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These Sacrifices Defiled Those Who Took Part In Them
Thus, also, we understand why the red heifer as, so to speak, the most intense of sin-offerings, was wholly burnt outside the camp, and other sin-offerings only partially so (Lev 4:11,12,20, etc.) For this burning signified that 'in the theocracy there was no one, who by his own holiness, could bear or take away the sin imputed to these sin-offerings, so that it was needful, as the wages of sin, to burn the sacrifice which had been made sin' (Keil, Bibl. Archaeol. vol. i. p. 283). The ashes of this sin-offering, mixed with living water and sprinkled with hyssop, symbolised purification from that death which separates between God and man. This parallelism between the blood of Christ and the ashes of an heifer, on the one hand, and on the other between the purification of the flesh by these means, and that of the conscience from dead works, is thus expressed in Hebrews 9:13, 14: 'If the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the defiled, 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, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?' And that this spiritual meaning of the types was clearly apprehended under the Old Testament appears, for example, from the reference to it in this prayer of David (Psa 51:7): 'Purge me from sin * (purify me) with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow'; which is again further applied in what the prophet Isaiah says about the forgiveness of sin (Isa 1:18).
This is not the place more fully to vindicate the views here propounded. Without some deeper symbolical meaning attaching to them, the peculiarities of the sin-offering of the red heifer would indeed be well-nigh unintelligible. This must be substantially the purport of a Jewish tradition to the effect that King Solomon, who knew the meaning of all God's ordinances, was unable to understand that of the red heifer. A 'Haggadah' maintains that the wisest of men had in Ecclesiastes 7:23 thus described his experience in this respect: 'All this have I proved by wisdom,' that is, all other matters; 'I said, I will be wise,' that is, in reference to the meaning of the red heifer; 'but it was far from me.' But if Jewish traditionalism was thus conscious of its spiritual ignorance in regard to this type, it was none the less zealous in prescribing, with even more than usual precision, its ceremonial. The first object was to obtain a proper 'red heifer' for the sacrifice. The Mishnah (Parah, i. ii.) states the needful age of such a red heifer as from two to four, and even five years; the color of its hide, two white or black hairs springing from the same follicle disqualifying it; and how, if she have been put to any use, though only a cloth had been laid on her, she would no longer answer the requirement that upon her 'never came yoke.'
Even more particular are the Rabbis to secure that the sacrifice be properly offered (Parah, iii. iv.). Seven days before, the priest destined for the service was separated and kept in the Temple--in 'the House of Stoves'--where he was daily sprinkled with the ashes--as the Rabbis fable--of all the red heifers ever offered. When bringing the sacrifice, he was to wear his white priestly raiments. According to their tradition, there was an arched roadway leading from the east gate of the Temple out upon the Mount of Olives--double arched, that is, arched also over the supporting pillars, for fear of any possible pollution through the ground upwards. Over this the procession passed. On the Mount of Olives the elders of Israel were already in waiting. First, the priest immersed his whole body, then he approached the pile of cedar-, pine-, and fig-wood which was heaped like a pyramid, but having an opening in the middle, looking towards the west. Into this the red heifer was thrust, and bound, with its head towards the south and its face looking to the west, the priest standing east of the sacrifice, his face, of course, also turned westwards. Slaying the sacrifice with his right hand, he caught up the blood in his left. Seven times he dipped his finger in it, sprinkling it towards the Most Holy Place, which he was supposed to have in full view over the Porch of Solomon or through the eastern gate. Then, immediately descending, he kindled the fire. As soon as the flames burst forth, the priest, standing outside the pit in which the pile was built up, took cedarwood, hyssop, and 'scarlet' wool, asking three times as he held up each: 'Is this cedarwood? Is this hyssop? Is this scarlet?' so as to call to the memory of every one the Divine ordinance. Then tying them together with the scarlet wool, he threw the bundle upon the burning heifer. The burnt remains were beaten into ashes by sticks or stone mallets and passed through coarse sieves; then divided into three parts--one of which was kept in the Temple-terrace (the Chel), the other on the Mount of Olives, and the third distributed among the priesthood throughout the land.
Children Used in the Offering
The next care was to find one to whom no suspicion of possible defilement could attach, who might administer purification to such as needed it. For this purpose a priest was not required; but any one--even a child--was fit for the service. In point of fact, according to Jewish tradition, children were exclusively employed in this ministry. If we are to believe the Mishnah (Parah, iii. 2-5), there were at Jerusalem certain dwellings built upon rocks, that were hollowed beneath, so as to render impossible pollution from unknown graves beneath. Here the children destined for this ministry were to be born, and here they were reared and kept till fit for their service. Peculiar precautions were adopted in leading them out to their work. The child was to ride on a bullock, and to mount and descend it by boards. He was first to proceed to the Pool of Siloam, * and to fill a stone cup with its water, and thence to ride to the Temple Mount, which, with all its courts, was also supposed to be free from possible pollutions by being hollowed beneath.
