HomeArticlesRed Heifers Restored: what does this mean?

Red Heifers Restored: what does this mean?

Listen to podcast episode here.

Recent news has reported that Red Heifers have arrived in Israel.1)see Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, “Israel 365 Exclusive: Red Heifer Arrive in Israel,” Sep 16, 2022; https://www.israel365news.com/274830/watch-red-heifers-arrive-in-israel/ The Temple Institute reported, “On Thursday, September 15, 2022, 5 PM, 5 perfect, unblemished red heifers arrived in Israel from the USA.”2)Red Heifers Arrive in Israel?” https://templeinstitute.org/ A Christian rancher from Texas has been breeding cattle with the intentions to provide Israel with the Red Heifer they desired. It was debated among the ancient Rabbis whether purchasing a Red Heifer from a Gentile was permitted and the conclusion settled the debate with “it may be purchased from a heathen as well.”3)Peska 14.1; Pesikta Rabbati (trans. William G. Braude), Yale University Press (Dallas TX: 1968), Vol. 1, p. 261 Interestingly, Israel365news.com noted that the Talmud (Kiddushin 31a) relates a story of a Gentile named Dama, who is said to provide the next Red Heifer.4) Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, “Israel 365 Exclusive: Red Heifer Arrive in Israel,” Sep 16, 2022; https://www.israel365news.com/274830/watch-red-heifers-arrive-in-israel/ God’s providence apparently utilized the Covid 19 out brake to prepare this momentous moment because normally calve are required by the government to be tagged immediately after birth which creates a hole in the calf’s ear and renders the calf blemished according to Rabbinic requirements for the Red Heifer. Covid hindered the government official from accomplishing this, which allowed the calves to be transported to Israel before they were disqualified for having a blemish.5) Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, “Israel 365 Exclusive: Red Heifer Arrive in Israel,” Sep 16, 2022; https://www.israel365news.com/274830/watch-red-heifers-arrive-in-israel/

But why is this important?

As Grant Jeffrey discussed years ago, “The Third Temple cannot be built and used for worship until the appropriate area on the Temple Mount is ritually purified using the waters of purification from the ashes of an unblemished red heifer.”6)Grant R. Jeffrey, The New Temple and the Second Coming, WaterBrooks Press (Colorado Springs, CO: 2007), p. 114 The Red Heifer purification is specifically discussed for the cleansing of those who had contact with a dead body (Numbers 19, 31:19-24). Because many people have been slaughtered on the location where the Temple is to be erected, it needs to be purified by the sprinkling of the Red Heifer, as do all those who will be serving in the Temple with the utensils made for service in the Temple. Josephus indicates that Moses made the rite of the Red Heifer after Mariam’s death to sprinkle the people after mourning her passing (Antiquities 4.78-82),7)The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 145 which is a strict following of Scriptural context as Mariam’ death is noted in Numbers 20:1 immediately following the Red Heifer ritual (Numbers 19).

The return of the Red Heifer reveals that we are one step closer to fulfilling the end times prophecies of a future Temple that will be rebuilt (2 Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 11:2), which was also expected to be fulfilled by the earliest Christian authors (Irenaeus, Against Heresy, bk. 5, chapt. 25).8)The Ante-Nicene Fathers, (ed.) Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: originally published 1885, fifth printing 2012) Vol. 1, p. 553-554 Ezekiel 36:25 also assumes the waters of purification from the red heifer will be resumed in the last days.9)Peska 14.15; Pesikta Rabbati (trans. William G. Braude), Yale University Press (Dallas TX: 1968), Vol. 1, p. 295 An ancient legend of the Jews is told that Moses ascending into heaven to find God reading the passage of the Red Heifer in Numbers 19 because He is busying Himself “with nothing than the means of purifying Israel.”10)Piska 14.6; Pesikta Rabbati (trans. William G. Braude), Yale University Press (Dallas TX: 1968), Vol. 1, p. 268

