Forgiveness is Putting Away Guilt

“Forgiveness is Putting Away Guilt”

Deuteronomy 21:1-19

Christ has satisfied the wrath of God on sin which covers over lingering guilt of past sin.

Sin Contaminates Everything

Christ Cleanses Consciousness


Sin Contaminates Everything

Deuteronomy 21:1-4, NKJV

1 “If anyone is found slain, lying in the field in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who killed him, 2 then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance from the slain man to the surrounding cities. 3 And it shall be that the elders of the city nearest to the slain man will take a heifer which has not been worked and which has not pulled with a yoke. 4 The elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with flowing water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and they shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley.       

            In the instruction the Lord is giving to His people as they prepare to enter into the land that He had promised to them, God makes it a point to help them know how to deal with even the things which should not happen in any society. The Lord through Moses is informing the people what to do in the case of an unsolved murder. Many who are not familiar with Scripture believe it to be an impractical book containing instructions on religious ceremonials and ancient laws that have no bearing on the present day. The Word of God is filled with literally everything that a person needs to know about human psychology, ethical business practices, and every kind of way to handle whatever a person will encounter during their lifetime.

            God never ignores the reality of sin and the problems it causes for individuals and society as a whole. For instance, murder has been present in the world and will continue to be a daily occurrence until sin is eliminated in the creation of the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 66:22; Revelation 21:1). The first recorded act of sin after the spiritual suicide of Adam and Eve in their rebellion against God which allowed death to enter into God’s creation is Cain killing his brother Abel. “8 Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him” (Genesis 4:8, NKJV).

            God dealt with Cain by placing a curse upon him that separated him out away from other people and prevented others from taking vengeance on behalf of Abel. There are times when it appears like the murderer escapes justice of the authority the Lord has established in the world through human government. Those who take the life of another in the act of murder will never escape the justice of God even though they are never identified by human government authorities. This is why God provides a way to deal with the guilt attached to murder that is unsolved and void of closure for communities.

            God begins with “If anyone is found slain…” This implies that all human life is of equal value in spite of age, gender, status, title, or location. God’s command and ideal for people is not to kill one another, but to treat one another with respect and dignity. This is seen in the last six of the Ten Commandments,

16 ‘Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

17 ‘You shall not murder.

18 ‘You shall not commit adultery.

19 ‘You shall not steal.

20 ‘You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

21 ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his male servant, his female servant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’ (Deuteronomy 5:16-21, NKJV)

These commandments of God are affirmed and expounded upon in the social laws God has given to mankind to reinforce the preciousness of all human life.

32 ‘You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord.

33 ‘And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. 34 The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

35 ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. 36 You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:32-36, NKJV)

            Life is precious and valuable in God’s sight. This does not mean that death did not exist prior to the sin of Adam and Eve; it merely means death was a reality God protected and spared people from in His grace and mercy. Death was something God never intended mankind to experience. Death is a reality for mankind due to the rebellion against God and lack of trust in Him. Sin was revealed and brought death into the perfection of God’s creation of harmony and glory for people to experience loss, pain, frustration, and separation.

            Those who break God’s law experience the guilt of disobedience by being out of sync with God’s established order. Guilt causes people to hide their deed (Genesis 3:8), justify their actions by giving reasons why they should not be punished (1 Samuel 13:11-12), or attempt to silence all who know about what they have done (Jeremiah 18:18). The idea of putting away guilt is more than removing feelings and thoughts that plague people after their iniquity; it is the idea of bringing restoration and harmony between God and His people and His creation again. The death of a person found murdered and lying in a field somewhere defiles the land and the community that is nearby where the body is slain. Sin has drastic effects on people and property spiritually that goes unnoticed by most people; yet it displays itself by spiritual darkness in that place where human life has been taken.

            The incident God refers to in this portion of Scripture is a hypothetical instance where someone who is guilty of murder cannot be found which leaves the guilt of the murder upon the people of the nearest town. The people of the town may have had nothing at all to do with the person found in the field or had any connection with their death. God in His sovereignty knows who the guilty person(s) is even though the person who committed the murder is never found by human authorities.

