The Overview of the Red Heifer Ceremony and Its Greater Implications

Numbers 19:1–11. The red heifer (Heb. parah adumah). 

The Jewish sages teach that the commandment (mitzvah) of the red cow is “beyond human understanding.” Like the afikoman (the middle broken matzah that is “buried” and “resurrected,” which is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua) in the Passover (Pesach) Seder, the meaning of which to this day remains unclear to the Jewish scholars, the red cow is a ritual that makes sense only when Yeshua the Messiah is added to the picture.

While the symbolism of the red heifer was, to Jewish Torah scholars, admittedly incomprehensible to human reason, by the second temple era they began to speculate about its spiritual significance in their aggadic literature. Some felt that it was an atonement for the sin of the golden calf (The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, Massada – P.E.C. Press, 1965, p. 327; The ArtScroll Chumash, p. 839). Others viewed it as somehow relating to the azazel or scapegoat and the bullock sin offering of Yom Kippur, since all were sacrificed outside the camp of Israel (Lev 16:27).

The sacrifice of the red heifer was for the purpose of purifying someone who had become ritually impure or polluted through contact with the dead, or for purifying metal war booty (Num 31:21ff). This sacrifice was to be made outside of the camp of Israel, and later occurred outside of the walls of the city of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, not far from the Temple. The concept of the camp signifies outside of or away from the divine presence or shekinah of YHVH meaning outside the tabernacle courtyard (The ArtScroll Chumash, p. 839).

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Yeshua: “Touch me not”—An allusion to the red heifer?

John 20:17, Touch me not. Touch is the Greek word haptomai meaning “to fasten one’s self to, adhere to, cling to,” and can be used to refer to touching in a carnal and passionate way as between a man and a woman.

Perhaps Yeshua didn’t want his disciples to cling to him as a wife clings to her husband, since, in a spiritual sense, they (and us) were/are only betrothed and not yet married to him yet. (The marriage of the saints to Yeshua will occur at his second coming.)

Additionally, Yeshua had not yet ascended to heaven where he would be accepted by his Father as the perfect, unspotted, undefiled and sinless sacrificial Lamb of Elohim. If a sinful human had touched him, this may have ceremonially defiled his state of perfect cleanliness.

In the Torah, for example, if a man touched a dead human carcass, he would become ceremonially unclean and need cleansing (Num 19:11–13). This pertained to the law of the blemish-free red heifer through which a person could be cleansed from ritual defilement if they had touched a dead body (Num 19:1–10; Heb 13:10–12).

The red heifer was a prophetic picture of the sin-free Yeshua dying on the cross to cleanse spiritually dead humans from their sin. The lesson here is that all men are dead in their sins until they come into contact with Yeshua the Messiah, and this is a fact about the red heifer that most people miss. 


 

John 20:17, “Touch me not,” Explained

Recently I received an email from someone asking me to explain John 20:17 where Yeshua had a conversation with Mary Magdalene after his resurrection, but before his ascension to heaven and said the following:

 

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”

John 20:17, Touch me not. Touch is the Greek word haptomai meaning “to fasten one’s self to, adhere to, cling to,” and can be used to refer to touching in a carnal and passionate way as between a man and a woman. Perhaps Yeshua didn’t want his disciples to cling to him as a wife clings to her husband, since, in a spiritual sense, they (and us) were/are only betrothed and not yet married to him yet. (The marriage of the saints to Yeshua will occur at his second coming.)

Additionally, Yeshua had not yet ascended to heaven where he would be accepted by his Father as the perfect, unspotted, undefiled and sinless sacrificial Lamb of Elohim. If a sinful human had touched him, this may have ceremonially defiled his state of perfect cleanliness.

In the Torah, for example, if a man touched a dead human carcass, he would become ceremonially unclean and need cleansing (Num 19:11–13). This was the law of the red heifer, which was a prophetic picture of Yeshua dying on the cross for our sins, which had to be perfect and blemish free (Num 19:1–10; Heb 13:10–12).

The lesson here is that all men are dead in their sins until they come into contact with Yeshua the Messiah, which is the lesson of the red heifer.

For additional information on the red heifer, here is a link to an article I have written on the subject: https://www.hoshanarabbah.org/pdfs/redheifer.pdf.

