How seriously do we take the vengeance of God? We know from Romans 12:19, which quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, that we are not to avenge ourselves, for “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says God. So believers know that they are not to avenge themselves. Nonetheless, the question remains: how seriously do we take the vengeance of God? God indeed is merciful, fortunately for us, but do we take this mercy for granted and consider it to be weakness, as if we could fool God by sham repentance, or hide our sins and faults from His sight because He seems so far away? Do we think that if we cover up our crimes that we will go free without justice? Sometimes it seems so.
The Biblical Law Of Cold Cases
What does the Bible say about unsolved crimes, where the guilty has (apparently) gone free? Is God concerned with avenging innocent blood shed by men who then feel free to escape punishment from the law on earth? The consistent biblical example is that God cares a lot about avenging the innocent, and such a concern we find in a biblical law about cold cases, unsolved murders, that shows that a sacrifice had to be paid by the town or village closest to the place where the dead body was found. This law is full of odd and striking resonance, so it is worth examining today.
Deuteronomy 21:1-9 reads as follows: “If anyone is found slain, lying in the field in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who killed him, then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance from the slain man to the surroundings cities. And it shall be that the elders of the city nearest to the slain man will take a heifer which has not been worked and which has not been pulled with a yoke. The elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with flowing water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and they shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley. Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to bless in the name of the Lord; by their word every controversy 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. Then they shall answer and say, ‘Our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it. Provide atonement, O Lord, for your people Israel, whom You have redeemed, and do not lay innocent blood to the charge of Your people Israel.’ And atonement shall be provided on their behalf for the blood. So you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of God.”
On the surface, this is a very curious law. For one, it was necessary first to establish jurisdiction for the unsolved murder. We must remember that ancient Israel was a very simple society. They did not have permanent police departments or elaborate governments, or detectives devoted to the grim work of solving cold cases, or very much in the way of forensic science at all. Priests and Levites (among whom, it should be noted, are some of my ancestors), were the ones responsible for making judgments and settling disputes. In this case, they served as the detectives who were responsible for a test by which the leaders of the town (who had to pay the cost of a heifer to be slain by breaking its neck to symbolize the judgment due to the unknown murderer) would wash their hands over the innocent heifer slain making an oath to God that they were not responsible for the death and asking God not to hold them responsible for the death of the innocent victim, for whom atonement was required.
Let us pause and ask ourselves a question, though. Why was it that a town had to offer a sacrifice just because it was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Does righteous blood cry out for vengeance, and if this sacrifice were not done, would God have held a town responsible for the innocent blood found near there? According to the Bible, the answer appears to be yes. A town that did not care enough for innocent life to be able to sacrifice for it or swear to God their innocence in shedding innocent blood was not a town that God would view highly. Additionally, we have a consistent record within the Bible of righteous blood crying out for vengeance. Let us examine that record now.
Righteous Abel And The Martyred Saints
The first time we read of righteous blood crying out from the ground is in Genesis, and generally it is useful to see what the Bible says the first time it brings up a subject. Genesis 4:8-11 reads as follows: “Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, that when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.”
This was serious business. Cain spiritually polluted the land by slaying the innocent blood of Abel (in contrast, a burglar in the night has no blood, and therefore does not pollute the land when he is killed in the act ). By polluting the land he made himself an outcast, and a nomad, without any divinely settled home. He cut himself off from polite society and became an outlaw. God asked Cain where his brother was, hoping for a confession, but receiving lies, as well as the insult from Cain that Abel needed to be taken care of like a sheep. He assumed that he could fool God by killing Abel out in the field with no one watching him, and then lie to His face, not aware that God sees everything. The fact that Abel’s blood crying out for vengeance is listed all the way in Hebrews 12:24, pointing out that the blood of Christ gives us mercy while the blood of Abel cries out for vengeance, ought to give us pause.
It also ought to give us pause that Revelation 6:9-11 gives us another cry for vengeance from the blood of innocent martyrs: “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth.” Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” This ought to give us pause for several reasons. For one, the blood of the martyred Christians of history is depicted as crying out to God in the same way as Abel’s did. Now, this is not literal, but it ought to suggest that murder leaves a mark on an area, and that it is easily recognizable by God. Also, the fact that life as an end-time Christian appears to have a short life expectancy ought to make us hope either that we aren’t living in the end times at all or that we are found worthy to escape from those evil times. I for one don’t relish being tormented as were the martyrs of old .
Nonetheless, in whatever evil days we may happen to find ourselves in, let us remember that the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, speaks of the blood of the righteous crying out to God for vengeance. It speaks of the innocent blood polluting the ground on which that blood is shed, and it speaks of a God who promises to repay the blood of the innocent on the hands of the murderers, even to hold the jurisdiction of murders responsible if they do not atone for the righteous blood found in their territory. Since God cares so much about atoning for the righteous blood of innocent victims, we ought to care greatly about the issue as well. For there is much in this world that needs to be avenged, and no one is better at vengeance than one who is all knowing, all-powerful, and knowledgeable of what goes on everywhere, rather than relying on our own weak arms to avenge us. For the hand of man will fail us, but God’s arm is strong to avenge His saints, when the time is right.