Where the world comes to study the Bible

The Sanctity of Life (Exodus 20:13)

Introduction

This is a message on murder. I am curious to know what kind of response this arouses in you. Does it sound boring? Perhaps you might wonder how anyone could make a whole message out of this topic. Or, perhaps you wonder why anyone would think such a message necessary. After all, who isn’t against murder? Some (foolishly) may settle back, feeling a little smug, and even more secure. Now here is a message that ought to make one feel that he has really arrived. If it were a message about anger, self control or self-sacrifice, that might be another matter. But for one who has not committed murder and is not thinking about it, shouldn’t he feel relaxed about this subject?

I must caution you about getting too comfortable. You see, the commandment prohibiting murder goes much farther than this. It condemns any attitude or action which might lead to murder. It also necessitates that we learn the principle which underlies this prohibition. And finally, it requires some positive action on our part, not just the avoidance of a specific evil, but the pursuit of some specific good.

My approach to the Sixth Commandment will be to consider the biblical teaching on murder through the Old Testament, and then through the New. We will attempt to define what murder is, its various types, and what is not murder. We will also determine the punishments for murder, along with the provisions God has made for some murderers. Finally, we will conclude by exploring the implications of the principle which underlies the Sixth Commandment—the sacredness of life, along with the positive actions which this commandment requires of Christians.

Murder in the Old Testament

We must begin our study at the creation of the world, and especially of mankind, for God gave man life in a way which sets him apart from all the rest of God’s living creatures: “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). God was more intimately involved in the process of giving life to man. He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. This is distinct from the way He gave life to every other living creature. I believe that it corresponds to the fact that God created man in His own image (Gen. 1:26). Since man is a reflection of God (created in His image), he is distinct, and thus the way in which man came to life was also different from all other creatures. Just as Genesis 2 set the seventh day apart from the other six days, so it sets man apart from all other creatures. In the passages which will follow, it should come as no surprise that since God gave life to man, man should not feel free to take life from any man (including himself). As Job put it, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away” (Job 1:21).

If what God joined together (Adam and Eve, man and woman, in marriage), man shall not separate (Matt. 19:6), since God gave life to man, man should not be the one to take it away.30

The first taking of life (murder) is described shortly after the fall of man:

And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you; you shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.” And Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, Thou has driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Thy face I shall be hidden, and I shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and it will come about that whoever finds me will kill me.” So the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, lest anyone finding him should slay him. Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden (Genesis 4:8-16).

At this point, I wish to make only a few observations which I think are important to our study of murder:

(1) Cain killed Abel because Abel was righteous and he was not. Cain’s sin manifested itself by his persecution of righteous Abel, whose sacrifice was pleasing to God (cf. 1 John 3:12).

(2) Cain killed Abel in rebellion against God. God had rejected Cain’s offering, but accepted Abel’s. When He saw that Cain was angry, God sought him out, urging him to do what was right, and to master the sin which was threatening to overpower him. When Cain killed Abel, it was a deliberate, willful act of rebellion against God’s encouragement to resist evil and to do what was right.

(3) Cain was punished for murdering his brother, but not by the death penalty, which would only later be instituted. Cain was forced to live in some way which did not require farming, since the ground was cursed so as not to produce for him.31 To keep any man from killing Cain, a sign was given to him and a sevenfold vengeance was promised to any who would slay him. Capital punishment, which was commanded later on, is specifically prohibited here. Neither God nor man took Cain’s life.

(4) It would seem that the shedding of the blood of Abel on the ground was related to the cursing of the soil, which made farming impossible for Cain. Later on, the shedding of blood will be clearly identified as profaning the land. Here, it would seem, this is implied.

(5) It was not long until one of Cain’s descendants became a murderer, and seems almost to boast of it:

And Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, Listen to my voice, You wives of Lamech, Give heed to my speech, For I have killed a man for wounding me; And a boy for striking me; If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Gen. 4:23-24).

(6) It is not until after the flood that capital punishment is prescribed as the punishment for the sin of murder. After the flood, when God killed most of mankind for their sin, God prescribed the death penalty for those who took the life of another human being:

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. And the fear of you and the terror of you shall be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.

Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man. And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it” (Genesis 9:1-7).

