The Ashes of a Red Heifer
January 12th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM
THE ASHES OF A RED HEIFER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-12-58 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the early morning services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled God’s Sevenfold Provision for Cleansing. It is the second in a message delineating those seven provisions of God in the law for the cleansing of His people. The last Sunday that we preached here we spoke of the first three.
This morning we speak of the fourth one, The Ashes of a Red Heifer. The sevenfold provision of God for cleansing, the Day of Atonement, the sin offering, the trespass offering, the ashes of a red heifer, the cleansing of the leper, the laver of washing, and the golden plate on the miter, the headdress, of the high priest; they differ greatly in themselves. But they were all instituted for the same purpose: that of cleansing God’s people.
In these seven ceremonial ritualistic objects and services we have God’s presentation of His holiness and the demand of God for purification, for water of separation, for the cleansing of His people. For in the presence of God before that white holiness all of us are dark and black, filled with iniquity and the judgment of dying. We are a sinful people, and we live in the midst of a sinful people.
We are a people of unclean lips, and we live in a people of unclean lips. Our constant need of purification, of cleansing, is set forth in these seven provisions of God. All of them point to the Lord Jesus Christ. They’re all types, figures, of the great cleansing God hath provided for our souls in Him. And of the seven there is not one that is more beautifully meaningful than this one I speak of this morning: the ashes of a red heifer.
We turn now to the nineteenth chapter of Numbers; and let’s all of us turn to it, the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers; the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers, and the first ten verses record the institution of the ritual. Numbers 19:1-10:
And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke:
And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, that he may bring her forth without the camp, and one shall slay her before his face:
And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before the tabernacle of the congregation seven times:
And one shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, her flesh, her blood, her viscera, shall he burn:
And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer.
Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even.
And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even.
And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation: it is a purification for sin.
And he that gathereth the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: and it shall be unto the children of Israel, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statue for ever.
Then beginning at the eleventh verse and to the twenty-second verse, the end of the chapter, you have the use of that water of purification, the ashes of the red heifer mixed with water and sprinkled upon the people, "For the purifying," and then you have the description of the ceremony, "for those who touch the dead," for inevitable defilement. Living in this world, with sin everywhere, the affinity for sin within us, meeting out, going out, reaching out, touching, intercomingling with the sin of the world around us, inevitable defilement. There is no man that sinneth not.
You live in a world of sin and death. This world is a wilderness because of its death. This is the rite for the purification of inevitable defilement. How can we be right and righteous before God and live in this world of sin and death? This is the ritual; this is the type; this is God’s provision.
Now, we begin, with your Bible in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers. This red heifer, what does that mean, and why did God make this unusual provision? It is very plain, it is very clear. "And He said to the children of Israel, that they bring to the high priest a red heifer without spot, without blemish, upon which never came yoke," a heifer; that represents the yieldedness and willingness of the sacrifice, "upon which never came yoke." Not by coercion and discipline and subjection, but by a willing, yielded sacrifice.
That’s what you read just now in our sharing of the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews: "Then said I, Lo I come in the roll of the book it is written of Me to do Thy will, O God;" a yielded, willing, volunteer. [Hebrews 10:7] "I lay down my life of Myself; no man taketh it from Me." [John 10:18] Our great sacrifice was a willing and yielded offering. He said, "With these legions of angels, why would you take up sword to defend Me? All heaven would war on My side." [Matthew 26:53] He did it of Himself; represented in this female, this heifer, red; red of the sacrifice, of the scarlet blood, of the crimson tide, without spot, without blemish, pure, holy, undefiled, separate from sinners, the holy Lamb of God.
"And ye shall give her unto the priest, and he shall bring her forth without the camp," outside the city. We are to take our reproach and go unto Him outside the camp, outside the gate, outside the city walls. "And one shall slay her before His face." The high priest didn’t do it. He just supervised it as the one by violence took this sacrifice and slew it in the presence of the high priest. The high priest didn’t lay his hands on the Lord’s sacrifice, the Lamb of God. He had it done. And the Lamb of God was slain before His face, as He looked upon it outside the city wall, as by violence.
"And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood and sprinkle it toward the tent of the house of the Lord," that is, the blood was presented unto God. "And one shall burn the heifer in His sight; her skin, her flesh, her blood, her viscera, shall he burn," a whole sacrifice; all of Him poured out unto death, consumed in the judgment of Almighty God, His soul, His mind, His heart, His life, His blood, His body, a whole sacrifice for us.
"And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer." I read that before. In this sacrifice of the living bird, who is bathed in the blood of the slain bird then turned loose, bearing up to heaven on its wings the blood of the sacrifice, I read here in that ritual, in that ceremony, which is for the cleansing of the leper, I read the same thing there. "And the priest shall take the living bird with cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop, and shall dip them with the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water."
