The Ashes of the Red Heifer
December 6th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
THE ASHES OF THE RED HEIFER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-6-59 10:50 a.m.
You who listen over television or over radio are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message from the ninth chapter in the Book of Hebrews. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the thirteenth verse of the ninth chapter of Hebrews. And this is the context:
But Christ being come an High Priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle . . .
Not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
“If the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ purge us to serve the living God?” [Hebrews 9:13-14]. The ninth chapter of Hebrews is one of the great, great chapters of the Bible. In it, the author takes the tabernacle, its rituals, its sacrifices, and he uses them for the purpose for which God ordained them—that they were types and pictures of the great eternal truth that God would have us know in Christ Jesus, and by which knowledge we are saved [Hebrews 9:1-28].
This is life eternal: to know Thee, the only true and living God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent [John 17:3]. So in the knowledge of the sacrifice of Christ [Hebrews 9:23-26], we come to know God. And in learning the alphabet of the tabernacle, we are learning the language of heaven. He refers to here in the text to “the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean, which sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh” [Hebrews 9:13]. And the sermon this morning concerns the ashes of the red heifer that “sanctified to the purifying of the flesh.” His reference is to a sacrifice, delineated in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers. And I read the first part of that chapter:
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 may bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke:
And ye shall give her until 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 dung, shall be burned:
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 to the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statute forever . . .
Whosoever touches the dead body of any man (when a man goes into a tent where one is dead, whosoever touches one who that is slain, or a grave, or a bone, or a symbol of death) shall be unclean . . .
And the unclean person shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification—shall sprinkle the clean person with hyssop.
And the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the Lord: the water (and ashes) of separation were not sprinkled upon him; he shall be unclean.
[Numbers 19:1-10, 13, 17, 20]
This sacrifice—of all the sacrifices, this one seems to have made an unusual impression, deep and indelible, upon the mind and conscience of the people of God.
In the days of the tabernacle, it was a sacrifice separate, and unique, and apart. It was not in the Book of Leviticus, nor is it registered as a Leviticus sacrifice, but it was one different and separate and apart. And in the days of the tabernacle, in the days of the temple, as well as in the tabernacle, it had no less a great impression upon the mind and conscience of Israel. The temple faced toward the east, and the eastern gate of the temple was the Gate Shushan. Just beyond the Gate Shushan, was the Kidron Valley; and beyond the Kidron Valley—the Mount of Olives.
At the foot of the Gate Shushan, there was a great double‑arched bridge across the Kidron Valley. In order to raise it from the possibility of defilement, the bridge was made with arches upon arches—two arches below and one arch upon the two arches above. And that bridge was called the Red Heifer Bridge. At intervals—most of the sacrifices were in honor, in memory of, in celebration of a great anniversary, such as the Passover once a year—but the sacrifice of the red heifer had no anniversary. It came at long intervals. And when an interval arrived at which the sacrifice was to be made, an unusual and impressive ceremony followed the sacrifice: there in the temple area, gathered the high priests, the priests, the Levites, the officers, the holy people. And then, led by the high priest, who was followed by one leading a red heifer, they crossed out of the Gate Shushan, across the Red Heifer Bridge, over on the side of Mount Olivet. And there the red heifer was sacrificed.
The Gate Shushan was five cubits lower than any other of the gates that entered into the temple—in order that, when the red heifer was slain, and the priest dipped his fingers in the blood and sprinkled it toward the holy altar seven times—the Shushan Gate was lowered five cubits in order that, when the high priest sprinkled the blood, he might look beyond the Shushan Gate, and the Beautiful Gate, and the Nicanor Gate and look full upon the altar itself.
