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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
hef´ẽr ( פרה , pārāh , in Numbers 19 (see following article) and Hosea 4:16; עגלה , ‛eghlāh , elsewhere in the Old Testament; δάμαλις , dámalis , in Hebrews 9:13 ):For the "heifer of three years old" in the King James Version, the Revised Version margin of Isaiah 15:5; Jeremiah 48:34 , see EGLATH-SHELISHIYAH . A young cow (contrast BULLOCK ). The ‛eghlāh figures specifically in religious rites only in the ceremony of Deuteronomy 21:1-9 for the cleansing of the land, where an unexpiated murder had been committed. This was not a sacrificial rite - the priests are witnesses only, and the animal was slain by breaking the neck - but sacrificial purity was required for the heifer. Indeed, it is commonly supposed that the rite as it now stands is a rededication of one that formerly had been sacrificial. In the sacrifices proper the heifer could be used for a peace offering ( Leviticus 3:1 ), but was forbidden for the burnt (Leviticus 1:3 ) or sin (Leviticus 4:3 , Leviticus 4:14 ) offerings. Hence, the sacrifice of 1 Samuel 16:2 was a peace offering. In Genesis 15:9 the ceremony of the ratification of the covenant by God makes use of a heifer and a she-goat, but the reason for the use of the females is altogether obscure. Compare following article.
Figuratively: The heifer appears as representing sleekness combined with helplessness in Jeremiah 46:20 (compare the comparison of the soldiers to 'stalled calves' in the next verse). In Jeremiah 50:11; Hosea 10:11 , the heifer is pictured as engaged in threshing. This was particularly light work, coupled with unusually abundant food (Deuteronomy 25:4 ), so that the threshing heifer served especially well for a picture of contentment. ("Wanton" in Jeremiah 50:11 , however, is an unfortunate translation in the Revised Version (British and American).) Hosea, in contrast, predicts that the "heifers" shall be set to the hard work of plowing and breaking the sods. In Judges 14:18 , Samson uses "heifer" in his riddle to refer to his wife. This, however, was not meant to convey the impression of licentiousness that it gives the modern reader.
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Heifer'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/h/heifer.html. 1915.