You shall not murder

Exodus 20:13
“You shall not murder.”

Ask just about any nominal Christian whether or not they keep the commandments, and of them all, they will most likely tell you that this commandment–“You shall not murder”–is the one they have never broken. For that matter, you could hand a list of the Ten Commandments to atheists and agnostics and pagans, and this is the commandment that they’d be sure they haven’t broken. And since they haven’t broken this one–which many consider the worst commandment to break–then they’re okay to meet their Maker. Yeah, right.

James 2:8-11
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well;
9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

You see, I used to think that if I just stuck with my own good intentions, then even if I slipped or if I held onto some “little” sins–lust, for example–then I would be just fine. After all, I’m a good guy, aren’t I? Don’t people compliment me on my courtesy and kindness? Am I not trustworthy?

Am I not a sinner?

1 Timothy 1:15-16
15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

When we look at today’s verse, and we think we have not committed this grievous sin, we like to think we’ve gotten away free, because we have this tendency to “rank” the commandments. Think about it: if people had to name which commandments were more important to keep, wouldn’t the commandment not to murder be at the top of most people’s list? Our innate moral center, as sinful as it may be, tells us that murder is wrong, that it is a violation of the very worst sort. Every culture in every part of the world throughout history has had or still has legal prohibitions against murder. Murder is the thing that no society can tolerate if that society is to flourish, if it is to move forward with liberty and justice for all. We cannot just allow people to go around murdering each other, no matter what the reason.

Of course, our Lord Jesus further qualified this commandment by telling us that if we even so much as harbor ill thoughts about a friend or brother, then it is just as if we had committed murder. (Matthew 5:21-26) We might think Jesus was being a little harsh, because, to be honest, all of us have been angry with or hated someone now and then. But that is exactly what the Lord is commanding us to avoid: that slip of the heart that leads us to believe that our life and our needs are more important than someone else’s. It is the INTENTION that makes it murder, as we can see quite clearly from Scripture.

In the book of Numbers, the laws regarding murder are laid out in more detail. (Numbers 35:16-34) There we see that when someone kills someone else intentionally, then they are considered a murderer, but if they accidentally hit someone with something and kill them, then they are not. It comes down to intent.

Numbers 35:20-24
20 “If he pushes him out of hatred or, while lying in wait, hurls something at him so that he dies,
21 “or in enmity he strikes him with his hand so that he dies, the one who struck him shall surely be put to death. He is a murderer. The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death when he meets him.
22 “However, if he pushes him suddenly without enmity, or throws anything at him without lying in wait,
23 “or uses a stone, by which a man could die, throwing it at him without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm,
24 “then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments.”

It is the malice of our own heart, it is our own desire for getting our own way that drives us to take another’s life. Look at the very first death in the Bible: Cain killed Abel out of jealousy. God knew the intent of Cain’s heart even without Cain saying what had happened, because Abel’s lifeblood called out to Him from the ground. And so Cain bore the price of his crime, the mark of a murderer whose life would have been forfeit except for the protection of God. (Genesis 4:3-15)

Just as Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord, so does murder cry out to each of us as wrong–even if we do not believe in God or the Bible. Murder strikes at the core of our being because we think to ourselves, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” That person slain in that robbery might have been you or me. That person killed at the hands of a jealous lover could have been you or me. That person gunned down by a fanatic could have been you or me. Those people burned alive in that house by an angry mob could have been you or me. Those all cry out to us that we ourselves stand on the brink of death at any moment, because murder removes that little bit of freedom and predictability from our lives. And, of course, it removes our LIFE from our lives. No matter who we are nor what our faith (or lack thereof), murder strikes us as just plain wrong.

I said earlier, “Murder is the thing that no society can tolerate if that society is to flourish, if it is to move forward with liberty and justice for all. We cannot just allow people to go around murdering each other, no matter what the reason.” As a just and reasonable society founded on the rule of law, as a society that at the beginning of its Constitution has the claim that our laws exist to enable all to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as a culture who cherishes individual freedom and choice, we are nonetheless an amazingly murderous culture. “What? Who? Me?”

Exodus 21:22-25
22 “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23 “But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,
24 “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 “burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Can anyone think that God does not care about the unborn? Can anyone believe that the Lord our God does not consider us “human” until we have exited our mother’s womb?

“But abortion is not murder,” some claim. Is it not? Remember what is clear from the Bible: murder is killing that is INTENTIONAL, no matter what the motives behind it. Accidental death is one thing, but intentional harm is quite another. And yet, in the name of giving more “choice” to mothers, we have forfeited the lives of children by allowing mothers to kill unborn children INTENTIONALLY. As we see from the verses above, God cares about those unborn children, and so should we. We may like to think that if we don’t “hate” an unborn child, then it is okay if we intentionally harm them. But it is clear from Cain’s story that he killed his brother out of jealousy and anger, not necessarily hatred. And when a man robs a store and kills the cashier, it is pretty clear he doesn’t hate the cashier. And when a mother puts to death her unborn fetus, she does not usually hate that child. What is it then that is driving us to kill each other? Pride. We desire OUR way and OUR life and OUR choices, and so we impose OUR desires on others–through pushiness, through prideful disdain, through oppression, and even through murder and abortion. “But what about abortion in cases of rape or incest?” some would ask. And I would answer, “Does God make any such distinction?” In the Bible, only the person committing the crime is guilty of the crime, not the child that may follow. (Ezekiel 18:20)

I am not here today to field all arguments about murder or abortion, but I AM here to put this commandment in our minds, to make us all think about the fact that God spoke this commandment without qualifications. “You shall not murder,” was all He said, with no subtle clauses, no loopholes, no ifs, ands, or buts. And from His Word, it is clear that murder involves intent. When we kill someone–ANYONE–intentionally, then we have committed murder.

How can we break this cycle of murder–ALL murder–in our society? Our Lord Jesus told us that all the law and the prophets hang on the commandments to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-40) If we love someone, then we will never intend them any harm, and we will instead seek only their good. In fact, as Jesus pointed out so eloquently, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13) If we love so greatly as Jesus, then we not only will not harm anyone, but we will instead allow ourselves to be harmed to save those we love. Yes, we will sacrifice our own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness to allow others to live. If we can but learn to love as Jesus loved, to live as He lived, to be obedient to the Father as He was, then we will have the very just and safe society we seek. But so long as we continue to seek our own ends and allow others to make the choice to intentionally kill others, then we will forever wallow in the pit of our own sins, eventually to die and face the judgment of a just and loving God who abhors murder.

Today, let us reflect upon this commandment and all that God has told us about the murderous intent of our hearts. Let us listen to the words of Jesus as He tells us that when we are angry with our loved ones, it is as if we have killed them already. Let us meditate on God’s love and the love we are to have for Him and for each other. If we truly do love Him with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind, then we will love as He loves, loving all people–born and unborn–with equal care and concern. Rather than harboring thoughts of murder or vengeance, if we truly love God and our fellow human beings, then we will instead prepare our hearts to lay down our lives even for our enemies. Such is what Jesus did for all of us. Can we do any less?

Holy Lord God, Help me to overcome the pride of my own heart, to pursue YOUR righteousness and not my own. Help me, Father, to love as You love–a love that GIVES rather than TAKES, a love that prompts me to stand in the way of harm rather than ever intend harm to anyone. Let me not murder anyone in my heart or mind, but instead seek to share Your gospel even with my enemies, so that they may glorify You in the day of Your return. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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