Now the background for the sacrifice lies in the symbolic significance of death. Death is a type of sin. Death is not only the fruit of sin; it is a symbol of sin. And death in the ceremonial law defiles; it makes unclean. For one to be in the presence of death, for one to be touched by a token of death—a bone, a grave, a tomb—for one, in anywise, to come in contact with a dead body was to become ceremonially unclean and shut out from the worship of the pure and holy God [Numbers 19:13]. The symbol of it was that sin defiles—like death defaces the face and body of a man. Death is an enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26]. Death is a horrible thing. Death destroys the workmanship of God. Death cuts down the bloom of life.
Death destroys the strength and dignity of the image of God. However Abraham may have loved Sarah, he cried over her prostrate body. “Sell me a burying place that I may bury my dead out of my sight” [Genesis 23:4, 8-9]. However the corpse may be beautifully done by the funeral director, corruption has done its work. And like death defaces the face of a man, so sin defiles the soul that was made in the image of God [Matthew 15:18-20]. So in the Scriptures, in the Bible, death is a symbol and a type of the defilement of sin. And when one is touched by death, it is a picture of one who is defiled by sin. Now, that defilement of death was everywhere; you could not escape it.
The ninetieth Psalm is the saddest Psalm and the saddest chapter in the Bible [Psalm 90:1-17]. It was written by Moses, who in the forty years in the wilderness, day and night, looked upon the dying of the people, whose carcasses were to be buried in the wilderness, who could in nowise enter into the Promised Land because of the interdiction of God upon their unbelief Psalm 95:10-11]. Death was everywhere, every day in almost every tent, death, death everywhere. Even in the act of kindness, the man became unclean: if out of charity, one buried the poor, if out of the kindness of one’s heart, one dug a grave and buried the exposed or the slain, even in that act of charity and kindness, he became unclean. It was a defiling picture that God impressed upon the conscience of Israel. Death, death is a symbol of the defilement of sin. And for that defilement, sacrifice and atonement must be made [Hebrews 9:7].
Now for the cleansing of one who had become defiled because of his contact with death, there was offered the sacrifice of the red heifer. And there is no more beautiful or pertinent type of the sacrifice that washes away the stain of sin to be found in all the Word of God than the sacrifice of the red heifer, the ashes of which were used with running water for the cleansing of those who were defiled by contact with death [Numbers 19:1-13, 17-19].
Now in this brief moment, we follow it as it is here in the Bible: “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot” [Numbers 19:2]. There were many lambs being offered on the anniversary of the Passover, one to a family or one to a group of friends [Exodus 12:3-5], but this sacrifice was for the whole nation [Numbers 19:9]. It was all of the people. There was one ark; there was one door into the ark [Genesis 6:14-16]. There was one brazen serpent [Numbers 21:8-9]. There was one scapegoat [Leviticus 16:10, 20-22]. There was one red heifer sacrificed for the whole nation [Numbers 19:9], as there was one great offering for the sins of the world, even our Lord [Hebrews 9:25-26]—one sacrifice, a red heifer.
A heifer symbolized the affection—He is a great Mediator who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities [Hebrews 4:15]—a heifer to represent His affections. And it was to be red, red all over, no other color but red [Numbers 19:2]. As the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah says: “His garments were stained with red” [Isaiah 63:1-3]. Red blood! Sin is scarlet. Sin is red like crimson [Isaiah 1:18]. And the blood that washes it away is red. “These are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” [Revelation 7:14]. Unto Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us, and washed us from our sins, in His own blood [Revelation 1:5]—it is to be a red heifer.
