You Shall Not Murder

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Exodus 20:13

INTRODUCTION: We are studying The Ten Commandments for Today, and today we come to the sixth commandment, which simply says,

“You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)

How many murders did you see this week? Your first response would probably be, “None,” but think again. How much TV did you watch this week? Did you know that the average child in America will watch 8,000 murders on TV before finishing elementary school and view 200,000 violent acts on TV by the age of 18? (Television and Health) Don’t worry, I’m not coming down against murder mysteries, or movies or television this morning, although those are sobering statistics. Actually, one of the reasons murder figures so prominently in our entertainment choices today is because it is such a terrible thing. And so it easily creates a powerful backdrop to a story.

Murder is widely recognized as one of the gravest sins a person can commit. In fact, some people seem to view murder as the gold standard for sin. They often use it to try and excuse themselves for lesser sins. When confronted with their sinful nature, people often say, “Well, it’s not like I’m a murderer or anything.” Maybe. Maybe not. Murder is one of the oldest sins known to mankind. It began with Cain and Abel, the very first children born into the world, and it continues today. This morning we will look at what the Bible says about the sixth commandment and see if, just possibly, we may indeed be guilty of murder.

I. The meaning of murder (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17)

Let’s begin by talking about the meaning of murder. First of all, the word translated “murder” in the sixth commandments refers to the taking of human life. The Hebrew language has a different word for just “kill.” This is important because some people teach that the sixth commandment forbids the taking of any life, animal or human. For example, Seventh-Day Adventists use this command, along with other Scriptures, to require vegetarianism. Actually, the killing of animals for food was approved by God following the flood. (Genesis 9:1-3) So the sixth commandment does not apply to swatting a mosquito or squashing a cockroach. Murder is the taking of human life, not animal life.

Secondly, murder requires intention or premeditation. For example, listen to this description from Exodus 21: “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.” (Exodus 21:12-14)

What is interesting in the Bible is that it is not just the intention to kill that makes it murder, but even an intention to harm that results in killing. For example in Numbers 35 we read: “If a man strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a stone in his hand that could kill, and he strikes someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death. Or if anyone has a wooden object in his hand that could kill, and he hits someone so that he dies, he is a murderer; the murderer shall be put to death … If anyone with malice aforethought shoves another or throws something at him intentionally so that he dies or if in hostility he hits him with his fist so that he dies, that person shall be put to death; he is a murderer.” (Numbers 35:16-21) Note that it is the intention to harm that marks the murderer in these verses. He may or may not have intended to kill, but if out of hatred or enmity he uses a deadly object or deadly force that actually kills the other person, then he is a murderer.

The Bible distinguishes carefully between:

  1. murder, which is killing with intent (Exodus 21:12-14; Numbers 35:16-21)
  2. manslaughter, which is killing due to negligence (Exodus 21:28-30; Deuteronomy 22:8)
  3. accidental killing (Numbers 35:22-25; Deuteronomy 19:4-5; Joshua 20:2-3), and
  4. killing in self-defense (Exodus 22:2; Jeremiah 2:34-35)

Finally, murder is a matter of private morality. It is a different issue from capital punishment and war. Does the Bible teach capital punishment for today? Some say no, that it was just part of the Mosaic Law, and then it was not just for murderers, but also for adulterers and rebellious teenagers! However, we first read about capital punishment in the book of Genesis. The events of Genesis come before the Mosaic Law and give a creational foundation for capital punishment. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Genesis 9:6) Because man is created in God’s image, one man’s life is forfeit when he intentionally takes the life of another.