Isn’t that an unusual thing God hath done? The living bird with cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop, bathed in the blood, caught in an earthen vessel over running water, and then let loose into heaven. And here I read those three again. In the burning of this sacrifice, the priest shall place into the consuming fire cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet.
It means this. In that blood in which that living bird is plunged, cedar, the beautiful towering majestic forest of Lebanon, cedar, and hyssop, the humblest of all the herbs that grow out of the wall, and scarlet, the red dye of the blood of Christ. And the picture in the cleansing of the leper is that the blood of our Lord has stained the whole glory of this world. From the highest to the lowest in nature, from God’s greatest mightiest work to God’s humblest smallest work, all of it, there in the blood, dyed and stained in the blood.
And here that same thing appears again, except here it is consumed in the fire. The whole of this world, the whole glory of this world, everything God hath done, stained by the blood of Christ in the ritual of the sacrifice that cleansed the leper, and here consumed in the fire in the ashes of the red heifer. In other words, crucified unto the world, we unto it, and it unto us; in the cross of Christ we are crucified unto the world and the world is crucified unto us; all of it consumed in the fire of the judgment of God, cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, stained red and burned in the fire.
Then it continues in the ninth verse: "And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation: it is a purification for sin." That is the only sacrifice differing from all other sacrifices. This is the only offering that is made once for all, ideally at least, once for all.
When a man sinned he had to offer fresh blood. He had to offer a fresh sacrifice; and the sacrifices were repeated again, and again, and again. Every day it’s atonement. Every day it’s pouring out of blood. Every day it’s sacrifice anew and afresh but not here. Ideally this sacrifice was once and for all.
The red heifer without spot, without blemish, upon which never came yoke, slain without the camp, burned up a whole offering. Its ashes were kept through the years and the generations. Its verger, its verge never ceased, but it was offered once and for all. And thereafter it had the power of purification and of separation from sin, a type, a picture of the sacrifice of our Lord who was offered once for all.
And throughout the years and throughout the generations that sacrifice is sufficient and able for all of the purification of all the sins of the world. Isn’t it marvelous how God would institute a ceremony like this, and do it a thousand and five hundred years before the Lord? And write it here in the Book, and every syllable of it is a type and a picture of the purification of sin, that God hath provided for His people?
Why, we read these things, pass over them, don’t pay any attention to them. There it is in that old Book of Leviticus, and in that Book of Numbers, and nobody pays any attention, nobody reads. But the Holy Spirit said all of it was the inspired Word of God, every syllable of it. And it has a deep and profound meaning. It’s just we don’t have anybody to teach us. We don’t have anybody to show us.
Consequently, the Bible for almost all of God’s people remains a sealed and closed Book. Oh, that the Holy Spirit will open our hearts, give us minds that can see and understand, and hearts that are open to the truth! Now let’s continue. This is one of the most marvelous rituals I ever thought or discovered or ever dreamed of in my life; and I never saw it until now. I guess I have read it, and read it, and read it, but I never saw it mean anything until I prepared this message this morning, for this morning.
Now look at what they do with the ashes of this red heifer, which is laid up, which is kept, which was offered once for all, and which is of efficacy and of virtue for the purification of sins. In the eleventh verse and following, you have the picture of inevitable defilement. Whoever touches a dead body, whoever touches anything that is unclean, that has been touched by a man who has been unclean, all is unclean:
When a man dieth in a tent: all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days.
In going out to battle, the one that touches a man that is slain with a sword, or a body, or a grave.
Uncleanness everywhere, death everywhere, and inevitable defilement everywhere; someone had to go into that tent. There’s a man who has died in it. Someone has to bury these who are dead. Someone must dig the grave. Death is everywhere. It is in every order of life. It is throughout nature. Where there is life, there is death. We live in a world of death. And this picture here is of our own spiritual inevitable defilement. We cannot escape it.
Could I illustrate it in our children? You don’t need to teach your children a filthy story. The day will come when they will know and remember a dirty, filthy story. You don’t need to teach your children dirty and unclean words. The day will come when they will know dirty and unclean words. You don’t need to teach your children the fact, awful, of sin. The day will come when they will feel in their hearts the conscience mighty of a dirty and unclean spirit. You don’t teach them.
May God make my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if ever I taught a child dirt, and filth, and sin. And you feel the same way. May God strike off my right hand if I ever pointed out to my boy or to my girl the dirt and filth of the world. But they are in contact with it, and come to know it. This is God’s picture of inevitable defilement. There is no escape.
