ESV - 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.
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The Revised Standard Version of the verse cited in the question reads, "Forgive, O LORD, Thy people Israel, whom Thou hast redeemed, and set not the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of Thy people Israel, but let the blood of guilt be forgiven them." The passage in which this verse appears instructs Israel in how to deal with the case where someone has been found slain in the open country (outside the boundaries of any city), and there were no witnesses to the slaying, or no way to identify the killer. In such an event, the elders of the city that was closest to the spot where the body was found were to take a heifer to the nearest valley with running water, and kill the heifer by breaking its neck. The elders of the city were then to wash their hands over the heifer's body, while testifying that their hands had not shed the blood of the person who was slain, nor had they witnessed the slaying, and asking God's forgiveness for the guilt of the dead person's shed blood. Thus, the atonement spoken of in the verse cited in the question refers to the forgiveness of the people of Israel for the guilt associated with the person's death, and is symbolized by the death of the heifer through the breaking of its neck, as a substitute for the punishment of death rightfully deserved by the unknown person who had committed the murder.
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