The Distinction of the Levites from the Lay People:
In response to the latest rebellions, the Lord tells them that the “Israelites may no longer approach the Meeting Tent; else they will incur guilt deserving death. Only the Levites are to perform the service of the Meeting Tent, and they alone shall be held responsible; this is a perpetual ordinance for all your generations.” (Num. 18:22-23) And, “Any layman who draws near shall be put to death.” (Num. 18:7) Lay people are no longer allowed to approach the Meeting Tent, but only the Levite priests can.
The Ashes of the Red Heifer:
With the death of so many people, there were many dead bodies around the camp. Therefore, God provides the Israelites with a ritual for making “holy water” to cleanse people who have had contact with a dead body, corpse. This holy water is made through the ashes of a red heifer cow. This mysterious commandment is of great importance and precision, as the Lord tells Moses and Aaron: “This is the statute of the law.” (Num. 19:2) The Lord instructs them:
“Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and upon which a yoke has never come. And you shall give her to Elea′zar the priest, and she shall be taken outside the camp and slaughteredbefore him; and Elea′zar the priest shall take some of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of her blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. And the heifer shall be burned in his sight; her skin, her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall be burned; and the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and cast them into the midst of the burning of the heifer.” (Num. 19:2-6)
There are a number of intriguing details about the sacrifice of the red heifer. First, it must be a red cow without defect or blemish. Much like the Passover lamb, the red heifer must be perfect. This is a typology of Jesus. Some have argued based on this law of the red heifer that Jesus, in fact, had red hair. Red hair or “redness” seems to be in the genealogy of Jesus too. The name Adam, the first man, comes from the Hebrew word (אָדוֹם) for earth or redness. Esau, the first-born son of Isaac, is described as having been born “red, covered in hair like a fur coat.” (Gen. 25:25) Jacob, later known as “Israel,” of course, stole Isaac’s fatherly blessing of Esau (as the first-born son) by “putting on” Esau’s garments. Christians similarly “put on” Christ’s garments to obtain the blessing of the Heavenly Father. Moreover, King David is also described as “ruddy” in appearance (1 Sam. 16:12). “Ruddy” meaning having a healthy, red in appearance complexion, or possibly red-haired. There is no physical description of Jesus as having red hair, nothing in Scripture or in the historical record, although some early iconography of Jesus does depict him with reddish hair. Nevertheless, the Lord does instruct Moses and Aaron that the sacrificial offering, representing Christ, must be a red heifer (without blemish). Perhaps Christ did have red hair. More importantly, red symbolizes blood and life. The red heifer is a symbol of blood, life and pure vitality. It is the key ingredient in creating the “living waters,” the holy water to cure the impurity of death. Killed outside of Camp:The red heifer should be killed outside of camp. Jesus too was killed outside the walls of the Temple and Jerusalem on the hill of Calvary. Later, in the days of the Temple, the red heifer was killed outside of the Temple and Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives.
Cedar wood, Hyssop, and Scarlet Yarn:
This is the same combination of materials used also in Leviticus 14 for the curing of people with leprosy. These ingredients are interesting as they are reminiscent (foreshadowing) of Jesus’ Crucifixion. Jesus carried the wood of the Cross and was crucified on the wood of the Cross. Isaac had similarly carried wood to be part of his sacrifice. Jesus had been draped in a “scarlet robe” being mocked by the Roman soldiers: “And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him..” (Mt. 27:28)His death and piercing by the spear resulted in His blood (“scarlet”) coming forth from His side. Lastly, as far as the hyssop, the soldier had used the hyssop to give Jesus a taste of vinegar or wine while He hung dying on the Cross: “so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth.” (Jn. 19:29) The wood, hyssop and scarlet yarn are clear foreshadows of the Cross of Christ.
Living Waters / Holy Water of the Red Heifer:
“For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and running water shall be added in a vessel; then a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the furnishings, and upon the persons who were there, and upon him who touched the bone, or the slain, or the dead, or the grave; and the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day; thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean.” (Num. 19:17-19) On the third day, and then again on the seventh day they need to have the living water sprinkled upon them.
The Priest is made Unclean:
One of the more peculiar things about this ritual is that in making burning the red heifer and making the holy water, the priest himself is made ritually unclean. It is almost as if Jesus on the Cross took on sin and became sin and death, so too, in the same way, the Levite priest becomes ritually impure in making the water that purifies.
Nine Red Heifers, and the Tenth Shall be by the Mashiach (Messiah):
In Maimonides’ Jewish Law, he claims that there were 9 red heifers offered in history, but the 10th one will be brought by the Messiah. He writes: “Nine red heifers were offered from the time that they were commanded to fulfill this mitzvah until the time when the Temple was destroyed a second time. The first was brought by Moses our teacher. The second was brought by Ezra. Seven others were offered until the destruction of the Second Temple. And the tenth will be brought by the King Moshiach; may he speedily be revealed. Amen, so may it be God’s will.” (Mishnah, Parah Adumah 3:5) Indeed, even today the red heifer is associated with messianic fulfillment. Jews (and Christians) looking to re-establish the Temple (ie, the Third Temple) are eagerly looking for a new red heifer to be born, so the priesthood and the animal sacrifices of Temple worship can be reinstated.
The Red Heifer Fulfilled with Jesus:
Jesus, in fact, did fulfill the prophecy and ritualization of the red heifer. He was “washed” in His tears as He wept over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Later, He was sacrificed as a sin offering outside the walls of the city and Temple, just as the red heifer was, with the wood, and the hyssop and the scarlet yarn. The blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side are the true “living waters” that Jesus promised: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)
The Book of Hebrews:
The author of the Book of Hebrews mentions this too, saying: “ For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ..” (Heb. 9:13-14) The waters of Baptism and of Christ are much greater than the living waters of the red heifer.