Killing people is wrong Exodus 20:13

Which is the most important of the Ten Commandments? Christians and Jews would usually say the first, “You shall have no other gods before me.” But people who are not religious would usually point to the sixth commandment. “You shall not murder.”
I want us to look at that commandment today to answer an important question. “Is it ever acceptable to deliberately cause a human life to end?”
“You shall not murder.” The old King James Version translated this verse, “Thou shalt not kill.” In fact, murder is a more accurate translation of the original word. What the sixth commandment forbids is the act of one human being from deliberately ending the life of another human being. The word cannot be applied more widely, for example to suggest that the commandment applies to killing animals for food. Nor is it relevant to fox-hunting or culling of badgers. The commandment is talking about one person deliberately killing another person.
I put in the word “deliberately” because other parts of the Bible make it clear that murder always involves an intention to end the other person’s life.
Exodus 21 12 “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. 13 However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.
The Bible does recognise that accidents can happen and sometimes tragically people can even be killed in an accident. But that is not what the sixth commandment is talking about. Without an element of intention, that is not murder. This is an important point and I want to spell it out. Over the last 20 years or so we have seen the growth of a “culture of blame.” “Have you had an accident at work?” “Did you trip over a hole in the pavement?” “Were you injured in a car accident which wasn’t your fault?” “Contact ‘Injury Lawyers for You’. We will get you the compensation you are entitled to. Minus our own cut of course!”
This “blame culture” is leading people to think that if something bad happens, if somebody is suffering, the right thing to do is to find somebody you can blame and then sue them for every penny you can get. One advert for “injury lawyers for you” was explicit – if you are suffering then the definition of a lawyer is a person who finds out who was to blame and gets you compensation. Many people are choosing to forget a very important fact of life. Accidents do happen. Sometimes people drown at sea. Sometimes cars crash. Sometimes in hospital people die, even despite the best efforts of surgeons and doctors and nurses. And most often, in circumstances like these, nobody is to blame and nothing could have been done to prevent that death. Sometimes accidents can even be caused by the actions of a person, or equally through the lack of action of a person. That is a tragedy but that is not murder.
The Bible recognises that accidents can happen. Deuteronomy 19 introduces the idea special places called cities of refuge, which innocent people can escape to if they have accidentally killed somebody.
Deuteronomy 19:4 This is the rule concerning the man who kills another and flees there to save his life — one who kills his neighbour unintentionally, without malice aforethought. 5 For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbour to cut wood, and as he swings his axe to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbour and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. 6 Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbour without malice aforethought.
The whole chapter of Numbers 35 spells out what does and does not count as murder. It talks about all kinds of weapons a man might use to kill another man deliberately, but then it talks about the possibility of accidental death.
Numbers 35:22 “ ‘But if without hostility someone suddenly pushes another or throws something at him unintentionally 23 or, without seeing him, drops a stone on him that could kill him, and he dies, then since he was not his enemy and he did not intend to harm him, 24 the assembly must judge between him and the avenger of blood according to these regulations.
In the Bible the act of murder by definition includes an element of intention. To murder is to end another person’s life deliberately. Not accidentally, not by carelessness, but by intention.
Why is murder such a big deal? The Bible gives us at least four reasons why murder is wrong. In many places it teaches us about what we call the “sanctity of human life”.
Murder did not begin to be wrong when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Murder was always wrong from the very beginning of Creation. And that is because human beings are created in the image of God. Humans stand above the whole of Creation because they are capable of a relationship with their Creator. As such every human life is enormously valuable. Human life is sacred.
God spelled this out to Noah after the flood as a command for all human beings.
Genesis 9 5 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.
6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.
The second reason why murder is forbidden is obvious in the light of the cross of Christ. God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not die but have eternal life. This tells us just how incredibly precious every human life is to Almighty God. Jesus laid down his life so that we might receive God’s free gift of eternal life. Every person matters that much to God. Taking that life away from somebody is wrong.
The third reason why murder is wrong is because it is Almighty God who is the creator and the giver of life. Power over life and death belongs to God alone. It is Jesus who holds the keys of death and Hades. Murder attempts to usurp God’s authority and claim that the murderer knows better than God and has the right to decide when another person’s life should end.
The fourth reason why murder is so serious will seem a little strange to us. But God reveals that when human blood is shed, in some strange spiritual way we cannot see or understand, that blood pollutes the land it falls upon. Genesis 4 tells us of the very first act of murder when Cain killed his brother Abel. God confronted Cain with these words.
Genesis 4 10 The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
This is a deep truth which is lost in this materialistic generation. The sin of murder pollutes the land. Numbers 35 explains it. 33 “ ‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. 34 Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the LORD, dwell among the Israelites.’ ”
So murder and bloodshed pollutes and defiles the land.
All human life is sacred. Human beings are created in the image of God. Christ has died so that we can be saved. Only God has power of life and death. And on top of all that, the shedding of innocent blood actually pollutes the earth. Murder really is a big deal! But then, I think we probably all believed that anyway. In fact, in all places across all cultures the sixth commandment is the most common shared value. “You should not commit murder” is pretty much top of everybody’s “Top Ten List” of things people shouldn’t do.
But then, people like to find wiggle-room. People look for exceptions to the rule. So I return to my original question. “Is it ever acceptable to deliberately cause a human life to end?”
