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Ceremony of the Red Heifer

19

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: 2This is a statute of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish and on which no yoke has been laid. 3You shall give it to the priest Eleazar, and it shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence. 4The priest Eleazar shall take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times towards the front of the tent of meeting. 5Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight; its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned. 6The priest shall take cedarwood, hyssop, and crimson material, and throw them into the fire in which the heifer is burning. 7Then the priest shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterwards he may come into the camp; but the priest shall remain unclean until evening. 8The one who burns the heifer shall wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water; he shall remain unclean until evening. 9Then someone who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place; and they shall be kept for the congregation of the Israelites for the water for cleansing. It is a purification offering. 10The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.

This shall be a perpetual statute for the Israelites and for the alien residing among them. 11Those who touch the dead body of any human being shall be unclean seven days. 12They shall purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean; but if they do not purify themselves on the third day and on the seventh day, they will not become clean. 13All who touch a corpse, the body of a human being who has died, and do not purify themselves, defile the tabernacle of the Lord; such persons shall be cut off from Israel. Since water for cleansing was not dashed on them, they remain unclean; their uncleanness is still on them.

14 This is the law when someone dies in a tent: everyone who comes into the tent, and everyone who is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days. 15And every open vessel with no cover fastened on it is unclean. 16Whoever in the open field touches one who has been killed by a sword, or who has died naturally, or a human bone, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. 17For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt purification offering, and running water shall be added in a vessel; 18then a clean person shall take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent, on all the furnishings, on the persons who were there, and on whoever touched the bone, the slain, the corpse, or the grave. 19The clean person shall sprinkle the unclean ones on the third day and on the seventh day, thus purifying them on the seventh day. Then they shall wash their clothes and bathe themselves in water, and at evening they shall be clean. 20Any who are unclean but do not purify themselves, those persons shall be cut off from the assembly, for they have defiled the sanctuary of the Lord. Since the water for cleansing has not been dashed on them, they are unclean.

21 It shall be a perpetual statute for them. The one who sprinkles the water for cleansing shall wash his clothes, and whoever touches the water for cleansing shall be unclean until evening. 22Whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening.


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31. And ye shall eat it. Because the tithes were reckoned to be amongst the sacred oblations, a question might arise, whether it was lawful to eat them anywhere except in the sanctuary. God therefore declares, that when the Levites had separated the δευυτεροδεκάτας (the second tithes,) the residue passed into the nature and condition of ordinary meats; inasmuch as they might then eat in any place of the bread made of tithe-corn, like the produce of their own fields. The reason, which is subjoined, seems to be by no means appropriate; via, that it was the reward for the labor which they bestowed on the service of the tabernacle; for hence it was rather to be inferred, that this food was peculiarly destined for the ministers, whilst they were discharging their official duties, and keeping watch in the tabernacle, or killing the victims at the altar. But since by God’s command they were scattered over the whole land, and did not cease to be ministers of the tabernacle on account of the distance of their residence, it was justly permitted that, wherever they might be, they should eat of the meat appointed them by God. If it were allowable to take the particle כי, ki, 225225     כיfor, or because. W.
   "On pourroit aussi translater, Combien que ce soit votre loyer;” it might also be translated, although this is your reward. — Fr.
adversatively, the sense would be clearer. In the next verse he confirms the same declaration, i.e., that they should be free from all guilt when they had honestly paid the priests. Yet at the same time they are strictly admonished that they should not commit themselves by any fraud; for God declares that it would amount to sacrilege, if they should have thievishly embezzled any of it, and threatens them with capital punishment; for “to pollute the holy things” of the people, is equivalent to profaning whatever was consecrated in the name of the whole people.

