Deuteronomy 21:8
Be merciful, O LORD, to your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and lay not innocent blood to your people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.
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21:1-9 If a murderer could not be found out, great solemnity is provided for putting away the guilt from the land, as an expression of dread and detesting of that sin. The providence of God has often wonderfully brought to light these hidden works of darkness, and the sin of the guilty has often strangely found them out. The dread of murder should be deeply impressed upon every heart, and all should join in detecting and punishing those who are guilty. The elders were to profess that they had not been any way aiding or abetting the sin. The priests were to pray to God for the country and nation, that God would be merciful. We must empty that measure by our prayers, which others are filling by their sins. All would be taught by this solemnity, to use the utmost care and diligence to prevent, discover, and punish murder. We may all learn from hence to take heed of partaking in other men's sins. And we have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, if we do not reprove them.Eared - i. e., plowed; compare Genesis 45:6 note and references. The word is derived from the Latin, and is in frequent use by English writers of the fifteenth and two following centuries.

Strike off the heifer's neck - Rather, "break its neck" (compare Exodus 13:13). The mode of killing the victim distinguishes this lustration from the sin-offering, in which there would be of course shedding and sprinkling of the blood.


De 21:1-9. Expiation of Uncertain Murder.

1-6. If one be found slain … lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him—The ceremonies here ordained to be observed on the discovery of a slaughtered corpse show the ideas of sanctity which the Mosaic law sought to associate with human blood, the horror which murder inspired, as well as the fears that were felt lest God should avenge it on the country at large, and the pollution which the land was supposed to contract from the effusion of innocent, unexpiated blood. According to Jewish writers, the Sanhedrin, taking charge of such a case, sent a deputation to examine the neighborhood. They reported to the nearest town to the spot where the body was found. An order was then issued by their supreme authority to the elders or magistrates of that town, to provide the heifer at the civic expense and go through the appointed ceremonial. The engagement of the public authorities in the work of expiation, the purchase of the victim heifer, the conducting it to a "rough valley" which might be at a considerable distance, and which, as the original implies, was a wady, a perennial stream, in the waters of which the polluting blood would be wiped away from the land, and a desert withal, incapable of cultivation; the washing of the hands, which was an ancient act symbolical of innocence—the whole of the ceremonial was calculated to make a deep impression on the Jewish, as well as on the Oriental, mind generally; to stimulate the activity of the magistrates in the discharge of their official duties; to lead to the discovery of the criminal, and the repression of crime.

i.e. Not imputed to them, nor punished in them; for God is sometimes said to

forgive when he doth not punish, as Psalm 78:38. Besides, though there was no mortal guilt in this people, yet there was a ceremonial uncleanness in the land, which was to be expiated and forgiven. Be merciful, O Lord, to thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed,.... Out of Egyptian bondage, and claimed as his own; and therefore it is requested he would be favourable to them, and show them mercy, and not punish them for a sin they were entirely ignorant of, though done by some one among them, whom as yet they could not discover. The words seem to be the words of the elders continued, who having made a declaration of their innocence, humbly request mercy of God, not only for themselves, but for all the people of Israel; yet, both the Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan take them to be the words of the priests, and so does Jarchi, and the same is affirmed in the Misnah (z):

and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge; impute not the guilt of innocent blood to a people in general, when only a single person, and he unknown, is chargeable with it: or put it not "in the midst" of thy people; let it not be placed to the whole, because it cannot be found out whose it is, though it is certain it is one in the midst of them:

and the blood shall be forgiven them; that is, God will not impute it, and place it to their account, or lay it to their charge; but will graciously consider the beheading of the heifer as an expiation of it: it is said in the Misnah (a),"if the murderer is found before the heifer is beheaded, it goes forth and feeds among the herd; but if after it is beheaded, it is buried in the same place; and again, if the heifer is beheaded, and after that the murderer is found, he shall be slain;''so the Targums, and Jarchi on the next verse.

(z) Ut supra. (Sotah. c. 9. sect. 5.) (a) Hilchot Rotzeach, c. 9. sect. 7.

Be merciful, {c} O LORD, unto thy people Israel, whom thou hast redeemed, and lay not innocent blood unto thy people of Israel's charge. And the blood shall be forgiven them.

(c) This was the prayer, which the priests made in the audience of the people.

8. Forgive] the meaning of this technical term, kipper, is usually taken either from the Ar. form = to cover, or the Syr. = to wipe away, the latter being also its meaning in Assyr. (Zimmern in KAT3[144], 601, 650). See Driver’s note here.

[144] Die Keilinschriften und das AIte Testament, 3rd edition (1903), by H. Zimmern and H. Winckler.

whom thou hast redeemed] In the Hex. peculiar to D, see on Deuteronomy 7:8.

suffer] Heb. give, i.e. appoint, attach or impute.

thy people Israel] The guilt of such a crime affected not only the people of the commune where it was committed but all Israel (cp. Numbers 35:33). Was this idea in the original law, or added by D? Apparently D’s addition begins with the opening of the next v.Expiation of a Murder Committed by an Unknown Hand. - Deuteronomy 21:1 and Deuteronomy 21:2. If any one was found lying in a field in the land of Israel (נפל fallen, then lying, Judges 3:25; Judges 4:22), having been put to death without its being known who had killed him (וגו נודע לא, a circumstantial clause, attached without a copula, see Ewald, 341, b. 3), the elders and judges, sc., of the neighbouring towns, - the former as representatives of the communities, the latter as administrators of right, - were to go out and measure to the towns which lay round about the slain man, i.e., measure the distance of the body from the towns that were lying round about, to ascertain first of all which was the nearest town.
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