The heifer is to be without spot and without blemish [Numbers 19:2]. If there’s a stain in Christ, if there is a sin in Christ, then He cannot be our Savior—He must die for His own sins. But in Christ, there is no blemish, there is no spot, there is no stain [Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19]. And the heifer was to be one upon which yoke never came [Numbers 19:2]. Our Lord never bowed His neck to the yoke of sin. He owed nothing to the justice of God. He was pure, holy, undefiled, separate from sinners as the sacrifice without spot [Hebrews 7:26, 1 Peter 1:19], without stain, without blemish, and which had never borne a 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” [Number 19:3]. The altar was the place of sacrifice, always and always [Deuteronomy 12:27]. Just this exception; when the red heifer was sacrificed, she was to be taken outside the gate, and outside the city walls, and there to be slain before the face of the high priest [Numbers 19:2-3]. Golgotha is to be outside the city gate [Hebrews 13:12]. Calvary is to be outside the city walls [John 19:20]. Our Lord suffered without the gate, beyond the wall [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12]. And the sacrifice for our sins was as a polluted thing, taken outside the temple court, outside the city, and there slain before the face of the high priest [Numbers 19:2-3].
And the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and shall sprinkle it seven times toward the holy tabernacle of the congregation [Numbers 19:3-4]. Seven times; seven is a number in the Bible for perfection. His is a perfect sacrifice. In the blood of the Lamb, we find atonement made for our sins [Romans 5:11]. And he’s to sprinkle the blood seven times toward the Holy Place. Then one shall burn the heifer in his sight—all the skin, the flesh, the blood, the entire body shall be consumed [Numbers 19:4-5]. As our Lord was offered unto God, all of Him—His holy and pure mind, His saintly and sanctified soul, the glory of His presence and the wonder and beauty of His personality, the body that was fashioned for Him by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:35]—all of Him was offered unto God [Hebrews 9:26].
“God shall look upon the travail of His soul, and be satisfied [Isaiah 53:11]. God shall lay upon Him the iniquity of us all…by His stripes, we are healed” [Isaiah 53:5-6]; all to be offered unto God—nothing to remain—all to be spent in expiation for our sins. And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning fire [Numbers 19:6], and it was to become a part of the ashes of the heifer. Scarlet (the red of the blood), cedar wood (preserving God’s people forever) and hyssop (what is taken to be dipped into the ashes and the running water and sprinkled upon the unclean); hyssop, the faith that receives it and takes it [Numbers 19:5, 6, 9, 17]. For if one shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off [Numbers 19:13].
We can listen to the message of Christ. We can even watch the death of our Lord; but it is the application of the soul, and spirit, and life, and atonement of Jesus to our hearts and lives that makes us clean, that washes us white, that saves us from our iniquity; the hyssop that applies it—all there to be gathered. Then, when the heifer, the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet are all burned down to ashes [Numbers 19:5-6], then a man that is clean is to gather up the ashes and lay them without the camp in a clean place [Numbers 19:9]. And they were to be distributed, separated to all of the towns and cities of Israel. And whenever one was unclean, whenever one was defiled, he knew where to go for the cleansing power, for it was laid up outside the camp in a clean place [Numbers 19:9].
Blood is a symbol of life—the pouring out of life, the giving of life [Leviticus 17:14]. Ashes is a symbol of death, of judgment spent, of the justice of God that has burned to the ground [Ezekiel 28:18] an atonement full and complete has been made [Leviticus 17:11]. So the ashes represent the continuing efficacy of the atonement of Christ [Numbers 19:9]. It sufficed for them in their day; it suffices for us in our day, and it suffices for our children and our children’s children until time shall be no more—laid up that we might be cleansed. Then, in the application, the ashes were to be mixed with running water and sprinkled upon the one who is defiled [Numbers 19:17-19]. The ashes represent the atonement finished and complete of our Lord [Numbers 19:9]; who took upon Himself the judgment of our sins; who received in His own body the fury and wrath of the judgment of God upon us [Matthew 27:32-50].
