5 The Red Heifer

Numbers 19

Perhaps if we had written the Bible, we should have put the passage concerning the sacrifice of the red heifer along with the accounts of the other sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus. It is remarkable that the Spirit of God has not done so, but has put it in the middle of the Book of Numbers, which book presents the people of God journeying through the wilderness. The subject of the Book of Leviticus is how we approach God on the ground of sacrifice. The Book of Numbers might be called a wilderness book. It relates the ways of the children of Israel, what they did during their journey to Canaan, their murmurings, their backslidings, and their lusts.

Now, this world should be a wilderness to the Christian while he is on his way to the glory of God. When we see this, we understand the appropriateness of the sacrifice of the red heifer. The people are in the wilderness, going on to their rest, just as we who believe in the Lord now are still in the world, exposed to defilement, with sin in us, the world outside us (and the devil, too), while we are on our way to the glory of God. And it is while we are journeying through this world that we need to be cleansed from all the defilement which we contract by the way.

I cannot now attempt to go into all the details of this scripture. We will take up only the main points. In verse 2 we read, "This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord has 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."

That is the first thing. There must be a spotless sacrifice. So the Lord Jesus presented Himself to do the will of God, according to those words in 1 Peter 1:19:

"A lamb without blemish and without spot."

"And upon which never came yoke." What does that mean? The Lord Jesus, as regards His own Person, was never under the yoke of sin. We by nature are under that yoke. We read, "Whosoever commits sin is the servant [or, the slave] of sin" (John 8:34).

We were under the yoke of sin. The Lord Jesus, as we know, was born into this world holy: "That holy thing which shall be born of thee," the angel said to Mary, "shall be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). No yoke of sin ever came upon Him. He did no sin; He knew no sin.

"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" (v. 3).

Now turn to the last chapter of Hebrews:

"For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate" (vv. 11-12).

"Without the camp," "without the gate." How clearly does the antitype answer to the type! The heifer was brought forth without the camp, just as Jesus was led forth without the gate. "And one shall slay her before his face." The spotless one is led forth without the gate and then slain.

There are three aspects of the value of the death of the heifer:

(1) "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" (v. 4).

(2) "And one shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn" (v. 5).

(3) "And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer" (v. 6).

In each of these verses we have a different aspect of the work of the Lord Jesus. (1) Shedding the blood and sprinkling it before the tabernacle of the congregation (v. 4) was really done as before God. That was the thought. It presented the precious blood of Christ, which has been shed once and by virtue of which we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

(2) The whole animal burned to ashes without the camp shows, I believe, in type, that the fire of God's judgment, so to speak, consumed all our sins on the cross, so that they are entirely put away and can never be imputed to us. They are gone forever for those who believe.

(3) Concerning cedar wood and hyssop, you may remember it says in 1 Kings 4:33, Solomon "spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springs out of the wall." That is, I suppose, from the greatest thing in the vegetable kingdom to the smallest, and the rest comprehended between the two. So cedar wood and hyssop would typify all that belongs to us as children of Adam, all that we glory and boast in as natural men. Scarlet is a well-known type of the glory of this world. The woman in the Revelation, spoken of as sitting on the beast, was arrayed in scarlet, and it was a scarlet-colored beast. So these things were all consumed in the midst of the burning of the heifer.

Further down in the chapter we learn how a person got defiled. He became so if he touched anything connected with death. That is the way it is put in this chapter. A bone of a man, a grave, or one slain with a sword in the open field — if he came in contact with any of these, he was defiled — he was unclean. Now, death is the wages of sin; it was the result of sin. And I think there is no chapter in the Bible, at least in the Old Testament, that gives us such a sense of the holiness of God as does this chapter. It is most remarkable. If the man only touched a bone, he was unclean. But not only was the man who touched the bone unclean, but if another person touched him, or anything he had touched, the other person was unclean too. And if a third person touched the second, that third person likewise was unclean. And so it spread from one to another. Thus, after all, it is a question of what God calls clean, and not of what we call clean. And God calls nothing clean but that which is absolutely fit for His glory. Thank God, we are washed in the precious blood of Christ — are clean and fit for His presence.

Now let us briefly consider these aspects one by one.

(1) The first is the foundation of every blessing.

"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" (v. 4).

The number "seven" in Scripture is a symbol of divine perfectness. So the blood was sprinkled seven times before the tabernacle — that is, before the eye of God. A beautiful picture this of that precious blood of the Lord Jesus, and, mark, it is God, He who alone knows the value of it, who calls it precious (1 Peter 1:19). God the Holy Spirit speaks in Hebrews 9 of the precious blood of Christ. Look at verse 22:

"Almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission [or, forgiveness of sins]."

