Biblical Principle #251: The Avenger of Blood

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Under the Law of Moses, in certain situations, God permitted innocent Israelite bloodshed to be avenged.


We previously established that, from GOD’s viewpoint, shedding innocent blood pollutes the land where that bloodshed occurs, and only the bloodshed of the guilty can undo that pollution.

An Eternal Truth

While this Principle is given strictly within the context of the Law of Moses, it is an eternal truth because GOD’s character does not change.

The first shedding of innocent blood was Cain killing Abel.

10 Thus God said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.

Genesis 4:10 OSB

The Orthodox Study Bible translation, here, underemphasizes GOD’s statement.

The Greek word in the Septuagint that the OSB translates as “cries out” is βοάω. It means to shout. I like the Apostolic Polyglot translation of Genesis 4:10, which says, “… The voice of the blood of your brother yells to me out of the ground.

As a parent, that wording brings tears to my eyes. The thought of one of my children killing the other out of anger is heart-breaking.

Think about this: According to Genesis 4:10, the effect of the shedding of the innocent blood of one man upon the ground “reached” GOD as like the sound of yelling that would not cease.

What is the most disturbing or annoying yell one can experience?

I thank GOD that I’ve never experienced many of the traumatic events that others, such as soldiers, first responders, and medical professionals can attest. But the first thing that comes to my mind is the cry of a newborn who can’t be comforted.

If each innocent bloodshed impacts GOD like an unceasing cry of a newborn would impact me, it becomes instantly clear why GOD said that bloodshed pollutes a land, and why He has always—and I believe will always—only tolerate so much pollution before He says, “Enough!” and cleanses the filth away with a massive purge.

Israel’s Avenger of Blood

We have previously established that an individual, referred to in Scripture as “the avenger of blood,” could kill an Israelite who was guilty of killing an innocent Israelite under certain circumstances, such as murder or manslaughter.

Interestingly, though, Scripture does not explicitly define who this “avenger of blood” is, at least not in our English translations. So we need a Biblical Principle to define this role for our reference.

In the Hebrew Masoretic Text-based New King James translation, the phrase “avenger of blood” is found 11 times; the word “avenger” in 16 total verses including the New Testament writings.

The first reference is Numbers 35:19, which we cited in a previous Principle on homicide. The Hebrew word there is גָּאַל, which means “to redeem; act as kinsman.”

The actual English translation of the Masoretic Text is:

19 The blood avenger shall kill the murderer; he may kill him when he meets him.

Numbers 35:19 (The Complete Jewish Bible)

The Septuagint Greek word is ἀγχιστεύων and the meaning, according to Apostolic Polyglot Translation, is “one acting as next of kin.”

In addition to the “avenger of blood” references, other passages where this same Greek word are found include:

25 If your brother with you becomes poor and has sold some of his possession, and his closest relative comes, then he may redeem what his brother sold. 26 Or if the poor man has no close relative to redeem it, but he himself becomes prosperous enough to redeem it,

Leviticus 25:25-26 OSB

8 But if the man has no close relative to make restitution on his behalf for the trespass, the restitution for the wrong shall go to the Lord for the priest, in addition to the ram of the atonement with which atonement is made for him.

Numbers 5:8 OSB

20 Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed is he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” And Naomi said to her, “This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.”

Ruth 2:20 OSB

13 Stay here for the night. And in the morning, if he performs the duty of a kinsman for you, we will let him do it. But if he does not wish to perform the duty for you, then as the Lord lives, I will perform the duty for you. Lie down until morning.”

Ruth 3:13 OSB

Okay, so it’s clear: The avenger of blood must be a close relative.

Yeah, but check this out.

3 Then Boaz said to the relative, “As to the field which was our brother Elimelech’s, which was given to Naomi, now returning from the land of Moab; 4 I said I would inform you, saying, ‘Buy it back in the presence of the inhabitants and the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am next after you.’” And he said, “I am here, I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi and from Ruth the Moabite woman, the wife of the deceased, you must take her as well, so as to raise up the name of the dead through his inheritance.” 6 And the close relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I ruin my own inheritance. You redeem my right of redemption for yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”

7 Now, this was the legal custom in former times of Israel concerning redemption, and for a bargain, to confirm every word: A man took off his sandal and gave it to his neighbor who redeemed his right, and this was the testimony in Israel.

Ruth 4:3-7 OSB

The word translated into English as “avenger of blood” also meant a redeemer.

The Avenger Could Right the Wrong

GOD’s just-ness required that the “yelling” of innocent blood be stopped somehow, eventually.

Under the first covenant with Israel, GOD used a close relative (aka “avenger of blood”) as His authorized means of justice. Their blood was closest to the blood that was shed.

Americans often say that two wrongs don’t make a right. That is true, but from GOD’s view, and even the government’s own justice system’s viewpoint, sometimes the same action that was committed in the crime (i.e., the wrong) is what is necessary, as punishment, to make the situation right (in terms of justice).

This Principle has significant application and connection to other Scripture and is a key aspect of the Bible story and life under the sun—and life after life under the sun, as well.

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