The relationship between this text and Genesis 1:27-30 is fascinating,32 but beyond the scope of our study, other than those matters which bear on the subject of murder. The important change to observe is that while murder was at least tacitly understood to be forbidden, here it is clearly condemned, and the death penalty is prescribed. Somehow this is related to some other changes which are indicated in the text. In Genesis 1:27-30, only plants and trees were viewed as food for man and beast. Now, however, it is stated that man can eat meat as well. What is the relationship between the ability of man to eat meat and the institution of the death penalty? What is the reason for capital punishment here? Why was Cain not put to death (nor were others allowed to do so), but now a murderer is to be executed? I have several suggestions, which might help to explain this change:

(1) The fear of man, which God put in the living creatures, now given for food, meant that the animals were given a defense and that man would have to become a hunter. Before, had man been given the right to eat meat, he would have been able to walk up to any creature and kill the defenseless creature. Now, the creatures feared man, and would flee from him. Man could eat meat, but only by becoming a hunter. Domesticated animals could be killed for meat, too, but were most often kept for the wool, milk, or some other product.

(2) Although man is given the right to eat meat, he must never eat the blood, but must pour it out. The blood of all creatures is thus set apart. In order for man’s life to be sustained by eating meat, blood must therefore be shed. Life is sustained by bloodshed. Man must come to have respect for even the blood of animals.

(3) The institution of capital punishment for murder also instructs men to have respect for the blood (that is, the life) of mankind. Man, who was created in the image of God, must not have his life taken by another man, unless, of course, it is as punishment for murder.

(4) Ultimately, God is progressively revealing the concept of blood atonement. What will later be taught more clearly is now revealed in very general and non-specific terms. Nevertheless, the way is being prepared for man to understand the concept of blood sacrifice.

Leaving Genesis (and incidents which may well relate to our study of murder33), let us move on to the Book of Exodus, where the Sixth Commandment is first given. Before turning to the prohibition of murder in the Ten Commandments, however, let us refresh our memory as to the man, Moses, through whom these Scriptures have come to us:

Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand (Exodus 2:11-12).

It is ironic that the one through whom the commandment prohibiting murder has come to us is, himself, a murderer. It is likewise ironic that when Cain killed Abel, he rejected any responsibility for being his brother’s keeper; when Moses killed the Egyptian, he did so thinking that he was acting as his brother’s keeper (cf. Acts 7:23-25).

In Exodus chapter 20 we find the prohibition of murder given as the Sixth Commandment: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). Here, there is neither a precise definition of “murder”34 given, nor is any specific punishment prescribed. This is due to the very precise, summary form of the Ten Commandments. Very shortly, however, the particulars pertaining to this commandment will begin to appear. We shall briefly survey the kinds of murder, the penalties prescribed for murder, and the provisions made for some murderers, as prescribed in the Old Testament Law.

Premeditated murder is punishable by death, while murder which was not premeditated (second degree?) was viewed as a lesser offense:

“He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee. If, however, a man acts presumptuously toward his neighbor, so as to kill him craftily, you are to take him even from My altar, that he may die” (Exodus 21:12-14).

Negligent homicide can also be as serious a matter as premeditated murder when one knows of a real danger, but willfully avoids doing what is necessary to prevent the death of another:

“And if an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring, and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death. If ransom is demanded of him, then he shall give for the redemption of his life whatever is demanded of him” (Exodus 21:28-30).35

In this case, while the death penalty is prescribed for the owner of the ox, it would seem that a ransom is possible, if such is the desire of the surviving relatives. The owner of the ox, however, is not in any position to negotiate about the price of the ransom that is demanded.

The Law goes so far as to distinguish between homicide which is justifiable and that which is not:

“If a thief is caught while breaking in, and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft” (Exodus 22:2-3).

By far, the most definitive treatment of murder and of its consequences is found in Numbers 35.36 Here, as elsewhere, there is a distinction drawn between first and second degree murder (first degree, vss. 16-21; second degree, vss. 22-28). The important truth which is emphasized here is the provision of cities of refuge for those who are not guilty of first degree murder (cf. vss. 6ff., esp. v. 15). Several things should be underscored regarding the cities of refuge:

  • These are cities set apart for the Levites (v. 6).
  • These cities are a place of refuge not only for Israelites, but also for the alien and the sojourner (v. 15).
  • There is refuge only for the one who has “stood trial” before the congregation, and who has been found to have unintentionally taken the life of another (vss. 11-12, 24-25).
  • There is refuge only if one remains in a city of refuge (vss. 26-28).
  • There is refuge until the death of the high priest, at which time the one who shed the blood of another may return to his home, without fear of reprisal (vss. 25, 28, 32).37
  • The reason why murder must be dealt with in such meticulous terms is that if it is not rectified in some way, the blood which is shed pollutes the land (vss. 29-34).38

This pollution of the land, along with others, is the reason why God will thrust the nation Israel from the land, into captivity.39 Thus, the Old Testament prophets will condemn the Israelites for violating the Sixth Commandment, along with the rest of God’s commands:

How the faithful city [Jerusalem] has become a harlot, She who was full of justice! Righteousness once lodged in her, But now murderers (Isa. 1:21; cf. Jer. 7:9).