Notice that expression, "Without shedding of blood." It does not say without application of blood, but without shedding (or, pouring out) of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins. Now (I speak to all believers in this room), when was the precious blood of Christ shed? Was it shed when you were brought to God? Certainly not. Has it been shed since you were converted? Certainly not. If that were necessary "Then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world" (v. 26).

No; that precious blood was shed, or poured out, on the cross, and it is never going to be repeated throughout eternity. "Without shedding of blood is no remission."

When you and I were, by the Spirit of God, first awakened to see our need, we believed God's precious Word and came to Christ. In that Word we saw, when we were troubled about our sins, "that through His name whosoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43). And we believed it. Now we can say, "Thank God, I know that I have forgiveness of my sins, because God tells me so in His blessed Word." But when was that work done, when was that blood shed, on the ground of which you got forgiveness? On the cross. When was the value of that blood applied to you, a guilty sinner? When you believed. For how long does the application apply to you? How long does the efficacy of that blood which was, so to speak, sprinkled on you when you believed — how long does its efficacy last? To all eternity. Blessed, precious truth! When the efficacy of that precious blood, when the value of the blood of Christ is applied to a sinner, it is for all eternity. It is not for six months; it is not for a year; it is not till we sin again; it is forever. Is there a scripture for that? Read Hebrews 10:14:

"By one offering He has perfected forever them that are sanctified."

Now, we are always ready to catch up something or other and make a difficulty of it. So some have said, "I am not sure whether I am among those that are sanctified. It says, Perfected them that are sanctified." "Sanctified," in the Epistle to the Hebrews, never means inward sanctification by the Spirit of God. We do not find sanctification of the Spirit in this epistle. It is not sanctification by the Spirit that is spoken of here, but sanctification by the one offering of Christ. "Sanctify" means "to set apart." So, when a person believes, God sets him apart from the rest of the world by putting all the value of the precious blood of Christ upon him. Thus that person is set apart, or sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once (v. 10). That is not inward or progressive sanctification by the Holy Spirit, which is a different thing altogether. Therefore, verse 10 is true of every believer, for everyone who believes is, in this sense, sanctified and therefore is "perfected forever" by the one offering (v. 14).

To illustrate it by a case: Suppose you and I have been converted to God, say six months. At the time of our conversion we were, of course, washed in the precious blood of Christ, and the value of that precious blood was applied to us. But suppose that we have fallen into some grievous sin and dishonored the Lord and that the blood had to be applied to us again, how long would the efficacy of it have lasted after we were converted? Why, only six months, because we were converted six months ago, and now after six months it has to be applied over again. That would show that the efficacy of that blood of Christ was for only six months. But Hebrews 10 says, "By one offering He has perfected," not for six months, or six years, but "forever" which means that the efficacy of the offering abides throughout the countless ages of eternity. There is the blessed, simple truth in the Word, but then our own hearts are always ready to find fault with God's Word, and many a one says, "That seems dangerous doctrine. 'When the blood of Christ has been applied once, it is so for all eternity; the value of it lasts forever; thus, a believer can never be lost.' That seems to be almost allowing a license for sin." We shall see, however, that it does not. It is exactly the other way. Instead of being a license for sin, it is a blessed power to keep us from sin. There is nothing that keeps us, and nothing that breaks us down when we have sinned, so much as the sense of the love of Christ, the love of Him who suffered all the agony of that cross, in order to save us from all those sins which, alas! we Christians even commit now, for "in many things we offend all [all offend]" (James 3:2).

The first thing is the blood sprinkled before God seven times. Now we see the question of our sins settled forever. I will ask each one here, Have you really known in your own soul that the question of all your sins is settled? Can you say, "The question of my sins was gone into between God and His Son on the cross, and that question has been settled, never to be raised again throughout all eternity"? God will not raise it, if you do; there is the blessed comfort. Many a Christian wants to rake up the question again. God says, as it were, "I will not raise it again. It has been settled forever on the ground of the precious blood of Christ." And God can say (although one does not like to put words into His mouth), "If I were to raise the question of your sins again, I should be calling in question the eternal efficacy of the blood of My Son," which He never could or would do.

(2) "And one shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn" (v. 5).

This is not merely the blood shed; the whole animal is taken outside the camp and entirely consumed. It is burned to ashes. What does that signify to us? As we said before, it is a figure of how entirely all our sins were borne and put away forever at the cross. There the fire of God's judgment consumed all our sins when the Lord Jesus in His matchless grace took them upon Him and bore the judgment due to us, so that they can never be imputed to us who believe in Him. And it is important to see that not only is it said, He bore our sins, but that He was made sin for us, who knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21). In Romans 8:3 we read, "God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin [that is, a sacrifice for sin], condemned sin in the flesh." So sin in the flesh, our state by nature as children of Adam, not merely our sins, was condemned or judged by God when His beloved Son was made sin for us on the cross. Hundreds of believers say, "Ah, it is not my sins that trouble me; it is what I am that troubles me! I am not what I should like to be. I find so many foolish and evil thoughts, and just the same dispositions in me now as when I was unconverted. Sometimes that makes me consider whether I have not deceived myself and whether I am a child of God at all." Many a one says to himself, "If you were a child of God, you would not have all those reasonings and all those idle and evil thoughts; you cannot be a child of God."

