Numbers 19:1 – 22:1: Haftarah: Judges 11:1 – 11:33
(Num 19:10) St. Jerome – Letter 108.12
I linger long in the land of the midday sun for it was there and then that the spouse found her bridegroom at rest and Joseph drank wine with his brothers once more. I will return to Jerusalem and, passing through Tekoa the home of Amos, I will look upon the glistening cross of Mount Olivet from which the Saviour made His ascension to the Father. Here year by year a red heifer was burned as a holocaust to the Lord and its ashes were used to purify the children of Israel. Here also according to Ezekiel the Cherubim after leaving the temple founded the church of the Lord.
(Num 19:10) Epistle of Barnabas, chapter 8:
But what type think ye it is, that it hath been commanded to Israel, that those men in whom sins are at the full should offer a heifer, and slay and burn it, and that children should take up the ash, and cast it into vessels, and bind the scarlet wool upon wood (behold again the type of the cross and the scarlet wool) and hyssop therewith, and that after this manner the children should sprinkle the people one by one, that they may be purified from their sins? Consider how in all simplicity it is said unto you, The calf is Jesus; the men who make offering, being sinners, are they who offered him for the slaughter. [But now the men are no longer guilty, are no longer regarded as sinners.]* But the boys who sprinkle are they who preached unto us the gospel of the remission of sins and the purification of the heart, unto whom, being twelve in number for a witness of the tribes—for there are twelve tribes in Israel—he gave authority over the gospel, that they should preach it. But wherefore are the boys that sprinkle three in number? For a testimony unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because these are mighty before God. And why the wool upon the wood? Because the kingdom of Jesus is established upon wood, and they that hope upon him shall live for ever. But wherefore the wool withal and the hyssop? Because in his kingdom there shall be days evil and polluted, in the which we shall be saved. For he that is sick in the flesh is healed by the pollution of the hyssop. And therefore are the things which were so done clear unto us, but unto them dark, because they have not heard the voice of the Lord.
(Num 19:10) St. Bede – On the Tabernacle 2.11.2
Now [Moses] declares that the ashes of the victims (which ought to be taken as a great mystery) are “the sprinkled ashes of a red heifer,” which (as the apostle also bears witness) sanctified “those who have been defiled, so that [their] flesh is made clean.”1 He also understands that the sacrament of the Lord’s passion, which saves us by purifying us forever, is prefigured in these ashes. Thus the burning of a red heifer designates the actual time and event of Christ’s passion, and the burnt ashes which were kept for the cleansing of those who were unclean suggest the mystery of that same passion which has already been completed, by which we are daily purged from our sins.
(Num 20:1) Josephus Antiquities 4.78-84
Then it was that Miriam, the sister of Moses, came to her end, having completed her fortieth year since she left Egypt, on the first day of the lunar month Xanthicus. They then made a public funeral for her, at a great expense. She was buried upon a certain mountain, which they call Sin; and when they had mourned for her thirty days, Moses purified the people after this manner: He brought a heifer that had never been used to the plough or to husbandry, that was complete in all its parts, and entirely of a red color, at a little distance from the camp, into a place perfectly clean. This heifer was slain by the high priest, and her blood sprinkled with his finger seven times before the tabernacle of God; after this, the entire heifer was burnt in that state, together with its skin and entrails; and they threw cedar wood, and hyssop, and scarlet wool, into the midst of the fire; then a clean man gathered all her ashes together, and laid them in a place perfectly clean. When therefore any persons were defiled by a dead body, they put a little of these ashes into spring water, with hyssop, and, dipping part of these ashes in it, they sprinkled them with it, both on the third day, and on the seventh, and after that they were clean. This he enjoined them to do also when the tribes should come into their own land.
Now when this purification, which their leader made upon the mourning for his sister, as it has been now described, was over, he caused the army to remove and to march through the wilderness and through Arabia; and when he came to a place which the Arabians esteem their metropolis, which was formerly called Arce, but has now the name of Petra, at this place, which was encompassed with high mountains, Aaron went up one of them in the sight of the whole army, Moses having before told him that he was to die, for this place was over against them. He put off his pontifical garments, and delivered them to Eleazar his son, to whom the high priesthood belonged, because he was the elder brother; and died while the multitude looked upon him. He died in the same year wherein he lost his sister, having lived in all a hundred and twenty-three years. He died on the first day of that lunar month which is called by the Athenians Hecatombaeon, by the Macedonians Lous, but by the Hebrews Abba.
(Num 20:11) Augustine – Tractate on the Gospel of John 26.12.2The rock is Christ in a sign, the true Christ in the Word and in the flesh. And how did they drink? The rock was struck twice with a rod. The double striking prefigures the two pieces of wood on the cross.
(Num 21:6) St. Bede – Homilies on the Gospels 2.18.3
The wounds caused by the fiery serpent are the poisonous enticements of the vices, which afflict the soul and bring about its spiritual death. The people were murmuring against the Lord. They were stricken by the serpents’ bites. This provides an excellent instance of how one may recognize from the results of an external scourge what a great calamity a person might suffer inwardly by murmuring. In the raising up of the bronze serpent (when those who were stricken beheld it, they were cured) is prefigured our Redeemer’s suffering on the cross, for only by faith in him is the kingdom of death and sin overcome. The sins which drag down soul and body to destruction at the same time are appropriately represented by the serpents, not only because they were fiery and poisonous [and] artful at bringing about death but also because our first parents were led into sin by a serpent, and from being immortal they became mortal by sinning. The Lord is aptly made known by the bronze serpent, since he came in the likeness of sinful flesh. Just as the bronze serpent had the likeness of a fiery serpent but had absolutely none of the strength of harmful poison in its members—rather by being lifted up it cured those who had been stricken by the [live] serpents—so the Redeemer of the human race did not merely clothe himself in sinful flesh but entered bodily into the likeness of sinful flesh, in order that by suffering death on the cross in [this likeness] he might free those who believed in him from all sin and even from death itself.
(Num 21:9)Justin Martyr – Dialogue with Trypho 94.4
Tell me, did not God, through Moses, forbid the making of an image or likeness of anything in the heavens or on earth? Yet didn’t he himself have Moses construct the brazen serpent in the desert? Moses set it up as a sign by which those who had been bitten by the serpents were healed. In doing so, was Moses not free of any sin? By this, as I stated above, God through Moses announced a mystery by which he proclaimed that he would break the power of the serpent, who prompted the sin of Adam. He promises that he would deliver from the bites of the serpent (that is, evil actions, idolatries and other sins) all those who believe in him who was to be put to death by this sign, namely, the cross.
Ephrem the Syrian – Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron 16:15.6
The serpent struck Adam in paradise and killed him. [It also struck] Israel in the camp and annihilated them. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, the Son of Man will be lifted up.” Just as those who looked with bodily eyes at the sign which Moses fastened on the cross lived bodily, so too those who look with spiritual eyes at the body of the Messiah nailed and suspended on the cross and believe in him will live [spiritually]. Thus it was revealed through this brazen [serpent], which by nature cannot suffer, that he who was to suffer on the cross is one who by nature cannot die.
Gregory of Nazianzus – Oration 45.22.11
That brazen serpent was hung up as a remedy for the biting serpents, not as a type of him that suffered for us but as a contrast. It saved those that looked upon it, not because they believed it to live but because it was killed, and killed with it were the powers that were subject to it, being destroyed as it deserved. And what is the fitting epitaph for it from us? “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?” (Hos 13:14 )You are overthrown by the cross. You are slain by him who is the giver of life. You are without breath, dead, without motion, even though you keep the form of a serpent lifted up high on a pole.