Your child shall walk in the corruption and filth of this earth, and we shall live in the dirt and iniquity of this cursed and judged world. How shall we do and where shall we turn? We are a defiled people. That is the purpose of the ritual. God hath provided against the defilement of His people; and it is in the offering of the ashes of the red heifer.
Now look how it is applied. It says in the nineteenth verse, "These who are defiled by death," death everywhere, a picture of this world, "These who are defiled, there shall be sprinkled upon the unclean on the third day." This heifer has been slain, and "on the third day the water of separation is sprinkled on the unclean, the third day." That’s the resurrection of our Lord. That’s God’s acceptance of Him.
These ashes speak of a finished and a final sacrifice. And the third day speaks of God’s acceptance of the sacrifice. "And on the seventh day, at eventide, he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and he shall be clean." The seventh day at even, that is, at the beginning of the eighth day, at the beginning of the new week, "Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." We are a new creation in Jesus Christ.
That’s the picture. That’s the type. That’s the symbol in the application of the blood of the atonement of Christ, acceptable unto God and sealed by His resurrection. We are clean from defilement and sin; and in Him we have a new day, and a new leaf, and a new life, and a new page, and a new promise, and a new hope, and a new faith, all things new. "And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new;" [Revelation 21:5] the washing away of our sins, the ritual of the ashes of the red heifer.
Now, in the little moment that remains, turn to the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy; the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy twenty-one, the first nine verses. Deuteronomy 21:1-9. Now I read:
If one be found slain in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him:
Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain:
And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke;
And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough uncultivated valley, which neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer’s neck there in the valley:
And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the LORD; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried:
And all the elders of that city that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley:
And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. We didn’t know it, we weren’t realizing it.
Be merciful, O LORD, unto Thy people Israel, whom Thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto Thy people of Israel’s charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.
So shalt thou put away the blood, the guilt of innocent blood from among you, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD.
Now I want to show you something. And I found this because of the same word that is used that I never dreamed of. How many times have I read in the thirteenth chapter of Zechariah and the first verse, "In that day, in that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness?" But I never saw it till I prepared this sermon. The first verse of the thirteenth chapter of Zechariah goes with the twelfth chapter; the chapter division ought not to be there. And this is the prophecy of Zechariah in the twelfth chapter of his book. He says:
There is a day coming that I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem.
And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of David apart, the family of Nathan apart
The family of Levi apart, the family of Shimei apart, all the families that remain, every family apart.
And in that day, in the day of that mourning, when they look upon Him whom they pierced, and when they mourn for Him as for an only Son,
In that day when Israel looks upon Jesus whom they have slain, in that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
– and here is the Hebrew –
for purification and for water of separation;
"A fountain," and that’s the same word used over here in the ashes of the red heifer, "for a water of separation, for a purification." And what the prophecy means is this that some of these days, the Lord God Jesus Christ who is in heaven shall appear to His brethren, like He appeared to Paul at a few times before the time. There shall appear the Lord Jesus to His brethren, they who have pierced Him, crucified Him, and rejected Him, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." [John 1:11] He shall appear, and they shall mourn over Him.
And they shall weep and lament, and they shall say, "This remnant, this generation, our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. We didn’t realize it. We didn’t know. We were not there; be merciful, O Lord, unto Thy people Israel, whom Thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto Thy people Israel." And that sacrifice of the red heifer is a picture of the fountain that shall be opened for water of purification, for separation from defilement; and the love of God, eternal and perennial, shall wash away the stain of that sin.
And that’s a picture of us. O Lord, I wasn’t there when they crucified the Savior. My eyes didn’t see it. There He is slain in the earth. His blood has stained the ground. The Lord Jesus, the man that died. Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. O Lord, we didn’t realize. We didn’t know.
And the sacrifice of that red heifer in the uncultivated valley shall be God’s atonement for the washing away of our sins. Oh, with what profound meaning did God write His words and institute His rituals, that we might see in us the defilement of sin, and that we might see in Jesus the washing away of the stain in our souls!
Now, while we sing our song, somebody you give his heart to the Lord. Somebody you come into the fellowship of His church. While we make appeal, down this aisle and to the front, "Pastor, today I give my heart in faith to Christ." Or, "Today, we are placing our lives in the fellowship of the church." Anywhere, down these stairwells from side to side, on the first note of the first stanza, "Here I come, pastor, and here I am." While we stand and sing.
RED HEIFER: GOD’S SEVENFOLD PROVISION FOR CLEANSING
Dr. W. A. Criswell
One of the sevenfold provisions for cleansing
For purification for those who touch the dead
Not by coercion but willing
Ashes kept, a sign of cleansing once and for all
Picture of the Lord’s millennial reign – a fountain washing away sin