The Sixth Commandment

Exodus 20:13

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
October 2016

“You shall not murder”

Our topic today is one of the most famous of the Ten Commandments.  Everyone knows this one.  It is one of the shortest of the Ten Commandments.  It is only four words in English (“You shall not murder”).  Today, we want to look at four little words.  They are powerful words.  In some bibles the verse is only three words (“Do not murder”).  It is only two words in Hebrew (“No Murder”).  We are going to spend time talking about those two words today.

We live in a day in which life is cheap.  It has little value in the eyes of many people.  This commandment teaches that life is sacred. No human life is worthless.  It all has value in God’s eyes. Your life has value and the lives of other people have value as well.  Human life matters, not just black lives but all lives matter.  When you tell that to people in the black lives matter movement, they get angry but it is true. Jesus died for everybody.

Murder is one of the worst sins that you can commit.  Hands that shed innocent blood are one of the things that God HATES (Proverbs 6:16-17). Murder is not just a crime against society; it is a crime against God.  The Bible teaches that everyone is created in the image of God.

God has stamped His image on man.  When we kill someone, we kill that image.  An attack on man is an attack on God. Genesis 9:6 says, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind.”  When we commit murder, we play God.  We decide who lives and who dies.

God is the one who gives life and He is the only one who has a right to take life.  God sometimes gives people the right to take a human life (e.g., capital punishment) but we do not have the right to do that one our own.  Today, we want to look and see what the OT said about this command.  We also want to look and see what the NT says about this command.  What did John and Paul say about the Sixth commandment?  What did Jesus say about this commandment?

This is a command that is very relevant today.  Murder is found in every culture and people. It is as old as humanity itself.  The first child born on the planet was a murderer.  The first child that Adam and Eve had was Cain.

Cain, not only committed murder, he murdered a sibling.  He murdered his own brother.  That explains why mankind is so violent.  We have violence in our blood.  Murder goes all the way back to the first baby ever born.  Murder on this planet started with Cain and now it has spread to every nation, culture and race

We live in an extremely violent world.  We live in a culture of violence.  Before the Flood “the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11) and it is filled with violence today.  We live in a culture of death.  Now murder has always taken place.  It was violent but we live in a day that is different from any other period in history.  There are three differences.

Murder Today

1) Murder today targets the weak and helpless members of society

The most innocent of victims are targeted today. That is what suicide bombers do.  They inflict the greatest amount of damage to complete strangers who have no way to defend themselves.  A disturbed individual did the same thing when he walked into a movie theater and began shooting at random.

At Sandy Hook, we saw something similar.  A deranged psychopath walked into an elementary school and began shooting a bunch of kindergartners.  You can’t get much more evil than that.  Abortion also kills the most helpless and defenseless members of society, unborn babies.  They are in the one place you think would be safe and protected but not in America.

2) Murder today often involves large groups of people

The 20th century has been called the “century of genocide”.  Zbigniew Brzezinski was the National Security Advisor for Jimmy Carter administration.  He once made the comment that four humans alone accounted for the deaths of one hundred seventy five million people – Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Lenin.[1]  We have killed more people than at any other time in history.  Not just atrocities but mass atrocities.  We have mass murderers who have tried to kill entire races of people. Terrorists use planes or explosives to kill as many people as possible and to cause maximum damage.

3) Murder today is often praised by society

The Bible says that some people get to the point when they call evil good and good evil.  They call darkness light and light darkness.  They call bitter sweet and sweet bitter (Isaiah 5:20). In the Muslim world, if you kill a Jew you are regarded as a hero.  People celebrate in the streets.  If you are a suicide bomber and commit mass murder, in some circles you are told you are doing a good thing and are promised to be rewarded in the next life.

Jesus predicted that the time would come when anyone who killed Christians would think that they were doing God a service (John 16:2).  What we see today is more people committing the most barbaric and gruesome acts imaginable and having absolutely no remorse whatsoever.  They will chop people’s heads off and then post it online.  They are proud of what they have done.  They have no shame or remorse.

In America, people give all kinds of arguments to justify the millions and millions of babies killed by abortion, five-nine million since the Roe v Wade ruling in 1973.  The Final Solution in Nazi Germany only killed six million Jews.  Ten times more babies have been killed in America through abortion.

