“Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).
By John Bivol
As we meditate on this commandment, our thoughts turn in sympathy toward millions of people that have been intentionally killed over the centuries. In the 20th century more than 110 million people have been killed in wars alone. Despite attempts to enforce policies against evil, we have recently witnessed unspeakable atrocities in Ukraine, the killing of innocent adults and children.
The world has achieved a level of economic and technical development that our ancestors never imagined. However, the ability to give life, even to the smallest organism, still belongs only to our Creator and Heavenly Father (Job 33:4). We often fail to appreciate how precious life is. It is a gift from God.
The underlying principle of this commandment is that man was created in God’s image and that life is to be highly valued. Imagine the joy of our Heavenly Father and the Logos as they gave life to the angels and then to the human family. Long before the Ten Commandments were given, God said, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Genesis 9:6). For the nation of Israel, the sixth commandment was not a new concept. But God wanted to reiterate its importance and later share the deeper meaning for spiritual Israel.
The Principle of Life Violated
The word “kill” in commandment six is more properly rendered “murder.” Killing was allowed by God as punishment for certain crimes and was meant to teach Israel the principle of righteousness. Murder, however, is not an act of righteous judgment but a violent act driven by evil intent. The desire to murder and violate the principle of life developed early in one of God’s sons, Lucifer. Jesus described him as “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). He is the indirect murderer of the human race. Through deception he separated man from God, sentencing our race to death. Not long after man’s fall, Adam’s firstborn son murdered his brother out of jealous rage.
Jesus Raised the Standard
Our Lord Jesus magnified commandment number six and lifted it to a more meaningful level. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill [murder]; and whosoever shall kill [murder] shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21, 22 ASV).
The word “Raca” means a vain, empty, worthless fellow. “Fool” means to be dull, stupid, or heedless. It can also mean apostate, as one who is willfully wicked. Among the Jews it described the most aggravated guilt. Jesus said that if this spirit persists, it can lead to Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, a symbolic description of second death.
Our Lord connected the literal act of murder to anger. If anyone reaches a point where an individual is accounted as worthless, or not having anything good in them, Jesus equates this to murder. This is a dangerous condition requiring a cleansing of one’s own heart. One remedy may be to look for the potential that still exists in an individual. We must be vigilant in purging any remnants of this old leaven of malice and wickedness (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8).
There are many “little foxes” that can lead our hearts toward a disposition like this. In Colossians 3:8 the Apostle Paul describes the downward spiral of sin. “Now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” Each of these hurtful qualities can contribute to the spiritual act of murder described by Jesus.
The Spiral of Sin
Anger is the beginning stage of wrath. Nurturing evil thoughts, especially of revenge and jealousy, can lay the groundwork for sinful actions. This can occur when we are hurt by someone and allow the flesh to respond. At these times the principles of mercy and love should guide our response. After all, Christ died for him, just as for me! The flesh will always seek its interests and demand its rights. The New Creature should counteract the flesh and work to lift others up, sacrificing personal hurt for the sake of reconciliation. This is a Christ-like response.
Wrath is the next step after anger builds to an almost uncontrollable state. The fallen flesh may create reasons that justify its response.
Malice is the phase of planning revenge. It more firmly establishes the desire to commit an evil against someone.
Blasphemy and filthy communication are the verbal expressions of a heart poisoned by sin.
Each of the above steps can be seen in the fall of Lucifer.
● His heart was lifted up because of his beauty (Ezekiel 28:17). This caused him to contemplate his next steps.
● He wanted to be like God (Isaiah 14:1215) At this point his plan was beginning to formulate.
● Iniquity was found in him and he was cast down from favor (Ezekiel 28:15). The consequences of his sinful thoughts led to his fall.
● Evil was manifested in the Garden of Eden and magnified with the corruption of man.
Brother Russell wrote, “The Spirit or disposition of murder is the spirit or disposition of the adversary, who was the first murderer” (R3928). We should each guard our hearts, and never allow the downward spiral to take shape. As our Lord said, this can lead the child of God to commit murder and ultimately lead to second death.
Even Jesus experienced anger when he overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple. So, there are occasions when anger is justifiable. However, because of our inherent sinful nature, our judgment, which led to the anger, may be wrong or our anger inappropriately expressed. It is wise to be cautious in this area.
We should hate sin in all its forms, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 1:23). But we should search our hearts to see if our anger is justified. Is it leading to a helpful disposition and desire to lift up the one who has angered us? If this is the case, our anger can lead to a positive conclusion.
The best course to follow is well described in R787. “While God announces his anger, and shows its justice, he bids us beware of it, lest, because of our fallen condition, we err in judgment. We therefore, recognizing ourselves as imperfect in judgment, are admonished to leave it for Him who cannot err, and who says, ‘Vengeance is mine I will repay’ (Romans 12:19).”
1 John 3:14-16 provides an insight into spiritual murder, and the main element that can defeat it: Love. “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
Hate implies an emotional loathing, often coupled with enmity or malice. The apostle says that if this heart condition is persisted in, it may lead to the loss of eternal life. The apostle describes how a lack of love can be manifested. “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17). The positive side of this is to have compassion and mercy in the way we treat others.
This reveals that the love of God has taken root in our hearts. God judges His people not according to what they can accomplish, but by their heart intent (R423). So, let our intentions be motivated by love. “And above all things have fervent charity (love) among yourselves: for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
The simple command, “Thou shalt not murder,” has important supporting principles: Human life is sacred. Only God can give life and no one should take it away unjustly. Sin begins in the heart and should be recognized in the early stages of development. Thoughts have consequences and must be controlled. Hatred and unjustified anger are considered by God to be murder.
These principles were contained in the sixth commandment, but more clearly magnified by our Lord and the apostles. Let us love in word and in deed so we may attain eternal life and honor the giver of all life.