“Bloodguilt”

Here is a word that I don’t suppose is heard very often in legal circles:  “bloodguilt.”  It or the concept it describes is found more than 20 times in the Old Testament.

What does it mean?

It refers to the killing of an innocent person.  The shedding of “innocent blood.”

It’s one of the reasons ultimately given for the captivity and destruction of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar.  In describing things leading up to that event, and even though he was dead and had been succeeded by Jehoiakim, 2 Kings 24:3, 4 says, Surely at the commandment of the LORD this came upon Judah, to remove them from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also because of the innocent blood that he had shed; for he had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, which the LORD would not pardon (emphasis added).  It’s thought that he had killed Isaiah the prophet, among others, though that isn’t known for sure.  Whoever his victims were, he was guilty in the eyes of the Lord and couldn’t be pardoned for his sin.

What does the Bible say about this sin that we don’t even think about today?  Or does it really matter?

1. It was forbidden.  In Exodus 23:7, God said to Israel, “do not kill the innocent and righteous,  For I will not justify the wicked.”

2. What about cases of accidental killing?  God provided for that, as well.  Deuteronomy 19:1-13 is the first of several instructions about this.  Originally, three cities were to be set aside, and later, three more, when the Lord had expanded the land.  These cities were called cities of refuge where someone who killed accidentally could be protected from those who would take vengeance on him.  We’ll talk about this part of it in a later post.  Roads were to be provided to each of these cities and, though it isn’t specifically mentioned, each of the cities was on a hill, to be easily seen.

An example is given of those who could flee to one of these cities:  if men were cutting down trees and an ax head slipped off a handle and struck and killed one of the other men.  The man whose ax it was could flee to one of these cities and be safe.  One proviso was the the man had not “hated” the other man “in time past.”  It could not be premeditated in any way, but had to be completely accidental.  Numbers 35:22, 23 gives a couple of other examples.

It’s true that the man, or, I suppose, woman, who fled to one of these cities had to stay there until the death of the high priest, Numbers 35:25.  Without getting into the complexities of the sacrificial system in Israel, the high priest was at times considered to bear the iniquities of the people himself.  His death was credited to those in the cities of refuge as theirs, and they could then return to their own homes and families, Numbers 35:28.  If they were then killed, their’s was considered “innocent blood,” Deuteronomy 19:10.  However, if the person ventured outside the city before the death of the High Priest, then he was fair game, as it were, Numbers 35:26, 27, because he should have remained in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest.

This may seem harsh to our modern sensibilities, but it goes to show the value that the OT placed on life, that even accidentally taking it had serious consequences.  At the same time, the cities of refuge were a protection to those who had taken it accidentally.

This didn’t just happen haphazardly.  There was to be an investigation, Numbers 35:24, the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments, that is, the conditions laid down in the Mosaic Law. By “congregation,” I take it to mean, this investigation wasn’t just left up to some “prosecutor’s office,” but the community, at least to a point, had some involvement.  Especially in small towns, and most of the towns in Israel were small, the people would know the victim and his killer and whether or not there was enmity between them.

Alright, then, what about unsolved murders?  Even though it might not be known who the killer was, Deuteronomy 21:1-9 tells us that there were still things to be done when a body was found out in a field.  The elders of the town nearest where the body was found were required to offer a specific sacrifice and disavow any knowledge of the matter.  Doing this would put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD, v. 9.  I suppose much the same thing might have been done in the case of an unsolved murder in town.

This matter of bloodguilt was a serious thing in Israel.  David prayed to be delivered from it.  In Psalm 51:14, he implored God, ‘deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God.  Since Psalm 51 is believed to have been written as a result of his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, he was praying for that for which there was no sacrifice and no forgiveness.  He didn’t die, but the child conceived in that sin did die, and David’s family was never the same afterward.

As we’ve already noted, the shedding of innocent blood was much of what brought about the captivity and destruction of Israel by Nebuchadnezzar.  Even pagans recognized the seriousness of the charge of bloodguilt, Jonah 1:14: Matthew 27:24.

Perhaps, also, it sheds some light on Judas’ confession in Matthew 27:4, when he threw down the 30 pieces of silver he had received to deliver Jesus into the hands of His enemies:

“I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

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“…entitled to substantial compensation”

This title is taken from an advertisement on TV of some attorney trolling for customers, in which he says, “You may be entitled to substantial compensation.”  You’ve likely seen it yourself.  We live in a very litigious society.  If something offends or bothers someone, they are very likely to file a lawsuit, and there are multitudes of lawyers like the one we mentioned above who are more than willing to help them with it.  This doesn’t mean that there aren’t legitimate needs for lawyers and that there aren’t good lawyers.  It’s just that there are too many who aren’t.

