Avenging the Blood of the Innocent Ones
“For, look! Jehovah is coming forth from his place to call to account the error of the inhabitant of the land against him, and the land will certainly expose her bloodshed and will no longer cover over her killed ones.”—Isa. 26:21.
1. What is Jehovah’s attitude toward life, as shown by the prophet Isaiah?
FROM the beginning of Jehovah’s dealing with mankind he has demonstrated his high regard for life. At the same time he made it clear to man that he too must respect life or else answer to Jehovah for his lack of regard. Failure to take Jehovah’s law into account has brought upon the nations Jehovah’s just judgment, and the innocent blood that has been shed over the centuries can no longer be covered over or left unavenged. This is made quite certain by the words of the prophet Isaiah: “For, look! Jehovah is coming forth from his place to call to account the error of the inhabitant of the land against him, and the land will certainly expose her bloodshed and will no longer cover over her killed ones.”—Isa. 26:21.
2. (a) In what issue concerning life did Cain and Abel become involved, and what motivated Cain’s attitude? (b) What was Jehovah’s judgment in the matter?
2 The first two men known to be born into the human race became involved in this issue of shedding innocent blood when the offering to Jehovah that Abel made was accepted, whereas Cain’s was not looked upon with favor, “and Cain grew hot with great anger, and his countenance began to fall.” Recognizing the threat to Abel’s life that Cain’s anger imposed, Jehovah warned Cain that exaltation could be his simply by turning to doing good. However, the reason for Cain’s lack of favor in making an offering to Jehovah, the ‘Reader of hearts,’ became more manifest as Cain’s wrong attitude expressed itself further. (1 Sam. 16:7) Instead of humbling himself in recognition of Jehovah’s law, following his brother’s example, he chose to ignore God’s counsel to get the mastery over the sin that was “crouching at the entrance” and followed the path that led to violent murder of his brother. (1 John 3:12; Jude 11) Further evidence of his attitude was his callous and lying response to Jehovah’s inquiry as to Abel’s whereabouts: “I do not know. Am I my brother’s guardian?” No expression of repentance or remorse was this! Nor could Cain’s pretended innocence absolve him of liability. Jehovah’s judgment was rendered immediately. “Listen! Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground. And now you are cursed in banishment from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood at your hand.”—Gen. 4:4-11.
3. (a) Why was Cain not absolved of guilt, and how did he view his judgment from Jehovah? (b) In Noah’s day, what did Jehovah do to cleanse the earth, which had become filled with violence?
3 Notice that Jehovah particularly called attention to Abel’s blood as being spilled out upon the ground. Why? Because life is in the blood and Abel’s blood was spilled without a justifiable cause. Cain took life from Abel, life that belonged to God, and the blood that stained the ground at the scene of his murder bore mute but eloquent testimony to the life that had been poured out, crying out to Jehovah for vengeance. Cain must have realized that his taking the life of Abel jeopardized his own life, because he complained to Jehovah: “I must become a wanderer and fugitive on the earth, and it is certain that anyone finding me will kill me.” (Gen. 4:14) However, Jehovah said to him: “‘For that reason anyone killing Cain must suffer vengeance seven times.’ And so Jehovah set up a sign for Cain in order that no one finding him should strike him.” (Gen. 4:15) The sign that Jehovah set upon Cain was unmistakable in import, as later testified by Lamech, a descendant of Cain, when he composed these words: “A man I have killed for wounding me, yes, a young man for giving me a blow. If seven times Cain is to be avenged, then Lamech seventy times and seven.” (Gen. 4:23, 24) Violence increased in the earth until, in Noah’s day, Jehovah wiped out everything in which the “breath of the force of life” was active, from man to beast. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark were spared when the floodwaters covered the earth.—Gen. 7:22, 23.
SANCTITY OF BLOOD ENFORCED
4. (a) When and how did Jehovah introduce the force of life into his material creation? (b) How did Jehovah demonstrate the higher order of the life of a “soul” as compared with life that animates vegetation?
4 This “breath of the force of life” was God’s creation and was first implanted in sea animals, in winged flying creatures and in land animals. This was thousands of years before man received this gift from God. However, even this was not the beginning of the operation of life-force in the earth. It was in the third creative day when God superimposed upon inanimate atoms of matter the force of life, saying: “Let the earth cause grass to shoot forth, vegetation bearing seed, fruit trees yielding fruit according to their kinds, the seed of which is in it, upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:11) In vegetation, especially in woody plants, a juice or vital circulating fluid called sap was to course, delivering essential food to the tiniest branch, leaf and blossom. Thus it might be said that the life of the tree is in the sap, which carries the life-sustaining properties of the plant throughout its entire system. However, some fourteen thousand years later, in the fifth creative day, when sea creatures and the flying creatures began to be created, and another seven thousand years later, in the sixth creative day, when land animals began to be created, Jehovah prepared in them a different kind of circulatory system. And he filled the intricate circulatory systems of these creatures with a new vehicle, blood instead of sap, carrying oxygen and food elements to every tissue of every organ and part of the body. But the life in the blood is of a higher order than that which animates plants and vegetation. It is the life of a “soul.” Furthermore, man was given no restrictions as to the cutting down of plants, thus taking their life. On the contrary, “all vegetation bearing seed . . . and every tree” were given to both man and beast for food. (Gen. 1:29, 30) But in Eden, and after man sinned and was expelled from Eden, he was not given authority to take the life of animals with the same unrestricted freedom he had with plants. The life of a soul was held sacred by God.
5. (a) What new law did Noah receive after the flood, and in connection with what authorization was it given? (b) How did this commandment further emphasize the sanctity of blood and the life it carries?
5 When Noah came out of the ark, Jehovah gave him a new law. In doing so, Jehovah spoke of the “soul” as the “blood.” That is because the “soul” or “life” is in the blood. Not that the soul is something immaterial, invisible and intangible residing inside of man. Animals, fish and birds are called “souls” (Gen. 1:20-24) and, in creating man, Jehovah blew breath of life into the body made of dust and “the man came to be a living soul,” that is, man was a soul; he did not have a soul. (Gen. 2:7) But after the Flood, Jehovah made a change in his dealing with mankind as regards the shedding of blood. Jehovah gave man the sacred responsibility of acting immediately as Jehovah’s executioner of willful murderers. This indefinitely lasting covenant was stated in connection with an authorization to eat the flesh of animals, but Jehovah warned Noah specifically regarding the sanctity of blood and the life carried in the blood. “Every moving animal that is alive may serve as food for you. As in the case of green vegetation, I do give it all to you. Only flesh with its soul—its blood—you must not eat. And, besides that, your blood of your souls shall I ask back. From the hand of every living creature shall I ask it back; and from the hand of man, from the hand of each one who is his brother, shall I ask back the soul of man. Anyone shedding man’s blood, by man will his own blood be shed, for in God’s image he made man.” (Gen. 9:3-6) Capital punishment was now enjoined upon mankind as a divine requirement, and it became quite clear as time progressed that failure to carry out this requirement would again bring serious bloodguilt.
NO RANSOM FOR THE BLOODGUILTY
6. According to the law of Moses, how only could the land be kept unpolluted from bloodshed, and how far-reaching was this provision?
6 Centuries later, Jehovah God again emphasized his high regard for the life of a “soul” in prescribing punishment for violation of the law of Israel mediated through Moses. Jehovah said: “And your eye should not feel sorry: soul will be for soul, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Deut. 19:21) Jehovah further warned his people as they were preparing to enter the Promised Land: “And you must not pollute the land in which you are; because it is blood that pollutes the land, and for the land there may be no atonement respecting the blood that has been spilled upon it except by the blood of the one spilling it.” (Num. 35:33) So far-reaching was Jehovah’s provision for keeping the land free of pollution because of bloodguilt of its inhabitants that he even provided for instances where the murderer was not known. The loss of an innocent life should not be allowed to cause the ground to continue polluted.—Deut. 21:1-9.
7. (a) Who was authorized in Israel to avenge one slain, and how did he carry out his responsibility? (b) How did Israel’s law differ from later practices, especially in medieval times?
7 The one authorized under the law of Israel to avenge the blood of one who had been killed was called the “avenger of blood” or go·ʼelʹ and was the nearest male relative of the one slain. (Num. 35:19) Since the nearest of kin would be personally involved with the one slain, it is understandable that he would have a keen interest in fulfilling this responsibility, even rising up in the heat of anger to avenge the life of his kinsman. If the murderer was known, then atonement for the blood of the slain man must be swift and certain. “In case there should happen to be a man hating his fellowman, and he has lain in wait for him and has risen up against him and struck his soul fatally and he has died, and the man has fled to one of [the cities of refuge], the older men of his city must then send and take him from there, and they must deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, and he must die. Your eye should not feel sorry for him, and you must clear away the guilt of innocent blood out of Israel, that you may have good.” (Deut. 19:11-13) No sanctuary was to be made for the willful murderer, neither could a ransom be paid for his soul. (Num. 35:31) In many lands in ancient and medieval times, refuge was provided for anyone, even though he might be guilty of murder. The churches of Christendom thus became sanctuaries for those who had deliberately violated God’s law. This was not tolerated under the law in ancient Israel. One example of failure of even the sacred altar of burnt offerings to provide sanctuary is the case of Joab. When he would not let go of the horns of the altar and come out, Solomon ordered that he be executed there in the courtyard of the tent of Jehovah for his part in the rebellion of Adonijah and for his killing Abner and Amasa.—1 Ki. 2:28-34.
MERCY FOR THE UNINTENTIONAL SLAYER
8. (a) Why would there be no bloodguilt on the avenger of blood for taking the life of a manslayer? (b) Would there be bloodguilt on the avenger of blood if he took the life of an unintentional manslayer? How might the land have become polluted in such a circumstance?
8 If the avenger of blood were to overtake such a killer, then no bloodguilt would result from his execution of the murderer because, in fact, he would be making atonement for the innocent blood that would otherwise cause the land to be polluted. (Num. 35:33) But what if the killing had been accidental and there had been no malice or intent? In such a case the taking of the life would have been unintentional, without seeking the injury of the slain one. If the avenger of blood were to overtake this unintentional manslayer and kill him in the heat of anger, then, since the manslayer was innocent of premeditated murder, his own next of kin might indignantly rise up against the executioner of his kinsman and another innocent life would be taken, because the first avenger of blood did have the legal right to fall upon the unintentional slayer. This could easily give rise to a blood feud with one innocent life after another being lost, and the land would have been bathed in blood.
9. What means of asylum was made for the unintentional manslayer?
9 To prevent this pollution of the land, and as an act of mercy, Jehovah required that cities be placed as an asylum in Israel where the unwitting manslayer could find a refuge from the avenger of blood. “And the cities must serve you as a refuge from the blood avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the assembly for judgment. And the cities that you will give, the six cities of refuge, will be at your service. Three cities you will give on this side of the Jordan, and three cities you will give in the land of Canaan. As cities of refuge they will serve. For the sons of Israel and for the alien resident and for the settler in the midst of them these six cities will serve as a refuge, for anyone to flee there that fatally strikes a soul unintentionally.” (Num. 35:10-15; Deut. 19:1-3, 8-10) These cities must be nearby and easily accessible, as stated in Deuteronomy 19:6: “Otherwise, the avenger of blood may, because his heart is hot, chase after the manslayer and actually overtake him, since the way is great; and he may indeed strike his soul fatally, whereas there is no sentence of death for him, because he was no hater of him formerly.” In addition, though it is not specifically stated in the Bible, Jewish tradition informs us that the roads to the cities of refuge were made very broad and even, so that there would be no impediments in the way, and they were constantly kept in good repair.
SAFETY ONLY IN THE CITY OF REFUGE
10. How was it determined whether a man was entitled to asylum in the city of refuge?
10 Although anyone taking life could flee to the city, asylum was provided only until such time as the manslayer could stand trial before the elders of his city in the jurisdiction of whom the murder took place. (Josh. 20:4-6) And “the assembly must then judge between the striker and the avenger of blood according to these judgments.” (Num. 35:24) If found guilty of murder, the manslayer must be turned over without delay to the avenger of blood for execution. (Num. 35:30) If, on the other hand, the manslayer was found innocent of malice, not hating the slain man formerly, then “the assembly must deliver the manslayer out of the hand of the avenger of blood, and the assembly must return him to his city of refuge to which he had fled, and he must dwell in it until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.”—Num. 35:25.
11. How only would the city continue to be a place of refuge to the manslayer, and what would this impress upon him?
11 In order to be assured of continued refuge, the manslayer must remain within the boundaries of the city, its suburbs and its grazing grounds, which extended a thousand cubits outside the city. “But if the manslayer without fail goes out of the boundary of his city of refuge to which he may flee, and the avenger of blood does find him outside the boundary of his city of refuge, and the avenger of blood does slay the manslayer, he has no bloodguilt. For he ought to dwell in his city of refuge until the high priest’s death, and after the high priest’s death the manslayer may return to the land of his possession.” (Num. 35:26-28) This would mean that, once a manslayer had entered the city as an accepted inhabitant of the city, having proved his innocence of intentional killing by undergoing a proper trial, then he could not go outside the city even temporarily for any reason without risking his life. This would impress upon the manslayer the seriousness of what he had done, even though innocently, and continually impress upon him the mercy of Jehovah in allowing him this asylum. It was further stated: “And you must not take a ransom for one who has fled to his city of refuge, to resume dwelling in the land before the death of the high priest.” (Num. 35:32) Otherwise, it would make a mockery of the provision Jehovah had made and would suggest that life could be purchased from Jehovah.
12. Was the manslayer held as prisoner in the city? What kept him there, and what must he do during his period of residence?
