The Most Mysterious Scripture in the Old Testament
Fewer passages in the Bible are more mysterious than the one about the Red Heifer. This offering was so confounding that the Jews coined a word for it, ḥukkah,1 a divine statute for which no rational understanding can be found. Today there is also a large contingent of Jews and Christians who believe that the Red Heifer is the missing ingredient necessary for the rebuilding of the so called Third Temple,2 and some modern Jews even believe that the Messiah, when he comes, will be the next to slaughter the Tenth Red Heifer3, thus giving rise to the dominance of Judaism.
One common thread in all these interpretations and clear to everyone is that its purpose is that of a cleansing agent?
In this paper I will endeavor to show you what I’ve learned about foreshadow found in the Old Testament. Hopefully when finished you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the simple and common sense approach that I’ve taken. You won’t take you down a rabbit hole into some fantastic journey full of twists, turns and magical adventures or on a conspiratorial treatise that bombards your intellect with confused and mind blowing theories that numb your brain. Instead, you will see that this paper simply makes sense.
You’ll will also notice that the final conclusion will affect and change how you look at yourself, your walk and purpose within Christianity.
I have broken this paper into three parts for easier comprehension.
Part 1. A summary of the offering. Here you can familiarize yourself with the topic. It covers the sacrifice, its purpose as a cleansing agent or remedy and post cleansing agent or remedy for those who perform the ritual itself. I do suggest that you read Numbers chapter nineteen although its not necessary.
Part 2. contains several questions and answers.
Part 3. is the conclusion.
Part 1. The Red Heifer Summary
The commandment in chapter nineteen starts out, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: ‘This is the requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded.”’
As I read that it sounds to me as though the Lord is telling Moses what the Lord told him to say. In other words the Lord told the Lord to tell Moses what He had commanded.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
It reminds me of when Jesus said, “I have not spoken on My own, but the Father who sent Me has commanded Me what to say and how to say it.” (John 12:49 BSB)
It is familiar.
The Lord tells Moses what to say just as Jesus was told what to say by the Father. This is a general theme that runs through the story of Moses, and one to which we should pay close attention. The Lord told Moses what to do and say and Moses always did and said just what the Lord told him. Moses foreshadows Christ who also did and said everything that the Father told Him.
A quick lesson here is that we should do and say what the Lord tells us. Far too many of us are deceived into thinking that we really do what the Lord commands when we really haven’t. I should know, I once discovered that was exactly how I lived, but I digress.
Let’s get back to the Red Heifer.
So the Lord tells Moses and Aaron to tell the Israelites to take a Red Heifer that is without defect or blemish, that has never been yoked and to give it to Eleazar the priest (Aaron’s son); it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. Eleazar is to take some of the blood on his finger and sprinkle it toward the front of the Tent of Meeting. While he watches, the heifer is to be burned, including the hide, its flesh, blood and offal. Every part of the heifer is burned. Eleazar must also take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool to throw them onto the burning heifer.
After fulfilling his supervisory role Eleazar becomes unclean and can’t enter the camp or community. Before he is able he must first wash his clothes and bathe himself. He can then enter the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean until evening. The same goes for the attendant who burns the heifer and the other who gathers up the ashes to put them in a ceremonial clean place outside the camp. What we see is that Eleazar and his attendants are clean when they begin the ritual, but become unclean by performing the very ritual that makes the unclean clean.
The peculiar irony of the ritual is not missed by both the ancient and modern Jew as previously mentioned.4
The final command from the Lord is that this ritual offering is to be a lasting ordinance, both for the Israelites and the aliens living among them.
The Red Heifer Purpose
The seven day purification ritual intended to:
1. treat a tent (home) that became unclean when someone died inside by sprinkling the inside and its contents.
2. treat anyone who became unclean by sprinkling for being in or entering an unclean tent (home) of a deceased.
3. treat anyone who became unclean by sprinkling, when out in the open for touching a dead body, whether killed by the sword or by natural causes, or by touching a human bone.
Those being treated are unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves with water on the third and seventh day and then they will be clean. The law also states that anyone who doesn’t purify them self defiles the Lord’s tabernacle. Such a person must be cut-off from Israel because the water of cleansing wasn’t sprinkled on them thus their uncleanness remains.
The Red Heifer Remedy
The ashes of the Red Heifer for purification must be stored in a jar. For the cleansing ritual fresh water is to be poured over the ashes and mixed. A clean man shall take some hyssop dip it into the mixture and sprinkle the tent, its furnishings and the people who were in or have been inside. The same goes for those who touched a dead body outside. The sprinkling ceremony is performed on the unclean person on the third and seventh days. The person being cleansed must also wash their clothes and bathe themselves on those days and on the evening of the seventh day they will be clean. Any person who does not purify them self remains unclean and is to be cut-off from the community. They have defiled the tabernacle.