 

Dealing With Sin at the Red Heifer Altar and the Altar of Sacrifice

Exodus 27:1–8, An altar. Just inside the door of the tabernacle was the altar of sacrifice. It was made of acacia wood overlaid with bronze, which is a shadow picture of Yeshua bearing the judgment for men’s sins on the cross. The blood of the sacrifice was poured out on the ground at the base of the altar picturing Yeshua shedding his blood at the cross. Two lambs were offered at the altar morning and evening (Exod 29:38–42). This pictures our need to come humbly before our Father in heaven morning and evening in prayerful devotion as living sacrifices to confess our sins, to praise and thank him (Ps 51:16–17; Heb 13:15; 1 John 1:7–9).

The Altar of Sacrifice in More Details. Upon understanding that the Person and work of Yeshua is the way into life, spiritual light and truth, one must also recognize that one’s sin liability keeps one from a having personal relationship with one’s Creator. The broken fellowship with one’s Creator due to the uncleanness of sin is the reason for this. For one to have a relationship with a sinless, perfect, totally set-apart or holy Elohim,the sin problem has to be dealt with. Sin must be atoned along with the resulting guilt, shame and penalty (death) that sin brings. In the Tabernacle of Moses, liability and effect of sin is dealt with at the altar of the red heifer outside the gate of the tabernacle, which represents the work of Yeshua at the cross (Heb 13:10–13). There one was purified and made ready to come into the actual tabernacle. Upon doing so, the first thing one encountered when entering the tabernacle was the altar of sacrifice where both kosher animals and unleavened bread (made of the finest flour and the purest olive oil) were offered, and a fermented wine libation was poured out twice daily (morning and afternoon, Num 28:1–8). These all picture the body of Yeshua being broken and slain for us and our need to “eat” his body and “drink” his blood in a spiritual sense (John 6:35–58). The supper on Passover night which overlaps on to the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread is also picture of this since the participants would eat fire-roasted lamb, unleavened bread and fermented wine.

The fire on the altar was to be kept burning at all times; it was never to go out (Lev 6:13). Additionally, before ministering at the altar, a priest was to always wash his hands and feet at the bronze laver (Exod 30:17–21) and to put on the priestly robes (Lev 6:10). These things are prophetic shadows that point to the ministry of Yeshua before the throne of the Father in heaven. There, as our heavenly high priest, he, in an ultimate state of purity and perfection he is ever making intercession for us and reconciling us to the Father (Eph 2:18; 1 Tim 2:5; Heb 7:25–26; 8:1–2, 5–6; 9:11–22; 10:19–22; 1 John 2:1).

At the twice daily offering (the morning shacharit and the afternoon minchah), a yearling lamb was sacrificed on the north side of the altar, or its left side as viewed from the holy of holies, which represents the throne of Elohim. (Furthermore, north is significant since Scripture seems to indicate that the third heaven where Elohim dwells is in the northern region of the sky [Isa 14:13].) The lamb’s blood was then sprinkled round about the altar as an atonement for sin, while a wine libation was poured out onto the altar, and unleavened bread was cooked and offered at the same time on the altar (Num 28:1–8; Lev 1:11). The fact that the lamb was killed on the north or left side of the altar is prophetically significant since it points to Yeshua’s first coming as the Suffering Servant Messiah, the Lamb of Elohim. The left side is significant since the left hand (usually the weaker hand), in Jewish thought, represents grace and mercy, while the right hand (usually the stronger hand) represents strength, power and judgment. At his first coming, Yeshua was like a lamb led to the slaughter (Isa 52:13–53:12, especially note 53:7) as he spilled his blood as an atonement for men’s sins (Isa 53:5–6,10). Upon his death and glorious resurrection, he returned to heaven where he took his rightful place as the right arm of YHVH Elohim (Acts 7:55–56; Rom 8:34). At Yeshua’s second coming, he will come, not as a lamb led to the slaughter this time, but in power and glory as a warrior on a white stallion to judge the wicked and to reward the righteous. After that, he will assume his position as King of kings and Lord of lords over the earth during the Millennium as revealed in the Book of Revelation.

Now let’s consider the actual construction of the altar of sacrifice to see how it pointed prophetically to Yeshua in other ways. It was constructed of acacia wood overlaid in bronze. Wood and trees represent men (Ps 1:1,3; Jer 5:14). Yeshua was a carpenter. Bronze speaks of judgment. Yeshua, a man who worked in wood (representing humanity) and died on a tree took the fire of judgment upon himself for humanity’s sins.

All the animals slaughtered in the sacrificial system were similar to the minimum amount due on a credit card statement of a bill so huge one cannot possible pay the balance, so one pays the minimum until somehow, miraculously, someone will step in to pay the full amount. Yeshua paid that debt for each of us at the cross.

The first sacrifice was lit by fire from heaven. This signifies that the blood of Yeshua delivers us from the wrath of Elohim (Rom 5:9).

