God’s Purification System
Bible Study with Jairus – Numbers 19
After God’s discipline on Korah and others (Numbers 16), His warning to the Israelites through the budding of Aaron’s rod (Numbers 17), and His command to Aaron and his sons to bear the iniquity involving their priesthood (Numbers 18), we can see that the content of Numbers 19 explains how to use water to cleanse the impurity of the Israelites.
The Symbolic Significance of Cleansing Rituals
The design and objects of the tabernacle in the Old Testament are very good pictures of our New Testament spiritual experience. For example, we know that the Israelites used the bronze altar to offer sacrifices for their sins. There, in front of the tabernacle, they were forgiven by God. In the New Testament, this represents that Christ is our sin offering to reconcile us with God.
Another item in front of the tabernacle was the laver. This is where the priest washed himself so that he could enter and serve in the sanctuary. In the New Testament, this represents our experience of “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (ESV, Titus 3:5) and “washing of water with the word” (ESV, Ephesians 5:26). The symbols in the Old Testament and the reality in the New Testament tell us that after we experience salvation, we must undergo further renewal and changes before we can be priests and serve God. We must reconcile with God, experience redemption, and cleanse ourselves in order to serve Him.
Numbers 19 makes this point clear. God’s purpose in leading the Israelites out of Egypt and allowing them to experience trials in the wilderness was not only to save them and free them from Pharaoh’s yoke, but also to make them holy. He wanted them to become His royal priests. The Book of Numbers describes how God trained the Israelites in the wilderness. They constantly had to free themselves from the residual impact of Egypt. As they were changed by God’s holy nature, he fashioned them into a holy kingdom of priests.
If we understand this background, it will help us better understand the picture in Numbers 19. The Lord told Moses and Aaron to prepare a red heifer without defect, on which a yoke has never come (ESV, Numbers 19:2). Speaking of red heifers, I remembered a story shared by a Christian brother. He read an article saying that the Israelites successfully bred red heifers and offered them according to the requirements of the Bible. The article said that this red heifer has been lost for many years, but has recently been bred successfully. I did not check the authenticity of this story, and this is not the focus here.
Instead, we want to focus on the spiritual significance of the red heifer as a sacrifice. After the red heifer is burned, the ashes of the heifer must be gathered and be kept for the purification water. This is a sin offering (ESV, Numbers 19:9). Whoever touches a dead body or something unclean should use this water to cleanse themselves. Verse 12 (ESV) says, “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. ”
We do not interpret the Bible word by word. Instead, we record the questions we ask when we are reading the Bible and the inspiration we receive from the Holy Spirit when answering the questions. A man in our study asked, “Why does verse 12 say that you must cleanse yourself on the third and on the seventh day, otherwise you will be unclean? What does this mean? What if they do not follow the prescribed time schedule, would there be no ashes of the heifer at that time?”
The Bible does not mention a problem with regards to the availability of the ashes of the heifer, so we assume that there is no situation in which the ashes are unavailable. Instead, the people who did not follow the prescribed time schedule for cleansing would have to pay a great price. Verse 13 says that those who did not cleanse themselves must be cut off from the Israelites. It seems that this is a very serious matter.
The Bible also describes other situations in which an individual would become unclean. Someone who touches a dead body or even bones in the open field would become unclean (Numbers 19:16). These people also must cleanse themselves on the third and on the seventh day; on the seventh day he would be clean (Numbers 19:19). Those who didn’t cleanse themselves would be cut off (Numbers 19:20).
This man said, “Why is the timing of the third and seventh day so important?” First of all, this is God’s rule for Old Testament rituals. But we can also draw an analogy to our current-day experience as Christians. The third day represents resurrection because the Lord Jesus Christ was resurrected on the third day. The number seven is the number of perfection, indicating completeness. The seventh day represents a period of completion. God has given us a period of time in which to cleanse ourselves. Maybe after this period, we will have missed our opportunity. We often refer to the grace period, a metaphor which points to the special period of salvation and repentance that God has given. When the Lord Jesus comes again or when the Millennium Kingdom comes, the perfect time to be saved may have passed.
How do these Old Testament truths remind us of our everyday experience as Christians? The burning of the red heifer to ashes signifies the death of Christ (Hebrews 9:13-14). He died to accomplish our salvation. Mixing the ashes of the red heifer with water to create a purification water reminds us of the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit after we believed in the Lord (Titus 3:5). The Lord Jesus was crucified 2000 years ago. He does not need to be crucified again for everyone to be saved. He was the sacrifice of God once for all, just like this red heifer. His salvation is represented by the ashes of the red heifer. They are mixed with water (representing the Holy Spirit) before they can be applied to people for cleansing.
After a person is saved, he needs to continue to experience the cleansing work and renewal of the Holy Spirit. We must avoid contact with dead things in order to maintain our cleanliness before God and maintain an uninterrupted fellowship with Him. If we do come into contact with dead things, we need to cleanse ourselves by experiencing afresh the salvation accomplished by the Lord Jesus on the cross. The Holy Spirit cleanses us and restores our fellowship with God. Otherwise, our fellowship with God will be broken. Although we will not be cut off from God, we will lose our intimate fellowship with the Lord in the spirit.
Brother Witness Lee, one of the founders of the Local Church Movement, gave an example of this very truth. He said that when he was serving in a church in Shanghai, he often took a bus from one church in Shanghai to another. Both of these churches are in Shanghai, but in different places. As he travelled, he started to casually read some advertisements on the bus. At first, he ignored them because of their inappropriate and unclean content. But by the time he arrived at the other church, he felt that his spirit had been defiled. When he preached, he felt that he was not in the presence of the Holy Spirit. So he learned his lesson. When he took the bus again, he closed his eyes and prayed, contemplating the word of God. When he arrived at the other church, he found himself filled with the Holy Spirit. He also found that he was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit when he was preaching.
This is an important story. Although we are not defiled by literal dead bodies like the Israelites in the Old Testament, our spirit can be defiled through contact with unclean things. For example, how many Christians find that they stumble spiritually and lose their power to pray after watching worldly TV programs? If you have had such an experience, you have been defiled by your contact with dead things, and you need God’s cleansing.
How do we experience spiritual cleansing?
First, we must avoid defilement. The world we live in is full of filthy and spiritually dead things. Much of the news we see every day is full of false and filthy things. If we watch too much news without thinking critically about what we see and hear, our minds will be defiled. After our mind is defiled, it will gradually affect our emotions and our will, tempting us to love the world and not God. It will also weaken our will and we will lose our ability to passionately love God. These things will gradually penetrate our spirits, making us weak and prone to stumbling.
Many Christians pray for direction, but they still don’t know understand God’s leading. Their natural soul (personality) and their spirit (connection with God) are tangled together in a mess. They can’t distinguish between the voice of the soul and the voice of the spirit. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (ESV) If we want to hear the voice of God, our soul needs to become quiet. If our flesh is too active and our minds are filled with external noise, our spirits will be unable to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. This is the defilement by the dead. Our soul and spirit become indistinguishable from each another and our fellowship with the Lord in the spirit is cut off.
The second way we can experience cleansing is to eliminate the influence of filthy things in our lives. After we eliminate external noise and the influence of filthy things from the outside world, we need to further cleanse these influences out of our souls. For example, if you have seen a filthy picture, you may not look at it again next time. But this picture may still be imprinted on your mind and continue to affect your soul. You need the ashes of the red heifer, representing the blood of Christ and the cross. In addition to the red heifer, the purification mixture also contained cedarwood, which represents the noble humanity of Christ. In addition, the mixture contained hyssop (represents the humility of Christ), and scarlet yarn (represents the salvation through Christ) (vs. 6). The ashes have many components and are full of Christ’s redemptive power, but water (represents the Holy Spirit) must be added in order to manifest the redemptive effect. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot experience the reality of salvation.
God’s Ready-Made Cleansing Solution
This red heifer used for purification must be pure and unblemished, a heifer on which a yoke has never come (Numbers 19:2). This pure heifer represents Christ, our flawless lamb. The priest Eleazar dipped his finger into the blood of the bull and sprinkled some of it seven times in front of the tabernacle. Then people burned the ox before his eyes, and added the cedarwood, hyssop and scarlet yarn mentioned above. Verse 7 specifically mentions that the priest would wash his clothes, bathe his body in water, and be unclean until night. The one who burned the heifer would also wash his clothes and bathe his body in water and be unclean until night (Numbers 19:8). Afterwards, a man who is clean would gather up the ashes of the heifer and deposit them outside the camp in a clean place. The ashes were kept for the water for impurity; it is a sin offering (ESV, Numbers 19:9). The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer would wash his clothes and be unclean until evening (ESV, Numbers 19:10). The priest, the one who burned the heifer, and the one who gathered the ashes of the heifer were all unclean. This shows that because the ashes of the red heifer were a sin offering, they had replaced the people’s sins and were therefor sinful. When these temple workers came into contact with sinful things, they would naturally become unclean.