Note: Since the mixture is sprinkled it implies that the water is the greater portion. The fact that only nine heifers were ever sacrificed also suggests the same.
The Red Heifer Post Remedy
The clean man who sprinkles the water of cleansing mixed with ashes must also wash his clothes and anyone who touches the water of cleansing will be unclean until evening and anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean till evening too.
Good questions lead to more questions and more questions lead to answers.
1. Why is the Red Heifer sacrifice in the book of Numbers Shouldn’t it be in Leviticus with the rest?
2. Why a heifer and how can it represent Christ?
3. Why a ‘red’ heifer?
4. Why does Eleazar preside over the ritual?
5. Why do Eleazar and his attendant become unclean after making the very agent that is used to make others clean?
6. Why and how is this a lasting ordinance for Israel?
Why is this Red Heifer sacrifice in the book of Numbers? Shouldn’t it be in Leviticus with the others?
That was the first questions that came to my mind when I first read about the Red Heifer. It seemed odd that it wasn’t in Leviticus.
As I pondered that question another important aspect came to attention. The book of Numbers is about people in contrast to Leviticus which mostly pertains to the priesthood. What an interesting juxtaposition I thought. Which gave rise to still another question.
Could it be that this offering has more to do with the people than with the priesthood? Hmmmm?
The book of Numbers is about the people for it starts out with God commanding Moses to take a census of the people. Then God names the elders that will assist Moses in taking the census. What I found interesting was that God knows them by name. I believe God was showing Moses that He personally knew each man and that He also wanted Moses to know them personally.
A possible reason is that Moses and Aaron may have been starting to carry themselves with a certain air of superiority. The story confirms this thought a little later. Aside from that, we as Christians sometimes also do the same thing. We think that we’re better, that we’re chosen, and that we’re right. In thinking that were right we can become arrogant. That is what we find happening in Numbers, to Moses, Aaron and even then Korah. It also ultimately happened to the Jews in Jesus time and even to us today. I see the book of Numbers as a lesson in humility. But I digress again.
Moses finally completes the census numbering and naming every single able bodied man. We see that Moses gets to know the people too.
We see that it’s also about this time that some of the people start to rebel against Moses affirming the reason of the rebellion.
Korah and the people with him must have felt somewhat unimportant. That’s what the scriptures say.5 We read that Korah and his men feel that Moses and Aaron were overlording them. The men were having a self-esteem crisis. This low self-esteem had to come from somewhere. Did Korah and his men rebel because they wanted to lead or was it because they felt oppressed? I’m not condoning the rebellion, but Korah himself did claim the people were important.6 Envy could have been Korah’s motive, but I tend to lean toward the latter.
I think Korah and his companions rebelled because Moses and Aaron were acting with an air of superiority that made others feel distasteful. Anyway it certainly was that way that Korah felt. Therefore it’s very plausible that God wanted Moses to see the importance of the people.
That is how I think God saw it and that’s why I believe the book of Numbers is juxtaposed against and after Leviticus. Notice I said after. The priesthood first, and the people after. An interesting theme that Jesus teaches is that the first shouldn’t act like the first, but should act like the last or least. Numbers foreshadows that intent.
I see is that God is gently teaching Moses. That he is a servant of the people and not to lord it over them. At the same time Korah rebells which is a much greater sin than that of Mose’s and Aaron’s self importance and it has to be dealt with straightforward. Moses and Aaron were still acting within their design, or God’s intention, while Korah and his men stepped beyond and out of theirs.
The book of Numbers on its own is rather obvious about the people. Therefore it’s beginning to me to look like the Heifer has more to do with the people than it does with Christ.
Why a heifer?
Most studies and papers, unswervingly state, that the Red Heifer foreshadows Christ without mentioning the obvious. Christ a male, a bull if you will, and is somehow foreshadowed by a female cow.
How does that compute?
The obvious reason is that the heifer is red. The red represents the blood of Christ. I also believe the red is representative of Christ’s blood, but that doesn’t even begin to explain why the offering is a female.
The question still lingers. How can a female cow be a type that represents a bull, or Christ?
I know that God does not contradict himself and is consistent in all that he says and does yet this ritual sacrifice seems to defy that consistency. The scripture also says that God is not a God of confusion,7 but I’m confused.
I also know that God is a God of reason.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord: “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”8
God wants us to reason with him. Questions need to be answered so let’s reason this subject out.
What do we know so far?
1. The theme of the book of Numbers concerns God’s people.
2. The offering for purity is a female cow
3. It must be red
4. never calved or
4, to have been put to a yoke.