Numbers 19 is the Scriptural text concerning the rite of the Red Heifer with only brief comments alluding to it elsewhere in the Bible (Numbers 31:19-24; Ezekiel 36:25; Hebrews 9:13-14). With so few Scriptural comments about the Red Heifer, it is interesting to note how important it became to the Jewish nation. Numbers 19 was read in the Synagogues on the Sabbath before Passover, which is known as Shabbat Parah. The rite of the Red Heifer has been considered a mystery to the Jewish scholars over the centuries. Even Solomon, with all his wisdom, is said to not have been able to understand it (Numbers Rabbah 19.3;11)Midrash Rabbah: Numbers Volume Two (Trans. Judah J. Slotki), The Soncino Press (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 6, p. 754 Pesikta Rabbati 14.7, 9).12)Pesikta Rabbati, (trans. William G. Braude), Yale University Press (Dallas TX: 1968), Vol. 1, pp 269, 279 Though this was a purification practice, anyone involved with the sacrifice of the Red Heifer, burning it or the sprinkling of the water (4Q394 Frag. 3-7, Cols 1-2, 13-17),13) The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., and Edward Cook), HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY: 1996, 2005), p. 456 including anyone who touched the vessel containing the ashes or even the “moisture of the water” was considered unclean until evening (4Q277 Frag. 1, Col. 2, 4-5).14) The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., and Edward Cook), HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY: 1996, 2005), p. 364

Contrast to the normal practices of sacrifices, the Red Heifer was the only sacrifice of a female animal prescribed in the Torah. Rabbis explained this anomaly by claiming Abraham brought a heifer to his angelic visitors in Genesis 18:715)Piska 14.3; Pesikta Rabbati (trans. William G. Braude), Yale University Press (Dallas TX: 1968), Vol. 1, p. 265 (though the text simply says a calf). The Red Heifer was to be at least two years old, but Rabbis debated the upper range of age as three, four, or even five years old,16)M. Parah 1.1; The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 697 and was to have nothing but red hairs (though some Rabbis argued hairs of different colors could be plucked out).17)M. Parah 2.5; The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 699 The rite of burning the Red Heifer is believed to have only occurred nine times throughout history; first by Moses, second by Ezra, Simeon the Just did it twice as did Johanna the High Priest, Hanamel the Egyptian and Ishmael the son of Piabi each prepared one.18)M. Parah 3.5; The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 700 Grant Jeffrey records, “Maimonides wrote that there were only nine red heifers sacrifices from the time of the Tabernacle worship till the destruction of the Second Temple. He indicated that the tenth sacrifice of the red heifer would occur only when the messianic King was ready to appear.”19)Grant R. Jeffrey, The New Temple and the Second Coming, WaterBrooks Press (Colorado Springs, CO: 2007), p. 117

A tradition states that the High Priest would build a new runway or bridge to cross the Kidron Valley outside the East Gate 20)M. Middoth 1.3; The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 590 to enter the Mount of Olives where they would burn the Red Heifer.21)M. Shekalim 4.2; The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 155 The eastern wall is said to have been shorter than the other walls of Jerusalem so that after the Red Heifer was sacrificed, its blood could be taken and sprinkled on the altar in the Temple so that the High Priest who remained on the Mount of Olives would be able to watch from his location and see over the wall the sprinkling of blood as it was happening in the Temple.22)M. Middoth 2.4; The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 592 It is indicated that the destruction of the previous runway and construction of the new one would occur each time and cost the High Priest sixty talents of gold.23)Peska 4.7; Pesikta de-Rab Kahana (trans William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein), Jewish Publication Society of America (Philadelphia, PA:1975, 1978), p. 81 The tradition is taught by Rabbi Eleazar that “the fact is that all the High Priests built new runways in order to demonstrate their scrupulous concern for the ritual purity of the Red Heifer.”24)Peska 4.7; Pesikta de-Rab Kahana (trans William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein), Jewish Publication Society of America (Philadelphia, PA:1975, 1978), p. 82 The one who slaughtered the Heifer was to wear a white garment,25)M. Parah 4.1; The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 701 and the priest that was to burn the Heifer was to be separated for seven days prior and go through purification rites being sprinkled each of the seven days for purification; contrast to the High Priest who, for the Day of Atonement was separated and only sprinkled the third and seventh days.26)M. Parah 3.1; The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 699 A seven day purifying of the altar and the priests is also mentioned in Ezekiel 43:26 in respect to the future Temple. The rite of the Red Heifer was a very important event as it was on very rare occasions when it took place. In fact, the ancient Jewish view of the Red Heifer passage (Numbers 19) was equal in importance “to the entire Torah.”27)Piska 14.6; Pesikta Rabbati (trans. William G. Braude), Yale University Press (Dallas TX: 1968), Vol. 1, p. 268

