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Numbers 19:6-18

Context
19:6 And the priest must take cedar wood, hyssop, 1  and scarlet wool and throw them into the midst of the fire where the heifer is burning. 2  19:7 Then the priest must wash 3  his clothes and bathe himself 4  in water, and afterward he may come 5  into the camp, but the priest will be ceremonially unclean until evening. 19:8 The one who burns it 6  must wash his clothes in water and bathe himself in water. He will be ceremonially unclean until evening.

19:9 “‘Then a man who is ceremonially clean must gather up the ashes of the red heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They must be kept 7  for the community of the Israelites for use in the water of purification 8  – it is a purification for sin. 9  19:10 The one who gathers the ashes of the heifer must wash his clothes and be ceremonially unclean until evening. This will be a permanent ordinance both for the Israelites and the resident foreigner who lives among them.

Purification from Uncleanness

19:11 “‘Whoever touches 10  the corpse 11  of any person 12  will be ceremonially unclean 13  seven days. 19:12 He must purify himself 14  with water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and the seventh day, then he will not be clean. 19:13 Anyone who touches the corpse of any dead person and does not purify himself defiles the tabernacle of the Lord. And that person must be cut off from Israel, 15  because the water of purification was not sprinkled on him. He will be unclean; his uncleanness remains on him.

19:14 “‘This is the law: When a man dies 16  in a tent, anyone who comes into the tent and all who are in the tent will be ceremonially unclean seven days. 19:15 And every open container that has no covering fastened on it is unclean. 19:16 And whoever touches the body of someone killed with a sword in the open fields, 17  or the body of someone who died of natural causes, 18  or a human bone, or a grave, will be unclean seven days. 19 

19:17 “‘For a ceremonially unclean person you must take 20  some of the ashes of the heifer 21  burnt for purification from sin and pour 22  fresh running 23  water over them in a vessel. 19:18 Then a ceremonially clean person must take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle it on the tent, on all its furnishings, and on the people who were there, or on the one who touched a bone, or one killed, or one who died, or a grave.

1 sn In addition to the general references, see R. K. Harrison, “The Biblical Problem of Hyssop,” EvQ 26 (1954): 218-24.

2 sn There is no clear explanation available as to why these items were to be burned with the heifer. N. H. Snaith suggests that in accordance with Babylonian sacrifices they would have enhanced the rites with an aroma (Leviticus and Numbers [NCB], 272). In Lev 14 the wood and the hyssop may have been bound together by the scarlet wool to make a sprinkling device. It may be that the symbolism is what is important here. Cedar wood, for example, is durable; it may have symbolized resistance to future corruption and defilement, an early acquired immunity perhaps (R. K. Harrison, Numbers [WEC], 256).

3 tn The sequence continues with the perfect tense and vav (ו) consecutive.

4 tn Heb “his flesh.”

5 tn This is the imperfect of permission.

6 sn Here the text makes clear that he had at least one assistant.

7 tn Heb “it will be.”

8 tn The expression לְמֵי נִדָּה (lÿme niddah) is “for waters of impurity.” The genitive must designate the purpose of the waters – they are for cases of impurity, and so serve for cleansing or purifying, thus “water of purification.” The word “impurity” can also mean “abhorrent” because it refers to so many kinds of impurities. It is also called a purification offering; Milgrom notes that this is fitting because the sacrificial ritual involved transfers impurity from the purified to the purifier (pp. 62-72).

9 sn The ashes were to be stored somewhere outside the camp to be used in a water portion for cleansing someone who was defiled. This is a ritual that was enacted in the wilderness; it is something of a restoring rite for people alienated from community.

10 tn The form is the participle with the article functioning as a substantive: “the one who touches.”

11 tn Heb “the dead.”

12 tn The expression is full: לְכָל־נֶפֶשׁ אָדָם (lÿkhol-nefeshadam) – of any life of a man, i.e., of any person.

13 tn The verb is a perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; it follows only the participle used as the subject, but since the case is hypothetical and therefore future, this picks up the future time. The adjective “ceremonially” is supplied in the translation as a clarification.

14 tn The verb is the Hitpael of חָטָא (khata’), a verb that normally means “to sin.” But the Piel idea in many places is “to cleanse; to purify.” This may be explained as a privative use (“to un-sin” someone, meaning cleanse) or denominative (“make a sin offering for someone”). It is surely connected to the purification offering, and so a sense of purify is what is wanted here.

15 sn It is in passages like this that the view that being “cut off” meant the death penalty is the hardest to support. Would the Law prescribe death for someone who touches a corpse and fails to follow the ritual? Besides, the statement in this section that his uncleanness remains with him suggests that he still lives on.

16 tn The word order gives the classification and then the condition: “a man, when he dies….”

17 tn The expression for “in the open field” is literally “upon the face of the field” (עַל־פְּנֵי הַשָּׂדֶה, ’al pÿne hassadeh). This ruling is in contrast now to what was contacted in the tent.

18 tn Heb “a dead body”; but in contrast to the person killed with a sword, this must refer to someone who died of natural causes.

19 sn See Matt 23:27 and Acts 23:3 for application of this by the time of Jesus.

20 tn The verb is the perfect tense, third masculine plural, with a vav (ו) consecutive. The verb may be worded as a passive, “ashes must be taken,” but that may be too awkward for this sentence. It may be best to render it with a generic “you” to fit the instruction of the text.

21 tn The word “heifer” is not in the Hebrew text, but it is implied.

22 tn Here too the verb is the perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive; rather than make this passive, it is here left as a direct instruction to follow the preceding one. For the use of the verb נָתַן (natan) in the sense of “pour,” see S. C. Reif, “A Note on a Neglected Connotation of ntn,” VT 20 (1970): 114-16.

23 tn The expression is literally “living water.” Living water is the fresh, flowing spring water that is clear, life-giving, and not the collected pools of stagnant or dirty water.



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