The Red Heifer

Holy Cow?

Much excitement has been generated by the arrival of a "Red Heifer"1 in Israel. The birth of a red heifer (cow) on a farm in the religious youth village of Kfar Hasidim (near Haifa) has excited sectors in the Israeli religious community.

A delegation of numerous experts have visited the farm and have concluded that it is, in fact, an acceptable red heifer according to Torah requirements.

However, the cow must be at least two years old before it can be used. Until then, the cow will be carefully watched to ensure that nothing occurs to invalidate its status.

Why All the Excitement?

A red heifer was to be the means for the congregation of Israel to purify themselves, as specified in Numbers 19. It is this Torah connection which drives some of the religious Jews of today to prepare for the coming priesthood and temple services.

The red heifer must meet certain physical criteria and must be sacrificed in a certain way. Once sacrificed, the ashes are to be mixed with "clean" water and it is this mixture which is sprinkled over the "unclean."

According to the Torah, the red heifer must be without blemish, must be without defect, and must never have worn a yoke.2

The sacrifice3 must be performed outside the camp; the blood must be sprinkled seven times in front of the tabernacle; the entire heifer must be burned before the priest; cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet are added to the fire. While the primary purpose was for ritual cleansing, some believe it may have had medical implications as well.

The cedar oil came from a kind of juniper tree that grew in both Israel and in the Sinai. This cedar oil would irritate the skin, encouraging the person to vigorously rub the solution into their hands.

The hyssop oil is actually a very effective antiseptic and antibacterial agent. Hyssop oil contains 50 percent carvacrol, which is an antifungal and antibacterial agent still used in medicine today.4

The Water of Purification5 is then prepared by a priest, who is clean, who gathers the ashes, adds water to the ashes6 and then stores it outside the camp in a clean place.

Prophetic Significance

The Talmud claims that the red heifer sacrifice was the only one of God's commands that King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, claimed he did not understand.

The red heifer, as well as all the other specifications in the Torah, was an allusion which ultimately pointed to Jesus Christ, as Paul points out in Hebrews 9:13, 14:

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, 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, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Solomon apparently did not understand why Numbers 19 declared that the priest would be "unclean until evening." This unusual sacrifice symbolically pointed to Jesus Christ and His sacrifice because our Lord, who was perfectly sinless, judicially took upon Himself the sins of the world so that we who are sinful could become righteous before God.

Just as the red heifer was sacrificed "outside the camp," in contrast to all other sacrifices that took place in the Tabernacle or Temple, Jesus was sacrificed outside the city of Jerusalem, on the very spot, we believe, on which Abraham offered Isaac two thousand years earlier.7

(Also, it was the Water of Purification, resulting from the ashes of the red heifer and reserved for ritual cleansing, that was the water used by Jesus when He turned the water into wine at the wedding at Cana.8 One cannot fully appreciate the significance of this event unless one understands the background of Numbers 19, et al. He was, to His disciples only, declaring Himself the Lord of the Torah.)

The Coming Temple

It is this water, the Water of Purification, which is required by the Israelites today. It is needed to "purify" today's Levitical priesthood and to "purify" the temple mount in preparation for the building of the Third Temple.

We know that this temple will be built because Jesus, John, and Paul all make reference to it.9

Since Herod's Temple was destroyed by the Roman emperor Titus in 70 A.D., no flawless red heifer has been born within the Biblical land of Israel, according to Rabbinical sources. Since there has been no temple, nor sacrifices, since the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, the availability of the necessary purification agents would seem to pose a problem.

Furthermore, the Jewish people did not see the recreation of the State of Israel until 1948, nor the recapturing of Jerusalem until 1967.

There are, however, some well placed and respected experts who believe they know where the ashes of the last red heifer are presently hidden.

However, to discuss this further would put some people at risk. If this turns out to be in error, then perhaps the presently available candidate may prove very significant after all. Being only about 9 months old, it will not be eligible until its third year: 1999 or so.

The only real obstacle to the rebuilding is not the missing ashes, but political access to the Temple Mount. Everyone has their own conjectures as to how this will ultimately happen, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Just as Zechariah predicted,10 Jerusalem is indeed becoming "a cup of trembling" and a "burdensome stone" to all the nations of the earth. The rebuilding of the Temple will be another intensifying aspect in the present Middle East imbroglio.

We understand that the Vatican has offered to "internationalize" the Temple Mount: let the Muslims use it on Friday (their holy day); the Jews use it on Saturday (Shabbat), and the Christians on Sunday. This appears consistent with their ambition and agenda to lead the worldwide "ecumenical" movement.

If the southern conjecture (supported by some current researchers-see sketch on page 12 by Tuvia Sagiv) proves to be the correct location of the Temple, it seems it could be built without disturbing the present structures!

Southward, the bedrock drops enough to permit a sanctuary to be built below the present structures, disturbing neither the Dome of the Rock nor the Al Aksa Mosque.11

This is only a provocative proposal and there is no clear reason to view it as acceptable to the religious Jews. Any proposal at all will, of course, be unacceptable to Islam.

However, the Coming World Leader, who ultimately is destined to desecrate this Temple himself, is first going to prove attractive to both the Jews and the Muslims,12 while posing as a replacement for Christ.13 (Somehow his acceptability apparently may exploit Islamic eschatology as well!)

The very emergence of these topics into the mainstream news media is provocative. The rebuilding of the Temple would, of course, be an exciting milestone on the forthcoming prophetic scenario. We will just have to watch and see. Jesus said,

And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. (Luke 21:28)

Exciting times, indeed. Are you really ready?


  1. A heifer is a young female bovine (cow) prior to the time that she has produced her first calf.
  2. Numbers 19:2.
  3. Numbers 19:3-7.
  4. Cf. S.I. McMillen, MD., None of These Diseases, Fleming H. Revell Co., Old Tappan NJ, 1958.
  5. Numbers 19:9.
  6. Numbers 19:17.
  7. The Akedah, Abraham's offering of Isaac, is explored in our briefing package, The Coming Temple: Update, and in our Expositional Commentary on Genesis, vol.. 3, p.15-18.
  8. John 2:6.
  9. Matthew 24:15; Revelation 11:1-2; 2 Thessalonians 2:4ff.
  10. Zechariah 12:2, 3.
  11. Personal UPDATE, 1/93, p.16-21; 5/93, p.9-15; 4/95, p.12-13.
  12. 2 Thessalonians 2:4.
  13. The label "Antichrist" comes from the Greek ἀντίχριστος, which means "in the place of Christ," or "claiming to be Christ," as well as "against Christ."