Summary: The commandment against murder is a statute of liberty, especially in light of Jesus’ interpretation in the Sermon on the Mount.
“THE SANCTITY OF HUMAN LIFE”
The commandment against murder is a statute of liberty, especially in light of Jesus’ interpretation. In the Sermon on the Mount He said, “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). God offers release from the destructive anger that so restricts us in this age of rage.
The news is filled with murder, freeway snipers, gang killings and “drive by” shootings. This violence is usually motivated by anger. Bank robbers near here recently killed a teller in cold blood. What anger or passion could motivate such senselessness?
The violence of war is aroused by anger. World War I left Germany in shambles and its people were bitter toward the entire world. That anger eventually led to World War II. After the second war, the people of Germany erected a statue on the Polish border. It depicts a brooding a woman facing Poland. Beneath the woman is a list of the Polish towns that formerly belonged to Germany. With the list are these words: “Never forget, Germans, of what blind hatred has robbed you.”
I. WHAT THE COMMAND SAYS
The Hebrew word translated, “murder” refers to premeditated and deliberate killing. It points to specific acts of violence, rather than all forms of killing. The NIV translation, “You shall not murder,” is more accurate than the King James’ “Thou shalt not kill.”
Animals were killed as sacrifices to God, and to feed families. God never permitted human sacrifices, but subjected those guilty of heinous crimes to a death penalty. Even preceding the Ten Commandments Scripture required the termination of life. In Genesis 9 God said, “And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man” (vv. 5-6). A ban on all killing is not the purpose of the sixth commandment; it prohibits cold-blooded murder.
Exodus 21 offers clear instructions concerning a murderer and his punishment. “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” (vv. 12-14). Any killer could flee to a city of refuge for safety until it was determined whether he had killed by mishap or by premeditated murder. If he was innocent he could stay in the city of refuge until emotions cooled and it was safe to come back into society. If he was guilty of intentional murder, he was put to death.
Some today would deny the state its duty to bear the sword against murderers. The penalty of capital punishment for murder has been largely abolished under humanist pressure. The Bible teaches that capital punishment for murder is proper.
John Calvin taught that persons bear the image of the Almighty, and that God’s own Person is violated when human blood is shed. Therefore, “God so threatens vengeance against the murderer that he even arms the magistrate with the sword for avenging of slaughter.” The old commentator, Matthew Henry said, “Willful murder must always be punished with death. It is a sin which the Lord would not pardon in a prince …and which a prince therefore should not pardon in a subject. Such remains of God’s image are still upon fallen man as that he who unjustly kills a man, defaces the image of God and does dishonor to him.”
Capital punishment, properly administered, is not murder. It is a refusal to allow lawless people to take the lives of others into their own hands. It sets a high premium on life.
The human heart “is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). However good we may be, the danger of anger is the tendency of our hearts toward murder. The sixth commandment certifies the value God places on human life, while our culture gradually adopts the viewpoint that those who do not contribute are expendable.
II. WHAT THE COMMAND MEANS
Christ sharpens the commandments. If we say, “I have not committed adultery,” He asks, “Have you looked with lust?” We say, “I haven’t stolen,” but He questions, “Have you been generous?” With the sixth commandment we protest, “I am no murderer.” Again Jesus probes, “Have you been angry with a brother or sister?” Anger, and intemperate outbursts make you subject to judgment.