Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 2. Observance. Hebrew, “ceremony.” Septuagint, “distinction, (diastole, St. Augustine, q. 33,) or ordinance.” (Calmet) — Victim. Hebrew, “the ordinance of the law.” (Du Hamel) — A red cow, &c. This red cow, offered in sacrifice for sin, and consumed with fire without the camp, with the ashes of which, mingled with water, the unclean were to be expiated and purified; was a figure of the passion of Christ, by whose precious blood, applied to our souls in the holy sacraments, we are cleansed from our sins. (Challoner) — Age, three years old. Some translate, “entirely red.” They suppose, that these regulations are in opposition to the customs of the Egyptians, who never sacrificed the cow, esteeming it sacred to Isis, or to the moon. Spencer (Rit. ii. 15) adds, that the red colour was formerly in the highest estimation; and this victim represented the death of Christ, who expiated our defilements. The Egyptians immolated bulls of a red colour, in hatred of Typhon, and to appease that dangerous god, whom they depicted perfectly red. Plut.[Plutarch?] (Isis) observes, that they hate all animals of that colour; and the Copths precipitate a red ass down a precipice. The ancient kings of Egypt sacrificed red men on the tomb of Osiris or Dyphon; (Diod. Bib. 1,) and Manetho assures us, that they scattered their ashes in the wind. If this custom prevailed in the days of Moses, we need not wonder that he teaches the Hebrews to have so little dread of Typhon, as even to chose a red cow in preference, to purify themselves. — Yoke. Such victims were generally chosen by the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians, as more delicate and respectful. Intacta totidem cervice juvencus. (Georg. iv.; Bochart, anim. 2. 33.) St. Jerome (ep. 27,) says, that a red cow was sacrificed every year, as in reality one would be requisite for all the people, though the Rabbins pretend that only seven, or ten at most, were treated in this manner, from Moses till the destruction of the temple by Titus. (Drusius)
Ver. 3. Of all. Hebrew, “before his face.” Septuagint, “they shall bring her out, slay and burn her before him,” which must be referred to some other priests, who accompanied Eleazar on this occasion, ver. 8. (Calmet) — Aaron did not perform this office, as the sacrifice was not solemn, but sorrowful, and designed for purification. (Menochius) — The Rabbins say, however, that the high priest performed this ceremony ever after; and, since the building of the temple, they did it upon Mount Olivet. This is also remarked by St. Jerome, ep. 27. It was thus a more lively figure of Jesus Christ sweating blood on that same ground; as the smoke might represent his ascension, Acts i. 10., and Luke xxii. 44. (Calmet) — He died out of Jerusalem, in full age, (ver. 2,) or 33 years old, being wounded in every part for our transgressions, (ver. 5,) setting us an example how to suffer, (ver. 6,) and by his blood communicating virtue to the sacraments, ver. 5. His body, derived from Adam, (or red earth, ver. 2,) was buried in a most clean place, (ver. 9,) and those who crucified him became more unclean; (ver. 8,) while even those who were employed in burying him, (ver. 9,) required to be cleansed by the grace of his passion, which must be communicated to them by baptism, in the name of the blessed Trinity, without which they cannot partake of any of the sacraments, chap. xii. The old law could bring nothing to perfection. Those who lived under that dispensation, were forced to wait till the evening, (ver. 7,) when in the last ages the new law commenced, that by faith in Christ, they might obtain the remission of their sins. Thus we perceive the meaning of many things which to the Jews were veiled in shadows, Hebrews x. (St. Augustine, q. 33.; Theodoret, q. 36.) (Worthington) — The Fathers observe also, that the infirmity of our Saviour’s flesh, and his liberty in giving and resuming his life, (John x. 18,) were denoted by the cow, which had never been yoked. (Calmet)
Ver. 4. And. Hebrew, “And Eleazar, the priest, shall take part of her blood with his finger.” He looked from the pile of wood, where he was standing, towards the west, and sprinkled the blood, and wiping his fingers upon the skin of the cow, waiting till the fire was kindled, before he opened her belly; he then threw into the fire the cedar-wood, &c. (Drusius) — Others believe that this last ceremony was performed by some one else, (ver. 7,) as it is not clear that Eleazar became unclean. His being substituted instead of Aaron, might shew that Christ would institute a new priesthood.
Ver. 6. Dyed, with which the cedar and hyssop were tied together, as being deemed most proper instruments of purifications, Leviticus xiv. 4, 49. St. Paul informs us, (Hebrews ix. 19,) that Moses thus sprinkled the people and the book: and branches of this description were probably used when the people took this holy water, ver. 18. The ashes intimate, that those who have sinned, may be purified by the sacrament of penance, ver. 9. (Calmet)
Ver. 10. Strangers. Even those who had not embraced the Jewish religion. (Grotius) — Thus, the baptism of Christ brings salvation both to the Jews and to the Gentiles. (St. Augustine)
Ver. 12. Seventh. If he neglect to be sprinkled on the third day, his purification will be protracted till the 10th. As this was the only means of removing the legal uncleanness contracted by touching a dead body, some of the ashes must have been reserved in various parts of the country, after the Israelites were dispersed. (Calmet)
Ver. 13. Upon him, unless he be excused by ignorance, (Leviticus v. 3, 6,) he shall be slain.
