You shall not murder

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It is perhaps the most familiar of the 10 Commandments, yet rarely meditated upon deeply. We find the sixth commandment in Exodus 20v13.

You shall not murder.

 

I think that there are two common attitudes towards this verse:

1) We look to it as evidence that we’re one of life’s ‘good guys’. We may not be perfect but we’re in the right on the important issues. This commandment, coupled with my own lack of murdering, shows that God and I are on essentially the same moral wavelength. (Hopefully he will reward me for this down the line.)

Or

2) We gloss over it entirely. It’s a bit obvious, isn’t it? I guess ‘No murder’ had to be in the commandments somewhere (for completion sake).  But it’s so easy I think I can skip safely on to the next one.

Whichever of these attitudes rings most true for us, I don’t think many of us spend much time contemplating the sixth commandment. But the Bible finds much more depth in this command than we are disposed to. Where we nowadays minimise the application strictly to the taking of life, the Bible teaches an expanded understanding, with both Old and New Testaments making it clear that God had much more in mind. 

For example, Leviticus 19 v 17-18 elaborates

You shall not hate your brother in your heart… you shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge… but you shall love your neighbour as yourself.

Jesus teaching on this subject adds:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
— Matthew 5v21-22

Murdering in deed was of course forbidden, but God’s people were expected to put away murderous words too, and even thoughts of ill-will. Moreover, merely refraining from causing/willing harm still falls short of God’s call for active love, mercy and peace-making towards our neighbour.

Thus moods of anger, the bearing of grudges and scorning others with words are all filed under the category of ‘murder’. Suddenly this is not feeling so comfortable. A commandment which appeared to affirm my purity instead shockingly reveals my heart to be murderous. 

We began by suggesting two common attitudes to the sixth commandment. To conclude, here are two possible directions for further reflection:

  1. In directing us to prefer others’ welfare to our own, this commandment is revealing God’s own heart and character. It is perfectly fulfilled by Jesus laying down his life for us.
  2. The commandment challenges us to reconsider habits of deed, word and thought where we are naturally most satisfied with our behaviours. Even here we are very much in need of grace, forgiveness and help to change. 
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