Abortion: Can We Wash Our Hands from Our Responsibility?

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by Reverend Anthony R. Locke

Deuteronomy 21:1-9
English Standard Version


1     “If in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess someone is found slain, lying in the open country, and it is not known who killed him,

2     then your elders and your judges shall come out, and they shall measure the distance to the surrounding cities.

3     And the elders of the city that is nearest to the slain man shall take a heifer that has never been worked and that has not pulled in a yoke.

4     And the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley.

5     Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to him and to bless in the name of the Lord, and by their word every dispute 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     and they shall testify, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed.

8     Accept atonement, O Lord, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.’

9     So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord.[1]

In America there are over 6,000 unsolved murders every year. From Governor Goebel who was shot in 1900, to the Boy in the Box in 1957, to JonBenét Ramsey in 1996, unsolved murders cause national suffering.

Until justice is served, the community suffers fear that a murderer is roaming freely in their streets. The whole community feels dirty. You wonder about your neighbors. The crime of murder brings a sense of crisis and there’s an urgency to find the killer.

God recognizes these social necessities built within the moral fabric of every civil society.

And for the murders that never get solved, God offers a way for the community to wash their hands of the affair and move forward.

Notice in verse 3 that the leaders within the closest city should feel the moral weight to deal with the injustice. Which ever city is closest. It’s their responsibility to deal with the matter.

Murder cannot be swept under the rug. It requires a public discussion and investigation. There must be a community response to handle the matter or the leaders become guilty too.

We know that the passage is about a murder because in verse one the person is found slain. Like the killings of Jack the Ripper, foul play was obvious.

Yet, despite all the evidence, and despite a careful examination of the body, no one knows who killed the victim. So God provides a process to handle this suspicion.

Notice in verse 2 that the person who finds the victim goes back to his own city and reports the matter. The burden to handle the matter is now squarely on the shoulders of those leaders.

Like the Penn State disaster, Joe Paterno could have shifted the weight to handle the matter to the University Board of Trustees by reporting what he knew. He could have shifted the weight off him to the city police by making a phone call.

It appears that he didn’t do what was required of him and he bore the shame and some of the guilt over what continued to happen.

The person who finds a body must go to the proper authorities. Now those leaders are tasked by God to handle the matter.

If the murder case is without a suspect, the city still cannot declare peace by just sweeping the facts under the rug.

The leaders from the closest city must conduct a proper investigation.

But how can you remove the dark mark of a murder when no one is caught?

That’s a difficult question to answer.

This passage provides the general principles for any community facing such questions, although these laws are uniquely for a Jewish community during the Old Testament period under the laws of Moses.

John Calvin commenting on this passage said that to not pursue any form of justice is to encourage murder itself through impunity and to implicate oneself in the guilt.

So the city leaders were to offer a cow that had never born the weight of any other burden. This beast was to carry the burden of a murderer. And that is a heavy burden indeed.

And the cow was to be taken out to an uncultivated area. Normal annual plowing was not to dig up the blood of this animal to keep reminding the city of the crime.

And holy men were to assist the leaders of the city in washing their hands over the dead heifer while confessing and praying verse 7 and 8

‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it shed. Accept atonement, O Lord, for your people Israel, whom you have redeemed, and do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel, so that their blood guilt be atoned for.’

They are confessing that they have not claimed the fifth. They are not withholding information that would be useful to solve the murder. They are asking God not to judge the city for this unsolved crime.

Imagine the holy water from the priests as it is poured over their hands and spills out over the broken neck of the cow while they professed their ignorance and innocence in the death.

And by taking the death of another human being so seriously, the city is spared being judged for this blood.

Verse 9 So you shall purge the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the sight of the Lord

Now that’s the passage. What is my application?

When the blood of another human being is shed within our community, then there is a moral mandate to act or we take some of the guilt to ourselves by our inaction.

Most civic and religious leaders in America over the last two generations are guilty in the death of millions of abortions through their inaction.

No one can claim to not know what happens inside a Planned Parenthood clinic.

No one can claim to not know who is murdering our children.