Listen to the word of the Lord, O sons of Israel, For the Lord has a case against the inhabitants of the land, Because there is no faithfulness or kindness Or knowledge of God in the land. There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing, and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, And every one who lives in it languishes Along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky; And also the fish of the sea disappear (Hosea 4:1-3).

Unbelievable as it may seem, murder is even practiced by the priests:

For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me. Gilead is a city of wrongdoers, Tracked with bloody footprints. And as raiders wait for a man, So a band of priests murder on the way to Shechem; Surely they have committed crime (Hosea 6:6-9).

Before leaving the Old Testament teaching on murder and moving to the New, let me remind you that some of the great men of the Bible were murderers. In addition to Moses (the Egyptian), there is David (Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband) and King Ahab (who was great, but not godly), who killed Naboth to obtain his field (1 Kings 21:19).

Murder in the New Testament

The scribes and Pharisees felt that they kept all of the Law of Moses.40 Surely they felt innocent with regard to the Sixth Commandment. Jesus pressed for an obedience to the Law which went far beyond the precept which was stated, beyond the mere letter of the Law, to its spirit. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus extended the Old Testament teaching on murder:

“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the hell of fire. If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at Law while you are with him on the way, in order that your opponent may not deliver you to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you shall not come out of there, until you have paid up the last cent” (Matthew 5:21-26).

From our Lord’s teaching in this text, we can draw the following conclusions:

(1) It is not enough to keep the Sixth Commandment as a precept, we must keep the Sixth Commandment in a broader context. If we are to view murder as so evil that we never wish to be tempted to kill someone, we must deal with those attitudes and actions which incline us toward murder, if not dealt with. Some of these will follow.

(2) Anger harbored against a brother can become a motive for murder. No one will ever know the number of murders which were the result of anger, but the percentage of such cases would be very high. Jesus thus exposes the all too common emotion of anger as a motive for murder which must be dealt with.

(3) Viewing a brother as inferior, as worthless, or as a liability to society is a motive for murder. The terms “Raca” and “fool” are not just evil because they are names which we call another. These names betray an attitude on the part of the name-caller that the world would be a better place without those thus named. Many who have taken the life of another have done so thinking they have done society a favor.

(4) Irreconciled relationships and unresolved conflicts can lead to murder. The Lord applied His teaching on murder by urging His hearers to promote and hasten the process of reconciliation. Unresolved conflicts only intensify, sometimes to the point murder.

James adds one more ingredient which can result in murder: “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:1-2). He informs us that the lust for those things which bring us pleasure often bring us into conflict with our brethren. Worse yet, men sometimes kill others in order to enjoy the pleasures which they possess.

Elsewhere, Jesus taught who the ultimate source and promoter of murder is: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He said this of His enemies, the scribes and Pharisees, who were sons of the Devil, through whom He, Himself, would be murdered. Thus Peter could say to the Jews in his powerful Pentecost Sermon: “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14-15).

To those who murdered our Lord, the gospel was proclaimed. Some of these believed. One murderer was to become one of the greatest proclaimers of the gospel of all time: “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest” (Acts 9:1). It is Saul who, when he was confronted by the Savior on the road to Damascus, became a man who would willingly lay down his life for others. Murder must therefore be regarded as a most serious sin, but not an unpardonable sin.

Conclusion

Thus far, we have seen that murder was prohibited very early in the Old Testament. It was defined so that premeditated and willful murder was distinguished from that which was unintentional. Thus, the fact that a life is taken by another is not always murder, and even when we may call an act murder, there are still different levels of culpability. The Old Testament therefore prescribed differing punishments, depending upon the circumstances of the killing.

It is very significant in the light of the severity of the crime of murder to note the gracious provisions of the Law for those who unintentionally or without “with malice of forethought” took the life of another. The cities of refuge are, I believe, an evidence of the grace of God, and perhaps even a foreshadowing of the release which men would experience when Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest, died.

