And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,  This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD hath commanded, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring thee a red heifer without spot, wherein is no blemish, and upon which never came yoke:  And ye shall give her unto Eleazar the priest, that he may bring her forth without the camp, and one shall slay her before his face:  And Eleazar the priest shall take of her blood with his finger, and sprinkle of her blood directly before the tabernacle of the congregation seven times:  And one shall burn the heifer in his sight; her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, with her dung, shall he burn:  And the priest shall take cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet, and cast it into the midst of the burning of the heifer.  Then the priest shall wash his clothes, and he shall bathe his flesh in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp, and the priest shall be unclean until the even.  And he that burneth her shall wash his clothes in water, and bathe his flesh in water, and shall be unclean until the even.  And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up without the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation: it is a purification for sin.  And he that gathereth the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even: and it shall be unto the children of Israel, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among them, for a statute for ever.  Num 19:1-10 (KJV)

 After all the sacrificial ceremonies previously described, the Lord defines yet another one for the red heifer.   What makes a cow so special for this service?  It is still a focus of attention for the Jews to this day.  They watch for the birth of the right heifer to initiate this service again today.

He that toucheth the dead body of any man shall be unclean seven days.  He shall purify himself with it on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean: but if he purify not himself the third day, then the seventh day he shall not be clean.  Whosoever toucheth the dead body of any man that is dead, and purifieth not himself, defileth the tabernacle of the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from Israel: because the water of separation was not sprinkled upon him, he shall be unclean; his uncleanness is yet upon him.  This is the law, when a man dieth in a tent: all that come into the tent, and all that is in the tent, shall be unclean seven days.  And every open vessel, which hath no covering bound upon it, is unclean.  And whosoever toucheth one that is slain with a sword in the open fields, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.  And for an unclean person they shall take of the ashes of the burnt heifer of  purification for sin, and running water shall be put thereto in a vessel:  And a clean person shall take hyssop, and dip it in the water, and sprinkle it upon the tent, and upon all the vessels, and upon the persons that were there, and upon him that touched a bone, or one slain, or one dead, or a grave:  And the clean person shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day: and on the seventh day he shall purify himself, and wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even.  But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he hath defiled the sanctuary of the LORD: the water of separation hath not been sprinkled upon him; he is unclean.  And it shall be a perpetual statute unto them, that he that sprinkleth the water of separation shall wash his clothes; and he that toucheth the water of separation shall be unclean until even.  And whatsoever the unclean person toucheth shall be unclean; and the soul that toucheth it shall be unclean until even.  Num 19:11-22 (KJV)

The ashes are used to cleanse the guilt of sin associated with death.  Israel will be entering battle soon, and they will be in need of this cleansing often.  They will see much death in these wars.  Israel will face one last great war in the end times as well.  Perhaps it is a sign of the times that they are seeking the red heifer again. 

These Jews are ready to complain again, even after being warned about rebellion and murmuring.  After the death of Miriam they are ready to whine again.

Then came the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, into the desert of Zin in the first month: and the people abode in Kadesh; and Miriam died there, and was buried there.  And there was no water for the congregation: and they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron.  And the people chode with Moses, and spake, saying, Would God that we had died when our brethren died before the LORD!  And why have ye brought up the congregation of the LORD into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?  And wherefore have ye made us to come up out of Egypt, to bring us in unto this evil place? it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink.  Num 20:1-5 (KJV)

Once again Israel lacks water, and they can only remember Egypt for food, and forget their bondage there.  We long to satisfy our lusts, even when we know that our desires can lead to sin and death.  We can look at our life in sin as being better than the kingdom of God.  Our protests can drive our leaders to error too.  Moses gets instructions for this crisis from God again.

And Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they fell upon their faces: and the glory of the LORD appeared unto them.  And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,  Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.  And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him.  Num 20:6-9 (KJV)

Moses was told to speak to the rock, and also that the water would come.  Perhaps their complaints pushed him, but Moses acted out of anger. 

And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?  And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also.  Num 20:10-11 (KJV 

The water came, but Moses had not obeyed God’s command, hitting the rock instead of talking to it.  God saw, and cursed the life of Moses for this.  God takes from Moses the promise of entering the Holy Land.

And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.  This is the water of Meribah; because the children of Israel strove with the LORD, and he was sanctified in them.  Num 20:12-13 (KJV)

Why was God so angered with Moses?  They had this previous experience with needing water to remember: 

And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go.  Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.  Ex 17:5-6 (KJV) 

At that time God had told Moses to strike the rock.  We too struck the rock in another time: 

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  Isaiah 53:4-5 (KJV) 

We all partook of sin, and contributed the acts that Jesus was crucified for.  God allowed Jesus to be stricken that one time for our healing.  But we are not to “strike the rock” a second time.  How can we do that? 

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:  Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin.  Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:  Romans 6:1-8 (KJV) 

Once we accept the grace of the blood of Jesus, we are to sin no more.  If we continue in sin, it is as if we are putting him back on the cross, striking the rock a second time.   We need only to speak to him now.

And Moses sent messengers from Kadesh unto the king of Edom, Thus saith thy brother Israel, Thou knowest all the travail that hath befallen us:  How our fathers went down into Egypt, and we have dwelt in Egypt a long time; and the Egyptians vexed us, and our fathers:  And when we cried unto the LORD, he heard our voice, and sent an angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt: and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy border:  Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells: we will go by the king’s high way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to the left, until we have passed thy borders.  And Edom said unto him, Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword.  And the children of Israel said unto him, We will go by the high way: and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it: I will only, without doing any thing else, go through on my feet.  And he said, Thou shalt not go through. And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand.  Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border: wherefore Israel turned away from him.  Num 20:14-21 (KJV) 

Clearly they are not approaching a place of easy passage.  There will be resistance by war to their entrance into their inheritance.  They need to be free of sin, cleansed from all contact with the dead things of the past.  For us now, to turn back now would be to deny the miracles we have already witnessed.  It would be to deny the work of the cross, and return Jesus to the agony of crucifixion anew, without accepting his inheritance.  For Israel here, the past is dying, and their first generation is leaving them. 

And the children of Israel, even the whole congregation, journeyed from Kadesh, and came unto mount Hor.  And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in mount Hor, by the coast of the land of Edom, saying,  Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah.  Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor:  And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there.  And Moses did as the LORD commanded: and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation.  And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount.  And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.  Num 20:22-29 (KJV)

Israel has left Egypt, and before that the land of the Chaldeans, forever.  They are entering their own land and a new contract with God.  They will deal with death only if they are strong and free of sin.  Their children are leaving those who stumbled in sin behind.  The red heifer is their cleansing against the death they will contact in these coming battles, as Jesus cleansed us by his red blood.  Israel must remember to follow God’s instructions, and not undo his grace by continuing in sin.   

I am preparing to move to Oregon this week.  I leave behind 30 years of contract employment for a permanent job.  Our pastor here in Iowa reminded us that Abraham left his home for a better one.  In Christ we leave behind an old life for a better one.  We must not be weary enough to become short with people or to fall to temptation.  Moses missed the Promised Land in a moment of anger.  We must not slip back to old ways as we approach this great promise. 

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,  Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Heb 12:1-2 (KJV)