Who is the Avenger of Blood? Is Eye for an Eye and Tooth for a Tooth Still Valid? #149 #maliceaforethought
Hello everybody and happy Tuesday to you! I hope your Memorial Day was equal parts solemn remembrance and festive celebration of freedom and the good news of Jesus that brings ultimate freedom! Mark this day - two weeks from now, we will know whether or not things are safer in the U.S. or not as it concerns the Coronavirus. So many people this week sort of took the opportunity to engage in freedom and gatherings - if we see a huge spike in Covid cases in two weeks, we'll know why...if we don't see a huge spike, then we can rejoice and begin to think the tide is turning more and more. Lord, have mercy on your people! Today's Bible readings include Numbers 35, Psalms 79, Isaiah 27 and 1 John 5.
Today’s Big Bible Question is a bit of a mysterious one, as Numbers 35 introduces us to the ‘avenger of blood,’ which is not exactly an anti-hero in the style of the Punisher, or Ghost Rider, but he is a very interesting personage in the Old Testament. Let’s read the passage and then discuss this avenger.
Pretty surprising, right? One of the ways that the Bible provided for justice in the Old Testament time is the avenger of blood. Michael Houdmann at Gotquestions.org gives us a good summary of this person and concept:
In the Bible, an avenger of blood is a person legally responsible for carrying out vengeance when a family member has been unlawfully killed or murdered. The avenger of blood is usually the nearest male relative of the murdered person. This family executioner seeks justice by killing the individual responsible for the death of his relative.
Mosaic Law allowed vengeance killings carried out by an avenger of blood: “The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when the avenger comes upon the murderer, the avenger shall put the murderer to death” (Numbers 35:19; see also 26–27 and Deuteronomy 19:11–12). If a family member was murdered, it became the duty of the avenger of blood to restore justice to the family and the land by pursuing and ultimately carrying out the death penalty on the person responsible. This Old Testament law is rooted in God’s requirement of a life for a life in cases of murder: “And I will require the blood of anyone who takes another person’s life. If a wild animal kills a person, it must die. And anyone who murders a fellow human must die. If anyone takes a human life, that person’s life will also be taken by human hands. For God made human beings in his own image” (Genesis 9:5–6, NLT).
The word translated “avenge,” in Hebrew, is related to the word for “redeem,” “reclaim,” or “restore.” As a representative of God and the family, the avenger of blood “redeemed” or “reclaimed” the blood of the relative by killing the original blood-shedder. An avenger of blood was to act only in cases of deliberate murder or the unlawful taking of an innocent life. Intent is a necessary element of murder. Six examples of intentional homicide are outlined in Numbers 35:16–21. The avenger of blood was not given license to act in instances of accidental manslaughter.
The Mosaic Law regulated the actions of the avenger of blood by providing cities of refuge for the accused. An individual who committed manslaughter, or the unintentional and accidental killing of a person, could find sanctuary in any of the six designated cities of refuge throughout the land of Israel (Numbers 35:10–15, 22–25; Deuteronomy 19:4–6; Joshua 20:1–6). In these towns, the avenger of blood’s quarry was legally protected and guaranteed a fair trial.
So – now you know who this avenger was, and what their purpose was. As you might imagine, the coming of Jesus changed everything – He initiated a New Covenant, which means that Christians are no longer under the Old Covenant. As Hebrews tells us, the New Covenant is superior in every way. Consider this challenging teaching of Jesus:
38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.39 But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.40 As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well.41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two.42 Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?
Consider also the admonition of Paul:
19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.
So, we are no longer in the place where humans get revenge, but as Christians – we trust God to enact justice, and we can rest in that knowing that God’s justice is perfect, wise, and fair. Does this mean that governments and law enforcement should refrain from executing justice? Not at all – the Bible actually makes it quite clear that it is God who has called the governments and law enforcement agencies of the world to punish the wicked and protect the innocent. Do they always do that with purity and wisdom – no – but they are supposed to be God’s hand of justice in the world today, according to Romans 13:
Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the one in authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For it is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.
Thus we no longer have an avenger of blood, but God has raised up the governing authorities in the world today to serve the same function as the avenger of blood. Does that mean that capital punishment is biblical? That is a deep discussion that we will dive into another day, but I will say this: When we dive into that discussion, we will very likely begin it with Romans 13.
Do what is good, friends – we don’t want any avengers after us!