2 This is the ordinance of the law. Because it could not but occur that, whilst the faithful were engaged in the world, they should often contract some pollution by their contact with its many impurities, the composition of the water is here described, by the sprinkling of which they might wash away, and expiate their uncleanness: and then certain kinds of pollution are specified, whereof the purification is required. God commands that a red heifer should be slain, which had never been subjected to the yoke; and that it should be burnt without the camp, together with its skin and dung; that the ashes should be gathered by a man that was clean, and laid up without the camp for the common use of the people. But, in order that the water, which was mixed with these ashes, should have the power of reconciliation, God at the same time commands that the blood should be sprinkled seven times before the altar by the finger of the priest. The object of this ceremony was twofold: for God would awaken the attention of the people to reflect more closely upon their impurity; and, although they might be pure within, still would have them carefully look around them, lest they should be polluted from without; and also taught them that, as often as they were infected by any pollution, expiation was to be sought for from elsewhere, viz., from sacrifice and sprinkling; and thus admonish them that men inquire in vain in themselves for the remedies demanded for their purification, because purity can only proceed from the sanctuary. Those, who speculate subtilty on the details, advance some questionable matters. I leave them, therefore, to the enjoyment of their conceits; let it suffice for us to consider generally what God referred to in this ceremony, and what advantage accrued from it to the people. By the red color, they suppose that sin is signified. Meanwhile, lest they should run into a manifest contradiction, they are obliged absurdly to interpret what follows, that He required a heifer perfect and without blemish, as if it were said that there should be no difference of color in her hair; whereas God demands the same thing as in the other sacrifices, which were rejected as faulty if any mark of deformity existed in them. And in this sense it is added that she should never have borne a yoke. Therefore I make no doubt but that God enjoined that a pure heifer, neither mutilated nor lame, should be chosen; and, that her perfectness might be more apparent, as yet unbroken to the yoke. What, then, is the meaning of the red color? First of all, I prefer confessing my ignorance to advancing anything doubtful; but it may be conjectured that a common and ordinary color was rather chosen, lest it should be too conspicuous, as it would have been, if either white or black. But this should be deemed sure, that a perfect heifer, and one free from every blemish, was to be offered, and one too, which had not been broken to bear the yoke by the hands of men, that the purification might have nothing of humanity about it.: But the command to offer her was given to the whole people; because, in order that we may be partakers of ablution, it is necessary that each of us should offer Christ to the Father. For, although He only, and that but once, has offered Himself, still a daily offering of Him, which is effected by faith and prayers, is enjoined to us, not such as 2222     See the dogmatical statement of this notion in the Creed of Pius iv.
   Art: V. — “I profess, likewise, that in the Mass there is offered to God a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that in the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist there are truly, really, and substantially the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ,” etc.
the Papists have invented, by whom in their impiety and perverseness, the Lord’s Supper has been mistakenly turned into a sacrifice, because they imagined that Christ must be daily slain, in order that His death might profit us. The offering, however, of faith and prayers, of which I speak, is very different, and by it alone we apply to ourselves the virtue and fruit of Christ’s death.

3 And ye shall give her unto Eleazar. A clear distinction is here made between two offerings; for the people are not permitted to kill the heifer, but this is the peculiar office of the priest. Thus the people offered vicariously by the hand of the priest; and in this way also at present, although we set Christ before God’s face in order to propitiate Him, still it is necessary that Christ Himself should interpose, and exercise the office of a priest. Again, the heifer was to be taken outside the camp, as a sign that it was accursed, since it was an atonement. On which account, too, the atoning victims, whose blood was carried into the Holy of Holies, were burnt without the camp; the truth of which figure was accomplished in Christ, who therefore suffered outside the gates of the city, as the Apostle testifies. (Hebrews 13:11-12.) But, because this was a species of rejection, lest the heifer should be less accounted of, or lest the Israelites should think her polluted by the curse, God shews that her blood was sacred and of a sweet savor, by commanding that it should be sprinkled seven times upon the altar, which might not be profaned by anything unclean. The same thing is most clearly seen in Christ; for although He was made a curse for us, and is called “sin,” because by bearing our accursed sins upon the cross, He was our atoning victim, yet nothing was thereby taken from His purity, so as to prevent His holiness from being the sanctification of the whole world. For He offered Himself through the Spirit, and by His own blood entered into the holy place, and His death is elsewhere called by Paul, “a sacrifice for a sweet-smelling savor.” (Hebrews 9:11-12; Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 4:18).

