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Avenger of Blood
BLOOD, AVENGER OF. Genesis 9:6 states the biblical law of equity that the taking of life by murder requires the taking of the life of the murderer as a judicial penalty. The OT recognizes in this connection both the function of the courts (e.g.,
AVENGER OF BLOOD (גּוֹאֵ֔ל, redeemer; fully, גֹּאֵ֣ל הַדָּ֔ם, redeemer of blood).
The meaning of the verb גָּאַל, H1457, is to loose, set free, redeem, vindicate; in the case of homicide, to vindicate the right of man to life, to free the land from the pollution that follows upon the spilling of blood without due cause. To avenge is not to seek revenge, but to take vengeance on behalf of someone, to redress a wrong by exacting from a wrongdoer satisfaction for an offense committed.
In the OT the go’el (Redeemer, Avenger) is one—usually the nearest relative (which “goel” consequently has also come to mean)—charged with vindicating justice either by redeeming family property expropriated or sold under constraint or (in the case of go’el had’dam, the avenger of blood) avenging the unlawful slaying of a family member.
The avenger of blood is a figure that appears in primitive justice. By ancient custom it was the right, indeed the duty, of persons (the nearest of kin) to avenge the slaying of a relative. This is perhaps why Cain feared for his life after slaying Abel (
Since individual blood vengeance was widespread in the Near E before the formation of the people of Israel, it is evident that Moses did not institute the custom. The Mosaic legislation did, however, recognize and allow it; the
Significant, however, is the fact that the Mosaic legislation did not leave the custom of individual blood vengeance unregulated. For one thing the Mosaic law made a distinction between accidental and deliberate homicide (
The Lord commanded Moses to establish six cities of refuge “that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there” (
Underlying this legislation is the general rule that a life is to be exacted for a life. Many Christians believe that this rule is a veritable principle and thus valid for all times. They consequently believe that capital punishment is an ageless and inviolable divine requirement. Other Christians believe that “life for life” is not a principle at all, and regard capital punishment as both inhumane and contrary to the gospel of love. Still other Christians, endorsing the principle of retributive justice, believe that capital punishment is permissible when effected through due judicial process, but that it is not mandatory and that, under the circumstances of our existence, it is not desirable. No Christian would today sponsor the ancient Avenger of Blood. See Cities of Refuge.
Commentaries on Biblical passages; noted, in loco.