Cleansing the Conscience — Forgiveness — Red Heifers — Part 10

I grew up in the largest cow town in America, but I’m still essentially a city boy. So I had to ask what a red heifer would be. The word has two elements, in the Bible. First, a heifer is a young female cow (don’t blame me; that’s how the New Oxford American Dictionary said it!) that has not born a calf. The second element is clear from Numbers 19.2: “on which no yoke has ever come.” The animal, finally, had to be red, having red hair. In later Jewish practice, the animal had to have no more than two black hairs growing out of the same follicle. Recently, in 1999, Israel thought that a valid red heifer had been born in the country, but later it was disqualified (I did not hear the reason for the disqualification).

The law required that the priesthood burn the animal completely to ash. They then gathered the ash and preserved it for important cleansing rituals (explained in Num 19.11-22). Ritual purity was the presupposition of the entire Law of Moses. This ritual purity concerned matters, generally, such as physical conditions (childbirth, for example), but especially physical contact with death. This is the particular concern in Numbers 19. There are, then, two types of impurity: minor impurities that do not require sacrificial remedies, and major impurities that require sacrifice (as in Lev 14, the ritual for purifying someone who has had leprosy). The chief impurity is death. Contracting the impurity of death threatened severing the Israelite from his people (Num 19.20). So, going through the ritual of the red heifer made one fit to participate in the public worship of God.

If these things are true, Hebrews 9.13-14 says, then it is all the more true that one who is clean because of the blood of Christ is fit for the worship of God. Our problem, then, becomes a problem of faith, not one of sin. Is the blood of Christ more powerful than my sin? Is it more powerful and authoritative than my conscience? If not, then we really are not fit for the service of God. If so, then no amount of grieving is needed. No amount of pleading is needed. Only the blood of Christ satisfies God. Or else, my conscience is more righteous, powerful, holy, than God is.

About jamesallman

Jim Allman is a Bible teacher living in the Dallas, TX area. He taught 18 years in Memphis, TN at Mid-South Bible / Crichton College, and has been at Dallas Seminary since 2000. He is married to Jan and has three married children, Jill, Jim, Jr., and Julie, and six grandchildren, Hannah, Sara, Gabriel, Miles, Asher, and his little brother, Asa.
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6 Responses to Cleansing the Conscience — Forgiveness — Red Heifers — Part 10

  1. Christine Browning says:

    I LOVE this truth…stand on it…rest in it…struggle to believe how kind God is at times of doubt and unbelief…What a wonderful truth to KNOW that He is the Worthy One and I can do nothing to help make myself “good enough” for Him. His love still amazes me!

  2. Mark says:

    Dr. Allman-

    When you were in seminary, in a period of seasoning and training, what specific things did you intentionally do to risk for God in faith? I ask as I live a simple life of study, work and ministry with my church. I have been praying for ways that I can risk in faith and have a bunch of ideas with my roommate (Jonathan Woodlief), but am looking for your insight too!

    • jamesallman says:

      Very little. Since I have lived most of my life by fear, I avoided risk, not understanding the goodness and trustworthiness of God, or the role of risk in the life of faith. Get ahead of me. Start earlier. The issues surrounding risk are critical, but they are completely related to the known purpose and plan of God. Blessings on you for even thinking in these terms.

  3. Thank you for a very thoughtful commentary on the Red Heifer. It is amazing that this practice has survived all these centuries. For example, Karen Boren wrote:

    . . . not one person can begin even the most preliminary work on the Temple Mount until they have been purified by the Ashes of the Red Heifer.

    And so we wait until a way is prepared for the descendants of Judah to become ritually pure so they may build another temple in Jerusalem.

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