Ver. 14. Days. Almost all nations seem to have considered themselves defiled by the presence of a corpse. Virgin (Æneid, vi. 149,) writes, Præterea jacet exanimum tibi corpus amici—Heu nescis! totamque incestat funere classem.
Ver. 15. Cover. Samaritan, “neither chains nor bands.” Formerly boxes were tied down. (Homer, Odyssey viii.) If the covering of any hollow vessel was off, when a corpse was present, it became unclean. (Calmet)
Ver. 16. Grave. The Hebrews buried it at a distance from towns, and set up some mark to apprise all people, that they might not be defiled for seven days. (Calmet)
Ver. 17. Burning of the red cow, which was also a sin-offering, ver. 9. (Haydock) — Upon the ashes they poured some running or spring water. The pagans generally preferred the water of the sea; or if they could not procure any, they mixed salt with common water. Ovid (Fast iv,) mentions a lustration made with the ashes of a calf, mixed with horse blood; and another, which was used in honour of Pales, the goddess of harvests, by the oldest virgin present, who sprinkled the ashes of calves, populos purget ut ille cinis. Athenæus (ix. 18,) observes that a stick taken from the fire of the altar, was extinguished in water for the purification of the unclean; and the ancient Romans, who had been at a funeral, sprinkled themselves with water, and jumped over fire for the same purpose; as the Greeks were accustomed to place a vessel full of water, at the doors where a corpse was lying, that all might purify themselves when they came out. (Calmet)
Ver. 20. Church, or assembly of the people. (Haydock) — He shall be put to death by the judges, or by God. (Menochius)
Ver. 21. Evening. The victims which were appointed for the expiation of sin, communicated a legal uncleanness to those who were employed about them. They were looked upon as so holy, that the most pure were guilty of a sort of irreverence by touching them. (Calmet)
Ver. 22. Is unclean, by touching the dead, must remain defiled seven days. But those whom he touches, as well as all who may have communication with them in infinitum, may be purified in the evening. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The law of the sacrifice of the red cow, and the water of expiation.
1 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying:
2 This is the observance of the victim, which the Lord hath ordained. Command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee a red cow of full age, in which there is no blemish, and which hath not carried the yoke:
3 And you shall deliver her to Eleazar the priest, *who shall bring her forth without the camp, and shall immolate her in the sight of all:
4 And dipping his finger in her blood, shall sprinkle it over-against the door of the tabernacle seven times,
5 And shall burn her in the sight of all, delivering up to the fire her skin, and her flesh, and her blood, and her dung.
6 The priest shall also take cedar-wood, and hyssop, and scarlet twice dyed, and cast it into the flame, with which the cow is consumed.
7 And then, after washing his garments and body, he shall enter into the camp, and shall be unclean until the evening.
8 He also that hath burned her shall wash his garments and his body, and shall be unclean until the evening.
9 And a man that is clean shall gather up the ashes of the cow, and shall pour them forth without the camp in a most clean place, that they may be reserved for the multitude of the children of Israel, and for a water of aspersion, because the cow was burnt for sin.
10 And when he that carried the ashes of the cow, hath washed his garments, he shall be unclean until the evening. The children of Israel, and the strangers that dwell among them, shall observe this for a holy thing, by a perpetual ordinance.
11 He that toucheth the corpse of a man, and is therefore unclean seven days,
12 Shall be sprinkled with this water on the third day, and on the seventh, and so shall be cleansed. If he were not sprinkled on the third day, he cannot be cleansed on the seventh.
13 Every one that toucheth the corpse of a man, and is not sprinkled with this mixture, shall profane the tabernacle of the Lord, and shall perish out of Israel: because he was not sprinkled with the water of expiation, he shall be unclean, and his uncleanness shall remain upon him.
14 This is the law of a man that dieth in a tent: All that go into his tent, and all the vessels that are there, shall be unclean seven days.
15 The vessel that hath no cover nor binding over it, shall be unclean.
16 If any man in the field, touch the corpse of a man that was slain, or that died of himself, or his bone, or his grave, he shall be unclean seven days.
17 And they shall take of the ashes of the burning and of the sin-offering, and shall pour living waters upon them into a vessel.
18 And a man that is clean shall dip hyssop in them, and shall sprinkle therewith all the tent, and all the furniture, and the men that are defiled with touching any such thing.
19 And in this manner he that is clean shall purify the unclean on the third and on the seventh day. And being expiated the seventh day, he shall wash both himself and his garments, and be unclean until the evening.
20 If any man be not expiated after this rite, his soul shall perish out of the midst of the church: because he hath profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, and was not sprinkled with the water of purification.
21 This precept shall be an ordinance for ever. He also that sprinkled the water, shall wash his garments. Every one that shall touch the waters of expiation, shall be unclean until the evening.
22 Whatsoever a person toucheth who is unclean, he shall make it unclean: and the person that toucheth any of these things, shall be unclean until the evening.
3: Hebrews xiii. 11.