The sixth commandment says, “You shall not murder.” Our community was given a horrible reminder of what murder is last December, when Matthew Murray, after previously shooting four people in
But during the same amount of time that it took
Thus in our nation we have an acute case of moral schizophrenia, moral insanity. It is an insanity which threatens to erase any sense of true justice in the land. But there is a cure for this insanity, and in order to get the remedy, we need to start with the sixth commandment.
“Hell Is Other People”
That, at least, was the sentiment of Jean-Paul Sartre, and that is one way to express the heart of man that leads to murder. The sentiment is all too common today, and the sixth commandment tackles it head on. The command expresses a very strong prohibition – “you must not murder” or “never murder.” Clearly, God does not want this to take place. But what exactly is he talking about?
At issue here is taking innocent human life. If you are familiar with the traditional translation of this commandment, you will remember it as “Thou shalt not kill.” That is certainly not a wrong translation, but it is an imprecise translation which unfortunately has left this command open to being abused by some people. This term is better translated “murder.” There are six other Hebrew terms used for killing: tabach (butcher an animal); hikka (strike or kill as in battle); hemith (kill animal for sacrifice); harag (kill in general); and qatal. But only ratsach has the idea of taking innocent life (Bruce Waltke, Old Testament Theology, 427). Now, not every instance of taking innocent life is murder. The OT clearly distinguishes between manslaughter and murder (cf. Num 35; Deut 19). The difference between the two is intention. If someone kills another innocent human being accidentally through carelessness or negligence, that is manslaughter. If someone kills another innocent human being intentionally, then that is murder. Ratsach is used for both manslaughter and murder, although most of the time it is used for murder. The sixth commandment is talking about taking innocent human life.
So let me just clarify right at the beginning some things that this commandment does not prohibit. It does not apply to killing animals. It does not forbid legitimate self-defense, for it is talking about innocent human life. It does not apply to just, duly authorized capital punishment (Gen 9:5-6; cf. Deut 19:12-13; Rom 13:4). It does not forbid just war.
On the other hand, this command does clearly forbid in the strongest language all forms of murder. All intent to end the life of innocent human beings is wrong. Abortion we will talk about more next week, for it merits special treatment in our day, but let us be absolutely clear here that it is murder. Euthanasia is a particularly despicable form of murder. The most famous case of this in recent years was Terry Schiavo. That was a huge miscarriage of justice. Now, there is a big difference in these cases between allowing God’s providence in nature to takes its course and actively causing someone to die. For example, withholding food and water from any human being will cause that person to die. That is morally wrong. It is murder. Food and water are not medical treatments; they are the basic necessities of life. But that is not the same thing as not putting someone on a respirator. In this sinful world, we understand that death is a normal occurrence. It is not a sin to die, rather, death is the result of sin. Death will happen and we are not required by God to try to keep someone alive when it is clear that they cannot naturally go on living. But we are never to do anything that would cause death. It does not matter if the patient has given consent or not. No human being has the right to take innocent human life, not even his own life. Suicide is also a form of murder.
Although the commandment doesn’t state it directly, God makes clear elsewhere that the expected punishment for murder is the death penalty (Gen 9:5-6; Num 35:30-34). The legitimate authorities have an obligation to see that justice is done and that the murderer is put to death. We will see why later.
In addition to forbidding murder, this command also forbids carelessly or negligently taking human life. Now, this is not considered murder. It is considered manslaughter, so it does not have the death penalty attached to it. Nevertheless, it is still a serious offense to cause someone’s death by being careless. We can see this reflected in the OT law. The laws regarding cities of refuge show us that although the manslayer was not put to death, he was, in effect, incarcerated in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. The law regarding building a parapet around the roof of the house was specifically given so that “the guilt of blood” would not be upon the house (D 22:8). Exodus 21:28, 29 provides another example of negligence with regard to human life. If someone owned an ox which was known to be dangerous, and he did not take the necessary precautions to keep it in and it kills someone, then the owner was to be put to death. In other words, human life is so precious that we must take care to protect it. If we do not, we can be guilty of breaking the sixth commandment. In our day, this can include following safety regulations on the job or following traffic laws for safe driving. Think of the man who drinks and drives. He is engaging in an activity which he knows is dangerous, not only to himself, but to everyone else on the road. By doing this, he is being negligent and careless with human life. He is breaking the sixth commandment.
We live in a culture of death. You can see it in all the forms of murder that we allow. Yet I think we can also see it in all the materialistic or selfish things we value over human life. Animal rights activists usually value animals over human life. Women value their career over having children. Men value money for playthings over having children. Most of us want our pleasures rather than people. We don’t want to have to live with other people. Sartre was only expressing the sentiments of many when he said, “Hell is other people.” This is all showing up in the demographic winter that is approaching Western societies.
Love Your Neighbor
The Word of the Lord shatters all such self-centered arrogance, with the simple command to love. This is what the sixth commandment points us toward. As with all the other commandments which are cast in the negative form, there is a positive implication to this command.
We are to love human life. God is a God of life, and he delights in life. Just witness his creation. God created a world that was teeming with living creatures. But the highest point of his creation was mankind, made in his own image, and God told mankind to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. God loves human life, and we ought to as well. Human life is sacred. It is a gift from God, even in its fallen condition, and we should delight in it. As we will explore more next time, we can delight in human life both because of its inherent nature and because of the hope we have for its redemption. The reality of this hope, which Sartre and other cannot see, is the remedy for hatred and murder.