            It might seem unfair to many who read this passage in a western context; yet it is the consequences of sin that must be dealt with in the land and in the hearts and minds of God’s people. Therefore, God instructs them in this ceremony to remove their guilt and remember their underserved forgiveness of God.

            A heifer, a cow who has never born a calf, that has never been worked or had a yoke placed upon it was to be brought down to a place where there was some kind of running water which has never been plowed. The requirements of the location where the heifer was to have its neck broken was set apart from where people lived and unusable for agriculture. The land and heifer in this sense represented innocence. The heifer’s blood was not spilt so it was a peace offering to the Lord rather than a blood sacrifice before Him.

            This ceremony was to provide the people with an understanding that atonement had to be made by someone in the case of murder. The Lord gave instructions previously concerning the person found guilty of manslaughter and murder, “4 …Whoever kills his neighbor unintentionally, not having hated him in time past… 5 …he shall flee to one of these cities and live; 6 lest the avenger of blood, while his anger is hot, pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and kill him, though he was not deserving of death, since he had not hated the victim in time past…11 “But if anyone hates his neighbor, lies in wait for him, rises against him and strikes him mortally, so that he dies…12 …deliver him over to the hand of the avenger of blood, that he may die. 13 Your eye shall not pity him, but you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from Israel, that it may go well with you (Deuteronomy 19:4-6, 11-13, emphasis added; see also Numbers 35:9-24).

            In regards to manslaughter and murder the one who committed the murder is known and dealt with according to their intentions. The one who intentionally kills another will be killed by the “avenger of blood.” This person would be the nearest male relative of the victim. The one who killed someone unintentionally would be confined to the city of refuge he was able to escape until the death of the high priest (Numbers 35:25-28). The ceremony of killing the heifer was the way in which atonement was made for the people and the land. Atonement was made to remove the harmony that was broken between the people and God and the people and the land due to the shedding of innocent blood.

            Forgiveness is putting away guilt in the sense of making restoration of the fellowship with God that existed prior to the sin that was committed. The feeling of guilt which a person experiences is the sensitivity to rebelling against the will of God and falling out of fellowship with Him and His established order in creation. The presence of forgiveness heightens a person’s sensitivity to their fellowship with the Lord. The more mature a person is the more offensive even the slightest infraction or disobedience is for the child of God. The absence of forgiveness makes the heart dull and unaffected by sin as if their heart was seared with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

Christ Cleanses Consciousness

Deuteronomy 21:5-9, NKJV

5 Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to bless in the name of the Lord; by their word every controversy and every assault shall be settled. 6 And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley. 7 Then they shall answer and say, ‘Our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it. 8 Provide atonement, O Lord, for Your people Israel, whom You have redeemed, and do not lay innocent blood to the charge of Your people Israel.’ And atonement shall be provided on their behalf for the blood. 9 So you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord.      

            The role of the priests was to serve as witnesses to the ceremony. The elders broke the neck of the heifer, washed their hands over it, and proclaimed their innocence. God is specific in how He describes the position of the priesthood among the tribe of Levi, “5 …the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to bless in the name of the Lord; by their word every controversy and every assault shall be settled” (Deuteronomy 21:5, NKJV).

            This proclamation by God, that the priests have the final say in judgment, is one that cannot be made as merely a reference to what God had commanded the people earlier,

8 “If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. 9 And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. 10 You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. 11 According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you. 12 Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel. 13 And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously. (Deuteronomy 17:8-13, NKJV)

Even in the body of Christ this authority is given to the elders to be able to judge things among followers of Christ. Jesus instructed those who were having disputes, “15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church…” (Matthew 18:15-17, NKJV).

            Paul questioned the Corinthian believers, “1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (1 Corinthians 6:1-2, NKJV). In Acts it was the elders of the Church who made the final judgment on what Gentile believers were responsible to observe (Acts 15:6-22). The qualifications for bishops and deacons in           1 Timothy 3:1-13 and elders in Titus 1:5-9 is so strenuous because of the responsibilities for making sound judgments according to God’s will through His Word.