And the ashes represent the completed offering of our Lord [Hebrews 9:26]. Here it is; judgment is complete; atonement has been made; all is finished [John 19:30]. The ashes represent the full gift of Christ. The running water [Numbers 19:17] represents the Holy Spirit—the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit of God. And when upon the unclean, there was sprinkled the cup with ashes and running water [Numbers 19:17-18], it symbolized, it typified, the substitutionary death of Christ that washes away our sins [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5], and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit that comes into our hearts, and into our lives [Titus 3:5], and makes us a new creature in Christ Jesus [2 Corinthians 5:17]. The ashes—Christ justifies us! [Romans 5:9]. The running water—the Holy Spirit sanctifies and regenerates us! [Titus 3:5]. That’s how we become a Christian—through the substitutionary death of Christ, who in His own self bears our sins in His body on the tree [1 Peter 2:24]. He paid the penalty for us! [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He died for us! [1 Thessalonians 5:9-10]. That substitutionary sacrifice of Christ washes our sins away [Revelation 1:5].
“When I see the blood,” says God, “I will pass over you” [Exodus 12:13]. We are forgiven for Jesus’ sake [Ephesians 4:32]. Not that we have merit; not that we have worth; not that we have ought to commend us, but Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us [Galatians 2:20]. And that picture is in the substitutionary atonement of our Lord [1 Peter 3:18]. Then it is mixed with running water [Numbers 19:17]—the Holy Spirit of God comes into our hearts, and He regenerates us [Titus 3:5]. We have a new life. We have a new love. We have a new vision. We have a new desire. We have a new ambition. We have a new outreach and outlook—all things have become new through the taking of the substitutionary death of Christ [2 Corinthians 5:17]. The Holy Spirit applies it to our hearts, and we become clean and new and undefiled in the sight of God [2 Corinthians 5:17].
There is one thing that Solomon—in the rabbinical literature— there is one thing that King Solomon, as he saw the sacrifice of the red heifer and as he read of it here in the Bible, there’s one thing King Solomon said he could not understand. It was this, and the thing that Solomon has commented on here is one of the mysteries of life: Solomon said he could not understand how it is that everybody who had anything to do with the sacrifice of the red heifer became unclean, except those who were unclean already and who were made clean by the sacrifice, the ashes of the red heifer. For example: in Numbers 19:7, “The priest shall wash his clothes, shall bathe in water, and shall come into the camp, and shall be unclean until the even.” The priest, in whose presence the sacrifice was made, was made unclean by being in the presence of the sacrifice. The priest who dipped his hand in the blood and sprinkled it toward the Holy Place, he became unclean because of his contact with the red heifer. “And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even” [Numbers 19:8]. The man that burned the red heifer, he was unclean because he had something to do with the sacrifice of the red heifer. “And the man that gathers up the ashes, he shall wash his clothes, and shall be unclean until the even” [Numbers 19:10].
Everybody—whether he slew the sacrifice, dipped his finger in blood, was in the presence of the sacrifice, gathered up the ashes, put them in a clean place, or applied them to a defiled person—whoever touched or had anything to do with the sacrifice of the red heifer became unclean. And Solomon said: “I cannot understand that. How all who had something or anything to do with the sacrifice became unclean except the unclean who were made clean by it.”
Well, therein lies one of the mysteries of life. Those who were bitten by a serpent in the wilderness and were dying of the fangs of poison of those tenuous snakes [Numbers 21:5-7], they were made clean. How? By looking at a brazen serpent [Numbers 21:8-9]. If a man thinks that he has rabies, if he will go to a physician and become inoculated with the ashes—ashes of rabies—he becomes immune. He is free. If one thinks he might be subject to smallpox, or to diphtheria, or to typhoid, or to typhus, or to yellow fever, if he will go to the physician and let the physician place in his veins the ashes of the disease, he becomes immune, and well, and safely guarded. It’s like the caduceus of the physician. The serpent is a symbol of the darkness, and sin, and death, and disease in the world. But the serpent is the symbol of the healing profession of the physician—there with that wand will be circled around—the serpent, a sign of the doctor, the caduceus of the physician.
