2015-05-17 - The Sixth Commandment
What Is Encompassed in the Command Not to Kill?
Well, up to now we have been dealing with commands that touch on the divine, those that tie directly to our relationship with God; and the uplifting, the honoring of the Sabbath and parents. But today we seem to have dropped down into the mundane, that area of life we don’t want to deal with, or even see the need to discuss - killing, stealing, lying, etc. After all, let’s be realistic, how many of us are ever going to need to worry about killing someone, anyway? When was the last time you robbed a bank? Nevertheless, I think we will find though these commandments are certainly applicable to our daily life.
As noted previously, these commandments deal with people’s relationship to people. But again, keep in mind that any sin is first against God - and only secondly against others. If we remember that any sin is first of all grieving God, then I suspect we would be living our life differently, or at least take “minor” sins more seriously. The command not to kill isn’t just for society in general, but for us specifically. As with the other commandments, we will focus on the positive side of not killing, as our concern.
- What is Encompassed in the Command not to Kill?
If there was ever a case of needing to get a definition of a word this is it. The problem is, this command has been used to teach not only against murder, but also against the carrying out of capital punishment and defending one’s country in time of war. The question is just what in included in the command not to kill.
The word in the Hebrew is “rasah,” a prime root meaning to murder, slay. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says:
“The initial use of the root appears in the Ten Commandments. In that important text it appears in the simple Qal stem with the negative adverb, “You shall not murder,” being a more precise reading than the too-general KJV “Thou Shalt not Kill.” … rasah applies equally to both cases of premeditated murder and killings as a result of any other circumstances, what English Common Law has called, “man slaughter.” The root also describes killing for revenge, (Numbers 35:27, 30) and assassination (2 Kings 6:32).
The underlying idea is to break or dash to pieces. Based on all this, we should have a clear understanding of the commandment. It should be seen as relating to the slaying of one individual by another, either murder or manslaughter. It has nothing to do with killing in war, nor through the actions of the legal system, e.g. execution. Here the NIV, with its “You shall not murder,” is a more accurate translation than found in the Authorized Version. What are some examples that you can think of that would fall under this commandment?
Now notice in 21:12-14, tat God establishes the death penalty for those that commit murder.
“Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee. But if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die”.
In Numbers, we read the account of how God established the Cities of Refuge for those that accidentally killed someone.
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. And the cities that you give shall be your six cities of refuge. You shall give three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. These six cities shall be for refuge for the people of Israel, and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills any person without in tent may flee there.” (Numbers 35:9-15).
One other way of committing murder, and therefore covered by the commandment would be self-murder, suicide. Grammatically, this is possible, because there is no object specified by the language.
To be continued.
- Harris, Ed R. Laird, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, "Vol. 2," Moody Press, Chicago IL, 1980, p. 860
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All verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.
CFD | May 2015
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