The Old Testament Law is also instructive in that it helps us to keep the sin of murder in proper perspective. Here is a sin which we place at the top of the list. What could be more evil? Perhaps a better question would be, “What may be just as evil?” If the severity of the punishment is a clue to the seriousness of the sin, then we should remind ourselves of all the sins which are punishable by death. These are:

  • Premeditated murder (Exod. 21:12-14).
  • Kidnapping (Exod. 21:16; Deut. 24:7).
  • Adultery (Lev. 20:10-21; Deut. 22:22).
  • Homosexuality (Lev. 20:13).
  • Incest (Lev. 20:11-12, 14).
  • Bestiality (Exod. 22:19; Lev. 20:15-16).
  • Incorrigible delinquency and persistent disobedience to parents and authorities (Deut. 17:12; 21:18-21).
  • Striking or cursing parents (Exod. 21:15; Lev. 20:9; Prov. 20:20; Matt. 15:4; Mark 7:10).
  • Offering human sacrifice (Lev. 20:2).
  • False prophecy (Deut. 13:1-10).
  • Blasphemy (Lev. 24:11-14, 16, 23).
  • Profaning the Sabbath (Exod. 35:2; Num. 15:32-36).
  • Sacrificing to false gods (Exod. 22:20).
  • Magic and divination (Exod. 22:18).
  • Unchastity (Deut. 22:20-21).
  • Rape of a betrothed virgin (Deut. 22:23-27).41

If we are tempted to feel smug because we have not sinned so greatly as to have committed murder, we must also see if there are any sins listed above which we are guilty of, and for which the death penalty has been prescribed.

To go one step further, in the New Testament, James seems to teach that it really does not matter which of the Ten Commandments we have not violated, for to have violated one makes us guilty of all: For whoever keeps the whole Law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the Law” (James 2:10-11).

For this reason, hell will be populated not only by murderers, but also by many other kinds of sinner: “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). In the final analysis, whether one is sent to hell as a murderer or as a liar, he is a sinner deserving of hell. There will be little status and no satisfaction in hell, knowing that you were not guilty of murder, as though this makes you a better sinner as a liar.

The implications of the Sixth Commandment are broad and significant. Let me suggest how you and I should respond to this commandment on different levels:

First, on the literal level, you and I do not have the right to take a life in any way which constitutes murder, that is, which deprives one of life whom God has intended and indicated should live. Certainly, I believe that this commandment prohibits a mother from abortion on demand, for the God-given life of the child in her womb is taken. Euthanasia, or more bluntly “pulling the plug” is called into question. Sometimes machines are employed to artificially sustain life or to unnecessarily prolong the process of death. To “pull the plug” in such cases is not murder, in my opinion. However, when one deprives an individual of the necessities of life (for example, oxygen or nutrition), this is very likely an act of murder. Outright, cold-blooded, murder or suicide is clearly forbidden by the Sixth Commandment.

Second, murder is forbidden in its seminal or formative stages. Jesus clearly taught that murderous thoughts and attitudes were, in effect, murder in principle, or at least murder in embryonic form. Thus, any attitude or act which could lead to murder is to be dealt with quickly and decisively. Lust, greed, hatred and demeaning prejudice (“you fool”) must be dealt with as murderous attitudes. Unresolved conflict and animosity must be quickly dealt with, so that reconciliation occurs. Prolonged hostility only increases the temptation to destroy one’s enemy.

Third, the principle underlying the prohibition of murder is that of THE SACREDNESS OF LIFE. Murder is sin and thus is forbidden because God has given life to man and has reserved the sole right to take it away. Even in cases where capital punishment is administered, it is done in God’s behalf, with man acting as the agent of God’s wrath (cf. Gen. 9:5-6; Rom. 13:4).

The sacredness of life demands far more of us than merely prohibiting murder. It demands that we seek to save the life of those who are in danger of death, those whose lives we are able to spare. It means, as many Christians have grasped, that we cannot stand idly by without attempting to stop abortion on demand. It means, just as much, that when a person is dying of starvation, disease, or natural disaster, you and I are obligated to do everything in our power to save their lives. It means that those political refugees, whose lives are in danger in foreign countries, may need to be allowed to find sanctuary in America, even though some jobs may be taken in the process and some economic sacrifices may have to be made by Americans to find a place for them.

