The Scriptorium

Unsolved Murders

Justice must be satisfied. Deuteronomy 21.1-9

A Holy Nation (2): Deuteronomy 19-21 (5)

Opening Prayer: Psalm 143.1, 2
Hear my prayer, O LORD,
Give ear to my supplications!
In Your faithfulness answer me,
And in Your righteousness.
Do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight no one living is righteous.

Psalm 143.1, 2
(Divinum Mysterium: Of the Father’s Love Begotten)
Hear my earnest prayer, O Lord!  Give ear to my pleas for grace!
In Your faithfulness and righteousness, look upon me with Your face!
Enter not to judgment with Your servant, Lord, with Your loving servant, Lord:
None can stand before Your Word.

Today’s Text: Read Deuteronomy 21.1-9

1. What did the people do in the case of unsolved murders?

2. Why did they do this? What did it accomplish?

A heinous crime has been committed in the countryside, and it cannot be determined who the guilty party is. Nevertheless, the crime must be acknowledged, and steps taken to atone for the loss of life and preserve the favor of God on the community.

The steps that should be taken are sufficiently clear that we do not need to rehearse them here. The result of this being done is that the guilt of the crime is removed, and the blessing of God remains upon His people.

Now, what’s the lesson here for us?

This legal protocol (vv. 1-9) should remind us that we are more sinful than we know, and that very often we commit sins in ignorance, for reasons unknown to us, or with consequences that can affect others adversely, but of which we may remain completely unaware. Such deviations can bring the discipline of the Lord against us (Heb. 12.3-11). This is why confession of sin and waiting in silence on the Lord are so important. In silence, the Spirit can search to discover to us any unknown sins that we need to confess and repent of, and for which some work of reconciliation or restoration may be required (Ps. 139.23, 24). As we confess the sins the Spirit brings to mind, repent and repair our course, all our sins are covered and forgiven as well, even those of which we may yet remain ignorant (1 Jn. 1.9).

Thus we put away the guilt of our sin by receiving the grace that comes from Him Who died for our salvation.

Treasure Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
My favorite part of the “Unforgotten” series on Masterpiece Mystery is the spoken rage by the cold-case detectives to the family of the deceased, and the promise that they will find the perpetrator. Some kind of justice for the victim and small peace for the remaining family. And here in Deuteronomy we see God, equally offended at the crime against Him, His horror over what has happened, and His determination that this murder shall be dealt with and His justice satisfied. Habakkuk said of the LORD, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Hab. 1.13). David also lamented over the murder he had committed, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight – that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge” (Ps. 51.4). And our God, Who finds sin so abhorrent to Himself, wanted those unsolved murders resolved.

But imagine one neighborhood sin of old, exponentially enlarged to include all of humanity! An overwhelming amount of sin. This could only be resolved by a Savior. All our cold-case sins are not held against us; they are imputed to Him. We can be reconciled to God because “He made Him Who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5.19-21). In fact, as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us (Ps. 103.12). And the most amazing part is this: Although we are unforgotten to Him, our sins, He says, “I will remember no more” (Jer. 31.34).


1. Why is it so important that we keep short accounts with God where our sin is concerned (Ps. 66.18)?

2. How can the daily practice of waiting in silence on the Lord help us to keep short accounts with God?

3. And when the Spirit reveals “forgotten” sins in our souls, what must we do?

God at length declares that He will not impute it to them, when they have duly performed this rite of expiation; not because the heifer was the price of satisfaction to propitiate God, but because in this way they humbly reconciled themselves to Him, and shut the door against murders for the time to come. On this account it is said ― "Thou shalt put away the blood from among you;" for if the murder be passed over without observation, there remains a blot upon the people, and the earth itself, in a manner, stinks before God.
John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Deuteronomy 21.6-9

Lord, keep me from all idols, and from every pagan and unbelieving way as I…

Closing Prayer: Psalm 143.3-12
Seek the face and favor of the Lord to cover any sins you have committed that are yet hidden from you. Seek His will for this today, to follow in the path of His Word.

Psalm 143.3-12
(Divinum Mysterium: Of the Father’s Love Begotten)
See, the enemy pursued my soul; he has crushed and cast me down.
He has made me sit in darkness, Lord, like those dead and in the ground.
Thus my spirit faints within me, Lord, faints within my weary soul,
and my heart is no more whole.

I recall the days of old; on Your works I meditate –
all the wonders of Your mighty hand, works both small, O Lord, and great.
Lord, my thirsty soul cries out to You!  To You, Lord, I reach my hand
in a dry and weary land.

Answer quickly, O my Lord!  Do not hide from me Your face!
For my spirit fails and I am like those who do not know Your grace.
In the morning let me hear Your steadfast love; Lord I trust You, show my way!
I lift up my soul and pray!

Rescue me from all my enemies!  Lord, I refuge seek in You.
Let me know Your will, O Lord my God; make me know what I must do.
Let Your Spirit lead me on to level ground; save my life!  Preserve my soul!
Rescue, Lord, and make me whole!

T. M. and Susie Moore

Listen to our summary of last week’s study in Deuteronomy by clicking here. You can download all the studies in the series by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy: Ancient Christian Commentary Series III, Joseph T. Lienhard, S. J. ed. in collaboration with Ronnie J. Rombs, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). All quotations from John Calvin from John Calvin, Commentaries on The Four Last Books of Moses Arranged in the Order of A Harmony, Rev. Charles William Bingham M. A., tr. and ed. (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1863. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore