was thrown into the burning carcass.

The picture that is painted at the “Place of Burning” is that of Jesus [the Red Heifer] being led out of Jerusalem to be sacrificed after His third year of earthly ministry. The pit, or grave [Hades] received Him, but it did not hold Him. The fire, likened to the Lake of Fire, swallowed the grave, removing the sting of death [which is eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire]. His ashes [remains of the Red Heifer] were gathered up by a clean person [G-d] and taken [Jesus’ resurrection] to a clean place [Heaven] to be stored for use in The Waters of Purification.

Some biblical scholars believe that Jesus may have been crucified on the Mt. of Olives. The crucifixion at the site known as Golgotha (Matthew 27:33), whether referring to a site on the Mt. of Olives or elsewhere, would agree with the clear teaching that Jesus, like all Temple sacrifices, was led from the Temple area, where he was brought after being arrested, to a place “outside the camp” for crucifixion (Hebrews 13:11-13). Golgotha may have been called the place of the skull (Matthew 27:33) because it was the place where sacrifices were burned, having many animal skulls strewn about. Golgotha comes from the Hebrew root ‘to roll away’. The stone that sealed the tomb in which Jesus lay was rolled away revealing to the world that He had risen from the dead.

The scriptures also indicate that Jesus was buried near the site of His crucifixion. The Mt. Of Olives was a common burial site then and continues to be a popular burial site for Jews today. The rabbis understand from Zechariah 14:4-5 that the Messiah will appear on the Mt. of Olives to fight against the nations on behalf of His people Israel and to raise the dead. As a result, those who are interred there are assured of being present at the Messiah’s coming. The Scriptures describe two other notable events that occurred on the Mt. of Olives: First, the Glory of the L-rd departed from the Temple and from Israel from the Mt. of Olives (Ezekiel 10:18, 11:23, 24). Secondly, Jesus, who is the Glory of the L-rd (Haggai 2:9), ascended to heaven from that place (Acts 1:9-12).

The obscure components of the Red Heifer Sacrifice, i.e. the hyssop, cedar wood, and scarlet wool, point to the character of the Messiah. Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, in explaining Jewish thinking on the Messiah, states in his book Machiach:

“Jewish tradition speaks of two redeemers, each one called Mashiach. Both are involved in ushering in the Messianic era. They are Machiach ben David and Mashiach ben Yossef [Joseph]…[Mashiach ben Yossef] will come first before the final redeemer…The essential task of Mashiach ben Yossef is to act as precursor to Mashiach ben David: he will prepare the world for the coming of the final redeemer.” (p. 93)

Jews, we can see, are expecting two specific Messianic individuals: First, Messiah son of Joseph, also called the Suffering Servant Messiah; and secondly, Messiah son of David also called the Conquering King Messiah. As believers in Jesus, we know that Jesus already fulfilled His role as the Suffering Servant, Messiah son of Joseph, and we know He will return to fulfill His eternal role as Messiah Son of David, the Conquering King. The Red Heifer sacrifice ‘ties’ the two Messiahs together, demonstrating that they are really one and the same:

  • A heifer is a young female cow that has never borne young––hence a virgin, implying purity. The heifer, being a female, denotes that it had the nature of the ‘weak’ Messiah ben Joseph, the one who would sacrifice Himself for the sake of all mankind.
  • The Red Heifer’s color suggests its dual nature: Red is the color of blood symbolic of the atonement (Leviticus 17:11) procured by the blood of Messiah ben Joseph; and scarlet is the color worn by royalty, pointing to the kingship (Matthew 27:28-29) of Messiah ben David.
  • The interior of the Temple was constructed of cedar wood (1 Kings 6:15) overlaid with pure gold (1 Kings 6:21). It was an earthly representation of the Temple of Messiah’s body: the earthly man, the mighty cedar with a divine nature, overlaid with gold. The scriptures give cedar wood special recognition for height, strength, and fragrance. Ezekiel’s description of the exalted branch, from the cedar, has been accepted by Jewish and Christian scholars as being the Messiah in His kingly role on earth (Ezekiel 17:22-23).
  • Hyssop was in direct contrast to the mighty cedar as it is the lowliest of plants (1 Kings 4:33). It was used to sprinkle the sacrificial blood of all the offerings (Psalm 51:7, John 19:29). It, like the cedar, was an aromatic plant. Jesus came the first time as Messiah ben Joseph, a lowly servant, to ‘sprinkle’ His sacrificial blood mingled with water at His death (John 19:34), creating the Water’s of Purification for all who would trust in Him.
  • The scarlet wool that was used to tie the cedar wood and hyssop together represented the blood-stained robe of the Messiah that will ultimately ‘tie’ the two Messiahs together and identify the L-rd at His coming:

“He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of G-d….And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: King of Kings and L-rd of L-rds.” (Revelation 19:13, 16)

  • Jesus’ ashes were gathered up by a clean ‘man’, G-d, and taken to a clean place, Heaven, to be mixed with water, the Holy Spirit, to be sprinkled on His people, taking away the defilement of death from their lives.

Eternal separation from G-d begins with being sent to Hades, the place where the unsaved dead await resurrection. The time will come when Hades will ‘release’ the dead at the last resurrection to face G-d’s White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:10-15). Death and the place of its residence, Hades, will be thrown into the Lake of Fire along with those whose names are not found written in the Book of Life. Some will be resurrected unto everlasting life and others unto everlasting damnation (Daniel 12:2).

Jesus not only took the judgment of a cruel death that we deserve for our sins, but He also took our deserved eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire as pictured in the Red Heifer sacrifice. Defilement from death, that which separates man from G-d, is removed when an individual is ‘sprinkled’ with The Waters of Purification––the Holy Spirit [water] mixed with the Word of G-d [the ashes of the Red Heifer]. This ‘mixture’ keeps us clean and undefiled before G-d from day to day.

As the Jewish community prepares to sacrifice the tenth Red Heifer of Israel’s history, pray that G-d may open their eyes to see Him in this sacrifice in all His glory.

Barukh HaShem (Blessed is the Name of the L-rd)

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