Numbers 19:1
And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
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Numbers 19:1. The people had complained of the strictness of the law which forbade their near approach to the tabernacle, (Numbers 17:13,) and the sudden death of so many by the late plague had put such numbers of their friends and relations into a state of legal uncleanness, which rendered them incapable of approaching it, and filled them with a fear of perishing in their uncleanness; in answer, therefore, to their complaints, and to free them from this fear, they are here shown how they might be purified from the greatest legal uncleanness, so as to approach God in his ordinances and among his people, without either fear or danger.

19:1-10 The heifer was to be wholly burned. This typified the painful sufferings of our Lord Jesus, both in soul and body, as a sacrifice made by fire, to satisfy God's justice for man's sin. These ashes are said to be laid up as a purification for sin, because, though they were only to purify from ceremonial uncleanness, yet they were a type of that purification for sin which our Lord Jesus made by his death. The blood of Christ is laid up for us in the word and sacraments, as a fountain of merit, to which by faith we may have constant recourse, for cleansing our consciences.The principle that death and all pertaining to it, as being the manifestation and result of sin Genesis 2:17, are defiling, and so lead to interruption of the living relationship between God and His people, is not now introduced for the first time, nor is it at all peculiar to the Mosaic law. It was, on the contrary, traditional among the Israelites from the earliest times, it is assumed in various enactments made already (compare Numbers 5:2; Numbers 9:6 ff; Leviticus 10:1, Leviticus 10:7; Leviticus 11:8, Leviticus 11:11, Leviticus 11:24; Leviticus 21:1 ff), and it is traceable in various forms among many nations, both ancient and modern. Moses adopted, here as elsewhere, existing and ancient customs, with significant additions, as helps in the spiritual education of his people.

The ordinance was probably given at this time because the plague which happened Numbers 16:46-50 about the matter of Korah had spread the defilement of death so widely through the camp as to seem to require some special measures of purification, more particularly as the deaths through it were in an extraordinary manner the penalty of sin.


Nu 19:1-22. The Water of Separation.The manner of making the water of separation, and of what, Numbers 19:1-10. The use of it, wherewith the unclean are to be purged, Numbers 19:11-13. Laws concerning despisers of cleansing, Numbers 19:14-22.

No text from Poole on this verse.

And the Lord spake unto Moses, and unto Aaron,.... Not at this time, after the business of the spies, and the affair of Korah, but before the children of Israel departed from Sinai; and so Aben Ezra observes, that this was spoken in the wilderness of Sinai, when the Lord commanded to put unclean persons out of the camp, and when some were defiled with a dead body, and unfit for the passover, Numbers 5:2; and mention is made of the "water of purifying", Numbers 8:7,

saying; as follows.