Pro-Choice advocates say that women have the right to choose but choice is not the issue.  A woman has the right to choose who she wants to marry, where she wants to go to school or where she wants to go to church.  She has the right to choose, just not the right to kill.  Abortion is not a choice, it is murder

A second argument that is often used is that a woman has the right to her own body.  Hilary Clinton used that one in a debate with Donald Trump. Is that argument valid?  People do have the right to their body but there are some limits on those rights. I have the right to my body but that does not mean that I have the right to walk up to anyone I want and punch that person in the face.  You cannot do anything you want with your body.

You can’t put certain drugs in your body.  It’s illegal, so you can’t do whatever you want with your body.  You can’t drink and drive. If you can do anything with your body, then you should not have to wear a seat belt but we have seat belt laws.  You can’t use your body for prostitution.  That is illegal in most states, so this argument that you can do absolutely anything with your body is a complete myth.  Even if there is such a right, it is not absolute.

There is another problem with that argument.  Even if a woman has the right to her own body, a woman’s body and the baby’s body are two different things.  They have a separate DNA.  They are genetically distinct.  They have a separate heartbeat.  They have separate fingers and toes.  They have separate fingerprints.  In some cases they have a separate blood type and in some cases different sexual organs.

The issue is not what a woman can and cannot do with her own body.  The issue is what a woman can and cannot do with someone else’s body. The woman has the right to her own body. She does not have the right to kill another body.

Kill or Murder

What exactly does this verse prohibit? Does it prohibit killing or murder? John Wycliff (1395) was the first one to ever translate the Bible into English.  He translated Exodus 20:13, “Thou schalt not sle (slay).” To slay means to kill.  Slay was later changed to “kyll” in the 1500s.

“Thou shalt not kyll” was the reading of the Tyndale Bible (1534), the Coverdale Bible (1535), the Taverner’s Bible (1539) and the Bishop’s Bible (1568).  That was the Old English word for kill.  A few years later, the OE word kyll was spelled kill. “Thou shalt not kill” was the reading of the Geneva Bible (1587) and the King James Bible (1611).  Almost all modern translations of the verse (both Jewish and Christian) read “You shall not murder”[2] and with good reason.

The modern rendering of Exodus 20:13 is a far better translation than the KJV.  The Hebrew word used in Exodus 20:13 (räh·tsakh) can mean “to kill”[3] but usually it means to murder[4].  That is the only thing it could possibly mean in Exodus 20.  The best way to find out what a word means is to look at the context.  Many people like to take the Bible out of context.  They pull a passage out of its context and make it mean something it doesn’t say.  Preachers do that as well.

The Sixth Commandment cannot forbid all killing because in the Law of Moses, you were allowed to kill animals for food.  You did not have to be a vegetarian.  In fact, you were allowed to kill animals for worship (animal sacrifice).  You were allowed to kill in self-defense.  You were allowed to kill in war and the punishment for breaking this commandment was death.

If the KJV reading is correct, then all killing is wrong.  Killing in war would be wrong.  Killing in self-defense would be wrong.  Killing animals for food would be wrong.  It would be wrong to eat a nice juicy steak.  It would be wrong to wear a fur coat.  Killing criminals would be wrong.  It would be wrong to put people to death, no matter how bad they are.  If this is the case, there would wrong to own a gun.  You might as well cancel your NRA membership.

All murder involves killing but all killing is not murder.  If you swat a fly in your house, you wouldn’t call it murder.  If something falls on a construction worker and he dies, you would say that he was killed.  You would not say that he was murdered.  Murder not only involves killing, it is intentional, deliberate and premeditated.  It is not accidental.  It is a criminal act.  It is illegal.  Swatting a fly is not a crime.

Is it a contradiction to be pro-life and support the death penalty?  This is a common question.  Killing a murderer actually upholds the value of life.  It protects society from deadly predators.  It says that the crime is so serious that it warrants the ultimate penalty that society can impose.  There is actually no comparison between the killing of an innocent baby through abortion and the execution of a mass murder by the state.  One kills an innocent person; the other kills a guilty person.

NT Teaching on Murder

The Sixth Commandment was a big deal.  Society was to be regulated by the law.  People who broke this law were to be executed.  In the OT, the punishment for murder was death.  The NT makes some interesting statements about murderers.  The Apostle Paul says that murderers will NOT inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).  The Apostle John makes two more statements about murderers.

