Any casual perusal of the Old Testament reveals that the Hebrew people worshiped God through a very elaborate sacrificial system.
There were the daily national "morning and evening sacrifices." offered by the priests on behalf of the entire Hebrew nation. There were special sacrifices on annual national "holy days" (holidays) which revolved around the seven annual Hebrew festivals. And then there were sacrifices offered by individuals during specific times of need (e.g., "leprosy") as well as after committing specific sins.
Sacrifice - High - Priest - Ashes - Sacrifice
But there was one special sacrifice offered by the High Priest which was not daily, nor even annual. It was offered whenever the ashes of the previous sacrifice had been depleted through cleansing ceremonies.
This special offering is called the Red Heifer sacrifice.
Heifer - Female - Cow - Birth - Calf
A heifer is a young female cow which has never given birth to a calf. A red heifer is an anomaly. Most cows don't have a skin color that is red. The Old Testament Hebrews specifically bred red heifers for this particular sacrifice.
Instructions for the special kind of red heifer to be sacrificed are given in Numbers 19. It was to be a red heifer in the prime of its life, "without blemish," and one that "has never been yoked" (Numbers 19:2).
Heifer - City - Numbers - Fire - Numbers
The red heifer was to be taken "outside the city" (Numbers 19:3). It was to be slain and then "burned with fire" (Numbers 19:5).
Then "the ashes of the red heifer" were to be gathered (Numbers 19:9). When an Israelite "dies in his tent" (Numbers 19:14) or when a living Israelite "touches a corpse" (Numbers 19:13), the tent and/or the living Israelite were to be deemed "unclean" for seven days (Numbers 19:11).
Portion - Ashes - Heifer - Basin - Water
A small portion of the ashes of the red heifer which had been sacrificed and burned was to be mixed in a basin filled with "flowing water"...
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