YHVH sent fire from heaven once to light the altar of sacrifice, but it was up to the priests to maintain that fire. The fire had to be constantly fed and the old ashes had to be removed to keep the fire burning. Similarly, when a person is redeemed spiritually and born again by the Spirit of Elohim, he has to maintain the spiritual fire in his life to ensure that it doesn’t die out due to lack of fuel, or get choked due to the ashes of traditions and dead works.

Offerings were made on the altar of sacrifice in the morning and in the evening. This teaches us that twice daily we must come before YHVH’s throne in heaven and at the altar there leave our prayers and confess our sins (1 John 1:9), drawing close to our loving Creator in communion and devotion of service to him.


 

The Overview of the Red Heifer Ceremony and Its Greater Implications

Numbers 19:1–11. The red heifer (Heb. parah adumah).

The Jewish sages teach that the commandment (mitzvah) of the red cow is “beyond human understanding.” Like the afikoman (the middle broken matzah that is “buried” and “resurrected,” which is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua) in the Passover (Pesach) Seder, the meaning of which to this day remains unclear to the Jewish scholars, the red cow is a ritual that makes sense only when Yeshua the Messiah is added to the picture.

young cow

While the symbolism of the red heifer was, to Jewish Torah scholars, admittedly incomprehensible to human reason, by the second temple era they began to speculate about its spiritual significance in their aggadic literature. Some felt that it was an atonement for the sin of the golden calf (The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, Massada – P.E.C. Press, 1965, p. 327; The ArtScroll Chumash, p. 839). Others viewed it as somehow relating to the azazel or scapegoat and the bullock sin offering of Yom Kippur, since all were sacrificed outside the camp of Israel (Lev 16:27).

The sacrifice of the red heifer was for the purpose of purifying someone who had become ritually impure or polluted through contact with the dead, or for purifying metal war booty (Num 31:21ff). This sacrifice was to be made outside of the camp of Israel, and later occurred outside of the walls of the city of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, not far from the Temple. The concept of the camp signifies outside of or away from the divine presence or shekinah of YHVH meaning outside the tabernacle courtyard (The ArtScroll Chumash, p. 839).

The heifer was to be three to five years of age and totally red in color, blemish free and to have never born a burden and, according to Jewish tradition, to be without a single black or white hair on its body. The animal was slaughtered with the priest sprinkling its blood seven times toward the tabernacle’s entrance (later this occurred at the temple in Jerusalem). The entire carcass (hide, entrails and meat) was then burned on a wood pyre. Into the fire were tossed cedar wood, hyssop and a scarlet thread. The ashes were then divided into three portion: one part was kept in a secure place on the Mount of Olives (during the second temple period), one part was kept in the area immediately outside the wall of the temple courtyard, and one part was divided among the priests throughout the land of Israel to be used, as needed, in purifying the people (Mishnah Parah 3:11). The ashes to be used in the temple service were then mixed with fresh water (in Jerusalem, from the Pool of Siloam), and then called “waters of separation” (meyi nidah; nidah means “impurity, filthiness, menstruous, set apart, ceremonial impurity”), and were ritually sprinkled over something or someone that was impure. Numbers 19:9 states that the waters of sprinkling were for purification. The Hebrew word for purification is chatat, which according to some rabbinic interpreters is a reference to a sin offering (Ibid.). Others disagree arguing that the plain (pashat) meaning of the text does not speak of the red heifer atoning for sin (see Rashi’s commentary on this verse). This is an interesting debate, but regardless of what the Jewish sages think, the ritual of the red heifer shows striking parallels to Yeshua’s salvific work at the cross, as we discuss below.

The crucifixion implications of the red heifer were not missed by the Jewish-Christian scholar Alfred Edersheim. He links the Yom Kippur scapegoat, which was to remove the personal guilt of the Israelites (Lev 16), with the red heifer, which was to take away the defilement of death that stood between man and Elohim, with the “living bird,” dipped in “the water and the blood,” and then “let loose in the field” at the purification from leprosy (Lev 14:1–7), which symbolized the living death of personal sinfulness, were all, either wholly offered, or in their essentials completely outside the sanctuary. He then observes that the Old Testament sanctuary had no real provision for spiritual wants to which they symbolically pointed; their removal lay outside its sanctuary and beyond its symbols (The Temple and Its Ministry, pp. 280–281). This is why Yeshua had to be sacrificed outside of the temple area. Additionally, he had to be the sacrifice for sin outside of the temple area (Heb 13:12), which symbolized the shekinah or divine presence of YHVH. This speaks of the fact that the Father looked away, turned his back on and forsook Yeshua while he bore the sins of the world on his shoulders (Isa 53:4–6; Matt 27:46).

