The Ten Commandments, For a Blessed Life – Kerygma Materials Commandment 6, Killing and Murder

1. You shall not kill/murder/slay, (possible translations of the Hebrew Tresah or Ratsach). Exodus 20, 14; Deuteronomy 5, 18.
  1. What does this commandment mean? There are many ways today where people may be killed, including:

murder, war, capital punishment, fights, self defense, accidents, dangerous products, dangerous activities required at work, dangerous activities at play, distribution of food and healthcare, euthanasia, abortion, suicide. How do we determine what this commandment says about these?

  1. Other Old Testament passages give context. War and capital punishment were common in Old Testament times. However additional passages show the complexity of situations where the commandment was applied.

Deuteronomy 20, 1. When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.  . . 4 For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory. . . . 10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. 16 However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. 17 Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God.

Exodus 21, 12 “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death. 15 “Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death. 16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession. 17 “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. 18 “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist[d] and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed. 20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property. 22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[e] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Do provisions like this result from God’s efforts to limit and reduce destructive violence within the existing social context? In particular feuds with endless cycles of retribution are limited?

  1. Other Old Testament passages show God’s reverence for life and hatred for violence that accompanies injustice  and expand the limitations on violence.

Leviticus 19, 16“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord. 17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. 18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Violent evil is denounced in Job 24, Isaiah 1 and Hosea 6.

  1. In the New Testament, Jesus expands on Leviticus 19 to reject violence.

In Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult[f] a brother or sister,[g] you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.  . . 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

  1. America and much of the world have been at war for most of the last century, and certainly more pronouncedly since the US was attacked on September 11, 2001. It is arguable that these wars have produced more enemies than they have killed, and have not solved and can not solve the underlying problems that cause them. It is also arguable that America has spent so much on war it has been unable to feed, educate and provide health care to its people. It is also arguable that its dedication to violence as the solution for problems, as well as a myth of redemptive violence, have permeated the soul of the country, leading to violence as visible as the recent mass killing here in Dayton, to a level of gun violence that far exceeds that of the rest of the world, to domestic violence, to various aggressions and “microaggressions” in everyday life. None of this appears to be what Jesus asks of us.
  2. Capital punishment has become less popular here in recent years, due to its arbitrariness, evidence of prejudice and bias in its application, and the failures of the justice system that have been exposed by scientific advances such as DNA testing. Its effectiveness in preventing evil is contested. However it maintains an emotional appeal, particularly when crimes are particularly terrible and there is no way to undo the harm that has been done.
  3. The desire for “security,” fear of the evil other and fear of the potential evil within ourselves generate powerful emotions. Many believe that violence is necessary to deter abuse, maintain self respect and the protect the rights of ourselves and our loved ones. Some believe that the courage and sacrifices soldiers make for each other in wartime are the ultimate in moral heroism that life produces. Some believe that some level of violence is required, at least in some circumstances, if good is to triumph over evil. Christians have developed theories of “just wars” such as is expressed in Deuteronomy 20. Islam has similar theories. However many feel that no one ever finds the wars they want to participate in to be unjust, or those of their enemies to be just. Can any war where God tells his side to kill all the men, take the women and children as plunder be just? Is this part of our vision of what God is and does?
  4. The killing power of modern weapons far exceeds that of Biblical times, making unacceptable levels of “collateral damage” inevitable and even threatening all human existence. Can personal ownership of such weapons be a good thing? Why or why not?
  5. Some, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King argued that non-violent resistance to evil is best, can be effective in part because the adversary has potential goodness which can be used to change behavior, and allows disputes to be resolved at less cost and without endless cycles of violence and retribution. Do we agree? Why or why not? Does God command us to do this before using violence? Or always?
  6. What would Jesus do, and what would Jesus have us do? Jesus neither did nor advocated significant levels of violence. Does God value all life, even those we value less? Can we trust God to judge them and us as we deserve, and eventually make things right? Can and should we love our enemies, and how do we do so without enabling them to abuse us? How does God call us to live with others, considering their potential evil and ours? How do we value life as God does? What gets in the way?
photo of site of mass shooting in Dayton, from CNN