Why Does the Temple
Need a Red Heifer?

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What does a red heifer have to do with Jerusalem's temple? Why do some religious people believe its ashes are necessary for it to operate?

The Old Testament describes an unusual ceremony that required a red heifer in order to be performed correctly. God's requirements regarding the animal, spoken to Moses and Aaron, were the following.

"Speak to the children of Israel that they bring you a red heifer, a perfect one, in which there is no blemish, on which no yoke ever came" (Numbers 19:2, HBFV throughout).

The red heifer was to be burned completely by fire and its ashes collected and stored. The ashes of the red beast were then placed in a container where running water was put on them (Numbers 19:17) before being used by the priest.

And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer, and lay them up outside the camp in a clean place, and it shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of cleansing. It is a cleansing for sin. (Numbers 19:9, HBFV).

A cow colored red
A Cow Colored Red

The priest would use the mixture of red heifer ashes and water to purify, ceremonially, something that was unclean. It was primarily used to cleanse those who were exposed to a dead body (Numbers 19:11, 13). It was also used to remove ritual defilement created by taking the spoils of war.

Eligible for Purification

Both those born in Israel and those who are "strangers in the land" could participate in this purification ceremony (Numbers 15:14 - 15). Since no Biblical provision is recorded for sending either this animal's ashes or the purification water it made to other locations, the ceremony itself could only be partaken of at Jerusalem's temple.

A Most Unique Ceremony

What makes this ceremony unique (other than its use of a rare heifer that is born red) is that it is the only one, related to the worship of God, where blood is burned for a ceremonial purpose. In fact, the entire animal (including its dung) was commanded to be consumed by fire.

And the heifer shall be burned in his presence, her skin and her flesh and her blood with her dung, shall be burned (Numbers 19;5, HBFV).

The use of an animal's ashes, as an integral part of a temple-sanctioned event, also makes this service unique.


In the Jewish Mishna (Parah 3:2) it states that children were sent to the pool of Siloam (the same place where Jesus healed a man born blind, John 9:1 - 7) to collect water for the red heifer ceremony. They traveled to and from the pool, on the back of bulls, so that they could remain unpolluted by not touching the ground.

Another Jewish tradition states that Solomon's wisdom was able to help him understand all things except the meaning of this red beast.

The apostle Paul references this red animal in the book of Hebrews. He emphatically informs us that the ashes of the heifer could never purify our consciences before God. Only the blood of Christ, which makes our forgiveness possible, can perform that monumental task.

But Christ Himself has become High Priest of the coming good things, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made by human hands (that is, not of this present physical creation).

Not by the blood of goats and calves, but by the means of His own blood, He entered once for all into the holiest, having by Himself secured everlasting redemption for us. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are defiled, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh,

To a far greater degree, the blood of Christ, Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, shall purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11 - 14, HBFV).

A Prophetic Animal?

Some orthodox Jews (and even some Christians) would like a temple rebuilt in Jerusalem and daily animal sacrifices established. Before this can occur, however, it is believed the ashes of a red heifer would be needed to cleanse the altar. The Bible does indicate that a third temple of some kind will be erected in the End Time. It will be used by the "abomination of desolation" (2Thessalonians 2:1 - 4) to declare he is god and therefore deserves worship.

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