The writer of Hebrews understood the greater implications of the red heifer as it pointed to Yeshua when he wrote:

Which stood only in meats and drinks, and various washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation. But Messiah being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to Elohim, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living Elohim? And for this cause he is the mediator of the renewed covenant, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. (Heb 9:11–15, emphasis added)

Eighteenth-century Christian commentator, Matthew Henry, asks why does the Torah make a corpse a defiling thing? He answers that it is because death is the wages of sin, which entered into the world by it, and reigns by the power of it. The law could not conquer death, nor abolish it, as the gospel does, by bringing life and immortality to light, and so introducing a better hope. As the ashes signified the merits of Messiah’s perfect sin-free life, so the running water signified the power and grace of the blessed Spirit, who is compared to rivers of living water; and it is by his work that the righteousness of Messiah is applied to us for our cleansing (Matthew Henry Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 137, Moody).

The Rituals of the Red Heifer Sacrifice Related to Yeshua’s Atoning Work at the Cross

Red is the color of the stain of sin (Isa 1:18, “though your sins be as scarlet … red like crimson.”). Red is the color of the tzaaras skin infection dealt with in Leviticus 13:19, 24, 42–43. Interestingly, scarlet or red is also associated with such things as Santa Claus and Christmas (both have pagan origins), the devil, whorehouses, the whore of Babylon, the religious robes of some Christian clergy and some Buddhist monks.

Red is the color of clay earth out of which Elohim formed the first man naming him Adam (Strong’s H119/120) which means “ruddy, red, bloody or rosy in color.” Red is also the color of the Second Adam, Yeshua the Messiah, who was literally covered in his own sacrificial blood while hanging on the cross.

Burning the cow represents the death and suffering of Messiah on the cross and Elohim’s fiery judgment against sin.

More care was exercised in choosing a spotless cow than in any other sacrifice. This spotless purity represents Messiah Yeshua, the perfect sacrifice.

The red heifer is just one more of the many shadow pictures that point to the Suffering Servant Messiah found in Torah. Other of these antetypes or prophetic shadow-pictures include:

Abel’s sacrifice

Isaac on Mount Moriah and the ram caught in the thorns

The Paschel Lamb

The two goats offered at Yom Kippur

The Angel or Messenger of YHVH at the burning bush

Various burnt offerings and other sacrifices

Aaron’s rod that budded

Water from the rock in the wilderness

The serpent on the pole

The tree thrown into the bitter waters making them sweet and drinkable

The red cow had borne no yoke. Similarly, Messiah was neither under the yoke of sin nor was beholden to or under bondage to any human, institution, government, religious system or anything else of an earthly nature.

The heifer was slain outside of the camp. During the first and second temple eras, the red heifer was slain on the Mount of Olives by the priests. The Mount of Olives is located just east of the Temple Mount and outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem (see The Pentateuch/Numbers, p. 329, by Samson R. Hirsch). Messiah Yeshua was sacrificed outside of the city gates of Jerusalem (Heb 13:12) and very possibly, contrary to Christian tradition, on the Mount of Olives from which the front of the temple and the veil was clearly visible. Remember, the rent veil was visible from the place of the crucifixion (Matt 27:51, 54; Mark 15:38–39).

The heifer was totally burnt. Messiah suffered the burning pain of the cross in body, soul and spirit (Isa 53) to atone for man’s sin.

Into the burnt offering fire went three things: cedar, hyssop and scarlet.

The cedar tree grows tall, imposing and wide symbolizing haughtiness and loftiness of a sinner in rebellion against Elohim. This wood was used to build a house for King David (2 Sam 5:11) as well as for the temple that Solomon built (1 Kgs 6:9–10). This points to the cross, which was made of wood.

Hyssop speaks to the idea that to gain atonement the cedar one must bow in humility like a blade of hyssop. In 1 Kings 4:33 we see the contrast of the great cedar tree to even the hyssop. Hyssop was used to put the blood of the Passover Lamb on the door posts as well as to put the sour wine to Yeshua’s lips while on the cross. It is a medicinal plant known for its cleansing properties (Ps 51:7).

On the spiritual significance of the cedar and the hyssop, the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–1906 edition) states, “The symbolical significance of the rite has been interpreted as follows: The majestic cedar of Lebanon represents pride, and hyssop represents humility; uncleanness … and sin and death are associated ideas; the ceremony, therefore, is a powerful object-lesson, teaching the eternal truth that a holy God can be served only by a holy people.”