6 And the priest shall take cedar-wood. That the sprinkling of the blood might be conjoined with that of the water, the cedar-wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, thread, with which the sprinkling was wont to be made, were cast into the fire; for, unless the Israelites had been admonished by this visible sign, they would not have so clearly known that they were not only washed with the water, but that by the offering of the sacrifice also their uncleanness was removed. But it was not enough that the blood should be poured forth, unless, as has been already seen, they were purified by its aspersion. But, for as much as the scent of cedar-wood is precious, and in hyssop there is a cleansing property, we gather from hence also that the victim was pure, although it bore their sins together with the curse and expiation. Peter teaches us how we are sprinkled with the blood of Christ, viz., through the Spirit, (1 Peter 1:2;) nay, John shews us in his Canonical Epistle, that we find all the parts of this ceremony in Christ, where he writes that Christ “came by water and blood,” and “it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.” (1 John 5:6.)

7 Then the priest shall wash his clothes. At first sight there seems to be a discrepancy in the facts, that the heifer was sacred to God, and pure, and still that the priest was polluted by touching it; yet they accord very well with each other. But that both the priest as well as the minister who made the burning, were unclean until the evening, ought to have forcibly struck the people, and taught them the more to abominate sin. And, since it was not permitted to any but a man that was clean to gather the ashes, not that they should be laid anywhere but in a clean place, it was manifested by this sign that there was no impurity in the sacrifice itself, but that from an extraneous and adventitious pollution; because it was destined to purge away uncleanness, it was accounted in a certain sense unclean. Whence too the water, into which the ashes were thrown, was called the water of separation, as well as the expiation 2323     “Nam expiatio est.” — Lat, v. 9. “It is a purification for sin.” — A.V. For this translation which I have given is the right one; and others improperly render it “for waters of separation, and for expiation.” The old interpreter has not given the sense amiss, as far as regards this word, “because the heifer is burnt for sin.” But since in Hebrew the word,חטאה chateah 2424     למי נדה חטאת הוא ́̔Υδωρ ῥαντισμᾶ ἅγνισμά ἐστι·LXX. In aqua aspersionis; quia pro peccato vacca combusta est. — V. This last is what C. means by “the old interpreter.” The translation which he condemns he had seen in S.M. — W. means not only wickedness or sin, but also the sacrifice on which the curse is imposed; what Moses intended to convey is better expressed by the word “expiation.” But the expression “separation” has reference to the men, whose personal uncleanness excluded them from the holy congregation. But the question arises, why this ordinance is pronounced to be common to the strangers who sojourned in the land of Israel, as well as to the natives; because it was by no means reasonable that the uncircumcised should be purified. The reply is easy, that such strangers are not adverted to as were altogether aliens from the people, but those who, although born of heathen parentage, had embraced the Law. These God equalizes with the children of Abraham in the sacrifices and other religious services; for if their condition were different, the-church, into the body of which they were ingrafted, would be rent asunder.

