Old Testament refers to cow, especially that meant as a sacrificial offering as ' heifer'. A heifer is a cow in the making in that it has not borne a calf. Did God want his people to spare cows with calves from getting sacrificed? Elsewhere we see the instruction that a kid be not boiled in its mother's milk ( Ex 23:19) . My question is: What is the significance of the bovine sacrificial animal being referred to as "heifer" in the OT?

Num 19:2 - “This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded: Instruct the Israelites to bring you an unblemished red heifer that has no defect and has never been placed under a yoke.

  • Thanks, Dottard, for meaningfully editing the question. I have since added a ref from Exodus. Commented Apr 19 at 11:52
  • In Gen. 15 God also instructs Abraham to sacrifice a heifer. It's notable the a 3-year-old is specified because that older than the age when modern cows give birth. Commented Apr 22 at 2:30

1 Answer 1


The significance of the red heifer in Numbers chapter 19 is twofold. It has to do with the young animal never having been placed under any yoke. It especially has to do with it being without blemish. It is not linked to never cooking kids in their mother's milk. The significance is linked entirely to how Christ is the Antitype of the red heifer.

In Numbers chapter 19, once the red heifer had been killed outside the camp, the High Priest would sprinkle its blood before the tabernacle of the congregation seven times. Then every part of the red heifer was to be burned in his sight, cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet thrown into the flames, its ashes then being taken to the Mount of Olives. The ashes were to be used in producing water for ritual purification. Or, as put here:

"It shall be kept for the congregation of the children of Israel for a water of separation : it is a purification for sin." Numbers 19:9 A.V.

Everything about the red heifer in this chapter points to Christ who was without blemish, who was never under any yoke, whose sacrificed blood "outside the camp" (Hebrews 13:12) is for the forgiveness of sins, to purify sinners. Just as, back then, those who became unclean had to have the water of separation sprinkled on them (otherwise they would be put to death) so in the greater fulfillment with Christ. Unclean sinners can only be cleansed through the sacrificial blood of Christ. This section in the book of Hebrews spells it out:

"But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, ...neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purification of the flesh : how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to the living God? ...For a testament is of force after men are dead : otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth. Whereupon neither the first testament was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book and all the people... But now once in the end of the world hath [Christ] appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Hebrews 9:1126 A.V.

That is the significance of the red heifer being sacrificed. The New Testament book of Hebrews explains it.

  • The question asks about the significance of the sacrificed cow being a heifer (i.e. a cow who has never given birth). I don't see how you addressed "not giving birth" Commented Apr 19 at 15:07
  • There are several elements intrinsic to the question that Kadalikatt Joseph Sibichan asked: 1. Why a sacrifice? 2. Why a bovine? 3. Why a female animal? 4. Why a heifer? 5. Why unblemished? 6. Why colored red? Does anyone want to tackle these six questions that emerge?
    – Dieter
    Commented Apr 19 at 15:45
  • @AviAvraham As far as I can tell, the Mosaic law on sacrifices does not explain why some were bulls, some were cows/heifers, or others were birds (doves/pigeons being male or female of no consequence, apparently). Maybe modern Western society has just become obsessed with the sex of mammals (or, their 'gender' as they like to put it.) The significance need not lie in being a heifer. Being an unblemished sacrifice IS significant as my answer says.
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 19 at 16:03
  • Anne - the same could be said of a bull that had never been yoked and was perfect - how does this answer the specific question of why a "red heifer"?
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 20 at 0:39
  • Thanks Anne. I wondered if cows were put under yoke, till I read 1 Sam 6; Now then, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never come a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. Commented Apr 20 at 2:24

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