Scarlet represents the stain of sin (Isa 1:18); the priests made red with dye from a snail or insect — a lowly creature symbolizing the penitent’s new-found humility. This is one of the colors in the mishkan (tabernacle) as well as the priestly garments. It is also a color of royalty and prosperity (Prov 31:21, Daniel 5:7; Rev 17:4). It is the color Matthew describes as that of the robe the Roman soldiers put on Yeshua on Passover (Matt 27:28).

We also see the cedar wood, the hyssop and the scarlet, in Leviticus 14:4 for cleansing one with the infectious skin disease of tzaaras, which was YHVH’s judgment against the sins of lashon hara (the evil use of the tongue), greed, pride and jealously.


 

Blood on the Mercy Seat…Facing Mount of Olives

Leviticus 16:14, Mercy seat eastward. What possibly could be the significance of YHVH’s command to specifically sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed animal on the east side of the mercy seat? Simply this. If one has ever had the privilege of standing on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, it all makes sense. The east side of the mercy seat faces directly toward the Mount of Olives, where the altar of the red heifer was located. It was likely near this exact spot that Yeshua was crucified just outside of the Jerusalem city gates (Heb 13:12), and where he sprinkled his blood as an atonement for men’s sins (Heb 11:24).

View of the Mount of Olives taken from the Dome of the Spirits on the Temple Mount. Some scholars believe this was the location of the holy of holies in the original Temple of  Solomon.

View of the Mount of Olives taken from the Dome of the Spirits on the Temple Mount. Some scholars believe this was the location of the holy of holies in the original Temple of Solomon.

At this same spot, one had a full frontal view of the temple, which is why those attending Yeshua’s crucifixion were able to see the rent veil in the temple from the spot where he was crucified (Matt 27:51 cp. 54).

Therefore, the high priest sprinkling the blood of the bull and goat sin offering on the east side of the mercy seat on Yom Kippur was a prophetic act pointing to what would take place some fifteen hundred years later on the Mount of Olives.

Yeshua’s shedding of his blood there as an atonement for men’s sins was a fulfillment of the high priest sprinkling blood on the mercy seat on Yom Kippur. When Yeshua was crucified, although his cross faced the mercy seat in the temple, the holy of holies no longer contained that item. To this day, no one knows what became of it.

The sprinkling of blood on the east side of the mercy seat is a small detail that’s easily overlooked in the Scriptures, but it has profound spiritual and prophetic significance. This detail meshes with other seemingly insignificant details found elsewhere in the Scriptures. When these puzzle pieces are placed together, they form another picture of Messiah’s work. This is another proof that only the hand of YHVH Elohim could have inspired the writing of the Bible. May your faith in the divine origination of the Scriptures be strengthened to the glory of Elohim!


 

The Red Heifer and Yeshua

Numbers 19:1–11. The red heifer.

The Overview of the Red Heifer Ceremony and Its Greater Implications
The Jewish sages teach that the commandment (mitzvah) of the red cow is “beyond human understanding.” Like the afikoman (the middle broken matzah that is “buried” and “resurrected,” which is a picture of the death, burial and resurrection of Yeshua) in the Passover (Pesach) Seder, the meaning of which to this day remains unclear to the Jewish scholars, the red cow is a ritual that makes sense only when Yeshua the Messiah is added to the picture.

21193108 While the symbolism of the red heifer was, to Jewish Torah scholars, admittedly incomprehensible to human reason, by the second temple era they began to speculate about its spiritual significance in their aggadic literature. Some felt that it was an atonement for the sin of the golden calf (The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, Massada – P.E.C. Press, 1965, p. 327; The ArtScroll Chumash, p. 839). Others viewed it as somehow relating to the azazel or scapegoat and the bullock sin offering of Yom Kippur, since all were sacrificed outside the camp of Israel (Lev 16:27).
The sacrifice of the red heifer was for the purpose of purifying someone who had become ritually impure or polluted through contact with the dead, or for purifying metal war booty (Num 31:21ff). This sacrifice was to be made outside of the camp of Israel, and later occurred outside of the walls of the city of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, not far from the Temple. The concept of the camp signifies outside of or away from the divine presence or shekinah of YHVH meaning outside the tabernacle courtyard (The ArtScroll Chumash, p. 839).
The heifer was to be three to five years of age and totally red in color, blemish free and to have never born a burden and, according to Jewish tradition, to be without a single black or white hair on its body. The animal was slaughtered with the priest sprinkling its blood seven times toward the tabernacle’s entrance (later this occurred at the temple in Continue reading