There are two obvious situations which people like to point to and claim that they are exceptions to the sixth commandment. Two situations where God actually commanded the Israelites to kill people, in Exodus and in many other places in the Old Testament. In executing criminals and in fighting an enemy in war. There were a number of crimes which carried the death penalty for the Israelites and top of the list was murder.
We already read in Exodus 21: 12 “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. 14 … if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.
Execution of criminals, in particular murderers. And fighting an enemy in war. Many times God commands his people to fight and kill their enemies, especially as they were told to bring God’s judgment on other tribes while they were taking possession of the Promised Land.
Some commentators note that the actual word for “murder” we find in the sixth commandment is never used to refer to executing criminals or to fighting battles. So they suggest that the death penalty or killing an enemy in war is not actually murder at all. I disagree with that. I believe that is the kind of mistake we call an argument from silence. I believe those two situations are still murder. They still involve ending the life of another human being deliberately. And all but one of the reasons we thought about why murder is wrong still apply to the person who is killed. They were still made in the image of God. God still loves them. And the land is still polluted by their shed blood. The only difference is that God who holds the power of life and death in his greater wisdom has commanded that some should be executed or defeated in battle. But the death of a criminal or an enemy is no less tragic. Taking the life of another human being is still a very bad thing to do.
So why would God command his people to execute criminals or to fight wars? In those two cases we can find adequate reasons why it might be acceptable to break the sixth commandment. In Britain today we sentence murderers to life imprisonment, not to death. But in the world of the Old Testament, punishment by imprisonment was not an option. There were no prisons. Especially for the next 40 years as the Israelites were wandering from place to place it was not possible to imprison a murderer. But alongside some other crimes, killing a human being still demanded justice, and preventing the murderer from killing somebody else was an important consideration. So God authorised the death penalty for murder to emphasise what a serious crime that was.
When it comes to killing in war, different considerations come into play based around the important idea of the right to defend yourself. A soldier is never justified in murdering an innocent civilian. But in war combatants are killing enemy combatants who are trying to kill them, and more importantly, trying to kill the innocent civilians the soldiers are fighting to protect. In a situation of self-defence, kill-or-be-killed, God has authorised the killing of an enemy, but only as a last resort and with regret.
What I am saying is that deliberately ending the life of another human being is always murder. It is always forbidden by the sixth commandment. We could debate the rare and extreme situations like the death penalty or soldiers in war where murder could be considered to be necessary or acceptable. But that is still murder. And the executioner or the soldier should do their work with regret, not gladness. They are still killing people, and killing people is wrong.
Let me explain why this distinction matters. Very many people today have lost the sense that killing people is always a bad thing. You may have been in a cinema at the point in the film where the big villain is dispatched by the hero in some particularly gory way. And the whole audience cheers because the baddie is getting his just desserts. The film-maker has just led the audience to applaud and rejoice in murder. And that is a bad thing. Films which glorify violence or war and teach us to delight in murder distort our minds and damage our hearts. This is not healthy.
Perhaps the most popular of computer and console games are what are called “first-person shooter” games such as Doom, Half Life, and Halo. In these the player competes in combat with computer generated characters or sometimes with other human players online in real time. With modern 3D graphics and Virtual Reality these games are incredibly realistic. The whole aim is to kill the opposition as brutally as possible. Millions of people, many of them teenagers, are being entertained not just by watching murder happen but worse than that by pretending to murder other people. The more effective they are at murdering others the more successful they are in winning the game. This is not healthy! It is not surprising that some people grow up forgetting that killing other people is wrong.
Away from fiction and into real life, how do you feel about the fact that Adolf Hitler took his own life? How did you react when you heard that Saddam Hussain or Osama Bin Laden had been killed? There is something deeply unhealthy if we derive satisfaction or even delight from hearing that a notorious criminal has been executed or a dictator has been assassinated. However much we might feel that the person deserved to die, we should not derive pleasure or satisfaction from an act of murder. To do so is a bad thing.
In rare and extreme circumstances, murder may be necessary. But ending the life of another person should always be a cause of great sadness and regret. And I say that as I finish by mentioning two other situations which many people see as exceptions to the sixth commandment: abortion and euthanasia. I recognise that there are extreme situations where abortion is judged to be necessary – for example removing a non-viable foetus from the mother because otherwise both mother and baby will die. Doctors who perform that procedure will make that decision with regret and sadness. But sadly this is not a rare or extreme occurrence. Statistics report that in Europe one third of pregnancies end in termination. One third of all foetuses are aborted. One third. The argument goes that the mother’s right to choose is more important than the rights of the unborn child to be born. I don’t believe that argument is valid. I believe the sixth commandment still applies. Killing people is wrong.
And I believe the same when it comes to euthanasia, so called “mercy-killing” or “doctor-assisted suicide.” With the ever-increasing welfare and medical costs of an aging population this will be a big issue in the years ahead. The sixth commandment will still apply. Killing people will still be wrong!
You shall not murder. Murder is a serious sin. It may not be the worst sin but it is certainly up in the top ten. Nor is murder an unforgivable sin. Moses the Lawgiver was a murderer. So was King David. So was the apostle Paul. People can murder other people and still be forgiven. But God deliver us from thinking that murder is ever acceptable. Murder is served up as entertainment in cinemas and on our television screens. Many people play at murdering people in video games and all of this is deeply unhealthy. All this desensitises people to the evil inherent in murdering other people. The Sixth Commandment always applies. “You shall not murder.” Murder is killing people – and killing people is wrong!

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