Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
The Red Heifer
What is the symbolic meaning of the "red heifer" sacrifice? Even Solomon, in all his wisdom, is said not to have understood the true significance of the red heifer. Had he understood it, he most likely would not have turned to sin in his later years.
by HOIM Staff
According to Scripture, the greatest defilement of all is death. Therefore, the sin offering for its purification was itself the most marked. Sin renders fellowship with YEHOVAH God impossible; sin was death; it causes death (Romans 6:23). Death is evidence of its sway.
Therefore the Law of YEHOVAH God made exceptional providence for its purification. Says Alfred Edersheim in his book The Temple: Its Sacrifices and Services, "'A red heifer without spot,' that is, without any white or black hair on its hide, without 'blemish, and on which never yoke came,' was to be sacrificed as a sin-offering (Numbers 19:9, 17), and that outside the camp, not in the sanctuary, and by the son of, or by the presumptive successor to the high priest. The blood of this sacrifice was to be sprinkled seven times with the finger, not on the altar, but towards the sanctuary; then the whole animal -- skin, flesh, blood, and dung -- burned, the priest casting into the midst of the burning 'cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet.' The ashes of this sacrifice were to be gathered by 'a man that is clean,' and laid up 'without the camp in a clean place.' But the priest, he that burned the red heifer, and who gathered her ashes, were to be 'unclean until the even,' to wash their clothes, and the two former also to 'bathe,' their flesh 'in water' (Numbers 19:7, 8)."
The red heifer offering is a sin-offering, yet it differs from all other sin-offerings. Says Edersheim, "The sacrifice was to be of pure red color; one 'upon which never came yoke'; and a female, all other sin offerings for the congregation being males (Leviticus 4:14). These particulars symbolically point to life in its freshness, fullness, and fruitfulness -- that is, the fullest life and the spring of life. But what distinguished it even more from all others was, that it was a sacrifice offered once for all (at least so long as its ashes lasted); that its blood was sprinkled, not on the altar, but outside the camp towards the sanctuary; and that it was wholly burnt, along with cedar wood, as the symbol of imperishable existence; hyssop, as that of purification from corruption; and 'scarlet,' which from its color was the emblem of life....But even this is not all. The gathered ashes with running water were sprinkled on the third and seventh days on that which was to be purified. Assuredly, if death meant 'the wages of sin,' this purification pointed, in all its details, to 'the gift of God,' which is 'eternal life,' through the sacrifice of Him in whom is the fullness of life" (p. 279-281).
There is a Jewish tradition that Solomon, who understood all the meanings of all the ordinances of YEHOVAH God, was stumped by the symbolism of the red heifer. Jewish tradition itself was unable to understand the meaning of the red heifer; Jews to this day are in ignorance of its symbolism. What does it really signify?
The Awesome Symbolism of the Red Heifer
The red heifer pictured the sacrifice of YEHOVAH's "only begotten Son," Yeshua the Messiah (John 3:16). The femaleness of the sacrifice pictured the Messiah as the perfectly submissive sacrifice.
The color "red" of the sacrifice pictured his being fully and completely "human," having partaken of human nature since he was born of human parents -- Joseph and Mary (John 1:14; John 6:42; Hebrews 2:14). The very name "Adam" or "man" in Hebrew means "red," or "ruddy."
The red heifer was sacrificed very rarely, and its ashes served to purify so long as they existed, until they ran out. Even so, the Messiah "offered one sacrifice for sins for ever" (Hebrews 10:12); we are "sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (v. 10), "For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified" (v. 14).
The red heifer was also led up to the Mount of Olives, outside the city of Jerusalem, to be sacrificed. "Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without [outside] the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach" (Hebrews 13:12-13). Likewise, the Messiah was led from the Temple porticoes to the Mount of Olives, where he was slain for our sins, in full view of the Temple itself (Matthew 27:50-54). Note that the Roman centurion "saw the earthquake, and those things that were done" (v. 54), including the rending of the Temple veil, or massive curtain, from his vantage point at the crucifixion site. This means he must have been standing on the Mount of Olives, just east of the Temple, the only point outside the city where the entrance to the Temple, and the veil, would have been visible.
