Guilt usually incurred through bloodshed. Bloodguilt made a person ritually unclean (Numbers 35:33-34) and was incurred by killing a person who did not deserve to die (Deuteronomy 19:10;
Jonah 1:14). Killing in self-defense and execution of criminals are exempted from bloodguilt (Exodus 22:2;
Leviticus 20:9). Bloodguilt was incurred (1) by intentional killing (Judges 9:24;
1 Samuel 25:26,1 Samuel 25:33;
2 Kings 9:26;
Jeremiah 26:15); (2) by unintentional killing (See
Numbers 35:22-28 where one who accidentally kills another may be killed by the avenger of blood implying that the accidental murderer had bloodguilt. See Avenger.); (3) by being an indirect cause of death (Genesis 42:22;
Joshua 2:19); (4) a person was under bloodguilt if those for whom he was responsible committed murder (1 Kings 2:5,1 Kings 2:31-33); and (5) the killing of a sacrifice at an unauthorized altar imputed bloodguilt (Leviticus 17:4). The avenger of blood could take action in the first two instances but not in the latter three.
When the murderer was known in instance (1) above, the community shared the guilt of the murderer until the guilty party had paid the penalty of death. No other penalty or sacrifice could substitute for the death of the guilty party, nor was there any need for sacrifice once the murderer had been killed (Numbers 35:33;
Deuteronomy 21:8-9). The one who unintentionally killed another [(2) above] might flee to a city of refuge and be safe. If, however, the accidental killer left the boundaries of the city of refuge, the avenger of blood could kill in revenge without incurring bloodguilt (Numbers 35:31-32;
Deuteronomy 19:13). The community was held to be bloodguilty if it failed to provide asylum for the accidental killer (Deuteronomy 19:10).
In cases where the blood of an innocent victim was unavenged, the blood of the innocent cried out to God (Genesis 4:10;
Ezekiel 24:7-9; compare
Job 16:18), and God became the avenger for that person (Genesis 9:5;
2 Samuel 4:11;
2 Kings 9:7;
Hosea 1:4). Even the descendants of the bloodguilty person might suffer the consequences of God's judgment (2 Samuel 3:28-29;
2 Samuel 21:1;
1 Kings 21:29). Manasseh's bloodguilt and Judah's failure to do anything about it was the cause of Judah's downfall over 50 years after Manasseh's reign (2 Kings 24:4).
Judas incurred bloodguilt by betraying Jesus (“innocent blood,”
Matthew 27:4). Those who called for the crucifixion accepted the burden of bloodguilt for themselves and their children (Matthew 27:25). Pilate accepted no responsibility for the shedding of innocent blood (Matthew 27:24).