Numbers 35 says:
33 ” ‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.’ ”
Lots of interesting stuff here. I’d always been intruiged by the passage where Cain slew Able, and God talks about how the ground cries out with the blood. I’d never notice this passage. And while I suppose somebody could claim it’s all metaphorical, I think there’s something quite literally true and fascinating about the idea that our moral decisions somehow poison the physical world itself.
It’s tempting to veer into an NT Wright-inspired diversion about the physicality of the afterlife, and about the idea that our afterlife seems like it’ll be a redemption of this world, rather than a journey to some other one. But I think I’ll take a pass on that and instead go back to the Cain and Abel thing.
According to the passage in Numbers, The slaying of Abel was never atoned for. Unless there’s some tremendous story we’re never told, where somebody ignores the mark of Cain and kills him, then Cain’s blood never atones for the land.
I suppose somebody might suggest that this is some new rule for Israel. But there’s nothing that I can see in the text to imply this.
The question this leads to is “What does this pollution mean? Why is it bad?”
I’m not sure I’ve got an answer to that question.
And I’ve got this whole other thought.
Jesus tells us, ultimately, that wanting a thing isn’t morally different than doing it. Lust is the same as adultery. Hatred is the same as murder. Therefore, really, we’re all murderers.
And therefore, the land is polluted.
And it can only be atoned for through our blood.
We’re familiar with the general concept, that Jesus blood pays a price that we owe. I’d submit the same general formula is at work here. Jesus’ sacrifice cleared us of this debt, if we’ve allowed him to.
Yet we haven’t all let him. So the ground is polluted, still. Because all of us haven’t atoned.
And perhaps this is a part of the meaning of the kingdom of God. When every knee bows, when every tongue confesses, thorough atonement will finally have been achieved. The pollution will be cleaned away.