Abortion: Can We Wash Our Hands from Our Responsibility?

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 for every person to declare their alibi. 

God recognizes these social necessities found 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 by association. Why? Because sweeping a murder under the rug is itself a moral injustice.

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 the unsolved murder.

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.

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 shame and suspicion 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. These laws are uniquely for a Jewish community during the Old Testament period under the laws of Moses, but the wisdom supersedes culture.

John Calvin commenting on this passage said that to not pursue 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. See verses 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 promising they are not taking 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 is shed within our community, there is a moral mandate to treat that death seriously or we bear the shame of the unsolved murder and we communicate to the community that human life is a small matter. 

If you agree with that moral reality, that collective moral responsibility, then you have to admit that most civic and religious leaders in America over the last 50 years are covered in shame from the death of over 50 million abortions.

The problem is inaction. We are members of an immoral civil society that doesn’t treat death as a big deal. We go on about our day without an appropriate response.

No leaders in this culture of death can claim ignorance. Every adult not burdened to some sort of action bears the shame of these abortions.

It’s like the blood of Abel that cries from the soil. The blood of our culture’s children cry out to heaven for justice. And if God can hear the blood of Abel, if God calls Cain to account for his brother’s blood, can we not hear God calling us also to a spirit of repentance.

The problem is we don’t see the blood on our hands. It’s like Lady Macbeth. Early in the story she defends her actions and explains away her obvious guilt. Over time she goes mad trying to wash the invisible blood off 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 moral dilemma of our culture. 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.

As Americans we have exported this evil 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 40 years since Roe vs Wade. How much blood is crying out for justice? Can you hear it? How stubborn are the blood stains on our hands? Can you see it?

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. Americans are making that prophesy come true.

And we must pray that God would raise up leaders who understand the scope of this disaster, who feel the calamity, this
catastrophe deep in their heart.

A moral shift wouldn’t be unprecedented.

America used to allow slavery. We used to prejudge the value of a life based on the color of the baby’s skin. We don’t do that anymore. Our minds changed and we sacrificed 700,000 lives to rid our land of that evil.

We changed our minds and we changed our laws. We still feel the shame of racism. Political leaders want us today to feel that national shame even though 700,000 paid the ultimate price.

Some day in the future a generation is going to rise up and intuitively understand that a nation has to be morally bankrupt to unperson a baby because the mother doesn’t want the inconvenience of raising that baby. And that new generation is going to change our national conscience. That generation will cancel out of our national history those people who supported abortion. Monuments will be torn down. School names and street names will be changed.

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

How do we exclude ourselves from this collective guilt? 

Religious leaders and political leaders must conspire to perform a collective public confession. Verse 6 – all the elders of that city should wash our hands and testify that we do not support the shedding of blood. We don’t accept it as normal. We will not sweep it under the rug and we will not stop calling our culture to repentance.

Verse 8 we should pray do not set the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people.

Verse 9 we should purge the guilt of innocent blood from our midst, when we do what is right in the sight of the Lord.

And 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.

Of course, morality isn’t the goal. The goal is to turn our hearts to the Lord. Jesus can wash our hands clean. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! 

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

Let us pray O Lord, forgive your people whom you have redeemed. Do not charge your people with the guilt of murdering an innocent person.

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 this monstrous evil.

Can we wash our hands 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.

Does this mean that we are judging our neighbor? No. Jesus is the only person with the moral authority to judge. 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 shed His blood for our salvation.

God offers mercy to those who repent. 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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