In an earlier post, we looked at Exodus 22 and what the LORD said was to be done in the case of theft or loss of property.  We passed over a verse that might have some bearing on our subject today.  Verse 9 says, For any kind of trespass, whether it concerns an ox, a donkey, a sheep, or clothing, or for any kind of lost thing which another claims to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.

If our country hadn’t become so corrupt, perverse and lawless, that last clause would do a lot to fix the glut of frivolous and fraudulent lawsuits:  “whomever the judges condemn shall pay double to his neighbor.”

 

Whose Rights?

I would like have had the title read, “Whose rights?” but I don’t know if that’s possible with this platform or how to do it.  The reason for the title is that our culture is very concerned about “criminal rights.”  Police have to bend over backwards to ensure that anyone arrested in suspicion of a crime is “read his rights,” and probably anyone hauled in for questioning knows to ask for a lawyer right away.  More than one person on trial has walked away because of some little technicality, some oversight, some “i” not dotted properly or some “t” not crossed completely.

(After I put this away last night, with just a few lines beyond this point, one of the news stations had a segment about serial rape and the problems law enforcement was having with what to do with those guilty of numerous sexual crimes.  The segment showed one individual with a dozen or more such offenses.  In the course of the discussion about what to do with such a person, the officer commenting on it said, “At some point, you run into the constitutional rights of the offenders.”

“The constitutional rights of the offenders.”

I couldn’t believe it.

The Old Testament solution would have been that he wouldn’t have lived to commit the second offense, let alone 11 more – and law enforcement puzzled about what to do with him.

There is no “constitutional right” to be a rapist or any other criminal.

And, yes, I know that’s not what’s really meant, though that does seem to be how some people view it.)

In all this, very little seems to be said about the “rights” of victims.  Nothing was said about the victims of the above predator.  What about their “rights”?

While the Old Testament is concerned about fairness and true justice, it’s also concerned about victims.

We see an example of this in Exodus 21:12-27, especially vs. 18, 19, If men contend with each other, and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die, but is confined to his bed, if he rises again and walks about outside with his staff, then he who struck him shall be acquitted.  He shall only pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for him to be thoroughly healed  (emphasis added).

Earlier in this description, it’s said that if the injured party died, or even, it seems to say, becomes bedridden, then the other man was to be executed.  If he did not die, and became somewhat able to get up and around, then the other man was responsible to see that he was restored to health and for any wages he had lost.  Not insurance, not the government, not some hospital ER having to write it off – the offender was responsible for the healing and restoration of his victim.

The offender had no “rights,” only responsibility to his victim.  He had no “debt to society,” as we like to put it, but only to his victim.  We wonder how things would be different if we had a similar view of crime and punishment.

We’ve already seen that the Mosaic Law was given to a specific people in a specific context.  As such, it doesn’t mention situations with which we are familiar, like auto accidents or cybercrime.  And it does mention situations with which we are not familiar, like harsh treatment of servants, or about which we have developed different views, like the place of a father in his family, the raising of children or the roles of men and women.

And the New Testament give further instruction.  Because of this, some have said that we don’t have to pay any attention to the Old Testament at all.  I disagree.  While we don’t live under its precepts, and we do live under the New Testament, even the Apostle Paul said that there were some things we could learn from the Old Testament.  In 1 Corinthians 10:11, he wrote, Now all these things [from the earlier part of the chapter] happened to them [Old Testament folks] as examples, and they were written for our admonition.

“Examples,” “admonition.”

In other words, “pay attention.”

There are things there for us to learn.

“Thou Shalt Not Kill” – And the Death Penalty.

There are a couple of verses of Scripture that unbelievers and skeptics accept, and are quite insistent should be followed.  One, Exodus 20:13 (KJV), is in the title of this post:  Thou shalt not kill (KJV).  The other one is found in Matthew 7:1:  Judge not…. 

They don’t seem to mind adultery or dishonesty or using the name of God as a swear word, but the sixth commandment must be followed.

Never mind what they say about the rest of Scripture – these verses must be followed.  There may be other verses they “like,” but I think these are the two main ones.

So, when some killer is to be put to death for crimes he has committed, or when the execution is botched, as has happened recently, these folks get all worked up and say, “Oh, the poor man!  How can such things be done?”

It would be nice if they could show such concern for the victims of this “poor man.”

I certainly don’t advocate “suffering” in execution, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind about the sixth commandment.

First, the Hebrew word translated “kill” comes from a root meaning “to dash in pieces,” and refers primarily to murder or manslaughter. That’s how newer translations put it.  “Thou shalt not murder.”

