Red Heifer

Concise Bible Dictionary:


From Manners and Customs of the Bible:

Numbers 19:2. Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke.
The sacrifice of the red heifer was a peculiar ceremony designed to purify from the ceremonial defilement resulting from contact with a corpse ({vi 4301-4306}Num. 19:11-16). A heifer perfectly red, and which had never borne the yoke, was selected by the people, and brought to Eleazar the priest. She was then taken outside the camp and slaughtered. Eleazar sprinkled her blood seven times before the Tabernacle, after which the entire carcass was burnt, the priest throwing into the fire cedar, and hyssop, and scarlet. The ashes were then carefully collected and laid up in a suitable place for future use ({vi 4291-4300}Num. 19:1-10). When purification from the defilement of a corpse became necessary, the ashes were made into a lye by means of running water, and the water was sprinkled from a bunch of hyssop on the person, the tent, the bed, or the utensils which had been defiled ({vi 4307-4309}Num. 19:17-19).
This sacrifice differed from all others in several important particulars. The victim was not slaughtered in the court, nor was it burnt on the altar; it was killed and burnt outside the camp. Neither the high priest nor any ordinary priest officiated, but the presumptive successor of the high priest. The animal chosen was not a bullock, as in other sacrifices, but a heifer, and the precise color was specified. The ashes were carefully preserved.
Much has been written on these subjects, and various attempts have been made to give full explanations of all the minutiae of the ceremonies, but some things connected with them are not easily explained. The Jews are represented as saying, that Solomon himself; with all his wisdom, did not fully understand them.
The general design, doubtless, was to keep in remembrance the awful fact of sin, which brought death into the world, and the necessity of purification from its pollution. Paul makes reference to this in {vi 30119-30120}Hebrews 9:13-14. As Kurtz remarks, “This idea of an antidote against the defilement of death was the regulating principle of the whole institution, determining not only the choice of the sacrificial animal, but what should be added to it, and all that should be done with it” (Sacrificial Worship of the Old Testament, p. 426).

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