“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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25 to 45.

The title represents what might be a sentence in a capital case, 25 to 45 years in prison.  In contrast to this, the thing that impresses me as I read through the Mosaic Law is that there is no provision for prisons or jail.  There are no sentences like the one in the title.  There are a couple of references to people being put in “ward” until it was decided what was to be done with them, and there are references to prison later in Israel’s history, but in her founding documents there are no references to prisons, no multi-layered judiciary, no defense lawyers, no plea bargains, no years and years of “appeals.”

What did they have?

Well, let’s see….

In our last post, we saw what was to happen if two men got into a fight and one of them was injured.  The other man was responsible for his healing and restoration.

In Exodus 22:1-4, we have an example of theft.  How was a “perp” handled in such cases?

If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall restore five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep.  If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.  If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed.  He shall make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.  If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall restore double.

If this were today, it would say something about his rights to an attorney.  He might be arraigned before a judge and bail would be set, upon payment of which he would be set free until the trial.  Nothing about the victim of his thefts; anything recovered would be held as evidence and wind up in some storage area in the police department.  It might be decades before the case is finally settled.

How different is the Mosaic view.  If the stolen items were gone, then the thief was required to return much more than the value of what he stole.  If the items were still with him, then he was required to return double to his victim.  He was required to make full restitution.  If he was unable to do this, then the one thing he still had was to be sold:  himself.  That certainly wouldn’t go over in our society, but the emphasis is not on the perpetrator of a crime, but on his victim.

There is one similarity with today.  If the thief was killed during the robbery, which was assumed to take place at night because it was unlikely that anyone would steal an animal during the day, his death was not a crime.  If, however, he was not caught, got away and was then killed, this was a crime in itself.  A victim of a crime cannot chase a thief down the street and kill him.

The emphasis was on the victim and the return of stolen goods to him, even more than was stolen.  I suppose this was to pay him, if I can put it like that, for the inconvenience of his property being stolen from him.  It also might serve as a warning to someone tempted to steal that, in the hackneyed phrase of today, “crime does not pay.”

Following this example, vs. 5 deals with a situation in which someone’s animal grazes in someone else’s field or vineyard.  V. 6 deals with destruction of another’s field by fire.  Vs. 7-14 deal with the loss or theft of personal property in several different situations.  V. 12 gives us an idea of the solemn responsibility one had toward the safety of someone else’s property entrusted to him.  None of these situations involves jail time.  All of them involve an effort to compensate the victim for what loss he might have suffered.

I don’t know that such practices could be implemented in our so much different time and culture.  At the same time, I do believe that more concern ought to be paid to the victims of crime, in some way making those who commit the crimes responsible not so much to “the state,” but to their victims.

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.

Who Says?

As I read through the Old Testament, especially the early books, in which God calls out and forms the nation of Israel, I’m impressed by the number of times that the Lord said to Israel, “I am the LORD.”  He might say that just by itself, or He might add something:  “I am the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  “I am the LORD who sanctifies you.”

It’s true that the Lord said that obeying Him would bring blessing and that disobeying Him would bring judgment, and that, in freeing them from Egyptian slavery He had already blessed them, yet it seems to me that the Lord is also saying that the main reason to pay attention to what He commands is that He commands it.  He didn’t ask for their agreement or their opinion or their thoughts on the subject.  He just said, “Here is what I want you to do.  I am the LORD.”

There is a message for us in this.  We increasingly live in a time when there are no objective standards.  It’s all about consensus, or who can make the loudest noise or cause the most destruction.  It’s all about “self-identity,” regardless of any objective reality.  We’ve become like the society described in the last verse of Judges:  In those days, there was no king in Israel, everyone did that which was right in his own eyes, Judges 21:25.  It’s true that we’ve never had a king here in this country, but that doesn’t mean the verse isn’t relevant.  A king was THE authority in the land, the source of law and order, however those might have been defined.  Not every king was a good king.  Judges describes a situation in which there was no king, no established, recognized code of conduct.  It was up to each individual how he wanted to live.

Because it is increasingly true in our nation that everyone does what he thinks is right.  we also see immorality and wickedness in our world similar to that described in the last chapters of Judges.  Granted, it isn’t an exact correspondence, so far as I know no one has recently hacked his concubine into pieces, although, now that I think about it, there are unspeakable atrocities against women approved by some cultures, but even without that, there are things which were unthinkable not all that many years ago that are now front page news and people demanding freedom to do them, to say nothing of the crime and violence that has mushroomed over the last few years.  There is no fear of God before their eyes, Romans 3:18.

There was a time when the Ten Commandments formed much of the basis of our legal system.  This fact is denied or ignored by those who demand the removal of every trace of them from our public lands and buildings:  no plaques listing them, no memorials of them in public, no reference to them by lawmakers or officials.  The “anti-establishment” clause in the Constitution has been reinvented to mean no religion in government at all, not the denial of civil power to the church.  Many of the Founding Fathers had suffered    because the church had had such power, and had misused it, as in England and Germany, and even in the very early days of the country, and they wanted no part of that in this new country, no part of an “official” church.  At the same time, contrary to some today, they were NOT establishing atheism as the official stance of the government.  There is abundant evidence of the influence of Christianity in the formation and early days of America.  There were other things, true, like Plato’s Republic, but the Bible was certainly there, and respected.

In the next few posts, Lord willing, I want to look at the Old Testament law and see what there is that might instruct us.  By “the Old Testament law,” I don’t mean the Ten Commandments.  Psalm 119:96 says that the commandment is exceedingly broad, and there might be some surprising things in it.

We must remember that “the Law,” as seen in the Mosaic documents, was given only to the nation of Israel, cf. Deuteronomy 4:6-8; Psalm 147:19, 20.  It was never given to Gentiles or to “the church”.  At the same time, there is something called, “the Moral Law.”  Paul refers to this in Romans 2:14, 15.  When he says that the Gentiles are a law unto themselves, he doesn’t mean that they can decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, though they, and we, do do that.  He’s saying that they recognize that there is “right” and “wrong,” though they might differ on what each of those is.  The Moral Law is simply the reflection of the righteousness God requires of His creation.  The Mosaic Covenant was the application of that Law to a specific historic and geographical place and people.  Even though Gentiles are not under the Mosaic Covenant, and never have been, it’s still wrong, for example, to murder or steal, not because of the Ten Commandments themselves, but because the righteousness of God forbids it.

We just want to look at the Mosaic Law to see what God thinks about some things we don’t usually associate with Him, to see if there’s not something we can learn from them.