Dealing with dying

Numbers 19.1-22

This note was originally published on Thursday 10 February 2022.

‘They must purify themselves with the water on the third day ... then they will be clean.’


As a boy my favourite part of football was slide tackling... the muddier, the better! As we journey through life we collect ‘mud’ from sin, pain, death, struggle – how much do you need a ‘wash’?


Numbers 19.1-22


Be honest: does this passage feel alien? It should, because we are dealing with a 3,500-year-old culture! But it’s worth persevering.

For starters there is the simple reality of disease: washing after encountering a dead body in a world without antibiotics is sensible. More importantly, did you notice the heifer was to be sacrificed whole, including the blood (v 5)?

Normally the blood of a sacrifice was poured out (eg Exodus 29:12, Leviticus 4:7). But here the blood, the life of the heifer, was left in and burned to ashes. As a result, the water of cleansing made with that ash (v 17) contained a powerful sign of life. So, if the uncleanness of death is made clean by that which sustains life, what does that tell us about life and death? Which is more powerful?

We may be tempted to cope with the pain of death by minimising it as ‘nothing at all’ or being ‘in the next room’. But this ancient ritual teaches us a truth of real comfort: although death is real, life is stronger.


More powerful than the water of cleansing is the blood of Jesus, which washes us from all uncleanness and rescues us from death. All that ‘mud’ you thought about earlier – ask Jesus to clean you inside and out, and give you his new life.