A clean person shall take hyssop and dip it in the water, sprinkle it on the tent, on all the vessels, on the persons who were there, or on the one who touched a bone, the slain, the dead, or a grave. (Numbers 19:18)
Looking at things strictly from an Old Testament view, the ashes of the Red Heifer were critically important to those who wished to enter God’s Sanctuary. It seems to me that, because contact with a corpse was the primary source of contamination and that it was probably a common occurrence, the waters of purification were invaluable to the people that lived in the times of the Sanctuary. Without the ashes and the purification waters, they might be forever excluded from entering His House. In short, those who were contaminated had no hope were it not for the ashes of the Red Heifer. Seeing that these very special ashes disappeared after the destruction of the 2nd Temple we are left to ask, “How is one cleansed today?”
Let’s bring something else into the discussion — why was hyssop prescribed as the appropriate applicator for these waters of purification? Actually, it is fairly logical seeing that there are several places in Scripture where we see hyssop being connected to purification and redemption. In the Exodus story, for instance, the blood of the Passover Lamb was applied to the door of the Israelite homes with hyssop (Exodus 12:22). After his transgression with Bathsheba was brought to light, David wrote: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). It would seem that David was probably alluding to being purified with these ashes even though the severity of his sin exceeded the contamination that occurred by touching a corpse.
In reality, he was asking to be cleansed of a guilt that no sacrifice or rite had emphatically addressed, suggesting that the waters of purification spoke to something beyond what is described on the surface of the text. In that vein of thought, it is noteworthy that, in Judaism, Numbers 19 is read on a special Sabbath in the Hebrew month of Adar, the month preceding Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. This tradition is linked to the belief that, in advance of Passover, one must appeal to God for mercy and to be cleansed from all guilt. To be forgiven of all transgressions allows a person to participate in the Passover in a state of purity. In other words, they connect the Red Heifer rite and the waters of purification to Passover, the Lamb and the story of redemption.
My point is this: seeing there is no Red Heifer or waters of purification presently, there must be another way for man to be cleansed from things that corrupt and defile. Without the ashes and the waters of purification, how can we be certain that we are cleansed from unrighteousness and are eligible to enter the House of the LORD? Taking a hint from our Jewish friends, we must look to the story of the Passover for the answer. In short, the only way to be cleansed and to be allowed to enter His Sanctuary is to believe in and embrace the Lamb. We look to Him for mercy and forgiveness — He is our Waters of Purification — and in Him, we can be assured that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Blessings and Shalom,