This week’s parashah is entitled Chukat meaning ‘statute’ or ‘regulation’. It covers Numbers 19:1 -22:1. It teaches us about the ordinance of the red Heifer, the water of purification, Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ sin, the bronze serpent and tells of Moses’ approaching death. Today I would like to focus on the red heifer and the bronze serpent.
Chapter 19 contains Adonai’s instructions for proper burial practices and laws governing defilement by contact with dead bodies. In a camp that numbered over 2 million people, death was a daily reality for Israel. Some estimate that on average about 100 people per day would have died, which doesn’t include the numbers of those put to death in severe judgments by God on account of Israel’s sinful rebellions.
Defilement and the need for cleansing led to the ordinance of the red heifer, which provided the means of purification for the camp. There are several features about this ritual that make it distinct from other sacrifices. The animal chosen was female, not male; it was slain outside the camp, away from the Tabernacle and the altar; it was slain by a layman and not a priest; the blood was not collected in a basin or poured out before Adonai but was burned along with the carcass; and the ashes were gathered to be mixed with water and used for ceremonial purification.
The animal selected had to be flawless, red in color, and never yoked for service. Aaron’s son Eleazar led the heifer outside the camp, where a layman killed it in the presence of the priest. There was no altar involved. Eleazar caught some of the blood and sprinkled it in the direction of the Tabernacle seven times.
The carcass, along with the blood, was then burned. As the carcass was burning, Eleazar dropped three important items into the fire: cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool, all of which were used in the cleansing ceremony.
Because of their contact with a dead body, Eleazar and the man assisting him were considered ceremonially unclean and had to wash themselves and their clothing before returning to the camp in the evening.
A man who was ceremonially clean would gather up the ashes into a container and placed it in a clean place outside the camp, accessible to the people. He, too, then had to wash before he could return to the camp, no one was allowed to defile the camp.
God’s presence dwelt in the Tabernacle; therefore, the camp had to be kept holy. Unclean people who refused to be cleansed were cut off from the nation and put to death.
God’s people today should take to heart the lesson of this chapter. God calls us to be a holy people. We should cleanse ourselves of all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit.
God promises forgiveness and cleansing to His children, if they confess and turn from their sins.
An innocent animal had to die to provide ritual cleansing for the Israelis, but the sinless eternal Lamb of God had to die to provide cleansing for us all.
Chapter 20, tells us of the deaths of Aaron and Miriam, and of Moses’ great transgression. Miriam appears to have died about four months before her brother Aaron.
Miriam played a significant role in Israel; from the day she arranged for her mother to be paid by Pharaoh’s daughter to nurse Moses, to the day she led the women with a tambourine in praise to God after Israel crossed the Red Sea. Miriam was also a prophetess!
Moses’ sin was in taking credit for bringing water from the rock instead of glorifying God for it. Rabbi Paul, alluded to that rock as a symbol for Messiah Yeshua, who Himself was struck to give the people life. For his presumptuous sin, Moses was forbidden to cross the Jordan into the promise land.
In chapter 21, Adonai gives Israel total victory over the Canaanite city of Arad. Then the Israelis traveled from Mount Hor on the road toward the Dead Sea to go around the land of Edom; but the people’s tempers grew short because of the detour and the lack of what they considered to be real food.
The people spoke against God and Moses, saying, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in the desert? There’s no real food, there’s no water, and our souls detest this manna from heaven.”
According to John 6, the manna was much more than just daily food, it was a symbol of Messiah Yeshua, the Son of God, the Bread from Heaven, who alone can satisfy our spiritual hunger and give us success in our pilgrim journey. So imagine how offensive that was to Adonai!
In the past, when Israel sinned, the glory of the Lord would appear and His judgment would follow. But this time, the judgment was immediate, as Adonai sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many died.
Urgently the people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Please pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So, Moses prayed for the people.
The Lord then said to Moses, “Make a bronze snake and put it on a pole. If anyone is bitten by a snake, that person should look at the bronze snake on the pole, then that person will not die.
” Moses did as the Lord commanded him. Then when a snake bit someone, that person looked at the bronze snake on the pole and lived.
Yeshua referred to this bronze serpent to illustrate His impending death on the cross. The analogy of the bronze serpent and the cross of Messiah helps us to better understand the meaning of God’s grace in salvation.
All people have been infected by sin and will one day die and face judgment. But if they look by faith to Messiah, He will save them and give them eternal life.
Looking to the bronze serpent saved people from physical death, but looking to Messiah saves us from eternal death.
Proceeding on their way Israel encountered and defeated Sihon and his Amorite army and then gained victory over Og the king of Bashan. At last we find them in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan at Jericho.
In closing, can you see Messiah foreshadowed here? In this red heifer that is flawless and that which has never borne a yoke. The red of the heifer points to messiah’s blood, which is our ultimate purification.
The snake on the pole points to Yeshua being lifted up on the cross, and that all who look with believing faith to Him are saved and have eternal life. May each of us come to know that it is the love and grace of God, our generous heavenly Father, that helps us to live humble, thankful, righteous lives, and may we purpose it in our hearts to be holy.