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Chapter 21:1-9 (ESV)

Posted on March 22, 2024  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 21:1-9 (ESV) - “If in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess someone is found slain, lying in the open country, and it is not known who killed him, then your elders and your judges shall come out, and they shall measure the distance to the surrounding cities. And the elders of the city that is nearest to the slain man shall take a heifer that has never been worked and that has not pulled in a yoke. And the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer's neck there in the valley. Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister to him and to bless in the name of the LORD, and by their word every dispute and every assault shall be settled. And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley, and they shall testify, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. Accept atonement, O LORD, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.’ So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD.

Question to consider: What New Testament parable is brought to mind when reading about this law of God?

Given that there were so many laws that required the death penalty when violated or wars that were coming up where men could very easily die, it may seem counterintuitive that the LORD would have Israel go to such great lengths to provide justice for someone who was murdered in open country— land that was not inhabited. Even though much of the way God dealt with Israel was as a community rather than as individuals, scripture is clear that the LORD knows every person by name and cares for everything He has created. If this were not the case, the LORD would not care if Israel destroyed the fruit trees in the nations or have passages like Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Jesus never would have said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31) The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of people are given mercifully long lives by God here on earth, and the ones who treat death casually are humans. If God determines that an infant does not survive childbirth, it is His prerogative as Creator because He is the one who cares for the soul of the child and will reunite that child with his or her body at the resurrection. However, humans will indiscriminately destroy an infant in the womb without any regard for that child’s life in this world or the one to come. 

The LORD is the one who knows when innocent blood is shed, for as He told Cain after he murdered his brother, Abel, “The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10) Unlike us, the LORD cannot allow injustice to stand forever.

It’s interesting to weigh Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in light of this directive by the LORD. The man is robbed and left for dead in the open country between Jerusalem and Jericho, and instead of following this directive, the Levite and priest both ignore the man, presuming he is dead and not wanting to get involved. So not only did they miss an opportunity to help their neighbor who was not dead, they ignored this very specific directive if he had been. The Samaritan, who would have been considered a spiritual bastard by the Levite and priest, regarded this law more highly than they did.


Dear heavenly Father, help us to value all life as Your sacred handiwork and to seek justice for those who have been wronged. Amen.