            There must be some authority that is respected and trusted to have a final word or disputes will continue on without resolve. God provided the priesthood as a means to provide the final judgment that would be respected among His people to settle “every controversy and every assault.” It is the task of the body of Christ to hold accountable the pastors, elders, and deacons who are in leadership to ensure their lives are being lived with integrity before the Church and those who are in the community. It is the pastors, elders, and deacons responsibility to demonstrate godly wisdom and judgments that are consistent with the Word of God and His character.

            When the leaders and the entire body of Christ work together in harmony, Christ is lifted up and unity is broadcast as a powerful testimony to the authority and presence of Christ in His people. There can be no resolution, peace, unity, and harmony in matters of controversy where there is no clear answer that will satisfy people.

            The hypothetical case of an unsolved murder would have caused suspicion to be upon strangers; fear to be in that area of the murder, and the devil to whisper superstitious thoughts into the minds of the community. The ceremony of atonement designed by God allowed for the people to come to closure over the violent act that took place and cleanse the land of the disharmony it suffered from this sin. The consciousness of the people would have been freed from the fear and doubt of the matter so it would not be a hindrance in the worship of God because they dealt with the matter as God prescribed from them to do.

            The elements of the ceremony described here by God shows the elements of the work of Christ who would in the future bring the reconciliation between God and mankind. The heifer was spotless and innocence which was represented in its virginity and inexperience of being worked. This animal died in place of the one who committed the murder; the innocence suffered in the place of the guilty. This is a beautiful picture of Christ dying for the sins committed by people who have done so intentionally, unintentionally, and unknowingly. This calls to remembrance of what John was inspired to write in his first letter to the believers after his Gospel writings, “8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10, NKJV).

            The place where the ceremony was to take place also had significance. The flowing water represented the washing away of sin. It symbolized God removing the guilt of the people away farther than they could see as the water continued on its course. The land itself was set apart. It was not tilled or lived upon by anyone and knowing only the rest of its Creator. The idea of the land having rest and being unspoiled is seen in the commands and warnings God gives His people,

4 but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard…

33 I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you;

your land shall be desolate and your cities waste.

34 Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate and you are in your enemies’ land;

then the land shall rest and enjoy its Sabbaths.

35 As long as it lies desolate it shall rest—

for the time it did not rest on your Sabbaths when you dwelt in it. (Leviticus 25:4, 26:33-35).

            The elders breaking the neck of the animal was a sign of responsibility accepted by the whole community which the leaders represent. Leadership carries the responsibility for what happens in the community in which they lead. The priests come and hear the confession of the elders as God’s representatives who have been “chosen them to minister to Him and to bless in the name of the Lord” by affirming their innocence as they wash their hands over the animal. Washing their hands over the animal who died on behalf of the guilty symbolizes they had nothing to do with or knowledge of the murderer. All this was in order to “…put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 21:9, NKJV).

            Jesus did more than merely “put away the guilt”; He has completely restored people in Himself through His atoning sacrifice. The guilt that causes God’s people to be out of fellowship with their Lord has been put away from the children of God. They are justified before the Father through the righteousness of Christ blood that was shed on their behalf and have been washed by the acceptance of His sacrifice on their behalf.

            Feelings of guilt are good because they reveal sin in our lives that is both intentional, unintentional, and completely recognized to those in Christ. Guilt should cause the people of God to run into the arms of the Lord by the power of the Spirit. When they do, the guilt must be put away and not lingered on for the forgiveness of God brings restoration of fellowship to the believer who has fallen into sin regardless of how they arrived there. Guilt remains when we forget what forgiveness brings about in the child of God’s life.

9 …Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, NKJV)

19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22, NKJV)

            There is no reason for the children of God to carry around guilty feelings about the past when they have accepted the forgiveness of God through faith in Christ, having confessed their sin to God and trusting in Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Forgiveness is putting away the guilt and not allowing the devil to constantly remind us of what God has chosen to forget about because of the work of Christ on our behalf.

            Therefore, let the body of Christ be free of the weight of guilt and replace it with the joy of the Lord as they live in harmony with the order God has established in His creation. In this way the Church will reveal God’s glory, character and presence as we live in the forgiveness of our sins Christ has provided for us.

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