Numbers 19: Purification

God specifies the purification rites for those who have become unclean.


God knew the Israelites would not keep the law perfectly, which would keep them unclean. Thus, God leaves instructions on how to purify someone when they became unclean. Eleazar, who was to succeed Aaron, was placed in charge of the purification rituals.

Purification Rites

Photocredit: Bowden
Purification rites required the sacrifice of a red, female cow. The blood was to be sprinkled on the altar by Eleazar, and the whole of the cow—including waste and blood—was to be burned on the altar. The priest was to place cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet onto the burning cow. Afterward, both the priest and the offerer were to wash their clothes and would be unclean until the evening. A clean man was to gather the ashes, and he too would be required to wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.

Law of Death

Anyone who touched a dead body was unclean for 7 days. The purification sacrifice was to occur on the 3rd day; if the sacrifice didn't occur on the 3rd day, the person would not become clean on the 7th day and would be cut off from Israel. If someone died in a tent, anyone who was in the tent, or went in after the death, was considered unclean for 7 days. Touching someone who had been slain, a bone, or a grave, also rendered the person unclean for 7 days.

Discouragement of handling dead bodies is excellent practice, which we can assume is why God specified these laws. Much of the spread of Ebola in Africa during the summer of 2014 was from the ritual touching of dead bodies,[1] which God is telling us is not safe. Though, one must wonder with such rules about uncleanliness falling upon the dead, why do people today have funerals in the church? Does the casket not defile the sanctuary? Also, note that someone (possibly two people, depending on the person's size) would have to place the body in a casket or grave thus when someone died at least one person had to become unclean. This is further reminder back to the origin of sin and a reminder that the wages of sin are death.

Unclean Becomes Clean

Interestingly, the unclean ashes of the red cow became a cleansing agent for the unclean. An unclean person was to put the ashes in a vessel along with running water. A clean person was to dip hyssop into the water and sprinkle it upon the tent, vessels, and unclean persons. This process was to occur on both the 3rd and 7th days.


  1. Haglae. Abby. "Kiss The Corpses in Ebola Country". The Daily Beast. August 2014

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