11. He that toucheth the dead body. He now recites certain forms of pollution in which the washing was necessary; all of them, however, come to the point, that men are defiled by the touch of a corpse or, bones, or a grave. Nor is there here any distinction between the body of a person who is slain, or of one who has died in bed; whence it follows that death is here set forth as a mirror of God’s curse: And assuredly, if we consider its origin and cause, the corruption of nature, whereby the image of God is defaced, presents itself in every, dead man; for, unless we were altogether corrupt, we should not be born to perish But God also taught His people by another mode of signifying it, that uncleanness is contracted by our communication with the unfruitful works of darkness. For the Apostle (Hebrews 6:1) calls them “dead works,” either from their consequences, or because, as faith is the life of the soul, so unbelief keeps it in death. Since, then, the corpse the bones, the grave, designate whatever we bring from the womb, because, until we are born again, and God quickens us by His Spirit and faith, we are dead while we live; there is no question but that the children of Israel were reminded, that in order to keep themselves pure before God, they must abstain from all corruption; inasmuch as, if they were rendered unclean by their contact with a dead man, they must immediately have recourse to ablution. In fine, the ceremony had no other object than that they should serve God in pureness from the sins of the flesh; and exercise themselves in constant thoughts of repentance, whilst, if they fell from their purity, they should labor to obtain reconciliation with God, by means of sacrifice and ablution.

13. Whosoever toucheth the dead body. The severity of. the capital punishment shews how very pleasing to God is purity. If any one bad forgotten to sprinkle himself on the third or the seventh day, he might redeem his negligence by a prolongation of the term, because he only postponed his purification to another day; but it was a capital crime to enter the sanctuary in his uncleanness, since thus holy and profane things would be mixed together, nay, the altar would have been polluted as well as the whole service of God. But indeed the act of touching a dead body was of slight importance, nor was it to be deemed an atrocious crime; but here the external defilement is not regarded in itself, as if God were wroth on account of a stain contracted by the performance of a pious duty. 2525     “Pour ensevelir son pere;” by burying his father — Fr. Rather must the object of the ceremony be considered, for God designed by these rudiments to teach the Israelites, like children, that if any one should pollute sacred things by his impurity, he would by no means be tolerated in this audacity. In this then consisted the religious import of the transaction, that the worship of God was too precious for the Israelites to be permitted to contaminate it with impunity. Whence we gather that the punishment was denounced as against sacrilege. In sum, it comes to this, that God is not duly worshipped except with a sincere heart and pure hands; and that if any pollution be contracted, there is need of expiation before a free access is re-opened to holy things. But it must be remarked as to the contact, that it was accounted the same thing, whether the corpse lay in a field or a house; whilst, if any one died in a tent, men were polluted by merely entering it, and likewise vessels without covers thus became unclean.

22. And whatsoever the unclean person toucheth. Others translate it, — “Whosoever toucheth an unclean thing shall be unclean.” for, since the Hebrew is without a neuter gender, 2626     S.M. had used the words cited by C. “Quicunque tetigerit immundum;” but C. appears to have overlooked his note upon this clause, viz., “Hoc est, qui tetigerit hominem, qui super mortuo est immundus;” or else he would have seen that immundum was not meant for a neuter. — W. the relative אשר, asher, and the noun הטמא, hattame, may be either masculine or neuter; and either sense would not be unsuitable; except that we gather from the second clause, that reference is rather made here to the contagion with which unclean persons infect either men or garments, or other articles. For those who had touched a dead body, or bones, or a grave, were not only unclean until the evening, but for seven entire days. But it appears that this was added in conclusion, lest the Jews should murmur at the severity of the punishment, as if God would inflict the penalty of death for a trifling sin. In this way, then, Moses shews how great is the guilt incurred by those who, being unclean, intrude into the sanctuary; because, as far as in them lies, they pollute the holiness of God, and not without intolerable impertinence. Hence appears to be taken the reproof of the Prophet, when he reproaches the Jews with having done nothing but defile the worship of God with their sacrifices; for he proposes this question to the priests, — “If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy?” After they have replied in the negative, he asks again, “If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean?” and they answer, “It shall be unclean.” Whence the Prophet infers:

"So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the Lord, and so is the work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.” (Haggai 2:12-14.)

This passage shews us the legitimate use of the ceremony, that corrupt and perverse worshippers 2727     “Ceux qui servent a Dieu sans droite affection, and par hypocrisie;” those who serve God without right affections, and in hypocrisy. — Fr. bring disgrace rather than honor on God, whilst they mix up His holy name with their profanations.




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