And so it is, God says in His Book, as He says in the life all around us; Christ was made a curse for us [Galatians 3:13]. Christ was made a polluted thing for us. Christ was made damnation and death for us. And as a polluted thing, He was taken outside the city gates, and outside the city walls, and outside the camp [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12], and there He was numbered with the transgressors [Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27]. And He died forsaken by man [Matthew 26:56], and deserted by God [Matthew 27:46]. And yet, that marvelous and unbelievable thing, by looking to Him, the unclean are clean! [John 3:14-17; Numbers 21:8-9] By looking to Him, we who are cursed are rid of the defilement of our sins [1 Peter 2:24]. We are saved in the agony, and the wounds, and the blood, and the tears, and the sorrow, and the hurt, and the suffering of the Son of Man [Isaiah 53:5; Matthew 27:32-50].
There is in the nature of God that deep and mysterious thing that only in blood, only in the sacrifice of life, can sin be washed away [Leviticus 17:11; Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:22]. And in His becoming a curse for us we are delivered from the curse [Galatians 3:13]; and in His death we find life [1 Peter 2:24]; in His sufferings we found salvation [Hebrews 2:9], as these who are polluted by that heifer who was slain. They were made clean by the ashes of the sacrifice they offered unto God when they burned the red heifer in the presence of the Lord [Numbers 19:9].
Solomon said he could not understand it. I don’t propose to understand it. It is just that in the power and in the economy and in the will of God, the man that shall look in faith to the brazen serpent shall be healed. God said he would! [Numbers 21:8-9]. He that will look in faith to the Son of God shall be cleansed from all of his sins [1 John 1:7, Isaiah 45:22]. The man that will not look shall die! The man that will not accept shall be cut off from the family of the Lord [John 3:36]. But the man who will look shall live! [John 3:14-17; Numbers 21:8-9].
“Look and live, my brother, live! Look to Jesus Christ and live! It is recorded in His Word. Hallelujah! It is only that you look and live!” This is the gospel of Jesus, written large on the page of the Book. Always the same, whether in the Old Testament by type, whether in the New Testament by substance and reality: all looking unto Jesus. Behold! Look! “The Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world” [John 1:29]; look and live!
While we sing our song of appeal, in this balcony round, somebody you, on this lower floor, somebody you, giving his heart in faith and in trust to Christ [Ephesians 2:8-9], would you come and stand by me? A family here to put their lives with us in the circle and fellowship of our church, would you come? Anywhere, somebody you, down one of these stairwells, into the aisle and down the front, “Here I come, pastor, and here I am.” As the Spirit of the Lord shall say the word, shall open the way, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.
OF THE RED HEIFER
9:13, Numbers 19:1-10
A. Not a regular
sacrifice; separate and unique
B. Made a great
impression upon Israel
is the curse and result of sin
the ceremonial law death defiles, makes unclean
Destroys strength and dignity of the image of God(Genesis
D. Defilement of death
Death is a symbol of the defilement of sin
II. For the defilement of sin, sacrifice
and atonement must be made
sacrifice for the whole nation
heifer symbolized affection(Hebrews 4:15)
Was to be no other color but red(Isaiah 1:18,
63:1-3, Revelation 1:5, 7:13-14)
spot or blemish – a perfect animal of its kind
1. If one stain was in
Christ, He could not deliver us
Never to have borne a yoke
the camp(Numbers 19:3)
1. The altar the place
of sacrifice, except this one
2. Calvary is outside the
city walls(Hebrews 13:12)
of remission sprinkled seven times
wholly with fire(Isaiah 53:5-6, 11)
Cedar wood, hyssop, scarlet(Numbers 19:18)
1. The faith that
receives it and takes it
2. If one refuses, his
soul is cut off(Numbers 19:20)
The ashes laid up – the perpetual efficacy of the atonement
Ashes and running water
1. Ashes – completed
offering of our Lord(Exodus 12:13)
2. Running water –
regenerating power of the Holy Spirit
Made clean through the unclean
1. Solomon(Numbers 19:7)
2. The brazen serpent –
Christ regarded as unclean, made damnation and death for us(2 Corinthians 5:21)