Deuteronomy 21:1
If one 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,
Atonement for Unknown SinR.M. Edgar Deuteronomy 21:1-9
Expiating Unknown MurderC. Simeon, M. A.Deuteronomy 21:1-9
God's Value of Individual LifeJ. Wolfendale.Deuteronomy 21:1-9
Purification from Guilt of an Uncertain MurderJ. Orr Deuteronomy 21:1-9
The Creation of Righteous, Public SentimentD. Davies Deuteronomy 21:1-9
We have here a ritual applicable to cases where murder has not been expiated by the apprehension and execution of the murderer. The mystery has remained unraveled. The elders and judges, in such a case, are to come and measure which city is nearest the slain man, and the elders of that city are then required to take the heifer prescribed and make atonement, that the country may be delivered from the guilt of innocent blood. The heifer is to be one in the full vigor of life, which has not been wrought with, and consequently expressed in the fullest form the life-producing power to which the violent death stood as a contrast. She is to be taken down into a "rough valley," or, as the words (נַחַל אֵיתָן) more accurately mean, "a perennial stream," and there is her neck to be struck off, and the blood thus violently shed is to pass away in the never-failing stream. While this is taking place, the eiders of the city are to wash their hands over her, in protestation of their innocence, and to pray for deliverance from the guilt, and it shall be forgiven them.

I. AN UNDISCOVERED MURDER IS PROPERLY IMPUTED TO THE DISTRICT WHERE THE VICTIM HAS BEEN FOUND. In a well-ordered society life should be safe. When it is proved unsafe, society cannot plead "Not guilty." Locally, it must be allocated, and so the city nearest the victim has the crime imputed to it. The sense of guilt is distributed territorially, and the elders, or representatives of the people, are required to clear themselves by the special rite here described. Sin has thus wider relations than to the individual who has committed it. It may lie at the door of a city, or of a neighborhood, and in their collective capacity they may be required to deal with it.

II. THE DISTRICT THUS GUILTY THROUGH IMPUTATION IS MOST PROPERLY SUMMONED TO A RELIGIOUS SERVICE. It is surely a matter for general humiliation that such a crime could be secretly committed, and the murderer escape. It should lead to special religious exercises. It would be a very seemly thing if neighborhoods where great crimes have gone undiscovered were to unite in supplicating God's mercy, in view of the guilt thus contracted.


1. The violent death of an innocent and full-blooded animal. The cruel killing of the heifer was a repetition of the tragedy, and was well fitted to bring its guilt before them. Thus was a sense of sin deepened.

2. Its shed blood was carried away on the surface of the never-failing stream. In this beautiful, poetic way, the providential removal of innocent blood, did God convey the idea of removing the guilt from the district concerned.

3. Over the heifer so slain the elders were to wash their hands and protest their innocency. In this way the most solemn sanctions were associated with their plea of "Not guilty."

4. And they were further to intercede for the removal of the imputation against Israel. Only after this minute ritual had been gone through was the assurance of forgiveness pronounced by the priest.

IV. IN THIS WAY WE DISCOVER A TYPIFICATION OF THE PARDON PROVIDED BY CHRIST. And here we do well to notice, as facts incapable of dispute -

1. That people who are innocent have often to incur imputation along with the guilty. The children of evil-doers incur an evil repute, although they may be perfectly innocent. It is a law of society as at present constituted - the innocent are grouped with the guilty.

2. Jesus Christ is One who has voluntarily accepted of the imputation of sin, though innocent, and suffered in consequence. Just as the innocent heifer was paraded with the guilty district, and alone suffered because of the committed and undiscovered sin, so Jesus takes up his position in the sad procession, and is the selected, yet voluntary, Victim.

3. The Holy Spirit, as a perennial stream, carries the sense and sight of blood-guiltiness away. For, without the Spirit's help, the shed blood of Jesus might only increase human guilt; with his help it takes all the guilt away.

4. Those who wish pardon must not be too proud to ask for it. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." So have we the gospel vividly presented to us. - R.M.E.

If one be found slain.
"This narrative," says one, "sets forth the preciousness of human life in the sight of God." Dr. Jamieson believes this singular statute concerning homicide is far superior to what is found in the criminal code of any other ancient nation, and is undoubtedly the origin or germ of the modern coroners' inquests.

I. DISCOVERED IN THE LOSS OF ONE MAN. Only one missing! But God counts men as well as stars, and "gathers one by one." Ancient philosophy and modern socialism overlook personality, and legislate for men in a mass. The individual exists only for the race, has no rights, and becomes a tool or slave of society. Christianity does not belittle man, but recognises and renews individuals, exalts them to responsibility, and appeals to them for right. "Adam, where art thou?"

II. DISCOVERED IN THE INJURY TO ONE MAN. One man was missing, but he was murdered. His blood, like that of Abel, Was crying for justice. Society was wounded in one of its members. An inquiry was demanded, and the reproach must be wiped away.

III. DISCOVERED IN THE INTEREST WHICH THE COMMUNITY SHOULD TAKE IN ONE MAN. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Formerly heavy fines were inflicted on districts to prevent the murder of Danes and Normans by exasperated Englishmen. We are members one of another; related one to another, and none of us can turn away like Cain.

IV. DISCOVERED IN THE PROVISION MADE FOR EVERY MAN'S SALVATION. Christ died for one and for all. It is not the will of God "that one of these little ones should perish." If one sheep goes astray, the ninety and nine are left by the shepherd. He seeks the one that is lost, and its restoration brings greater joy than over all the remainder. "Dost thou believe?"

(J. Wolfendale.)

We shall endeavour —

I. TO EXPLAIN THE ORDINANCE. In doing this we must notice —

1. Its general design. God intended by this law —

(1)To prevent the commission of murder.

(2)To provide means for removing guilt from His land.

2. Its particular provisions: the victim, the death, the place; the protestations and petitions of the elders.


1. The importance of preventing or punishing sin.

2. The comfort of a good conscience.

3. The efficacy of united faith and prayer.

(C. Simeon, M. A.)

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