I John 3:15 says that “no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (NIV).  Revelation 21:8 says, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. This is the second death.

That is interesting.  Committing murder is a sign that you are not saved.  Murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.  Murderers may escape justice on earth.  They may get away with their crime and never get caught.  They may fool everyone but, when they stand before God, their destiny will be the Lake of Fire (cf. Revelation 22:15).  They will not inherit the kingdom.

If you have committed murder, your hands are full of blood and you might feel like there is no hope for you.  You may be plagued with guilt feelings for what you have done.  You have the fires of Hell to look forward to after death but there is hope if you do one thing and that is repent, completely and totally repent.

God not only forgives little sins; He forgives big sins.  There is one unpardonable sin.  It is not murder.  Murderers can be forgiven, if they repent.  They can get saved.  They can even be used by God.  The Bible mentions several murderers who God used to write books of Scripture

Moses himself was guilty of murder.  He killed an Egyptian taskmaster before he hid the body and fled to the land of Midian and stayed there for forty years.  God used him and called him to an incredible ministry after this.   Paul was guilty of the blood of Christians who he persecuted before he came to faith.  God use him in an incredible way.  David committed murder while he was a believer but later repented and was forgiven for his sin.

Relevance for Today

Is this command relevant today?  Most people in the world are not murders?  They are not cold-blooded killers.  Does it apply to people who have never committed a felony? Most of us have killed before.  We might have stepped on an ant.  We may have gone hunting or fishing but we have not actually committed murder.  We did not bash anybody’s head in or stab anyone with a knife.  We have never strangled or tried to poison anyone.

Many of us do not even own a gun.  We did not shoot anyone.  We did not blow anybody away last week, like they do in the movies. We went the whole week without assassinating anyone.  This seems to be one of the commandments that we have all kept.  We have kept it but the NT takes this command to a whole new level.  The NT goes from the hand to the heart.  It goes from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law.

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

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. (I John 3:14-15 NIV).

The Apostle John says if you hate your brother, you are a murderer.  Jesus said if you are angry with your brother you are a murderer.  Most of us are like the Pharisees. The Pharisees were just concerned about the letter of the law.  They were just concerned about breaking the commandment on the outside and most of us are just like them. We think that we can get as close to the line as they wanted as long as we do not cross it.

That misses the whole point of the command.  The point of the command is that life is sacred.  Life has value.  Life is important.  If we treat people really bad, if we disrespect them, if we insult them, we are not treating their live as sacred.

We are demeaning them. Raca doesn’t mean anything to us. It is an Aramaic word. Jesus spoke Aramaic. If you wanted to insult someone in Aramaic you would call him “raca”. It just means stupid.  We insult people in all kinds of other ways today and do all kinds of name-calling. That violates the spirit of the law.

If we are full of anger and rage, that is what people are filled with before they kill someone, so we need to be very careful.  If we are filled with hate and there are many people that we cannot stand, we need to be careful.  Murder doesn’t just happen.  Something causes it.  Something leads up to it.

Hatred and anger are the two things which precipitate murder.  They are the root cause and they are both internal.  Murder comes from the heart (Matthew 15:19).  Murder is just the symptom of the problem.  The NT moves from the fruit of murder to the root of murder.  It looks at the thoughts that precede the action.

That puts the commandment in a whole new light.  It applies to all of us.  How many of us have an anger problem?  How many of us have episodes of uncontrollable rage?  How many love to insult people and denigrate them?  How many have someone that they absolutely hate and wish they were gone.  These are all warning signs for all of us.

[1] Zbigniew Brzezinski, Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Scribner, 1993), p. 17.

[2]Robert Young (1862), ERV (1881), NASB (1971), old JPS (1917), NIV (1978), NEB (1970), ESV (2001), RSV (1952), NRSV (1989), ESV (2001), NLT (1996), MLB (1958), CEV (1995) NCV (1991), GNT (1976), NKJV (1982), LB (1971), Goodspeed (1931), Moffatt (1926), new JPS (1962).

[3]E.g., Deuteronomy 4:41-42; 19:4-5; Numbers 35:6-31; Joshua 20:3-5.

[4] It is used of premeditated murder in passages, like I Kings 21:19; II Kings 6:32; Judges 20:4 and Job 24:14.

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