Yahweh told Moses and Aaron to get a ritually clean cow that had never been in harnessed and give it to Eleazar the priest to take outside the camp to butcher while he watched. Rashi says it was to be a perfectly red cow and David Zucker says parah adumah may have meant “ruddy” and because Hebrew doesn’t have a word for “brown” that is probably what is meant in this context.
The Jerusalem Post says the rarity of finding a cow that meets the stringent stipulations of Jewish law; and the level of required supervision over such beasts makes it challenging to fulfill the law’s regulations and produce a true red heifer. “Some Fundamentalist Christians believe that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ cannot occur until the Third Temple is constructed in Jerusalem, which [would require] the appearance of a red heifer born in Israel. Clyde Lott, a cattle breeder in O’Neill, Nebraska, United States, is attempting to systematically breed red heifers and export them to Israel to establish a breeding line of red heifers in Israel in the hope that this will bring about the construction of the Third Temple and ultimately the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.” Hebrew4Christians points out that these things were shadows of things to come and the “red heifer” is a picture of Yeshua/Jesus and the temple is a picture of the Church – including both Jew and Gentile. Yeshua doesn’t need either a cow that meets the requirements of the law, or a physical temple to be built. Only Yahweh knows the day and the hour when the Son of man will return,or the conditions under which he will return. What we do know is that Yahweh has told us what is good and what he requires of us: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him. He told us how to do what he requires when he gave us the ten commandments; and he made it possible when he “sent his Son” – came to us in the form of human flesh to defeat sin and death by his own death and resurrection. He is the resurrection and the life, blessed is his holy name.
Eleazar was to take some of the blood from the butchered cow and sprinkle it seven times in the direction of the Tent of Meeting. Remember that seven is a number signifying completion or perfection. The cow was butchered outside the camp. It had to be perfect. The cow was a picture of the one who would restore purity to the world. The symbol of blood is the life of the flesh, so when Eleazar sprinkled the blood toward the Tent of Meeting – the symbol of Yahweh’s presence – it pictured perfect life toward Yahweh – acknowledging that Yahweh is perfect life.
Yahweh told Moses and Aaron that the whole cow – hide, meat, blood, and dung – was to be burned under the supervision of Eleazar.
Cedar symbolizes power, majesty, royalty, and beauty. Hyssop was for healing, and scarlet represented suffering and sacrifice. Yahweh instructed the priest to take a stick of cedar and some hyssop wrapped in a piece of scarlet material, and throw them on the burning cow. These were pictures of the attributes of the one the cow represented – Yeshua ha Mashiach/ Jesus Christ, the one who overcame sin and death when he rose from the dead. Rashi said that the cedar is the highest of all trees, and the hyssop is the lowest of them all. This symbolizes that the one of high standing who acts haughtily and sins should lower himself like a hyssop and a worm [for the תּוֹלַעַת means ‘worm’ as well as ‘crimson.
The people of Israel would have been familiar with ancient Egypt’s approach to cleanliness. The rituals of washing, bathing, and applying cosmetics were very important to them. They believed that the cleaner and better-oiled the person was, the closer they were to their gods. They used a scented paste consisting of ash and clay for soap; therefore, the chosen people would have understood that the ash of the pure young cow was for cleansing.
The priest and the Levite who burned the cow were both unclean. They had to take off their clothes and bathe well with water. When they were washed they could return to camp but were ritually unclean until evening. Remember that death is the result of sin and corruption and; therefore, represents the rottenest evil. Yahweh made special mention of the priest’s condition and the instructions for him because he represented the people to Yahweh and Yahweh to the people.
A ritually clean Levite was to remove the ashes to a ritually clean place outside the camp. The congregation was to keep them for the Water of Cleansing and the absolution Offering.
The man who gathered the ashes was to scrub his clothes because he, too, was ritually unclean until evening.