Q. If the heifer doesn’t represent Christ then who does it represent?
When it comes to the subject of foreshadow I tend to think outside of the box a bit. Most of the time when anyone discusses foreshadow they tend to only link OT text to Christ.
You’ve probably heard the following phrase, “The OT is the NT concealed and the NT is the OT revealed.”
If that is true? And most Christians will concur. Then it’s not too much of a stretch think the OT in its entirety foreshadows the NT. What I mean is that there are other people, places and things that take place. Is it wrong to ask if these can be foreshadowed too?
Take salvation for instance. Mankind is hopelessly enslaved to sin so God intervenes through Christ to free us. Israel was hopelessly enslaved in Egypt. God intervenes and sends Moses to free them.
We easily see that Moses foreshadows Christ, but we overlook that slavery to Egypt also foreshadows sin.
Now if slavery foreshadows sin and it does. Isn’t it plausible that other things could be foreshadowed too? That’s the main reason why I chose to study out the Red Heifer.
Ok, getting back to our question then who or what does the Red Heifer represent?
We have already established that Leviticus is about the priesthood and Numbers about the people. The sacrifices in Leviticus concern the priesthood therefore it’s not without reason to suggest that the sacrifice in Numbers concerns the people.
Parallel to this we also know that God often refers to His people collectively in the feminine form. –Lamentations 1:1-7, Isaiah 1:8, 21, 27, 3:26 and in NT the church is the bride of Christ.9–
If we look at these facts it’s becoming clear that the Red Heifer could actually be representative of the Church of Christ which is the bride of Christ?
Therefore is seems right to hypothesize that the Red Heifer foreshadows the church or the body of Christ.
As you read on, every element, of the hypothesis will become clearer.
Why a red heifer?
I previously mentioned that the red color represents the blood of Christ, and I agree, but to go on from there and assert that the heifer (female) represents Christ (male) also just goes too far in my humble opinion.
Shouldn’t we assert, that if the color of the animal represents the blood of Christ and the animal also represent’s Christ, that all the other animals sacrificed be red too?
Are we to ignore the contradiction in this finer point or should we find answers that are in harmony and applicable to the other sacrifices as well?
If we look at the color in consideration to what has been stated earlier the blood does represent the blood of Christ, but not Christ the person, rather it seems to represent the bride of Christ, the church being covered by Christ’s blood.
Why does Eleazar preside over the ritual?
Aaron is the high priest and father of Eleazar. He is the one who usually performs priestly rituals aided by his sons, but in this case the Lord commands that Eleazar perform the ceremony apart from his father. Others speculate that the reason was to prevent the High Priest from becoming unclean. While it’s true that the High Priest isn’t make himself unclean I think, due to the context, something else is going.
Let’s get back to our findings. Leviticus is about the priesthood, the Levitical sacrifices represent Christ as does the priesthood, Numbers represents the people and I purport that the Red Heifer represents the people in some shape or fashion.
It’s important to note that Eleazar is a second generational priest. Moses and Aaron are sending the next generation to offer the sacrifice. In the same way, Christ establishes His priesthood first and the church follows as the second generation. The church is also persecuted by the next generation of priests. They are different and follow the ones that crucified Christ.
That is how I envision Eleazar. He foreshadows a priesthood that comes after the priesthood that crucified Christ. The next generation persecuted the church. This explains the next question too.
Why Eleazar and his attendant are made unclean after making the very agent that is used to make others clean?
It is peculiar that Eleazar becomes unclean will presiding over a ritual that in short order will make others clean. But when viewed in conjunction to the Red Heifer representing the Church of Christ and Eleazar being the next generational priest the picture becomes clear.
Too completely understand we must also make the distinction between the two generations because that distinction is also made and defined in the Red Heifer Ritual.
When we read Leviticus it never mentions Aaron and his son’s become unclean when performing any of the offerings, but in Numbers we see that Eleazar becomes unclean during the Red Heifer ritual. There is also a parallel in the New Testament. The first generation doesn’t become unclean by persecuting Christ,10 but the second does by persecuting the church.
Why is that?
To explain let’s summarize the priesthood initiation rite; Aaron’s initiation foreshadows Christ’s ordination as high priest at calvary.11 Both these sacrifices are instances authorized by God.. They are clean.
However, the generation that persecuted the Church is unclean because it’s not an authorized priesthood.
Let me explain.
The priestly generation following Christ’s crucifixion is no longer valid because God through Christ put into effect a new priesthood in the order of Milchizedek.12 The old Covenant has been done away.13 Now since the old Covenant is no longer valid their priesthood isn’t either. Thus they must be regarded as unclean because they are no longer authorized by God. The Jewish priesthood ended with Christ’s resurrection and was now only operating under their man’s authority. God stripped them of His authority when Christ was ordained which was foreshadowed by Aaron’s ordination.14 Therefore the next generation of priests that persecuted the church are unclean.
