Numbers 19 & Psalms 56-57

Numbers 19

    Now the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded: Tell the people of Israel to bring you a red heifer without defect, in which there is no blemish, and on which a yoke has never come. And you shall give it to Eleazar the priest, and it shall be taken outside the camp and slaughtered before him. And Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood toward the front of the tent of meeting seven times. And the heifer shall be burned in his sight. Its skin, its flesh, and its blood, with its dung, shall be burned. And the priest shall take cedarwood and hyssop and scarlet yarn, and throw them into the fire burning the heifer. Then the priest shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and afterward he may come into the camp. But the priest shall be unclean until evening. The one who burns the heifer shall wash his clothes in water and bathe his body in water and shall be unclean until evening. And a man 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 water for impurity for the congregation of the people of Israel; it is a sin offering. And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. And this shall be a perpetual statute for the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them.

    “Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean. Whoever touches a dead person, the body of anyone who has died, and does not cleanse himself, defiles the tabernacle of the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from Israel; because the water for impurity was not thrown on him, he shall be unclean. His uncleanness is still on him.

    “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. And every open vessel that has no cover fastened on it is unclean. Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days. For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel. Then a clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water and sprinkle it on the tent and on all the furnishings and on the persons who were there and on whoever touched the bone, or the slain or the dead or the grave. And the clean person shall sprinkle it on the unclean on the third day and on the seventh day. Thus on the seventh day he shall cleanse him, and he shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water, and at evening he shall be clean.

    “If the man who is unclean does not cleanse himself, that person shall be cut off from the midst of the assembly, since he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. Because the water for impurity has not been thrown on him, he is unclean. And it shall be a statute forever for them. The one who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and the one who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening. And whatever the unclean person touches shall be unclean, and anyone who touches it shall be unclean until evening.”

(Numbers 19 ESV)


Psalm 56

To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

    Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
        all day long an attacker oppresses me;
    my enemies trample on me all day long,
        for many attack me proudly.
    When I am afraid,
        I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise,
        in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
        What can flesh do to me?
    
    All day long they injure my cause;
        all their thoughts are against me for evil.
    They stir up strife, they lurk;
        they watch my steps,
        as they have waited for my life.
    For their crime will they escape?
        In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!
    
    You have kept count of my tossings;
        put my tears in your bottle.
        Are they not in your book?
    Then my enemies will turn back
        in the day when I call.
        This I know, that God is for me.
    In God, whose word I praise,
        in the LORD, whose word I praise,
    in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
        What can man do to me?
    
    I must perform my vows to you, O God;
        I will render thank offerings to you.
    For you have delivered my soul from death,
        yes, my feet from falling,
    that I may walk before God
        in the light of life.

(Psalm 56 ESV)


Psalm 57

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.

    Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
        for in you my soul takes refuge;
    in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
        till the storms of destruction pass by.
    I cry out to God Most High,
        to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
    He will send from heaven and save me;
        he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah
    God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
    
    My soul is in the midst of lions;
        I lie down amid fiery beasts—
    the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
        whose tongues are sharp swords.
    
    Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
        Let your glory be over all the earth!
    
    They set a net for my steps;
        my soul was bowed down.
    They dug a pit in my way,
        but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah
    My heart is steadfast, O God,
        my heart is steadfast!
    I will sing and make melody!
        Awake, my glory!
    Awake, O harp and lyre!
        I will awake the dawn!
    I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
        I will sing praises to you among the nations.
    For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
        your faithfulness to the clouds.
    
    Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
        Let your glory be over all the earth!

(Psalm 57 ESV)


Something to Consider

Numbers 19: In light of the numerous deaths that have recently occurred throughout the congregation of Israel, it’s especially relevant that instructions are immediately given for purifying those who had been defiled by any physical association with the death all around them. We might wonder why coming into close contact with a corpse or a carcass was considered such a contamination to a person’s purity before God? However, we must remember that is was through sin that death entered into this world and that the wages of sin is death and that death reigns in this world though the power of sin. Uncleanliness, sin and death are the enemies of holiness, God and life. 

In order to purify an unclean person’s flesh, it took the blood of an unblemished heifer and the sprinkling of its ashes upon them after they had been defiled through coming into close contact with the dead. The laws of purification managed the contamination of sin and death but could not conquer it. The laws of purification served the people but did not offer them a solution. The laws of purification brought to light the defiling nature of sin and death, but even more importantly, they sparked the hope that God would one day provide Something Greater to defeat it. That ‘Something Greater' would eventually be the purifying work of Christ.

The blood of the unblemished person of Jesus Christ possesses the power to clean beyond the defilement of our flesh and into the depravity of our hearts. While the ashes mixed with water were sprinkled to cleanse a person's flesh, the righteousness of Christ mixed with the work of the Spirit is poured within us to cleanse a person's heart. Christ cleanses the inside of man in order that the outside might be clean as well (Matthew 23). These laws of purification were given to Israel in order to awaken them to their desperate need for Something greater. Now that the greater purification has come in Christ, God’s people no longer need to observe such laws of purification.   

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9)