Of course capital punishment is a difficult issue today. It raises all sorts of questions relating to mercy, justice, deterrence, reformation and forgiveness. There is the related question of determining guilt. It would be horrible to execute someone who was innocent of murder. And then there is also the question of race and class in our country. Statistics show that a greater percentage of blacks and poor are actually executed than white and wealthy. All of this must be taken into account, and yet the Bible does reserve a place for capital punishment. But this is different from murder because it is regulated by the state. Romans 13 says: “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:3-4)

Murder is also a different issue from war. It seems that war protesters are always quoting the sixth commandment, “You shall not kill! You shall not kill!” Now much of the killing that takes place in war is wrong, but the sixth commandment has to do with private morality and not the situation of war. The same God who said, “You shall not murder,” also allowed for war in certain circumstances. When it comes to war, we must extend the principles of self-defense found in the Bible. It is wrong to attack a nation unjustly, but it is not wrong to protect your family, your country, or your land. Capital punishment and the killing that takes place in war is not the same as murder. Murder is a matter of private morality rather than an issue of state.

II. The prohibitions of the commandment

Next, let’s look at the prohibitions of the commandment. What is forbidden by the command, “You shall not murder?”

1) Well, obviously, directly murdering another human being as we have been discussing is prohibited.

2) But the Scriptures also point to some other ways we can break this command, for example, accessory to murder. When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then discovered she was pregnant, he did a terrible thing. He arranged for her husband to be killed in battle, so he could take her as his wife and cover up his sin. What did God say to David when all was said and done? “You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.” (2 Samuel 12:9) David did not kill Uriah directly, but as accessory to murder he was just as guilty as if he had struck Uriah down himself.

3) Murder for financial gain is prohibited by this command. We read in Deuteronomy 27: “Cursed is the man who kills his neighbor secretly.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” “Cursed is the man who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:24-25) Some killing is not motivated by malice or hatred but rather by the desire for financial gain. It is still murder. So, if you’re a hit man for the mob this morning, cut it out! (I really hope that nobody here this morning is a hit man for the mob!)

4) Any intentional physical harm or injury is also prohibited by this command. The lesser sins are implied in the greater. God’s laws also prohibited physically harming another person. Leviticus 24 contains the famous “eye for an eye” passage: “If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.” (Leviticus 24:19-20) This applied to intentional injuries, and the punishment was to be regulated by the state, not by private revenge.

5) And finally, the sixth commandment prohibits all sinful motivations leading towards murder. Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” (Matthew 15:19) Murder begins in the heart. The band Daniel Amos has a song I like called “Horrendous Disc.” The first verse goes like this:

He turns the TV high, the walls are paper thin
He hopes the neighbor folks aren’t listenin’
He’s killed his wife with words, confident it’s private rage
When up goes the curtain and he’s on the stage.
You’re on the stage. God sees it all.
You’re on the stage. He has total recall.
It is an art hiding murder in your heart.
(Daniel Amos; “Horrendous Disc”; Horrendous Disc; 1979)

So, what does “murder in your heart” look like? Here are some of the answers we find in the Bible.

1) First of all, anger is one way to commit murder in your heart. It was Cain’s anger that led him to murder his brother Abel. The LORD said to Cain before the murder took place, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6)

Simeon and Levi killed an entire town of men out of anger and earned this prophetic deathbed pronouncement from their father: “Simeon and Levi are brothers – their swords are weapons of violence. Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.” (Genesis 49:5-7)

Jesus said in Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

2) A second way to commit murder in your heart is through envy. Joseph’s brothers were so jealous of Joseph that “they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.”(Genesis 37:18)

3) Hatred is another way to commit murder in your heart. 1 John 3:15 says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” (1 John 3:15)

4) And then, finally, revenge is a fourth way to commit murder in your heart. Romans 12:19 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

We have said that every negative command in the Bible has a positive corollary. So what is the positive corollary to the sixth commandment? Not only are we forbidden to take another person’s life, we are commanded to lay down our lives for other people instead. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And we read in 1 John: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

Have you committed murder in your heart, whether through anger, envy, hatred or revenge? If so, then you have broken the sixth commandment. Do you put other people before yourself, so much so that you would be willing to lay down your life for your brothers? If not, then you have broken the sixth commandment. Perhaps it is not so easy to get away with murder after all.

III. Reasons for the commandment

What are the reasons God has given us this command? Why is murder wrong? Let me give you six biblical reasons which when taken together clearly show why murder is wrong:

1) Human life is God’s gift to give and revoke. “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:10) God is the giver of life, and only he has the right to take it away.

