SOME PASSAGES ARE DIFFICULT
A couple of weeks ago I had the honor of leading a group of people in a short devotion. At Kaleo Church we call these devotions “The Beauty of Jesus.” We call them that because of our conviction that all of Scripture is about Jesus (Luke 24:25-27; 44-47; John 5:46-47; etc.). As I invited everyone to open to the book of Numbers, a young man laughed as if I were joking around. Part of me understood why he laughed because some books can be hard to read, but the other part of me was sad because I realized how many books in God’s Word go unread. However, if Christ can truly be found in all of the Scriptures, should we not be willing to do the hard work to find him?
The book of Numbers has always been interesting to me because of the great trek by God’s people from the Wilderness into the Promised Land. I like it because I see myself as the grumbling Israelites who seem so hopeless while God continues to be faithful to a bunch of faithless rebels. When you get to Numbers 19 though, it can seem like you have jumped back into Leviticus when you see what seems to be nothing but purification laws. My guess is that the temptation of most people is to see the heading of the chapter and kind of skim read, or skip the chapter all together. In doing so, you might miss a beautiful picture of typology and the significance it carries over into the New Testament.
Here are some of the key points of Numbers 19 that will help us lay a foundation for what is going on here and will set a trajectory for it’s New Testament fulfillment:
- God is making a very clear distinction between clean and unclean. Those who come in contact with a dead corpse must apply the God-given cleansing rituals to come back into the presence of God and his people.
- Unclean things must be taken outside the camp.
- In this particular section of Scripture, it is the sprinkling of water that does the cleansing (unlike the usual source: blood).
- Not only is water the means of cleansing, it is a special water. The water must be mixed with the ashes of a burned red heifer.
HOW DO WE CONNECT THE MAIN POINTS OF NUMBERS 19 TO THE LORD JESUS CHRIST?
When connecting Old Testament passages Christ, we want to avoid making direct connections that allegorize a passage. We want to interpret Scripture the way the Apostles themselves do, using correct trajectories found within Scripture itself. In being faithful to the Scriptures, we want to look for Redemptive-Historical Progression, Promise-Fulfillment, Typology, Analogy, New Testament Quotation, etc. (See list of books below to help understand these trajectories/categories a little better).
So, here are some connections I think we can make without violating rules of good covenantal hermeneutics:
- We, by nature of sin, are considered unclean and are in desperate need of cleansing. Inside of ourselves we cannot find a way to cleanse ourselves and are completely dependent on God. In the same way God provided a way for the unclean to be cleansed in Numbers 19, so God provides a way for those who are unclean because of sin. We see in Hebrews 9:13-14 that the red heifer was a type of Christ. Hebrews 9:11-14 is dealing with how we can be cleansed and how Christ is the superior and ultimate sacrifice to any of the Old Testament sacrifices. Hebrews 9:13-14 says,
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Notice the “how much more” of Hebrews 9:13-14: Jesus’ blood is far more powerful and cleansing than water mixed with the ashes of a heifer. It not only cleanses us on the outside, but purifies our conscience. Looking back to Hebrews 9:12, we see that this was not a purification that would have to take place time after time like with Israel, but is a “once for all” sacrifice for both cleansing of sins and conscience.
One last key point to make in regards to Numbers 19. Where the unclean things were taken “outside the camp” because they could not be in the presence of our Holy God, so Christ himself suffered outside the camp to pay for our filth (Hebrews 13:22). For the Christian, we recognize our guilt and sin and know we are unclean. But it is not by cleaning ourselves up that we go back inside the camp and find our God. No, we find him in the flesh, on the cross, outside the camp suffering on our behalf. It is there at the cross that we simultaneously see the weight of our filth as he innocently bears our sin. At the same time, we realize it is Jesus on the cross and not us, as we walk away clean and able to approach our God with confidence (Hebrews 4:15-16).
I hope this short example of how to find Christ in the book of Numbers will be a bit of help and encouragement in digging deep and finding the one, whom when we find him and gaze at him, are changed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
For Further Reading: