Snapshots: Day 110
The Snapshot: “If someone is found slain…., and it is not known who the killer was…” (Deut 21:1) The state of California, the land of Hollywood, had over 1700 murders in 2018, the worst state in the USA. The number of homicides for the whole of England and Wales for that year was 732. The Law of Moses laid down rules for how to locate guilt and make atonement before God if there was a killing. Murder was a rarity. Which is the more civilized, California, part of a nation apparently ‘under God’, or Israel under the Law of Moses? The reality is that with daily reports of murders, muggings or knifings, we have become blasé about deaths. In Israel, the requirements of the Law insisted that the leaders of the community took responsibility.
Further Consideration: What is amazing about this passage in Deut 21 is that it is not about the death penalty which is often so contentious (not because of the right of the state to take a person’s life, but because of the possibility of there being an injustice and an innocent man might be executed sometimes) but about the attitude of the community when a murder has taken place but no guilty person has been found. Trying murderers is about bringing justice, about the victim having society stand up for him or her and for their name, but in this case, justice cannot be seen to be done, so what can be done?
In a fallen world where sometimes things don’t work out well, there is here the case where society – or those leaders of it who are responsible before God for it – needs to stand before God and declare before Him (and be accountable to Him) their innocence and the fact that despite having done all they could, they have not been able to find the killer and therefore they recognize that justice has not been done for the murdered person.
It is a way, if you like, of upholding two things. First, there is the concept of justice and the need for it in society. For the Israelites they had to take a sacrifice and wash their hands over this holy activity before God declaring before Him their innocence and their inability to bring justice about. This is where the act of washing your hands – as Pilate did (see Mt 27:24) – comes from, an act that says, “God, we as the leaders of your people stand innocent of this innocent blood shed – hold us accountable if you will.” How awesome, leaders of society taking responsibility before God for the bad things in society that they have not been able to resolve.
But, second, there is the upholding the respect of the murdered person, the honour of their name and society stands before God and says to them we have had to let you down, and we’re sorry. That is what is behind this. If only we had this today!