What a perfect picture the red heifer offering is of the Messiah, the first-born Son of YEHOVAH God without blemish or spot, who "became sin [i.e., a sin offering] for us, who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God through him" (II Corinthians 5:21).
Even though they understood it not, the Jews were even more precise as to its prescription and the precision of its ceremony. Says Edersheim: "The first object was to obtain a proper 'red heifer' for the sacrifice. The Mishnah (Parah, i., ii.) states the needful age of such a red heifer as from two to four, and even five years; the color of its hide, two white or black hairs springing from the same follicle disqualifying it; and how, if she had been put to any use, though only a cloth had been laid on her, she would no longer answer the requirement that upon her 'never came yoke' " (p. 282-283).
Seven days before the red heifer was to be killed, the priest appointed to perform the task was separated and kept in the Temple where he was daily sprinkled with the ashes of the previous red heifers. He was to wear his white priestly garments when bringing the sacrifice. There was an arched roadway that led from the Eastern Gate of the Temple, across the Kidron Valley, to the Mount of Olives. It was "double arched, that is, arched over the supporting pillars, for fear of any possible pollution through the ground upwards. Over this the procession passed" -- even as the Messiah himself was led in a procession from the Temple, outside the city of Jerusalem, to the very spot where the red heifers were sacrificed, on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the entrance to the Temple.
"On the Mount of Olives," Edersheim continues, "the elders of Israel were already in waiting. First, the priest immersed his whole body, then he approached the pile of cedar-, pine-, and fig-wood which was heaped up like a pyramid, but having an opening in the middle, looking towards the west [the Temple]. Into this the red heifer was thrust, and bound, with its head towards the south and its face looking to the west, the priest standing east of the sacrifice, his face, of course, also turned westwards. Slaying the sacrifice with his right hand, he caught up the blood in his left. Seven times he dipped his finger in it, sprinkling it towards the Most Holy Place, which he was supposed to have in full view over the Porch of Solomon or through the eastern gate. Then, immediately descending, he kindled the fire. As soon as the flames burst forth, the priest, standing outside the pit in which the pile was built up, took cedar wood, hyssop, and 'scarlet' wool, asking three times as he held up each: 'Is this cedar wood? Is this hyssop? Is this scarlet?' so as to call to the memory of everyone the Divine ordinance. Then tying them together with the scarlet wool, he threw the bundle upon the burning heifer. The burnt remains were beaten into ashes by sticks or stone mallets and passed through coarse sieves; then divided into three parts -- one of which was kept in the Temple-terrace (the Chel), the other on the Mount of Olives, and the third distributed among the priesthood throughout the land" (ibid., 283-284).
The cedar wood has a sweet fragrance, depicting the sweetness of the aroma of the sacrifice of the Messiah who died for us; the hyssop depicts the astringent cleansing and purification of his sacrifice, removing all sin. "Purge me with hyssop," David prayed, "and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7). The "scarlet" depicts the red blood, the source of life. The life of flesh is the blood (Genesis 9:4). YEHOVAH says: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood...it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul" (Leviticus 17:11).
The blood of the Messiah, poured out for us, atones for our lives. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more, then, being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him" (Romans 5:8-9). YEHOVAH God says: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it" (v. 19-20).
According to the history of the Jewish people, Edersheim tells us, "altogether, from the time of Moses to the final destruction of the Temple, only seven, or else nine, such red heifers had been offered: the first by Moses, the second by Ezra, and the other five, or else seven, between the time of Ezra and that of the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans. We only add that the cost of this sacrifice, which was always great, since a pure red heifer was very rare, was defrayed from the Temple treasury" (p. 285).
When we look carefully at the mysterious sacrifice of the "red heifer," it becomes obvious that it is a remarkable portrayal of the only true "sin-offering" of all time, the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah, who died for us on the Mount of Olives, in full view of the assembled Jewish leadership, almost 2,000 years ago. It is a stunning type of the sacrifice of the Messiah!
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