And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
Verse 1. - And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron. On the addition of the second name see on Numbers 18:1. There is no note of time in connection with this chapter, but internal evidence points strongly to the supposition that it belongs to the early days of wandering after the ban. It belongs to a period when death had resumed his normal, and more than his normal, power over the children of Israel; when, having been for a short time expelled (except in a limited number of cases - see above on Numbers 10:28), he had come back with frightful rigour to reign over a doomed generation. It belongs also, as it would seem, to a time when the daily, monthly, and even annual routine of sacrifice and purgation was suspended through poverty, distress, and disfavour with God. It tells of the mercy and condescension which did not leave even the rebellious and excommunicate without some simple remedy, some easily-obtainable solace, for the one religious distress which must of necessity press upon them daily and hourly, not only as Israelites, but as children of the East, sharing the ordinary superstitions of the age. Through the valley of the shadow of death they were doomed at Kadesh to walk, while their fellows fell beside them one by one, until the reek and taint of death passed upon the whole congregation. Almost all nations have had, as is well known, an instinctive horror of death, which has every. where demanded separation and purification on the part of those who have come in contact with it (Bahr, 'Symbolik,' 2, page 466 sq.). And this religious horror had not been combated, but, on the contrary, fostered and deepened by the Mosaic legislation. The law everywhere encouraged the idea that sin and death were essentially connected, and that disease and death spread their infection in the spiritual as well as in the natural order of things. Life and death were the two opposite poles under the law, as under the gospel; but the eye of faith was fixed upon natural life and natural death, and was not trained to look beyond. It could never have occurred to a Jew to say, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori." To die, however nobly, was not only to be cut off from God oneself, but to become a curse and a danger and a cause of religious defilement to those around. There is, therefore, a beautiful consistency between this enactment and the circumstances of the time on the one hand, between this enactment and the revealed character of God on the other hand. Although they were his covenant people no more, since they were under sentence of death, yet, like others, and more than others, they had religious horrors and religious fears - not very spiritual, perhaps, but very real to them; these horrors and fears cried to him piteously for relief, and that relief he was careful to give. They must die, but they need not suffer daily torment of death; they must not worship him in the splendid and perfect order of his appointed ritual, but they should at least have the rites which should make life tolerable to them. It appears to be a mistake to connect this ordinance especially with the plague which occurred after the rebellion of Korah. It was not an exceptional calamity, the effects of which might indeed be widespread, but would be soon over, which the people had to dread exceedingly; it was the daily mortality always going on in every camp under all circumstances. If only the elder generation died off in the wilderness, this alone would yield nearly 100 victims every day, and by each of these a considerable number of the survivors must have been defiled. Thus, in the absence of special provision, one of two things must have happened: either the unhappy people would have grown callous and indifferent to the awful presence of death; or, more probably, a dark cloud of religious horror and depression would have permanently enveloped them. Numbers 19:1In order that a consciousness of the continuance of the covenant relation might be kept alive during the dying out of the race that had fallen under the judgment of God, after the severe stroke with which the Lord had visited the whole nation in consequence of the rebellion of the company of Korah, He gave the law concerning purification from the uncleanness of death, in which first of all the preparation of a sprinkling water is commanded for the removal of this uncleanness (Numbers 19:1-10); and then, secondly, the use of this purifying water enjoined as an eternal statute (Numbers 19:10-22). The thought that death, and the putrefaction of death, as being the embodiment of sin, defiled and excluded from fellowship with the holy God, was a view of the fall and its consequences which had been handed down from the primeval age, and which was not only shared by the Israelites with many of the nations of antiquity,

(Note: Vid., Bhr, Symbolik, ii. pp. 466ff.; Sommer, bibl. Abhdll. pp. 271ff.; Knobel on this chapter, and Leyrer in Herzog's Cyclopaedia.)

but presupposed by the laws given on Sinai as a truth well known in Israel; and at the same time confirmed, both in the prohibition of the priests from defiling themselves with the dead, except in the case of their nearest blood-relations (Leviticus 21:1-6, Leviticus 21:10-12), and in the command, that every one who was defiled by a corpse should be removed out of the camp (Numbers 5:2-4). Now, so long as the mortality within the congregation did not exceed the natural limits, the traditional modes of purification would be quite sufficient. But when it prevailed to a hitherto unheard-of extent, in consequence of the sentence pronounced by God, the defilements would necessarily be so crowded together, that the whole congregation would be in danger of being infected with the defilement of death, and of forfeiting its vocation to be the holy nation of Jehovah, unless God provided it with the means of cleansing itself from this uncleanness, without losing the fellowship of His covenant of grace. The law which follows furnished the means. In Numbers 19:2 this law is called התּורה חקּת, a "statute of instruction," or law-statute. This combination of the two words commonly used for law and statute, which is only met with again in Numbers 31:21, and there, as here, in connection with a rule relating to purification from the uncleanness of death, is probably intended to give emphasis to the design of the law about to be given, to point it out as one of great importance, but not as decretum absque ulla ratione, a decree without any reason, as the Rabbins suppose.

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