Dismounting, he would approach the 'Beautiful Gate,' where the vessel with the ashes of the red heifer was kept. Next a goat would be brought out, and a rope, with a stick attached to it, tied between its horns. The stick was put into the vessel with the ashes, the goat driven backwards, and of the ashes thereby spilt the child would take for use in the sacred service so much as to be visible upon the water. It is only fair to add, that one of the Mishnic sages, deprecating a statement which might be turned into ridicule by the Sadducees, declares that any clean person might take with his hand from the vessel so much of the ashes as was required for the service. The purification was made by sprinkling with hyssop. According to the Rabbis (Parah, xi. 9), three separate stalks, each with a blossom on it, were tied together, and the tip of these blossoms dipped into the water of separation, the hyssop itself being grasped while sprinkling the unclean. The same authorities make the most incredible assertion that altogether, from the time of Moses to the final destruction of the Temple, only seven, or else nine, such red heifers had been offered: the first by Moses, the second by Ezra, and the other five, or else seven, between the time of Ezra and that of the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans. We only add that the cost of this sacrifice, which was always great, since a pure red heifer was very rare, * was defrayed from the Temple treasury, as being offered for the whole people. **
* It might be purchased even from non-Israelites, and the Talmud relates a curious story, showing at the same time the reward of filial piety, and the fabulous amount which it is supposed such a red heifer might fetch.
** Philo erroneously states that the high-priest was sprinkled with it each time before ministering at the altar. The truth is, he was only so sprinkled in preparation for the Day of Atonement, in case he might have been unwittingly defiled. Is the Romish use of 'holy water' derived from Jewish purifications, or from the Greek heathen practice of sprinkling on entering a temple?
Those who lived in the country would, for purification from defilement by the dead, come up to Jerusalem seven days before the great festivals, and, as part of the ashes were distributed among the priesthood, there could never be any difficulty in purifying houses or vessels.
Purification of the Leper
2. After what has already been explained, it is not necessary to enter into details about the purification of the leper, for which this, indeed, is not the place. Leprosy was not merely the emblem of sin, but of death, to which, so to speak, it stood related, as does our actual sinfulness to our state of sin and death before God. Even a Rabbinical saying ranks lepers with those who may be regarded as dead. *
They were excluded from 'the camp of Israel,' by which, in later times, the Talmudists understood all cities walled since the days of Joshua, who was supposed to have sanctified them. Lepers were not allowed to go beyond their proper bounds, on pain of forty stripes. For every place which a leper entered was supposed to be defiled. They were, however, admitted to the synagogues, where a place was railed off for them, ten handbreadths high and four cubits wide, on condition of their entering the house of worship before the rest of the congregation, and leaving it after them (Negaim, xiii. 12). It was but natural that they should consort together. This is borne out by such passages as Luke 17:12, which at the same time show how even this living death vanished at the word or the touch of the Savior.
The Mishnic tractate, Negaim, enters into most wearisome details on the subject of leprosy, as affecting persons or things. It closes by describing the ceremonial at its purification. The actual judgment as to the existence of leprosy always belonged to the priest, though he might consult any one who had knowledge of the matter. Care was to be taken that no part of the examination fell on the Sabbath, nor was any on whom the taint appeared to be disturbed either during his marriage week, or on feast days. Great precautions were taken to render the examination thorough. It was not to be proceeded with early in the morning, nor 'between the evenings,' nor inside the house, nor on a cloudy day, nor yet during the glare of midday, but from 9 a.m. to 12 o'clock noon, and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; according to Rabbi Jehudah, only at 10 or 11 o'clock a.m., and at 2 and 3 o'clock p.m. The examining priest must neither be blind of an eye, nor impaired in sight, nor might he pronounce as to the leprosy of his own kindred. For further caution, judgment was not to be pronounced at the same time about two suspicious spots, whether on the same or on different persons.
Right Meaning of Leviticus 13:12, 13
A very curious mistake by writers on typology here requires passing notice. It is commonly supposed * that Leviticus 13:12, 13 refers to cases of true leprosy, so that if a person had presented himself covered with leprosy over 'all his flesh,' 'from his head even to his foot, wheresoever the priest looketh,' the priest was to pronounce: 'He is clean.'
* All popular writers on typology have fallen into this error. Even the learned Lightfoot has committed it. It is also adopted by Mr. Poole in Smith's Dict. of the Bible (ii. p. 94), and curiously accounted for by the altogether unfounded hypothesis that the law 'imposed segregation' only 'while the disease manifested activity'!
If this interpretation were correct, the priest would have had to declare what was simply untrue! And, mark, it is not a question about cleansing one who had been a leper, but about declaring such an one clean, that is, not a leper at all, while yet the malady covered his whole body from head to foot! Nor does even the doctrinal analogy, for the sake of which this strange view must have been adopted, hold good. For to confess oneself, or even to present oneself as wholly covered by the leprosy of sin, is not yet to be cleansed--that requires purification by the blood of Christ. Moreover, the Old Testament type speaks of being clean, not of cleansing; of being non-leprous, not of being purified from leprosy! The correct interpretation of Leviticus 13:12, 13 evidently is, that an eruption having the symptoms there described is not that of true leprosy at all. *
* Even the modified view of Keil, which is substantially adopted in Kitto's Encycl. (3rd edit.), p. 812, that the state described in Leviticus 13:12, 13, 'was regarded as indicative of the crisis, as the whole evil matter thus brought to the surface formed itself into a scale, which dried and peeled off,' does not meet the requirements of the text.