Scripture — Exodus 20:11
Subject — Thou Shalt Not Murder
Theme — A introductory examination of what it means to not murder.
Proposition — A introductory examination of what it means to not murder will begin to give us the lay of the land on what God commands regarding life and death.
Purpose — Therefore having considered the 6th word in a introductory fashion let us be diligent in upholding God’s cause.
Thou Shalt Not Kill — 6th commandment
Horizontal move — Is connected to the Vertical by virtue of the fact that man retains the image of God.
So to attack man, in ways murderous, is to attack God, since man is God’s image.
In this section of God’s Moral law we find the definition of love to neighbor.
Jesus said the summary of the law was to love God and neighbor. In what is known as the first table of the law we have learned what love to God looks like. In the second table our love to God reveals itself in or love to neighbor.
There is a relationship between love to God and love to neighbor.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
Of course this relationship explains why love of God always expresses itself in love of neighbor. If we do not love our neighbor we cannot say we love God and if we love God we cannot but help but love our neighbor. So, even though Jesus summarizes the law by reducing it to “love God and love neighbor,” we see that those loves are inextricably linked. Distinctions are made between loving God and neighbor but one can not be done w/o the other being done.
So, what this means is that if I have murderous, hateful, envy filled thoughts towards my neighbor then I am testifying against any confession that I love God.
The 6th commandment, like the others, follows the preamble about deliverance and liberation. King Pharaoh wanted to destroy Israel by killing God’s people. God delivered his people from death, thereby making life a sign of grace for His people. To destroy life would be an attack this grace. Life originated from God, through creation and redemption (even from Egypt), and exists for the purpose of God’s praise (Ps.118: 17). Every human being is someone who declares God’s praise. To kill a human being in this sense is to rob God.
Note here that murder is defined as within the context of Biblical law. We are to have reverence for life but reverence for life in the larger context of reverence for God. The motto “reverence for life” can not be absolutized. Only God is absolute. As such when we talk about reverence for life it is always in the context of God’s Word.
I.) Murder is the unwarranted taking of life
So we observe that Murder is the unwarranted taking of life. However, if Murder is the unwarranted taking of life that implies that there are times when the taking of life may be warranted.
A.) One example that we know of where the taking of life is warranted is when the Magistrate enforces penalty against someone for taking the life of another.
Genesis 9:5-6 5 And surely your blood, the blood of your lives, will I require; At the hand of every beast will I require it. And at the hand of man, even at the hand of every man’s brother, will I require the life of man. 6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: For in the image of God made he man.
Note first in this passage that the reason the penalty is visited upon the one who un-righteously sheds blood is because the guilty has struck at the image of God. An important point that we should not miss along the way. The sin and guilt is found first and foremost in the fact that the murderer has attacked God, before it is found in the fact that the murderer has attacked man.
The implication of this is that even if it could be proven that the death penalty, as visited upon murderers, was not a deterrent against others committing future murders that would not mean that we therefore should get rid of capital punishment for the primary reason for capital punishment is not its power of deterrence but rather the primary reason for capital punishment for murder is to communicate that God’s image, as seen in man, is not to be trifled with. The murderer has his blood spilled because he attacked God.
This teaches us that man has value only because of who he is in relation to God. If man had no objective relation to God, or if God did not exist there would be no reason to hold murder as being wrong or wicked in any kind of transcendent sense.
That observation then gives us insight into why life is cheapened and coarsened in cultures that throw off God. Without a Transcendent view of God who has come near to us in Christ human life has no consistent objective intrinsic meaning or value and so is disposable in the Gulag, the health care system, or the abortuary.
Back to the point at hand which is that not all life taking is murder,
God required this blood for blood in the context of the new beginning of human civilization with Noah. He reinforced it by requiring in the Mosaic code for murderers to be visited with capital punishment.
“Whoever kills any man shall surely be put to death…. You shall have the same law for the [foreigner] and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God.” Lev. 24:17-22
“But if he strikes him with an iron implement, so that he dies, he is a murderer (ratsach as in Ex.20:13); the murderer shall surely be put to death.” Num.35:16
This is why we speak of the Magistrate bearing the sword. The Magistrate has the responsibility to bring God’s justice to bear and that justice sometimes means the loss of life. In that context the loss of life as a just visitation of God’s penalty is not considered Murder and so is no violation of the 6th commandment.
Elsewhere we find in Scripture times when the taking of life is condoned by God’s law,
Exodus 22:2-3 2 “If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. 3 “If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed.