2) Human life is sacred. Murder is prohibited because human beings are created in God’s image. We saw this in Genesis: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Genesis 9:6)

3) Human life has eternal value. Jesus said, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

4) Loss of human life brings grief to others. We read in the book of Acts how “godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.” (Acts 8:2)

5) Murder defiles the land. When Cain murdered Abel, the Lord said to him, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10) The book of Number says, “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.” (Numbers 35:33)

6) Murder is directly identified with Satan. 1 John says, “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother.” (1 John 3:12) Jesus said that the devil “was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). Satan is the thief who comes “to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10)

IV. Consequences for murder

What are the consequences for those who commit murder? The Bible speaks of four consequences.

1) Lifelong guilt and remorse. Cain cried out after murdering Abel, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” (Genesis 4:13-14) Proverbs 28:17 says, “A man tormented by the guilt of murder will be a fugitive till death.”

2) A shortened life. Psalm 55:23 says, “But you, O God, will bring down the wicked into the pit of corruption; bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days.”

3) The judgment of the court. We looked at Romans 13 earlier: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong . . . if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing.” (Romans 13:3-4)

4) The judgment of God. We read in Isaiah 26:21, “See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed upon her; she will conceal her slain no longer.” And we read in Revelation 21:8: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

V. Contemporary social issues

And then, finally, since we are talking about The Ten Commandments for Today, I would like to touch upon five contemporary social issues that relate to the sixth commandment.

1) The first issue is abortion. (Exodus 21:22-25; Jeremiah 19:4-5) There is only one real issue to settle in abortion: Is the fetus a human life? If so, then abortion is wrong. It is the intentional taking of a human life. At the same time, we need to understand that it is not easy for a woman who is in a crisis pregnancy situation. We need to do all that we can do as a church to help. That is one of the reasons why we support the Pregnancy Care center here in Springfield.

2) The second issue is euthanasia, often called “mercy-killing.” (Leviticus 19:32; 1 Samuel 31:4-5) The Bible commands us to honor and revere the elderly. People suffered in Biblical times, but it was never viewed as acceptable to kill them. When Saul was fatally wounded and suffering, his armor bearer refused to take his life. When a person is suffering, we should do all we can to minister comfort and manage the pain, but we should not take the person’s life.

3) The third issue is suicide. (Matthew 27:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17) Suicide is an example of self-murder. Suicide says, “God I don’t trust you to help me through this, and so I will choose the time of my death, not you.” G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Suicide is the refusal to take an interest in existence; it insults everything on earth.” Suicide is especially prevalent among young people today. Suicide is the second cause of death in teenagers after car accidents. We must uphold the sanctity of life and give hope to our young people. We must let them know that God has a plan and a future for them. Suicide is not the answer. God is the answer.

4) The fourth issue is embryonic stem cell research. Once again, we must apply the Scriptures relating to the sanctity of life here. (Genesis 1:26-27 and others) It is morally wrong to “harvest” and then kill human embryos for the purposes of research. Even if medical advances were made along the way, the ends do not justify the means. We would never justify killing infant children in order to advance medical research. There are better options available for research today that do not require the destruction of human embryos.

5) And then a fifth issue is human cloning. Please understand that if someone ever did succeed in producing a human clone, the clone would still be a human being, just like an identical twin. The problem with cloning is it is the wrong process to get there. Rape can also produce new human life, but it is morally wrong. The process of cloning is also morally wrong. What about all the so-called “accidents” that are created and destroyed along the way? Remember, it took hundreds of tries simply to clone a sheep. We cannot justify killing multiple human embryos in order to clone a human being. The sixth commandment tells us that we must respect the sanctity of human life.

CONCLUSION: So, now that we have studied the sixth commandment, let me repeat the question I asked you at the beginning of the message. “How many murders did you see this week?” Your first response would probably be, “None,” but think again. Unfortunately, the sin of murder is alive and well in society today. It also lurks deep within each of our hearts. When it comes right down to it, we are all guilty of breaking the sixth commandment. Let us come to God and seek his forgiveness through Christ.

© Ray Fowler

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