12 The one being admitted to the city of refuge was not to become a burden upon the inhabitants of the city. It is reasonable that while there he must contribute to the welfare of the city and work for his provisions. He might do this by working at his own trade, if suited to the city life. If not, then he might even be required to learn a new one. Nothing in the law of Jehovah allowed for begging or living off the charity of others without contributing something in return, if physically able to do so. Even the widow and the orphan who might be without land or means of sustenance, while provided for bountifully, were still expected to work for what they received. (Deut. 24:17-22) It is interesting to note that, while manslayers were not held prisoners in the city and were free to go if they saw fit, still Jehovah’s inducement to keep his provision for safety was of such a nature that only the most foolhardy would attempt to violate it.
13. What additional features of the law of Israel made it clear that the taking of life even unintentionally was not to be viewed lightly?
13 Furthermore, Jehovah’s mercy in providing refuge for the unintentional manslayer was not to be abused, nor did the law allow for inexcusable negligence as a claim for mercy. For example, when a man built a new house he was required to make a parapet for its roof; otherwise, anyone falling from the roof would bring bloodguilt upon the house. (Deut. 22:8) If a man owned a bull that was in the habit of goring, and the owner was served warning, and if he failed to keep his bull under guard and it killed someone, the owner of the bull was bloodguilty and could be put to death. (Ex. 21:28-32) If a thief was caught breaking in at night and was killed in the struggle to apprehend him, there was no bloodguilt. But if it happened in the daytime when he could be plainly seen, the one fatally striking him was bloodguilty. (Ex. 22:2, 3) Truly, Jehovah’s law was in perfect balance, exacting just retribution from the wicked but extending mercy to those falling into sin or an unintentional violation of the law.
RETRIBUTION SURE AND SOON
14. How did Israel as a nation accept the Law’s requirements as to the sanctity of life, and what indictments were God’s prophets authorized to deliver?
14 What an indictment of ancient Israel this equitable provision of Jehovah proved to be! Although the whole law of Israel laid emphasis on the sacredness of life and the sanctity of blood, from the beginning of his dealings with Israel only a small remnant responded to the repeated pleadings Jehovah found it necessary to make with his people, ‘rising up early and sending his prophets’ to warn them of the certainty of just retribution. They not only refused to heed Jehovah’s warning counsel, but they violently turned on his prophets and cruelly put them to death, thus adding the blood of these innocent ones to their guilt before Jehovah. (Jer. 26:2-8) Therefore Jehovah sent them this indictment through Jeremiah: “Also, in your skirts there have been found the blood marks of the souls of the innocent poor ones. Not in the act of breaking in have I found them, but they are upon all these.” (Jer. 2:34) And through Isaiah: “The very land has been polluted under its inhabitants, for they have bypassed the laws, changed the regulation, broken the indefinitely lasting covenant. That is why the curse itself has eaten up the land, and those inhabiting it are held guilty. This is why the inhabitants of the land have decreased in number, and very few mortal men have remained over.”—Isa. 24:5, 6.
15. What retribution did Jehovah bring against his people Israel in Jeremiah’s day, and what added responsibility in this regard did their descendants in Jesus’ day bear?
15 Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C.E. because of her many crimes against Jehovah, including her bloodguilt, and only a remnant remained uncondemned. But, in spite of this awesome retributive act of Jehovah, the false religious leaders of Jesus’ day could not deny their own bloodguiltiness any more than the religious leaders of Jeremiah’s time, for, in both instances, their skirts were crimson red with the blood of Jehovah’s faithful ones, including even that of his own dear Son.—Matt. 23:33-36; 27:24, 25; Luke 11:49-51.
16. What position have the nations today taken on the issue of the sanctity of life, and what should our view be?
16 Now today, the bloodguilt of all the nations of the earth has reached its fullness. So great is the bloodguilt of the “harlot” Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, that she is said to be drunk with the blood of Jehovah’s people. (Rev. 17:5, 6; 18:24) At any time Jehovah’s Avenger of blood is due to strike, and woe to anyone who is caught in her association! (Rev. 18:4) Such bloodguilty ones “will not live out half their days,” as David said. (Ps. 55:23) Earnestly our prayer should be with that of the psalmist: “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God the God of my salvation,” and “from bloodguilty men save me.” (Ps. 51:14; 59:2) Then, in the very near future, when the mighty chorus of praise in heaven ascends to Jehovah because the last elements of Babylon the Great will have been destroyed and the blood of all the innocent ones will have been avenged, our voices will be joined on earth with all those who have escaped the retributive sword of Jehovah’s Avenger.—Rev. 19:1, 2, 15, 21.
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Cities of Refuge
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The unintentional manslayer had to flee to the nearest city of refuge lest the avenger of blood overtake him and kill him in the heat of anger