(Deuteronomy 21:1-2 NIV) “If a man is found slain, lying in a field in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who killed him, your elders and judges shall go out and measure the distance from the body to the neighboring towns.”
Several current popular television shows focus their story content on the forensic work of crime scene investigators. The CSI shows have multiplied into several different shows that basically investigate different types of murders in different cities. But what happened before we had CSI’s and what would happen if a body was found where no easy jurisdiction could be established?
The above text from Deuteronomy begins the rather strange story of what the Israelites were supposed to do when they found a John Doe murdered outside of the jurisdictions of their local towns. After they determined which town was closest, the elders and the priests of that town would perform an atoning sacrifice for the benefit of the victim and local people: “They shall declare: ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. Accept this atonement for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, O LORD, and do not hold your people guilty of the blood of an innocent man’” (Deuteronomy 21:7-8).
This story’s ending would hardly suffice for today’s CSI shows. First of all, the Israelites never even attempted to catch the murderer. There was no investigation.
Since all Scripture is useful (2 Timothy 3:16), what can we learn from this story and instruction from God? I held my own investigation into the matter, and the following are the spiritual principles I mined from God’s Holy Word.
Sanctity of Human Life
All human life is precious to God: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15 NIV). God cares about everyone, even the unknown dead (they are only unknown to us, but they are very much known by God). The Lord wants every human to be respected, because we are each created in His image, and we are held responsible to see every human as God sees them.
God instructs us here that each community of faith has a zone of spiritual and social accountability. Whatever problems occur in our ecclesiastical jurisdiction, we should readily and willingly be a part of the solution. In your community, your church or ministry should be aware of the spiritual and social death that the community is experiencing And when you discover these issues in your community, you must act sacrificially to bring the hope of salvation in Jesus to all.
We know that God is deeply concerned about injustice (Ezekiel 9:9). He hates sin and evil (Psalm 101:3). God doesn’t want us to pass the buck and no one be responsible for injustice. We can’t use the excuse that we pay taxes, and injustice is the government’s problem. God has enlightened His people, the Church, to bring justice and peace to the whole world through Jesus Christ: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
Though the Israelite system of dealing with a John Doe murder thousands of years ago may seem crude to us, God’s focus is not on solving crimes or catching criminals, but on the innocent people involved. The crime was done; the victim unknown; so, atonement is made for the victim and the people, and the judgment of God appeased. For those who believe in science as their God, this system may not seem fair, but God’s justice is sometimes hard for us to understand: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9 NIV). But His judgments are always true and just (Revelation 16:7).
(c) Paul Dordal, 2009