The ashes were to be stored for safekeeping (4Q276 Frag 1, 8),28) The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., and Edward Cook), HarperCollins Publishers (New York, NY: 1996, 2005), p. 364 which the Mishnah explains after the heifer was burnt and the ashes were pulverized and sifted, the ashes were divided into three parts and kept one part on the Rampart of the Temple-Court, one on the Mount of Olives, and one was divided among the Courses of Preists.29)M. Parah 3.11; The Mishnah (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 701 After explaining the practice of the burning of the Red Heifer and collecting the ashes,30)The Special Laws, 1.267; in The Works of Philo: New Updated Edition, (Trans. C. D. Yonge) Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 1997), p. 559 Philo explains, “It is necessary, therefore, for those who are about to go into the temple to partake of the sacrifices, to be cleansed as to their bodies and as to their souls before their bodies.”31) The Special Laws, 1.269; in The Works of Philo: New Updated Edition, (Trans. C. D. Yonge) Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA: 1997), p. 559  Philo perceived a figurative meaning in the purification of the Red Heifer and connects it to the idea of a spiritual cleansing needed for proper worship before one entered the Temple of God.

Similarly, the book of Hebrews is divided in three sections explained in 6:1 as the doctrine of Christ (Hebrews 1-5), repentance from dead works (Hebrews 6-10) and faith toward God (Hebrews 11-13). The brief comments about the Red Heifer are contained within the second division about repentance from dead works, stating, “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14). Like Philo, the book of Hebrews indicates that the Red Heifer is merely a carnal ordinance that is for the purification of the flesh but only the blood of Christ can purge the conscience of sin which would be received by faith demanding repentance “from dead works to serve the living God.” As Arnold Fruchtenbaum commented, “the object was to purge the conscience from dead works; these dead works were the works of the Levitical system; works which are now dead because they have come to an end as far as God is concerned[.]”32)Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, Ariel Ministries (Tustin, CA: 2005), p. 121 The ancient Christian text, the Epistle of Barnabas viewed the Red Heifer as a “type” of Christ, saying, “The calf is Jesus[.]”33)Barnabas 8; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Edited by Alexander Roberts, D.D., & James, Donaldson, LL.D., Hendrickson Publishers, 2012, Vol. 1, p. 142 Parallel to the Red Heifer sacrifice, Jesus was taken outside the camp to be sacrificed (Hebrews 13:11,13).

Another relevant point to make concerning the news of these Red Calves arriving in Israel is that it verifies the Dispensationalists method on hermeneutics and theology. As theologian Charles Ryrie wrote,

… dispensationalism claims to employ principles of literal, plain, normal or historical-grammatical interpretation consistently.

Covenant theologians are well known for their use of nonliteral interpretation, especially when interpreting prophecy, and they are equally well known for their amillennialism, which is only the natural outcome of such a hermeneutic….

If plain or normal interpretation is the only valid hermeneutical principle and it is consistently applied, it will cause one to be a dispensationalist.34)Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Revised and Expanded)m Moody Press (Chicago, IL: 1995), p. 20

Contrary to Catholic and mainline Protestant denominations which predominately uphold Covenant Theology and assume Israel has been replaced by Christianity, Dispensationalist have maintained Israel is distinct from Christians and God has not rejected the Jewish nation as His chosen people.35)Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Revised and Expanded)m Moody Press (Chicago, IL: 1995), p. 39-40 This premise is based on a literal interpretation of Scripture, especially as applied to eschatology, and is evidenced by the continuous fulfillment of prophecies such as these Red Heifers, just as Dispensationalists have expected God’s promises to literally come to pass.

The dispensational eschatology also expects the restoration of the nation of Israel and their regeneration, which interestingly is also implied in the eschatological passage of Ezekiel which assumes the Red Heifer will be restored in the end times. It is said that Israel will be sprinkled with cleansing water, alluding to the Red Heifer’s ashes mixed in water, and God giving the Jewish nation a new heart and new spirit, placing His spirit within them (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Similarly, the prophecy of the valley of dry bones expresses two stages of God’s future work in Israel as a nation. First the Jews are to be restored to their land (Ezekiel 37:6-8, 11); and secondly, they will be spiritually born again (Ezekiel 37:9-10, 14). We have already seen the Jews restored to the land of Israel and the restoration of the Red Heifer is another expected development of the first stage with their reinstituting the ancient Jewish customs and will soon rebuild the Temple. It is only after these things that the Temple can be defiled by the antichrist (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14; Daniel 9:27; 12:11), then Israel will turn to their Messiah Jesus Christ and be saved (Zechariah 12:10; Romans 11:26).

print

References[+]

Heath Henning
Heath Henning
Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and nine children. Read Heath Henning's Testimony

Related Articles

Other Featured Articles

A Critique on Tremper Longman’s Theistic Evolution

A Review of Tremper Longman III, Confronting Old Testament Controversies: Pressing Questions about Evolution, Sexuality, History, and Violence (2019) I have only been acquainted with...

Panentheism (Part 2)

A Course In Miracles