The believer needs constant cleansing from defilement contracted in his pilgrim walk through the world.
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
2 This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying, 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:
3 And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, that he may bring her forth without the camp, and one shall slay her before his face:
4 And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before the tabernacle of the congregation seven times:
5 And one shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn:
6 And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer.
7 Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even.
8 And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even.
9 And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation: it is a purification for sin.
10 And he that gathereth the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: and it shall be unto the children of Israel, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statute for ever.
11 ¶ He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days.
12 He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean.
13 Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him.
14 This is the law, when a man dieth in a tent: all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days.
15 And every open vessel, which hath no covering bound upon it, is unclean.
16 And whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.
17 And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel:
18 And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave:
19 And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even.
20 But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he hath defiled the sanctuary of the LORD: the water of separation hath not been sprinkled upon him; he is unclean.
21 And it shall be a perpetual statute unto them, that he that sprinkleth the water of separation shall wash his clothes; and he that toucheth the water of separation shall be unclean until even.
22 And whatsoever the unclean person toucheth shall be unclean; and the soul that toucheth it shall be unclean until even.
Numbers 1 – J. Vernon McGee
Numbers 19:1-22 – Purification for Uncleanness
We might have expected this chapter to occur in Leviticus. Is it not incongruous in this narrative of the pilgrimage? Nay; this is the most appropriate place, since in the desert march we are more exposed to the touch of defilement, such as needs daily cleansing, lest we be shut out from fellowship with God.
The ashes of an heifer are emblematic of the work of our Lord. See Hebrews 9:13. No blemish; never a yoke; slain “without the camp,” counted an unclean thing! It was easy for the Jew to contract ceremonial defilement. To walk over a grave was enough. But the ashes of the heifer mingled with spring—or running—water restored the polluted soul to the family and the Tabernacle. So as we confess our sins, we are sprinkled from an evil conscience, we are restored to unity with God and His people, and we walk in newness of life. —Through the Bible Day by Day
Numbers 19:17—For an unclean person they shall take of the ashes.
It was very easy to become unclean without realizing it. To touch a corpse, to be in the same room as the dead, to stumble over a grave, was enough to defile the Israelite, and excommunicate him from the Tabernacle with its holy rites. Could anything more graphically set forth the contagiousness of sin? We cannot be in contact with those who are dead in trespasses and sins, or breathe air defiled by their filthy speech, or read books which contain their thoughts, without suffering in some way by it.
This is the reason why, at the end of the day, we often feel unable to pray, or hold fellowship with God: we are excluded from the Most Holy Place, because of this defilement. Indeed, there is only one way of escaping it, and that is in being covered, hermetically sealed, by the Spirit of God. “Whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30).
For this reason also, we should perpetually seek fresh cleansing in the precious blood of Christ. He is represented in this heifer without spot, slain in its prime, whose ashes were mingled in running water to testify their perpetual efficacy and freshness. If the ashes of an heifer availed for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ cleanse our consciences! Ask perpetually for the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ, that you may have access with confidence into the Most Holy Place. The red heifer of Numbers answers to John 13. Let us apply the ashes and the water of purification to each other. Jesus said (John 13:14): “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” —Our Daily Homily