This insight doesn’t take into account that the high priesthood changed hands from Abiathar to Zadok when Abiathar was removed from the high priesthood for conspiring against King Solomon.15 But that transfer of authority doesn’t really matter nor conflict with this paper because Zadok traces his lineage through Phineas the son of Eleazar.16
The conclusion. Eleazar had to become unclean during the Red Heifer ritual because he is a type or foreshadow of the priestly generation that persecuted the church. Since that priesthood wasn’t authorized by God they were unclean. If Eleazar didn’t become unclean him being a foreshadow of them would be incorrect.
Why and how is this a lasting ordinance for Israel?
To answer this question we need to understand foreshadow and when it comes to this subject as I said before I tend to think a little outside the box. I believe that there is a lot more going on than just Christ being foreshadowed.
This concept first came to me when I studied out Leviticus chapter eight several years ago. It is the initiation right that assigns and authorizes Aaron as the high priest.
I saw that Aaron’s initiation ceremony looked an awful lot like calvary.
Was it a coincidence, I thought, or was it foreshadow?
I saw that the bull, or sin offering, represented Christ. I already knew that this was confirmed by Hebrews.17 However, the two rams suddenly jumped off the page as being representative of the two thieves on the cross. Oh my gosh! I thought. Leviticus eight is a polaroid of calvary. It’s a replica of Jesus being crucified. My mind raced with excitement at this discover. Could it be true?
As I was thinking about this my mind took a turn to imagining the thieves growing up. As young Jewish boys they were thoroughly schooled in Leviticus.18 Most likely they read or recited chapter eight many times during their lifetime, and may have even memorizing it, but never knowing that one of those rams represented themselves. Their fate was woven in time beforehand, known to them by recital, but unknown. How bizarre is that?
It was now seemed evident to me that two rams foreshadowed the two thieves. One was the burnt offering and the other was the fellowship offering. That meant there are now at least three people foreshadowed in the bible. Christ, and the two thieves. This fact has profound implications concerning our study of the Old Testament
Well but, what does this have to do with the lasting ordinance? You ask.
Everything because it’s clear that foreshadow events point to more than just Christ. In this particular case it points out that the Red Heifer foreshadows the church or the body of Christ. Each individual member of the body is therefore represented by that sacrifice. We are all clothed in Christ, we sacrifice our lives, we die to ourselves and pick up our crosses daily so that we might interact with the lost, and teach them the word of God, teach them about Christ, and cleanse them through our sacrifice and the washing of water which is what Peter taught in Acts chapter two.
A minor aside, as I mentioned before, a smidgeon of the ashes used are mixed with the water. Our sacrifice is also smidgeon and takes a back seat to what God does through the waters of baptism.
The Red Heifer foreshadows the church of Christ and each Christian makes up that body. The sacrifice of the Red Heifer is about our purpose. We are the ashes that when mixed with water make people acceptable to God. We must die to ourselves daily and present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices acceptable to God.19 We take time out of our lives and busy schedules to do the will of God instead of our own will, giving up our lives to interact with the lost, those that are dead inside, teaching them through our love about Jesus and God and ultimately cleansing them in the wonderful font called baptism where by faith their sins are wiped away, they are made clean, and God gives them the Holy Spirit, making them alive in Christ, also clothing them in Christ and adding them to God’s Kingdom.20
If we are not doing this then we are not doing God’s will.
That is what the Red Heifer seems to be, but I also want to point out that this study is all supposition. It is what I now believe, but not everyone has to believe it as a hard and cast rule.
1. “Encyclopaedia Judaica.” Red Heifer, Web. 29, June 2017.
2.“The Good News Today.” Red Heifer Discovered – Major Obstacle To The Rebuilding Of The Jewish Temple Removed,Web. 29 June 2017.
3. “The Temple Institute.” The Tenth Red Heifer, Web. 29 June 2017.
4. “Encyclopaedia Judaica.”
5. Numbers 16:3-4.
7. I Corinthians 14:33.
8. Isaiah 1:18-20.
9. Ephesians 5:22-32, 2 Corinthians 11:2.
10. Leviticus 8:1-36.
11. Hebrews 9:11-15.
12 Hebrews 7:11
13. Hebrews 8:13
14. Leviticus 8.
15. “Wikipedia” List of High Priests of Israel, Fri, 13 July 2017.
16. “Wikipedia” Zadok —The Hebrew Bible, Fri, 13 July 2017.
17. Hebrews 13:11-12.
18. “The American Bible Society” Education in Ancient Israel, Fri. 13 July 2017.
18. Romans 12:1.
20. Acts 2:32.