Of all of God’s creation, man is unique. He was made in the image of God. Since God is the One who gave life, only He has the prerogative to take life. When human beings commit murder, they appropriate to themselves God’s authority. At the Creation God said, “. . . Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen. 1:26-27). Man is the handiwork of God (Job 14:15). God is working out a tremendous purpose with man. Men must go through the experience of life in order to learn how to fulfill that purpose. When a man murders another human being, he is attempting to thwart God’s purpose for man. Murder is a heinous sin in the sight of God.
The sixth commandment is as follows: “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13). This commandment is brief but to the point. Literally, the Hebrew text means, “Thou shalt do no murder.” Hatred is often a cause of murder.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48).
That man will indeed be perfect who can love his enemies, bless those who curse him, do good to those that hate him, and pray for them who despitefully use and persecute him. This is just the opposite of hatred. Few men, if any, are able to practice this rule of Jesus. The sixth commandment was given because men are truly incapable of not hating. Hatred often leads to murder, and the sixth commandment puts a restraint upon the human proclivity to unleash this hatred in the form of murder. If men could put to practice Jesus’ instruction above, there would be no need for the sixth commandment.
In the Old Testament there is a difference between murder and manslaughter (accidental murder). Murder is the premeditated act of taking another’s life. Note the distinction. “. . . If a man come presumptuously upon his neighbour, to slay him with guile; thou shalt take him from mine altar, that he may die” (Ex. 21:14). A man who could not control his temper and slew another in a fit of rage was regarded as a murderer. Numbers 35:16-18 does not even take into consideration what was the cause of murder. The penalty for murder was irrevocable. Manslaughter, however, was regarded differently. See Numbers, chapter 35. One who accidentally killed another could flee to a city of refuge. There he remained in safety until his case was brought before the judges. If he was found innocent of murder but guilty of manslaughter, he would be confined to the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. Should the man guilty of manslaughter leave the city of refuge, the nearest relatives of the slain man had the legal right to slay him. God made the seriousness of even manslaughter known by this law. People who are careless and who do not think of others are often involved in accidents which take the lives of others. The penalty for manslaughter in the Old Testament period attested to the seriousness of taking a human life by whatsoever means.
Under the terms of the Old Covenant a man was not punished for hating another, though God did say not to hate others (Lev. 19:17). Hatred as the cause of murder was not punished in the Old Testament. Only murder was. This is the difference between the Old and New Covenants. The terms and requirements of the Old Covenant were physical. The laws were exact and penalties required for specific breaches of the law. The New Covenant is another matter, however. The final punishment is far more severe than the physical death required under the Old Covenant, but opportunity for repentance is afforded. The Apostle Paul, comparing the Old and New Covenants, said “. . . the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. 3:6).
Jesus explained the difference between the two.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire (Matt. 5:21-22).
The New Covenant holds a man not only accountable for a wrongful act but for a wrong frame of mind and attitude. Jesus said we would be judged not only for what we do but for we think. We will be judged for hating even though we do not commit murder. Often how we think comes out in what we say. One who attacks another by means of strong words is really reflecting what is in the heart and mind-a spirit of hatred. No wonder Jesus said, “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:37). Jesus came to magnify, to expound the spiritual intent of the New Covenant. We read, “The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable” (Isa. 42:21).
The reason we have the sixth commandment is because of the anger and hatred in the human heart. Under the requirements of the New Covenant not only is murder prohibited, but hating another is as well. Hatred is nothing more than residual anger. It is a dangerous frame of mind. One who is filled with hatred toward another is in danger of hellfire. Under the terms of the New Covenant, the requirement for obedience is much more demanding than it was under the Old. And the penalty is much more severe (Heb. 10:28-31).
War is a very real consideration in the matter of taking human life. Israel in the Old Testament period was involved in many wars. Israel was God’s physical nation during that time-raised up as a people to do His will. Of the surrounding nations God said:
When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them (Deut. 7:1-2).
Israel was God’s instrument of punishment. Why? These heathen people were thoroughly depraved. They practiced every sort of vice and sin one could imagine-sexual corruption of all kinds, child sacrifice, bestiality. They had completely polluted the land. God forbade His people to mix with these heathen. His command to destroy them was His sentence upon this kind of wickedness. His sanctions upon these people were administered by Israel, His chosen instrument of death and destruction.