Yahweh reminded them that the rule about touching a dead body was perpetual and inclusive. The health risks of dead bodies, according to Wikipedia, are dangers related to the improper preparation and disposal of cadavers. When the decomposition and putrefaction of cadavers goes unchecked, it raises a series of health, logistical, and psychological issues. Disease from dead bodies is due to living in harsh conditions with poor sanitation – or when death is caused by contagious diseases. The substances cadaverine and putrescine – toxic in large doses – are produced during the decomposition of animal (including human) bodies, and both give off a foul odor. The ancient Israelites wouldn’t have known any of this, but they would have had some of the same ideas that are held by the Spiritual Science Research foundation. The ceremony that Yahweh commanded his people to go through would elevate these fears; but Yahweh was teaching his people spiritual truths. He wanted them – and he wants us – to realize that death isn’t the result of perfection. Corruption – sin – causes death and Yahweh is the author of life. Death is as sin made visible. Death is the result of sin. Therefore, death is the symbol of sin.
Yahweh repeated his instructions for a person to purify himself or herself after contact with death, and added that the ritually unclean must purify himself or herself on the third day with the Water of Cleansing so he or she could be clean on the seventh day. The water purification ceremony was a picture of purifying the heart by the Word of Yahweh. The number three pictures completeness, but to a lesser degree than the number seven, and points to something that is solid and substantial. Also in Jewish tradition graves were watched for three days. The number three is used in the Torah to mediate between two  opposing or contradictory values. The third value mediates, reconciles, and connects the two. Three is the number of truth.
A person who was ritually unclean needed purification, and could not ignore their condition, but was still part of the nation – unless they refused to correct their unclean condition. Today if we are “bathed” by Jesus, we only need to – symbolically – have our feet washed, as they become unclean in the normal practice of life. Yet, if we don’t let Yeshua/Jesus “wash” us, we have no part with him. We must receive a once-for-all cleansing Yeshua/Jesus brings to us when we are born again; but we must also come to him continually to be cleansed of our “day-to-day” mistakes. Under the New Covenant, the Christian also has a special call to purity, because we can also defile the dwelling place of God  the ancient Israelite who refused to perform the ceremony of the Water of Cleansing couldn’t be one of Yahweh’s chosen people but was cut off from his people.
Everyone who went into the tent where someone died was ritually unclean for seven days. Every receptacle, without a cover fastened over it, in the tent where someone died was unclean. Anyone in the open field who touched one who died in any way, even a bone of a human, or a grave, was to be considered unclean for seven days. An open container could potentially harbor disease causing bacteria. The lesson Yahweh was teaching his people is that death is corruption at its worst and they needed to avoid it at any cost. Death is our enemy. Yahweh is the author and sustainer of life.
Yahweh instructed that the ashes be put in a bowl and fresh water added, then a ritually clean Levite was to dip a sprig of hyssop into the water and sprinkle the affected tent and its contents along with the people who were in the tent. The ritually unclean person was to be sprinkled on the third and seventh day. After that he or she would considered clean and had to scrub his or her clothes and take a bath to be clean by the evening of the seventh day.
For a ritually unclean person to refuse to go through the procedures set by Yahweh, he or she was desecrating the sanctuary of Yahweh and was to be excommunicated from the community. There were to be no exceptions. It was a matter of believing Yahweh. Uncleanness cannot correct itself. The unclean person must do what Yahweh says must be done in order to be clean. Human plans or schemes for spiritual cleansing are ineffectual. Obedience is the result and sign of belief and belief is an act of the will. The ancient Israelite had to make the decision to believe Yahweh whether he understood or why or didn’t understand. The same is true today. We must make a decision to believe Yahweh whether or not we understand. The natural mind cannot understand spiritual things but when we make the decision to believe Yahweh his Spirit gives our spirits understanding and confidence.
Ritually uncleanness included the one who sprinkled the water of cleansing so he had to scrub his clothes along with anyone else who touched the Water of Cleansing or the ritually unclean person. Uncleanness was easily transmitted, but cleanness had to be deliberately sought.