There are two cases here. In the first case, if someone breaks into your home at night, and you kill him, you are not held guilty of murder. You are not deserving of capital punishment. You do not need to flee to a city of refuge to preserve your life. The understanding is that at night, it is dark, and if someone has invaded your house, they do not announce if they are there merely to steal or if their intent is more ominous like being in your home to kidnap, to rape, or to murder. You are thus blameless if the criminal is killed in the situation where they are breaking into your home during the night. The passage does make it clear that if a man is breaking in at night with the intent of theft or worse (rape, murder, kidnapping, etc.), the defendant can righteously defend himself with lethal force to defend himself and presumably his family.
Matthew Henry comments here,
“…if it was in the day-time that the thief was killed, he that killed him must be accountable for it, unless it was in the necessary defense of his own life. … We ought to be tender of the lives even of bad men; the magistrate must afford us redress, and we must not avenge ourselves.”
So, God forbids unwarranted taking of life, but we learn that there are times when taking of life is warranted.
1.) The Magistrate
2.) Self Defense
C.) Another place where killing would be legitimate is in the defense of the innocent or the Defenseless
In Ps. 82:4 we are commanded to intervene on behalf of others: “Deliver the weak and needy; rid them out of the hand of the wicked.”
Proverbs 24:11-12 also supports this,
“If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain;… shall not he render to every man according to his works?”
Here we see God weighing the heart thus communicating our accountability to God. What is likewise communicated is the eternal rather than merely the social consequences of failing to help others in need. So if you don’t aid the judicially innocent and defenseless from being slain when God has put them in your path God will remember.
The idea that we are responsible to defend especially others who are our own is also seen in Abraham’s defense of his household. Genesis 14:12f
12 They also took Lot, Abram’s nephew, and his possessions and departed, for he was living in Sodom.
13 Then a fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew. Now he was living by the oaks of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol and brother of Aner, and these were allies with Abram. 14 When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he led out his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. 15 He divided his forces against them by night, he and his servants, and defeated them, and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. 16 He brought back all the goods, and also brought back his relative Lot with his possessions, and also the women, and the people.
So … the prohibition of Murder we have seen is a prohibition against the unwarranted taking of life because man is God’s Image. However we have seen that there are times when the taking of life, though regrettably necessary, is warranted.
1.) Magistrate 2.) Self-Defense 3.) Defense of the judicially innocent / family
II.) Counter Examples of Christians Who Do Not Believe That Taking of Life Is Ever Warranted
We take time to note this because there are many Christians out there who insist that it is always wrong all the time to take life. Anabaptists,
The Mennonites most recent confession adopted in 1995 states clearly in Article 22 that they witness against all forms of violence including war among nations, capital punishment, abortion, hostilities among races, abuse of women and children, and domestic violence.
An example of this mindset from Amish history is Jacob Hochstetler who, during the French and Indian War, offered an example that resonates today with his many descendants. Facing an attack by Native Americans, Hochstetler forbade his boys to fire back in defense. Jacob and two sons were subsequently captured, and his wife, son, and daughter scalped.
Hochstetler chose not to retaliate in the spirit of non-resistance, as he belived it wrong to take human life. As a result Hochstetler lost his loved ones and his freedom. While modern Americans might find it hard to understand Hochstetler’s decision, Amish today take inspiration in the early Amishman’s example, seeing it as how Christ himself would have acted.
So, the Amish believe that it was Christ-like for Jacob Hochstetler to allow his family to be tortured and murdered as opposed to defending them against the wicked.
Increasingly the Church is taking this kind of pacifistic non resistance to violence approach.
I was brought face to face w/ this some years ago when, after finishing a evening sermon on the 6th commandment and capital punishment, one of the congregants approached me afterwards and gently chided me since I was advocating a position that might not allow the person who would be executed time to repent. I was told, and given literature informing me of my error, that by advocating Capital punishment I might be sending a soul to eternity who might otherwise if they had not been executed would have repented and asked Jesus into their hearts.
I tried to gently tell this person that in the Reformed understanding of Christianity it is not possible to kill the elect before they trust Christ and that because we have this confidence we can obey God’s clearly revealed law and advocate capital punishment. My pleadings were of no avail.
When we refuse to protect life by obeying God’s law we are guilty of the God’s 6th Word. Not only is it a case of breaking God’s word when we kill those we ought not to kill but it is also a breaking of God’s 6th word when we do not kill those who God says should be visited with the penalty of their blood guilt.
Cities of Refuge for involuntary manslaughter
There people could go to escape the avenger of blood of the person you accidentally killed
You had to stay there in order to be safe from the blood avenger until the high priest perished
Jesus Christ is our city of Refuge
The city of Refuges is a picture of Christ’s work. Christ is our city of refuge in whom we must remain hidden in order to escape a rightful wrath. As we will look at more next week we are all guilty of murder by our thoughts and tongues but as we find safety in Christ, our refuge, there is forgiveness for our sins.
Christ is also the high priest whose death takes our guilt and sets us free.