Fourth, the sacredness of life underscores the urgency and priority of evangelism. Our Lord once said, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Death is a terrible thing, especially when it plunges one into a Christless eternity in hell. If death is something which we are commanded to prevent if at all possible, then surely the greater evil, to be prevented as a matter of highest urgency, is that of one entering into eternity without Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers to any who will trust in Him. It is not the “first death” (physical death) which is to be most feared, but the “second death” (spiritual death) which we must seek to prevent men from entering into without warning and the message of deliverance—the good news of the gospel.

Fifth, while the Old Testament commands us not to take the life of another, the New Testament calls upon the Christian to lay down his life for another. “Every one who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:15-16).

When Cain killed Abel and was questioned by God about his whereabouts, Cain responded, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In effect, Cain did not seem to think it was his concern, even if his brother were dead. When we follow the precedent set by our Lord, we not only find it necessary to be our “brother’s keeper,” but to be willing to do so at the cost of our own life. We are not only told not to take our brother’s life, but to lay down our own life for our brother.

This attitude, which is also described in Philippians chapter 2 as the “mind of Christ,” is that view of life which turns the Christian’s values upside down and the world’s values inside out. Once we have made the decision to give up our life for our brethren, we find it possible to put the interests of others above our own. We find it therefore necessary to “take up our cross daily,” dying to self, which is what the New Testament tells us the Christian life is all about.

By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God (1 Peter 4:15-16).

  • Self-defense values one’s own life above that of another.
  • Murder values one’s self-interests above the life of another—abortion?
  • Christianity lays down one’s life for others (Phil. 2)

As I conclude, let me suggest several clever ways in which we may try to avoid the application of the Sixth Commandment to our lives.

First, we may seek to apply this commandment as a precept, but not as a principle. If we, like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, see this only as a command not to kill another, we have generally made it irrelevant to our life, for few will actually consider killing another. If we understand the principle to be the sanctity of human life, the principles are profound and intensely practical. Let us think of this commandment as a principle, then, and not just as a precept.

Second, we may avoid this commandment by narrowing the application. The lawyer who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life was told that he must keep the Law (cf. Luke 10:25-28). Seeking to avoid all that this implied (v. 29), the lawyer asked the question, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). This was a very significant question, and our Lord’s answer was very pointed. You see, the Jew was willing to apply the commandments related to men to Jews, but not to Gentiles. He hoped that the kindness which the Law required was only kindness toward fellow-Jews. When our Lord told the story of the Good Samaritan, it was a Levite and a priest who failed to help the victim who was beaten. It was a Samaritan, a despised foreigner (whom the Jews would not want to consider “neighbors,” who was a neighbor. If neighbors included Gentiles, the Ten Commandments were a bitter pill for the Jews to swallow.

It is easy for us to be touched by the murder of innocent, helpless babes, still in need of the refuge and safety of the mother’s womb. But let me ask you, my friend, how do you feel when you hear of the execution of a criminal, or how do you feel when you hear of the death of a homosexual who has died of aids? If life is sacred, then we must seek to save the lives (and the souls) of all men and women, not just those who seem innocent, or helpless, or socially desirable. If we favor capital punishment because we value human life, that is one thing, consistent with the teaching of Genesis chapter 9. If we are delighted with the news of someone’s death because we disdain and despise the person, we are guilty of the very sin which the Sixth Commandment forbids.

Third, we can miss the point of this commandment if we stratify sin so that murder is the greatest sin and that lying or adultery or some other sin is somehow less evil. I do not mean to say that all sins are equally sinful. Surely it is worse to kill a person than it is to think about it. But when we make a sin (like murder) the worst sin, a sin which we will likely never commit, we often are only minimizing our own sins, which may be just as deadly, and are surely just as damning. Let us remember that James has told us the one who breaks one Law has broken the whole Law. Let us remember that men are condemned to hell for lying just as much as they are for murder. Often times the seriousness of a particular sin is merely the measure of its social acceptability. Let us view all sin as deadly and damning. Let us flee from all sin. And let us not deceive ourselves that there is any sin we cannot or could not commit, including murder. We need only remember king David.

May God give us the ability to grasp the sacredness of life, and to have an attitude of being willing to lay down our lives for the benefit of others.


30 Incidentally, at the beginning, it does not seem that man had the right to kill any animal. Then, it would seem, after the fall man could kill an animal for a sacrifice (since God killed an animal to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve). Finally, after the flood, permission was given to shed the blood of animals for food.

31 This is indeed interesting. Adam suffered the curse of the soil too, but only to the degree that he had to work hard to produce a crop (“by the sweat of his brow”). For Cain, the ground was doubly cursed, so that it would appear that he could not farm at all. No wonder he fled from Eden and his offspring built cities. As a friend of mine pointed out, his sentence was poetic justice. The one who would not be his brother’s keeper now becomes dependent upon his brethren, for he cannot grow his own crops.

