When a Murder Is Committed, but the Murderer Can’t Be Found

This is what you must do if you find a murder victim lying in a field in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. If no one knows who committed the murder, your leaders and judges must go and measure the distance from the body to each of the neighboring cities. When it has been determined which city is nearest the body, the leaders from that city must choose a heifer that has never been put to work and never worn a yoke.[a] The leaders of that city will bring the heifer down to a river, to a location where the land hasn’t been plowed or planted. At the river they must break the heifer’s neck. The priests, the descendants of Levi, must come forward. The Lord your God has chosen them to serve him as priests and to bless people in the Lord’s name. Their decision is final in all cases involving a disagreement or an assault. All the leaders from the city which was nearest the murder victim must wash their hands over the dead heifer. Then they must make this formal statement: “We didn’t commit this murder, and we didn’t witness it. Lord, make peace with your people Israel, whom you freed. Don’t let the guilt of this unsolved murder remain among your people Israel.” Then there will be peace with the Lord despite the murder. This is how you will get rid of the guilt of an unsolved murder by doing what the Lord considers right.

Laws about Marriage and Family

10 When you go to war with your enemies and the Lord your God hands them over to you, you may take them captive. 11 If you see a beautiful woman among the captives and have your heart set on her, you may marry her. 12 Bring her into your home. She must shave her head, cut her nails, 13 and no longer wear the clothes she was wearing when you captured her. Then she may live in your house and mourn ⌞the loss of⌟ her father and mother for one month. After that, you may sleep with her. Then you will become husband and wife.

14 But if it happens that you are no longer pleased with her, let her go wherever she wants. You must never sell her or mistreat her as if she were a slave, since you’ve already had sex with her.

15 A man might have two wives and love one but not the other. Both wives might have children, and the firstborn son might belong to the wife that the man doesn’t love. 16 When the day comes for the father to give his sons their inheritance, he can’t treat the son of the wife he loves as if that son were the firstborn. This would show a total disregard for the real firstborn (the son of the wife he doesn’t love). 17 Instead, he must recognize the son of the wife he doesn’t love as the firstborn. He must give that son a double portion of whatever he owns. That son is the very first son he had. The rights of the firstborn son are his.

18 Parents might have a stubborn and rebellious son who doesn’t obey them. Even though they punish him, he still won’t listen to them. 19 His father and mother must take him to the leaders of the city at the city gate. 20 They will say to the leaders of the city, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He won’t obey us. He eats too much and is a drunk.” 21 All the men of the city should stone him to death. You must get rid of this evil. When all Israel hears about it, they will be afraid.

Various Laws

22 When a convicted person is put to death, 23 never leave his dead body hung on a pole overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone whose body is hung on a pole is cursed by God. The land that the Lord your God is giving you must never become unclean.[b]


  1. 21:3 A yoke   is a wooden bar placed over the necks of work animals so that they can pull plows or carts.
  2. 21:23 “Unclean   ” refers to anything that is not presentable to God.