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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 19

 

 

Verses 1-22


The Sacrifice of the red Heifer

In order to provide a special means of purification for those who are defiled by contact with a dead body, a preparation called the 'water of separation' is made from the ashes of a red heifer and other ingredients. The origin of this rite may have been connected with the large number of deaths recorded in Numbers 16:49. Josephus, however, connects it with the death of Miriam (Numbers 20:1).

1-10. A red heifer is slaughtered outside the camp and its blood sprinkled in the direction of the sanctuary seven times (Numbers 19:1-4). The entire carcase is burnt in the same place along with cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet wool, and the ashes are collected and preserved for use in purifying (Numbers 19:5-6, Numbers 19:9). Those who take part in the ceremony contract defilement (Numbers 19:7-8, Numbers 19:10).

2. Sacrificial animals are usually males. The use of a female in this case may be intended to symbolise the imparting of new life to those who have been defiled by contact with death. The same thought may underlie the regulation as to colour, red being the colour of blood which is the token of life: cp. Leviticus 17:11. The words without spot probably mean 'without blemish.'

4. Directly before] RV 'Toward the front of'; i.e. in the direction of the sanctuary.

6. See on Leviticus 14:4.

9. Water of separation] RV 'water of impurity,' i.e. water for the removal of (ceremonial) impurity: see on Numbers 8:7.

11-16. The persons for whom this 'water of impurity' is provided are those who have touched a dead body or anything connected with it.

11. Owing to the mystery connected with death a dead body is regarded, not only among the Jews but among other nations of antiquity, as eminently dangerous and communicating defilement in the highest degree. Moreover, such ceremonial defilement is easily associated with the idea of sin, as death is the wages of sin.

12. With it] i.e. with the 'water of impurity.'

17-22. The method of purification. The ashes of the heifer are mixed with water from a running stream or spring, and sprinkled upon the unclean person or thing. This is done on the third day after the defilement has been contracted. On the seventh day the unclean person washes his clothes, bathes, and resumes his place in society at even. The penalty of neglect is excommunication. The various parts of the expiatory rite lend themselves easily to symbolical interpretation. The connexion of sin and death, the need of cleansing, and the ever-ready means of purification, are all exemplified. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews draws a parallel between the heifer, whose ashes were sanctified to the purifying of the flesh from the defilement arising from contact with dead bodies, and Christ who, also without spot, offered Himself without the camp to God to purge the conscience of believers from dead works, i.e. from works which cause death. See Hebrews 9:13-14; Hebrews 13:11, Hebrews 13:12.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Numbers 19:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/numbers-19.html. 1909.

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