No one can claim to not know the horrific results of the Roe vs Wade decision.

Like the blood of Abel that cries from the soil, the blood of our children cries out to heaven for justice. And our hands are dirty, even if we didn’t do the deed.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth tries to wash her hands saying, “Out, damned spot! out, I say! . . . What, will these hands ne’er be clean? … Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”

This is the biggest issue of our time. The big elephant in the room. 50 million babies killed every year world wide. Over 1.3 million babies are killed every year in America.

And as Americans we have exported advancements in these evil procedures through our constantly growing technology to the rest of the world.

We should feel a heavy burden to force the uncomfortable public discussion that 50 million babies a year are killed. In 20 years that’s a billion people. It has been 39 years since Roe vs Wade.

Compare that with any holocaust or genocide in world history going all the way back to Adam and Eve. The Bible says that in the last days evil will grow worse and worse. We should have no doubt.

And we must pray that God would raise up leaders who feel this tragedy deep in their bones.

This wouldn’t be unprecedented. Our current president feels the injustice of slavery. America spent over 700,000 lives to rid our land of slavery during the Civil War. Our country now exports liberty. We have never exported slavery to other cultures.

Yet our current political leadership still feels the weight of our past sin of slavery. What more can we do? We went to war with ourselves. We repented. We changed our laws. Our whole land suffered for this sin. And now our political leaders want to keep our guilt alive by throwing it back into our face?

How many times will our President ask forgiveness for the sins of American while in foreign countries?

So if it is possible for a national leader to feel the weight of one sin, why not another?

We should pray to God that our political leadership feels the burden of our collective moral failure to stop the murder of children. Our hands are bloodied. Our consciences are not clear.

As Pilate cannot wash away the innocent blood of Jesus from his hands, so we cannot wash away the smell of children’s blood from our hands. We are joined together in the American experience and we stand guilty.

Real social justice demands a community response. We must force the conversation. How?

Repentance. And it must begin at the household of God. The more genuine our repentance, the more comprehensive our repentance, the more the world will be challenged to do the same.

The power to change a culture always resides in the hands and hearts of Christian people. We need revival and renewal within the church which always results in a more moral culture.

So to the question of my sermon. Can we wash our hands clean?

We can’t. Jesus can. The blood of Jesus was spilled so our blood might not be required by the holy justice of God Almighty.

There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood loose all their guilty stains.

We cannot claim ignorance, but we can receive forgiveness.

No one here this morning, including myself, could have God pour out holy water over their hands while they wash them clean of this iniquity and profess that Our hands did not shed this person’s blood, nor did we see it happen. Praying O Lord, forgive your people whom you have redeemed. Do not charge your people with the guilt of murdering an innocent person.

We as a community are guilty of murdering innocent lives. We must help stop it.

We know the people who are doing this. They are our neighbors and our health care providers. Certain politicians pass laws to sustain these crimes. We must not vote for them.

People within our city are committing this terrible crime. We need to stay shocked.

We call Herod a monster for killing thousands of babies while trying to kill baby Jesus. Yet, we vote into office political leaders who support and sustain a monstrous evil. Over a billion babies killed since the Roe Wade decision.

Can we really expect God not to judge us as a culture? Can we escape God’s wrath? Probably not.

Can we wash our conscience clean? Only if we repent and become active within our culture to reverse this terrible evil. We are living in days similar to the rise of Hitler. The church can’t stay silent and be considered good. We must keep trying to initiate the public conversation for the good of America and the glory of God.

Only then can we claim a peaceful sleep at night.

Does this mean that we are judging our neighbor? No. Jesus is the only person with the moral authority to judge us for our sin. We are acting in accordance with God’s Commandments and treating murder as a serious matter which must be denounced publicly if we are to remain a civil and moral culture.

The good news is that our Judge took pity on our souls. He became flesh that He might take our guilt and shame, bear the burden of our condemnation and on Calvary shed His blood for our salvation.

God offers mercy to the repentant soul. God’s grace is sufficient to remove from the soul the burden of a billion babies, and more.

Jesus said Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. May we find rest in God’s mercy and grace.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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