Ah, beloved friend, that is no proof that you are not a Christian, a child of God, that you were not converted. You would not be troubled about them at all if you were unconverted. You would be a careless, indifferent sinner, in your sins, as we all were once. But here is the blessed thing to see, that the thing which you are troubling yourself about — what you are as a child of Adam — was condemned by God on the cross when His beloved Son, who knew no sin, was made sin for us.

Have you ever seen that not only your sins, but what you are by nature was answered for on the cross? That when the Lord was made sin, He bore the judgment due to you and me as sinners? God condemned sin in the flesh — not the sins, but the nature that produced them. I think this is a wonderful comfort to a believer. Perhaps, dear friend, you have been finding out for years past, or perhaps for weeks only, the evil of your nature, and you say, "The more I get on, the older I grow, the worse I get." And then you are very apt to think that God also is finding out by degrees how bad we are. But it is not so. He knew it from the beginning. Hundreds of years ago He knew how bad you and I are by nature, and the blessed truth is that when He knew how bad we were and how badly we should turn out after we are saved — in other words, when He knew the worst about us — He was all love toward us and gave His own beloved Son to meet the question of our sins on the cross and to meet this far deeper question, too, of what we are by nature.

I think it is important to see that the death of the Lord Jesus was the death of One who bore the judgment of God for us. He was forsaken of God during those three hours of darkness, when His soul was made an offering for sin. No doubt it was then that the great question of sin was gone into and forever settled by its condemnation on the cross. But, before He died, He again said, "Father." When He was on the cross, in the hour of darkness, He said, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" And then, before He yielded up the ghost, He said, "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit." He bore all the judgment of God due to us and died, and therefore nothing can be imputed to us who believe. "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin" (Rom. 4:8).

(3) "And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer" (v. 6).

There is something beyond the question of our sin being settled. We read in Galatians 6, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (v. 14).

Yes, dear friends, the world put Christ on the cross; the world hated the Lord Jesus when He came into it. It was all over with the world when it cast out and rejected the Son of God. Its condemnation was fixed. The Lord Jesus, looking forward to His death, said, "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (John 12:31). Moreover, the world crucified the Lord of glory, the One whom Christians think everything of; therefore, the world is put in its true place, as deserving shame and degradation and death.

So the Apostle says, "The world is crucified unto me," and, on the other hand, I am crucified to the world — I have died to it. There is an end to the world as far as I am concerned. The cross is the end of it to me. When we see that the Son of God, the Lord of glory, came to die because of what we were, what becomes of our wretched pride and all that the world esteems glorious and seeks after? We look at the cross of Christ and cast it all there, just as the cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet were all burned up in the midst of the burning of the heifer. What is the world to us when we see that it crucified our Lord Jesus? When we learn that He suffered such agony to save us from the judgment that is going to be poured out upon it, what is the world to us then? Nothing. The world is crucified to us, and we to the world.

Next, we have directions concerning defilement.

"He that touches the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days" (v. 11).

If an Israelite touched anything connected with death, he became defiled, because death is the wages of sin. Dead bodies, dead men's bones, and graves have their existence through sin. It has been very nicely remarked that in the new heavens and new earth, wherein dwells righteousness, there will be none of these things to run away from. There will be no such thing as a grave or a bone lying about; there will not be such a thing as a dead body there. Why? Because there shall be no more death. Sin will be outside those blessed regions on account of the shedding of the precious blood of Christ, Now we are surrounded by sin and death, and we little know how frequently we get defiled. Very often we become so by being occupied with evil. The man that sprinkled the water became unclean himself. Just think of that. So if we are occupied with evil, we get defiled by it, because we have a nature in us that answers to evil.

The Lord Jesus did not get defiled in this world, because He had no sinful nature that answered to evil. We have such a nature, and it is a remarkable thing that when a notice of some notorious crime or anything fearfully wicked is placarded in the streets or in a shop window, hundreds of people will stop and read it, or if some picture that illustrates any fearful crime is to be seen, what crowds stand around and look at it! But if there is anything beautiful, precious or lovely on view, you will not find such crowds standing near. Why? Because the natural man likes evil more than good. We know what our own hearts are. The only thing that gives power to a Christian is occupation with nothing but good. "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Phil. 4:8). Do not have your minds filled with evil, but have them filled with good; then there is no danger of getting defiled.