The wars of this present world are wholesale murder. Total war means the deaths of countless innocent civilians. Billions and billions of dollars are spent on war. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest once said, “War means fighting and fighting means killing.” He knew what he was talking about. War precipitates hatred, hatred breeds revenge, and revenge leads to more killing. Modern war is a tragedy of unparalleled proportions. Modern wars are not the result of God removing depraved societies. They are the result of greed and often revenge. Paul instructed, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-21). True Christians do not participate in the wars of this world. Their warfare is spiritual (Eph. 6:12). The spirit of hate is learned and absorbed by soldiers while in training. What does God say about hate? “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). All human beings are our brothers.
There is no nation on the Earth today that is God’s nation. There is instead a church. This church is a spiritual organism, not a literal physical nation. Those who have been called out of the world and have the Law of God written in their hearts and minds are the children of God. They have entered into a new covenant relationship with God and do not participate in the war machines of this world. They are candidates for the Kingdom of God. Of His kingdom Jesus said, “. . . My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36). No nation in today’s world represents God. Our modern world is much like ancient Greece and Rome. The primary purpose of war is to satisfy the self-interests of the nations of the world, not to represent the interests of God. The origin of war begins with theft. James wrote:
From whence come wars and fighting’s among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts (Jas. 4:1-3).
To repeat, Christians do not war as the world wars. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
The true Israel today is spiritual Israel; it is not physical Israel. God’s Church does not join in the wars that occupy this world. It is a spiritual entity not attached to the ways of this world. Christians share God’s love, not the hate of the world. Christians are told,
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (1 John 2:15-17).
Only God can justly wage a righteous war. Is there any war since the time of ancient Israel that is justified? Only those wars commanded by God can be considered righteous. Here is an example. “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war” (Rev. 19:11). Declaring war is the right of God alone. Man has assumed a responsibility that does not belong to him. Various deceptions are conjured up to convince the public that war is justified. Propaganda is used to sway the masses. Greed, the motivating factor in many wars, is a manifestation of hatred. It displays little outgoing concern for others. Notice again more Bible instruction about love and hatred. “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (1 John 3:14). Christians are admonished to forsake the conduct that leads to war-hatred. They are to come out from the ways of the world. “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). And Jesus said, “. . . all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matt. 26:52).
What about the matter of self-defense? Under the terms of the Old Covenant we find this instruction. “If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him” (Ex. 22:2). This means the intruder could be killed, and the homeowner would be guiltless. This applied if the intrusion took place at night. But what if it took place in the daytime? “If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft” (Ex. 22:3). In other words, if it were daylight and the intruder were smitten the homeowner could be held accountable for murder. Why? Because the intruder could be identified and made to pay for his crime. Self-defense for the Christian is a hypothetical question. Such a situation is unlikely to arise unless one lives in a high crime district. He should probably move if at all possible. God promises protection for His people in dangerous situations, but they should not deliberately place themselves in jeopardy. The need to kill someone in self-defense is remote if one is pleasing God and trusting in Him. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov. 16:7).
A couple of other matters should be considered. These are abortion and suicide. Suicide is the voluntary act of taking one’s own life. One who kills himself also attempts to thwart God’s purpose in human life. We learn by suffering and by our mistakes. One who is in the frame of mind that leads to suicide seeks an out from the pressures of life. Suicide is a sin. While it is not the murder of another, it is self-murder and is wrong in the sight of God. Abortion is another form of murder. By means of laws God has set in motion He is a partner in creation-the creation of human life. God is much aware of the unborn child.
For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them (Psa. 139:13-16).
David, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, testified to the importance of the entire process of procreation. Unborn children are murdered by the millions in the world today, a form of population control. In ancient times this was done by child sacrifice. Today the means is abortion. While the method differs from ancient times, the end result is the same.
The New Testament clearly shows us that the true people of God are a spiritual entity. They have the love of God flowing in their hearts. They have an outgoing concern for others. They avoid the influences of this world that lead to hatred and bloodshed. Murder is hatred in action. They know this and avoid it.