Summary of chapter 19
The Bible Commentary of the United Church of God says that this is one of the most mysterious sacrifices in the Bible. We may not understand all of the symbolism in this most interesting offering, but we do know that we are cleansed by the blood of the supreme sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews confirms that this is part of the symbolism here. The heifer was also a representation of Israel in the Scriptures. Perhaps, there is some sense of this offering being fulfilled in the people putting to death their old natures. Indeed, that would seem to tie in with having our consciences purged from dead works. Christ stood in Israel’s place in a number of respects. Besides the spiritual significance, there was a medical benefit to what God was prescribing here as well, just as there was with the laws for dealing with leprosy. Jeffrey says, “The water of purification described in Numbers 19 actually had the ability to destroy germs and infection. The resulting water of purification solution contained ashes from the Red Heifer sacrifice combined with cedar, hyssop and scarlet thread. This water of purification contained ‘cedar’ oil that came from a kind of juniper tree that grew in both Israel and the Sinai. This cedar oil would irritate the skin, encouraging the person to vigorously rub the solution into their hands. Most importantly, the hyssop tree—associated with mint, possibly marjoram—would produce hyssop oil. This hyssop oil is actually a very effective antiseptic and antibacterial agent. Hyssop oil contains 50 percent carvacrol which is an antifungal and antibacterial agent still used in medicine, according to the book None of These Diseases. When we note that the waters of purification from the Red Heifer Sacrifice were to be used to cleanse someone who had become defiled and unclean due to touching a dead body, we begin to understand that this law was an incredibly effective medical law as well as a spiritual law” (p. 153).
Of course, it is not clear how much of the cedar and hyssop oil would remain after burning in the fire. There was probably some. Perhaps God was interested more in the symbolism of cleansing agents here than their actual effectiveness. Burning is itself symbolic of purification.
Prayer: Lord, I know that death is the absence of life and you are life. The grave – or Hell- is the eternal home of death. Every perfect gift is from above and comes down from you, the Father of Light. Thank you for going to the extreme lengths that you did to show your creation what is good and right and what you require of us. Thank you for your commandments. They spell out graphically how to be just, how to love mercy, and how to walk humbly with you. Thank you for the pictures in your legal ceremonies that point to ultimate solution of what to do about sin and death – your Son.
Things to think about
- Why do you think Yahweh instructed Moses and Aaron to get a cow without blemish? Why would he specify the color? Why do you think it had to be a young cow that had never been harnessed?
- Do you think Israel needs to produce a perfectly red cow before the Mashiach can come? Do you think the temple has to be rebuilt before Yeshua/Jesus returns? What do you think about what Hebrew4Christians’ says about the cow being a picture of Yeshua ha Mashiach and the temple being a picture of the Church?
- What does the second coming of Christ – Yeshua ha Mashiach – have to do with the way we live today? Is it more important for us to try to figure out when he will return, or for us to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God, Yahweh until he returns?
- Why do you think Yahweh instructed for the whole cow to be burned completely? What do you think the consuming fire symbolized?
- What did your meditations on the symbols of cedar, hyssop, and scarlet tell you?
- Do you think it is wrong for you and me to touch a dead body?
- What did our Savior, Yeshua ha Mashiach’s death, burial, and resurrection do about death?
 Page 149
 Hebrews 9:11-29 CJB (Complete Jewish Bible)
 I Corinthians 3”16
 Mark 13:32; Matthew 24:36; Revelation 16:15
 Hebrews 13:11, 12
 Rabbi Chaim Richman, the world’s foremost expert on red heifers and director of The Temple Institute https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/17303/holy-cow-red-heifer-born-us/
 Romans 6:
 Romans 6:23
 Romans 5:12; 7:24
 That has the ashes of the cow in it, combined with the symbols of Yeshua – scarlet, cedar, and hyssop and his work of salvation – For soap Egyptians used a paste containing ash or clay http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/timelines/topics/cosmetics.htm
 James 4:8
 John 15:5-11; I Corinthians 6:19-20; https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/guz/numbers-19.html
 Proverbs 8:36; John 5:24; I Corinthians 15:26
 I Corinthians 2:14-16
 1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:13, 14