In verses 16-19 is a beautiful picture of what is done when a child of God commits a sin or gets defiled by coming in contact with evil in his pathway through this world. When an Israelite contracted defilement, was the blood sprinkled on him again? No. What was sprinkled on him? Not blood, but ashes and water. What do they imply? The ashes were simply the memorial of that blood which was shed and that body which was burned outside the camp — the remembrance of Christ's sufferings and death. Running water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. How do we know that? If you look in John 7 for a moment, you will see very clearly the way in which the Lord Himself used the symbol.

"He that believes on Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified)" (vv. 38-39).

If you look in the margin of your Bibles at Numbers 19:17, you will see that the term is living water, so, then, living or running water represents the Holy Spirit. The ashes of the heifer set forth the remembrance of Christ's sufferings and death, when He settled forever the question of all our sins and of our sin too. The Holy Spirit, when we have been defiled by evil, takes, so to speak, the sufferings of Christ and brings them to our mind, brings to our remembrance the sufferings of Christ for us, and the value of His death. Is not that wonderful? Do you think that would make us sin? Never. Now, consider for a moment. Suppose you and I committed a sin today, and we were told from God, "Now you have sinned, and there is nothing but judgment for you. You have forfeited all blessing by having sinned against grace, and there is no hope," what would become of us? We should be driven into the depths of despair. It would not help us at all. But suppose that, when we had committed a sin, the blessed Lord Himself were to appear personally to us and say, "I suffered untold agonies on the cross, even the judgment of God, in order that you might never be condemned for the very sin which you have just committed," what then should we say? We should be so thoroughly ashamed of ourselves that we should not know how to hold up our heads; we should be completely broken down and hate ourselves for having done that which the Lord Jesus suffered on the cross to save us from.

That is what the Holy Spirit does, as typified in this chapter. We sin, consciously or unconsciously, and we are defiled; we have gotten into contact with the world and the things of the world. Perhaps we have been with the ungodly and have not confessed the Lord; we may even have joined in their foolish talk and thus have gotten defiled. What does the Holy Spirit do? He brings back to our remembrance what the blessed Lord Jesus suffered in order to deliver us from that very thing which we have done. What is the consequence of that? The consequence is that we are ashamed of ourselves; we grieve over what we have done, and we go and confess it to the Lord. Why do we confess it? The Spirit of God has brought those sufferings of Christ to our remembrance and leads us to the confession of what was done in answer to the blessed service of the Lord Jesus on high, as our advocate with the Father. That is so blessed to think of. "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1) — not, "If any man confess his sin."

Before ever we confess our sin, perhaps before we were aware of it, there is that blessed One with the Father, and the result of His advocacy with the Father is that the Holy Spirit brings to our mind what we have done, and at the same time He brings to our remembrance what the blessed Lord has suffered to deliver us from the very sins we have committed. We are thus humbled and go and confess to our God and Father. All the Trinity, so to speak, is engaged with the restoration of our souls when we have sinned. God the Son, the Lord Jesus, is there as our advocate with the Father; God the Holy Spirit, in answer to Christ's advocacy, brings home the sin to our conscience, leading us to confession; and God the Father forgives us. He is faithful and just to forgive us on the ground of that precious blood shed once for all. It is very interesting to mark the difference between forgiveness once for all as sinners and the forgiveness that, as saints, we get from the Father.

A few words more and I am done. The man was sprinkled on the third day, but it was not till the second sprinkling, on the seventh day, that he was pronounced clean. This teaches us, I think, that God does not think lightly of sin, and that it is far easier to get out of communion than to get back again. When we are first made aware of our sin, we are unhappy and are humbled in the dust before God for what we have done. It is not joy; it is grief. Then we go and confess it, and we find that the Lord gave Himself for the very sin which we have committed. After we have owned our sin, it only increases our sense of the love of the blessed Lord and of the value of His work, so, through God's grace, we are led, perhaps, into a deeper knowledge of Himself and the value of the work of His Son than we had before.

Well, I have been able to give only the leading thoughts in this beautiful chapter, but I trust you have gained some acquaintance with the truths which it teaches. Study them at your leisure, and look to God for the Holy Spirit's guidance to unfold them to you, and blessing must come.

May the Lord in His grace give us each one to be kept so near to Himself that we may not need His gracious, blessed service as our advocate. It is difficult not to be defiled in this evil world, but, oh, let us always remember the blessed truth that we have been perfected forever by the one offering of Christ, by His precious blood, and that when we commit sin, the Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance that the suffering of Christ on the cross has delivered us forever from it. How we shall praise the Lord when, in His own presence in glory, we look back on our past history and on all our failings here, and at the same time on the history of His ways of grace with us! May we know more of the unceasing love of Him who gave Himself for us, who cleanses the church by the washing of water by the Word, and who will present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing. Oh, how blessed that will be when, for the first time, we taste what absolute holiness means and we worship unhinderedly, when the flesh and all connected with it is gone and we shall be forever like and with the Lord! May the Lord keep us near to Himself until that day!