After the ashes of the red heifer were combined with fresh water (Numbers 19:17), it was filled with cleansing power. This cleansing water points to a spiritual reality in the New Testament. The redeeming power of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, provides us with cleansing. We should allow the Holy Spirit to release Christ’s redeeming power in us through our prayers, so that we can receive complete cleansing.
Traditional Chinese medications are boiled and distilled from many Chinese herbal plants. These different Chinese herbs have many different components, and each component has a different therapeutic effect. After being boiled and refined, the pharmacy will make them into granules. When I take the medicine, I dissolve it in water so I can drink it. I often find that cold water has a hard time dissolving the granules, so I add hot water to dissolve them. After I drink the dissolved granules, the effects of the ingredients in these traditional Chinese medicines will be broken down in my body and play a therapeutic role.
The fresh water in this chapter is like the hot water in this illustration. The ashes of the red heifer can be compared to the traditional Chinese medicine granules. When the ashes are mixed with fresh water, it has a therapeutic effect, like the dissolved granules.
God’s salvation and cleansing power are all contained in the ashes of the heifer, but we need fresh water, signifying the Holy Spirit, to release the therapeutic effects of the ashes of the heifer, the cedarwood, the hyssop, and the scarlet yarn. In Psalm 51, David requests that the Lord use hyssop to cleanse him from sin. In the same way, Rahab, the prostitute, was saved because of scarlet yarn. The benefits of these beautiful illustrations will be released to us through the application of the Holy Spirit.
The red heifer has already been burned, and the ashes have already been made. The Chinese medicine has already been boiled and refined, and the Chinese medicine granules are ready-made. God has already accomplished salvation through Jesus Christ, and His salvation is prepared. For our convenience, God’s salvation comes to us ready-made. But we need to release these effects through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The third and seventh day also have an important spiritual significance. The third day represents Christ’s resurrection from the dead, accomplishing our salvation. He has already prepared the ashes of the red heifer. We can use them anytime to cleanse ourselves.
In Christ, all believers have participated in dying and rising with Christ on the third day. Therefore, all those who have been chosen by God have experienced the cleansing of Jesus in their spirit. But we also need to cleanse ourselves on the seventh day. If we sin after being saved, we need to repent at the right time. Otherwise, our sin will bring regret.
The seventh day representing a deadline from God is just my personal understanding; it’s not the most important thing in this passage. What is important is that we make the most of every opportunity and lose no time in cleansing ourselves.
Discerning God’s voice
In the recent US elections, some Christians supported Trump, saying he was chosen by God. Other Christians said that they also received revelation from God saying they should choose Biden. Sometimes, Christians can be very confused by these differences in opinion. Does God say different things to different Christians? I said to myself, “No, one of the two groups of Christians must be mistaken in this area.”
The results of the election will eventually come to light, but this is a good opportunity to learn to verify the voice of the Holy Spirit. I tend to believe the prophecies of those who thought that Trump was chosen by God. But the media in the United States has presented a different side to the story. I personally think that many people in the media are under the influence of the evil spirits in the air, bombarding believers with false information and spiritual death. We must use spiritual discernment to learn to cleanse ourselves and to keep away from dead things.
Such a situation is described in the book, The Final Quest, by the American prophet Rick Joyner. He saw a discouraged army of God. The crows, which were evil spirits, flew over their heads and spewed filthy things, deceiving the army of God. When Rick Joyner observed this situation in his prophetic vision, he thought that if the armies of God had wielded the swords in their hands, they could have killed the crows flying overhead. Instead, they put the swords in the ground. In another prophetic vision, Rick Joyner saw a massive enemy army coming against him. But when it got closer, he saw there were many Christians among their ranks. The Christians were deceived by the enemy and had joined the enemy’s army to attack God. One of the two sides is deceived by Satan, and we must pray for God’s wisdom to make sure we are not fighting against the will of God.
This prophetic vision is a good reminder for us. If we come into contact with spiritually dead things and do not cleanse ourselves, we may lose our intimate fellowship with God. More importantly, we may even be deceived by the enemy to become one of his tools in attacking God. Let us pray and search his word for wisdom as we live in these difficult times.