Second, there are over forty “death-penalty” sins in the Old Testament.

These sins include such things as idolatry, spiritism, hitting or continual rebellion against a parent, kidnapping, false witness in a death-penalty case.

The criminals and their lawyers didn’t run things, like they do today.  Careful examination was indeed to be made as to the truthfulness of the charges against a person.  And two or three witnesses were required for an execution.  One only wasn’t enough.  And there was a recognition of what we call “technicalities,” only back then it was called “degrees of bloodguiltiness.”  These were used to determine the level of punishment, not as reasons for the offender to go free.

Some people can’t understand how the two ideas of “not killing” and the death penalty could coexist like that.  It’s simple.  Life was valued.  Individuals were valued, as being created “in the image of God.”  Those who took life forfeited their own.  Those who caused harm to others suffered harm themselves.

Some folks argue that we’re not under the Old Testament law.  I myself have made that point.  The Ten Commandments were given to a people in a certain historical and geographical setting.  They were never given to mankind in general; there’s never been a “dispensation of law.”

The Mosaic Covenant, which includes the Ten Commandments were given specifically to the nation of Israel at Sinai.  It forms, if you will, her constitution and bylaws.  In the situation in which it was given, there are a lot of things which seem very strange to our “modern” thinking. The idea that crime should be punished apparently has become one of them.  Our idea that violent criminals should be housed at taxpayer expense and “rehabilitated” would seem very strange to them.

Others argue that Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, so “love” has become the current buzzword.  Never mind that what passes for love in our society bears little resemblance to what the Lord Jesus actually taught.

Another favorite incident of opponents of the death-penalty is Jesus “forgiving” the woman taken in adultery in John 8:2-11.  We’ve done a post on this, so will just try to summarize here.

This woman had indeed been caught in the very act, v.5.  Now Jesus had often set Himself against the Pharisee’s interpretation of the Mosaic Law, so the Pharisees who dragged her into the presence of Jesus wanted to know what He said, it’s emphatic,  about this situation, because Moses said that such should be put to death, cf. Leviticus 20:10.

Uttering no word, the Lord simply began to write on the ground.  Since Leviticus 20:10 required that both parties be executed, I think He wrote, “Where is the man?” though that’s only supposition on my part because we’re not told what He wrote either time.

After what must have been an embarrassed silence, the men all left and the woman and Jesus were left alone, standing in the midst, v.10.  Note very carefully what the Lord asked her and the conversation that followed:  “Woman, where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.”  And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more.” vs. 10, 11 (emphases added).  Not a word about “forgiveness.”  Indeed, the Lord told the men to go ahead and kill her – if they were innocent themselves in this particular matter.  I think they had set her up, and were trying to set the Lord up.  They failed.

Now, the woman was indeed guilty.  However, the Law was very specific about such matters.  Though the Pharisees had all testified against her and could have in fact killed her, their own consciences in the face of the holiness of the Lord Jesus prevented them from carrying out the sentence.  They, therefore, did not “condemn her.”  Because the provisions of the Law were not carried out, neither did the Lord.

The incident has nothing to do with “forgiveness” or “not judging,” as it’s often used.

Regardless of what He might have taught about these things, the Lord Jesus also taught that we were to render…to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, Matthew 22:21.  See also Mark 12:17 and Luke 20:25.  The fact that three Gospels record this incident show the importance the Lord placed on it.

Paul echoed the Lord when he wrote in Romans 13:1, Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities.  Among other things, that authority does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil, v.4.

“Execute.”

“Wrath.”

“Vengeance.”

Ideas certainly foreign to modern jurisprudence.

So we have felons walking around free who have murdered or raped or done other violent crimes, but they’ve “served their time,” and so they’re free, while ordinary citizens hide behind locked doors and windows and women are afraid to go out alone at night.  How often do we hear of some man whose been arrested for a crime, only to also hear that he’s committed violent crimes before, perhaps several of them.

I’m sorry, but it’s time to rethink this idea of “rehabilitation” for felons who obviously have no interest in being rehabilitated.

It’s often commented by opponents of capital punishment that it doesn’t “deter” crime.  That’s only because it takes decades and multiple “appeals” before the sentence is carried out.  If criminals were actually executed who deserve it, without all the modern coddling that goes along with it, people might begin to understand that felony is serious.

Besides, if a felon is executed, that certainly “deters” him from committing other crimes.

I know there’s a lot of heat generated by this topic, and this is only part of the discussion about the death penalty, but it’s high time to take our justice system out of the hands of criminals and their lawyers.