2020-02-23 - Sixth Commandment: Thou Shall Not Kill
What Is Encompassed in the Command Not to Kill?
If there were 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). 2
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 or through the actions of the legal system, 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, 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” (ESV).
In Numbers, we read the account of how God established the Cities of Refuge for those that accidentally killed someone.
Numbers 35:9-15 (Tree of Life) 9 Adonai spoke to Moses saying, 10 “Speak to Bnei-Yisrael saying: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11 You are to select cities which will be cities of refuge, to which one might flee if he has killed someone by accident. 12 They are to be cities for refuge from the avenger, so the manslayer may not die before standing trial before the assembly. 13 The six cities you designate are to be your cities of refuge. 14 Designate three cities on this side of the Jordan and three in the land of Canaan as cities of refuge.
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.
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