Wednesday, 2 January 2019
For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, Hebrews 9:13
This verse initiates a thought which will continue through the next verse as well. And then, after that, it will be settled in verse 9:15. However, it is tied to the previous words with the connector, “For.” Thus, what is presented is explanatory of what has been stated in verse 12 where it said that Christ has obtained for us “eternal redemption.” With that in his view, he will have the thoughts tied together at the end of verse 9:15 using the words, “that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
In other words, the “eternal redemption,” leads to obtaining the “eternal inheritance.” With that in view, and to get us to that point, he now says, “For if the blood of bulls and goats.” This takes us back to the explanation of the Day of Atonement which was just described in verse 12. However, the thought certainly extends to other sacrifices as well where the same animals were used in other rituals. This is all the more certain based on the next words which say, “and the ashes of a heifer.”
The ashes of a heifer were not used on the Day of Atonement. Rather, how they were obtained, and the purpose they served, is found in Numbers 19. In verses 1-10 the process of obtaining these ashes is described. In verse 9, it says that these are for “purifying from sin.” This is then more fully explained in verses 11-13 –
“He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. 12 He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean. 13 Whoever touches the body of anyone who has died, and does not purify himself, defiles the tabernacle of the Lord. That person shall be cut off from Israel. He shall be unclean, because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him; his uncleanness is still on him.” Number 19:11-13
As is seen, these ashes were for “sprinkling the unclean.” It is an outward cleansing of the flesh, but it actually does nothing to purify the person in their heart and soul. Like the other rites and rituals encountered throughout the law, this simply “sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh.”
As can be seen, the author is setting up a contrast where he demonstrates the inferiority of the sacrificial system of the Law of Moses. Though he only mentions a few here, there were various animals that were used for those rituals – lambs, goats, bulls, doves, and even a red heifer’s ashes. Each served a particular purpose and some could serve several purposes, but they all had one thing in common – they only made the people outwardly clean, and most of these purifications were simply symbolic in nature. In some, hyssop was dipped into the blood or other mixture and then it was sprinkled on the people. This was done as a reminder of their unclean state in the presence of God. Some of these cleansings, such as in the case of the ashes of the red heifer, took seven full days to be accomplished, but they were still only external rites of purification.
Such outward cleansings were only a foreshadowing of the greater work of Jesus and His shed blood. Peter uses such terminology in the greeting of his first epistle, applying it to the true cleansing power of Jesus –
“…elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:2
Life application: People who want to please God through works of the law are attempting to have it both ways. First, they want to appear more holy and pious through external rites, like not eating pork. “Oh, I am way better than you because I don’t eat that dirty flesh of swine.” But yet, in their attempt to supposedly be clean in this way, they don’t observe any of the blood or sprinkling rituals required under that same law. Not one person in 2000 years has done this. And so their attempt to be symbolically clean, by not doing one thing, is entirely negated by not doing another. Epic fail. Do not follow such people, but come to the Fount of true cleansing. Come to Christ Jesus who is the fulfillment of all of these mere types and shadows. Indeed – Come to Christ.
Thank You Lord God for the more perfect cleansing we have in the precious blood of Jesus, without which we stand unclean and condemned. Help us to remember always the high cost of our atonement and purification, and to accept it with humility, knowing we don’t deserve the least of Your favor. Amen.