32 For your further study, let me mention several important features of Genesis 9:1-7 when compared with Genesis 1:27-30. There is a deliberate attempt to show the similarity of the two events. In both passages, there is a new beginning. Also, in both texts God pronounced a blessing closely associated with the command to be fruitful and multiply (or was the blessing that man would be fruitful and would multiply?). In the first passage, God instructed man to subdue the creation, while in the second, God seems to have indicated that every living creature now fears man. Does this suggest that some aspects of nature may have changed after the flood, just as they did after the fall? We assume that it did not rain until the time of the flood; what other changes occurred? Finally, it seems to me that God frequently sets the example, which He then calls upon men to follow. God first sacrificed an animal, so that He could cover Adam and Eve with skins. From this time on, man apparently could kill an animal for sacrifice, as Abel did (but interestingly, not Cain). Now, God has put most of mankind and most of the living animals on the earth to death, in judgment of man’s sin. He then instructs men to put a man to death who sins by the taking of human life. Is there a sense in which every new command which God gives is preceded by an exemplary act of God?

33 Specifically, I am thinking of the slaughter of the Shechemites (Genesis 34) and the near murder of Joseph (Genesis 37, especially v. 18), both by Jacob’s sons.

34 “It does not say, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ but, ‘Thou shalt not commit murder’ (the verb rasah is a specific term for murder, and is never used of executing a criminal or slaying an enemy in battle).” “Crimes and Punishments,” G. L. Archer, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977), vol. 1, p. 1032.

Rasah is a purely Hebrew term. It has no clear cognate in any of the contemporary tongues. The root occurs thirty-eight times in the OT, with fourteen occurrences in Num 35. The initial use of the root appears in the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:13). … Much has been made of the fact that the root rasah appears in the Mosaic legislation, as though this term bore a special connotation of premeditation, as though the Decalogue only proscribed premeditated crime. This is not the case. The many occurrences in Num 35 deal with the organization of the six cities of refuge to which manslayers who killed a person accidentally could flee. Numbers 35:11 make completely clear that the refuge was for those guilty of unpremeditated, accidental killings. This makes clear that rasah applies equally to both cases of premeditated murder and killings as a result of any other circumstances, what English Common Law has called, ‘man slaughter.’ The root also describes killing for revenge (Num 35:27, 30) and assassination (II Kings 6:32). … In all other cases of the use of rasah [other than Prov. 22:13], it is man’s crime against man and God’s censure of it which is uppermost.” “Rasah,” William White, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. by R. Laird Harris; assoc. editors: Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), vol. 2, p. 860.

35 It is interesting to notice that the blood of the ox, that is, his death, is required, as well as that of his master. If a man’s blood is shed by either man or animal (or, as in this case, both), the blood of the killer is required.

36 Cf. also Deuteronomy 4:41-43; 19:1-13.

37 It seems to me that there is something prophetic here. A man who has unintentionally shed the blood of another finds refuge in a priestly city (that is, one of the cities of the Levites), and upon the death of the high priest, may return to his home with no more guilt or fear. Does this in any way anticipate the death of our Great High Priest?

38 “It is significant that in the case of unsolved murders a public hearing had to be held in which the elders of the community in whose borders the crime had occurred would have to take an oath of innocence and then offer a sacrifice to God with an accompanying prayer for forgiveness, lest their land should remain polluted (Deut 21:1-9).” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, p. 1032.

39 Generally, I hear people speak of the Jews as God’s chosen people, and that they own the land of Palestine because of their chosen status. The Scriptures substantiate some of this, but not all. The land is God’s, not Israel’s (Lev. 25:23; cf. Exod. 19:5). God thrust out the Canaanites because of their iniquity (Gen. 15:16), and He will also thrust out the Israelites if they defile the land by doing the same (Lev. 18:24-28). I understand Jacob’s dream (Jacob’s ladder) in Genesis 28:10-17 was intended to teach him of the sacredness of the promised land. Thus, the holiness of this land, as God’s dwelling place, necessitates that He cast out any nation (including Israel) which defiles it. One way of defiling the land is the shedding of innocent blood on it.

40 Cf. Paul’s words in Philippians 3:4-6.

41 This list is virtually identical with that provided by Walter C. Kaiser in his book, Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1983), pp. 91-92.

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin)