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Yeshua and the Red Heifer Riddle Print E-mail
Written by Victoria Radin   

"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)

The mysterious mandate for this sacrifice is a continual 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.

As believers in Yeshua, we know that all the Old Testament sacrifices 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 full instructions explain that this sacrifice takes 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 separation' that had to be sprinkled on everything and everyone connected with the performance of Temple worship.

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 the firewood prepared for the ritual prior to being slain by the priest. The Heifer's blood would be sprinkled seven times toward the Holy of Holies before the fire was ignited. Finally, the mysterious cedar wood and hyssop, bound by scarlet wool, was thrown onto its carcass.

The picture that is painted at the "Place of Burning" is that of Yeshua being led out of Jerusalem to be cast into the pit, likened to the Lake of Fire, taking the eternal punishment for our rebellion against G-d.

Eternal separation from G-d begins with being sent to Hades, the place of the dead. A time will come when Hades will 'release' the dead to face the White Throne Judgment. Death and Hades will then be thrown into the Lake of Fire along with those whose names are not found written in the Book of Life (Revelation 20:10-15 & 1 Corinthians 15:54-55). Yeshua took, not only our rightful judgment of death for our sins, but also our deserved eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire.

Some biblical scholars believe that Yeshua 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 still satisfy the regulation which states that the Red Heifer had to be led from the Temple to a place outside the city gate for burning. Yeshua was led from the Temple area where He was brought after being arrested to a place outside the camp for crucifixion.

Golgotha, loosely translated 'skull', comes from the Hebrew root to roll away. The stone that sealed the tomb in which Yeshua was placed was near the crucifixion site. It was rolled away revealing to the world that He had risen. Yeshua' resurrection also rolled away the judgment of death and the punishment for rebellion for those who trusted in His atoning death.

The Mt. of Olives was a common burial site then and continues to be a popular burial site for Jews today. The rabbis interpret Zechariah 14:4-5 to mean 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. Being interred on this Mount therefore, assures one's presence at the resurrection. 

A tradition that aids in solving the Red Heifer riddle is one that has existed from antiquity: the belief that there are going to be two Messiahs­­, Messiah ben Joseph and Messiah ben David. Messiah [son of] Joseph is expected to die in a victorious battle that will result in the anointing of Messiah [son of] David who will rule and reign over all the world. 

The Tale of Two Messiahs

Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet expresses Jewish thinking on this issue in his book Mashiach (S.I.E., NY­Toronto, 1992):

"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]...He [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) 

Some scholars thought that one Messiah might fulfill both roles. John (the baptizer) reflected this confusion when, after his arrest, he sent a message to Yeshua from his jail cell.

"Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?" (Matthew 11:2)

John was not registering doubt that Yeshua was the promised Messiah; but instead wanted to know whether He was going to fulfill both roles of the Messiah or only one. The Jews believe that the dead will be raised by Messiah ben David. They also conclude that Isaiah 35:5-6 describes the deeds of the conquering-king Messiah and Isaiah 61:1, the deeds of the suffering-servant Messiah. In reply, Yeshua returned a message to John that included the deeds of 'both' Messiahs, essentially telling him that He was the only Messiah:

"The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them." (Matthew 11:5 - combining Isaiah 26:19; 35:5-6; and 61:1)

Each Detail Of The Red Heifer Ritual Served To Contrast And Conjoin The 'Two Messiahs'

1. It was a female:

A heifer is a young female cow that has never borne young­­hence a virgin, implying purity. A heifer, being a female, denotes that it had the nature of the 'weak' Messiah ben Joseph, the one who would sacrifice Himself for Messiah ben David's benefit.

2. The heifer was red:

Its red color denotes 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, denoting the kingship (Matthew 27:28-29) of Messiah ben David. In this connection, it can be noted that the prophet Samuel sacrificed a heifer at the anointing of King David (1 Samuel 16:1-2).

The apostle Luke records that after eating His last supper, Yeshua went to the Mount of Olives [where the Red Heifer was taken] and began to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane [meaning olive press]. It was there, in the place where anointing oil was pressed from of the olives that Yeshua agonized as the sins of the world were being pressed into Him in preparation for the cross.

"And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground." (Luke 22:49) (see also Hebrews 12:4)

When blood vessels under the skin burst causing the pores to bleed, the skin of the individual appears reddish in color. The above scripture indicates that Yeshua experienced bleeding pores during His agony in the Garden. The heifer, foreshadowing Yeshua agony over the weight of our sins, had to be red

3. Cedar wood was cast onto the burning heifer:

The scriptures give cedar wood special recognition for height, strength, and fragrance. The interior of the Temple was constructed of cedar wood overlaid with pure gold. It was an earthly representation of the Temple of Messiah's body: the earthly man (the mighty cedar) with a divine nature (the golden overlay). Ezekiel's description of the exalted branch, in fact, has been accepted by scholars as representing the Messiah in His kingly role on earth­­Messiah ben David:

"I will take also of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain. In the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit and be a majestic cedar..." Ezekiel 17:22-23

4. Hyssop was cast onto the burning heifer:

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). It, like the cedar, was an aromatic plant. Yeshua came the first time as Messiah ben Joseph, a lowly servant as depicted in the hyssop, to sprinkle His sacrificial blood on all who would believe in Him.

5. Scarlet wool was cast onto the burning heifer:

The scarlet wool was used to tie the cedar wood and hyssop together before being thrown onto the burning heifer. It represents the blood-stained robe of the L-rd, and is the thread that ties the two messiahs together into one.

In the story of Joseph, a type of the Messiah (Genesis 37:18-36), his brothers betrayed him [just as Judas betrayed Yeshua for thirty pieces of silver] by selling him to Midianite traders. Then they dipped Joseph's many-colored coat in goat's blood to make his father, Jacob, believe that Joseph was killed by a wild beast. Although thought dead, Joseph lived. 

The scriptures (Revelation 19:11-13) depict the L-rd in heaven coming on a white horse wearing Messiah ben Joseph's robe dipped in blood. Yet in this scripture passage, the L-rd is clearly the conquering-king Messiah ben David. His blood-stained robe, like the scarlet wool, ties the two Messiahs together. Although many thought Yeshua was dead, He lives!


A few moments before His death, Yeshua said I thirst. In response, a sponge filled with vinegar (sour wine) was raised up on a hyssop branch to His lips (John 19:29). This symbolized that He was about to taste the bitterness of death, His blood sprinkling many with redemption. At the moment of His death, Yeshua the mighty cedar, with King of the Jews written above His head, was linked to Yeshua the lowly hyssop, Servant of G-d.

5. The ashes were mixed with water to create the waters of separation:

After the Temple was built on Mt. Moriah, only water from the Pool of Siloam was permitted to be used in Temple rituals. Thus the ashes of the Red Heifer were always mixed with water from the Pool of Siloam.

The word Siloam comes from the Hebrew root sent. During the Feast of Tabernacles, a priest was sent to the Pool with a golden ewer to be filled with water for the great Outpouring Ritual held on the last day of the Feast during which they prayed for rain for the next growing season.

In typology, Yeshua' blood [i.e. His ashes] was mixed with water at His death­­ the water symbolizing the Holy Spirit who would be sent to create the living waters of separation to which the Red Heifer pointed:

"...one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His [Yeshua'] side, and forthwith came there out blood and water." (John 19:34)

Yeshua' death cleansed man of his sins making it possible for him to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The cleansing water that separates man from death and eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire is the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

G-d would not send His Holy Spirit until Yeshua had atoned for the sins of mankind. The Holy Spirit could not dwell in unclean vessels.

"'He who believes in Me...out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given because Yeshua was not yet glorified." (John 7:38-39)

Eve was created from one of Adam's ribs; she came out of Adam's side. G-d said they were one flesh. The bride [the Church] of the last Adam, Yeshua (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47), came out of His side. She was created from Yeshua's blood mingled with the living water of the Holy Spirit, ­­the mixture that separates her from eternal death. Yeshua prayed that the Father would make them [the Church] one with Him (John 17:21).

6. He shall purify himself with the water on the third day, and on the seventh day; then he will be clean:

Hidden within this ordinance of the ritual is the millennium/day concept that is introduced in Psalm 90:4 and repeated in 2 Peter 3:8:

"...with the L-rd one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day."

The L-rd made a covenant with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai during the third millennium (the year 2,448 on the Jewish calendar,) In keeping that covenant of faithfulness to the L-rd, they were clean before Him. During the seventh millennium (i.e. beginning 2001 AD?), before G-d's wrath is poured out on unrepentant mankind, everyone who enters into the New Covenant, receiving atonement for their sins through Messiah Yeshua' death, will be sprinkled with the waters of separation, the Holy Spirit of G-d. They will then be clean before Him. This was symbolized when the priest sprinkled the blood seven times before the Temple, the number seven representing the fullness of spiritual things on the earth.

7. The ashes of the red heifer were stored outside the camp in a ceremonial clean place:

After the Israelites rebelled against G-d in the wilderness, He said that He would not dwell in their midst any longer because they rejected Him in favor of the golden calf. Their rebellion against G-d resulted in separation from Him. The tabernacle was, thereafter, pitched without the camp (Exodus 33:3, 7).

In typology, after Yeshua's death, G-d gathered up the 'ashes' of His Son and took them to the ceremonial clean place, Heaven. Yeshua would no longer physically dwell in their midst because they had rejected Him. The day is coming, though, when G-d will once again return to dwell in the midst of His people Israel when they end their rebellion and acknowledge His Son, the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua.


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