God’s Word for You
Numbers 35:30-34 Punishment and forgiveness
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, February 10, 2022
30 Everyone who has taken someone’s life is to be put to death as a murderer on the testimony of witnesses, but no one is to die on the testimony of only one witness.
Later, in Deuteronomy, the standard of “two or three witnesses” will be established as a minimum for a judgment of any case (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15). There is no difference here, except that no minimum number is given. But since “witnesses” (‘edim) is clearly set off apart from “only one witness” (‘ed echad), the same minimum is presented here.
31 You are not to accept a ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, because he must certainly be put to death. 32 You are not to accept a ransom for the one who has fled to a city of refuge in order to allow him to return to live in his land before the death of the priest.
That is to say, no ransom is possible or is to be accepted for his life. A murderer might repent, and be spared his eternal soul. Forgiveness is possible for the sinner who repents; forgiveness is certain for the sinner who trusts in Christ as “the ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Famous Biblical murderers who were forgiven include Moses (Exodus 2:12), David (2 Samuel 12:9), and Paul (Acts 7:58, 8:1, 22:4). They are exceptions to the rule. They were forgiven and were even spared their lives, just as a murderer today might have his life spared from execution by a state governor. But in general, punishment for murder must be carried out so that the world will not believe that murder is an acceptable way of conducting affairs. Therefore many, many murderers are also shown being brought to justice in the Scriptures: Recab and Baanah, who murdered Ish-Bosheth (2 Samuel 4:5-7, 4:11-12); the wicked prophet whose preaching killed a good one (1 Kings 13:13-32), Abimelech, who murdered his seventy brothers and begged to be killed with a sword when a woman dropped a stone from a window and fatally wounded him (Judges 9:5,54-56), the men of Gibeah who raped and killed a woman and were slaughtered in the war that followed their terrible crime (Judges 20:25,44,46), and the officials who assassinated wicked King Amon and who were swiftly brought to justice by Judah (2 Chronicles 33:24-25). And sadly there are more.
33 So you are not to pollute the land where you are, because bloodshed pollutes the land. No atonement can be made for the land where blood has been shed except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 You are not to defile the land in which you are living, where I am dwelling in its midst, for I, the Lord, am dwelling in the midst of the people of Israel.
God requires the blood of a man who murders. If God requires the blood of an animal that kills a human being (Exodus 21:28), and with ever greater severity he requires the blood of a human who slays another human; therefore no atonement can be made to spare the murderer’s physical life.
These punishments are described so carefully because God watches over his creation with great care, and especially man who is the crown of his creation. For if the righteous man sees to the needs of his animals (Proverbs 12:10), how much more does the Father, the Creator, see to the needs of creation and mankind whom he loves so much as to give over his only-begotten Son to die for their sakes (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9)?
God forbids mankind from wanton and irreverent killing of animals. For man was created to rule and watch over the animals, not to kick them and abuse them, just as a government exists to govern and watch over its people, not to kick them and abuse them. But while animals may be killed for food (Genesis 9:3), for other uses (Genesis 3:21; Exodus 25:5), or simply when they are a danger to flocks or villages (1 Samuel 17:36; 1 Chronicles 11:22), the blood of man must be shed only when he has himself shed blood (Genesis 9:5-6).
Other forms of harm and murder fall under this discussion: Suicide, revenge, mercy killing, rape, improper use of food, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, or anything that harms the body that God has given. All of these are covered in the study of the Small and Large Catechisms. But a reminder is in place here about abortion. The old adage about human rights (“your rights end where my rights begin”) also applies to unborn babies. A woman (or married couple) had a right to make choices about when to have a baby, but those rights end when the baby now exists in her womb. The baby must have human rights, and must have an advocate. If little baby Tommy’s parents are out to kill him, who will stand up for him? For even Hippocrates and Aristotle understood that the baby is a baby, no different from a toddler or teenager except in development, while still in the womb. We see this when Aristotle, for example, calls the baby “the Child” that “receives its nutriment by the navel,” which is the case only within the womb. The Child is a child, a human being, and subject to the same protections and rights as that child’s mother and father. If we all would be outraged when an infant is snatched from its mother’s arms to pay a debt (Job 24:9), or if a baby is dashed to pieces by an invading army (Isaiah 13:16), then why are there still those who have no outrage when a Child is killed by his parents?
There are women and couples who have gone through this terrible scene and have later realized their mistake and their sin. There is forgiveness for them. As we said before, forgiveness is certain for the sinner who trusts in Christ. He frees those who are held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). God’s compassion finds its way to us through word and sacrament. Wherever these are emphasized, there is the true church of God. Be set at ease by God’s forgiveness, and be comforted by the promise of everlasting life.
Pastor Timothy Smith