The King James Version of the Bible translates the sixth commandment as, “Thou shalt not kill.” But as one looks through the Scriptures God seemingly commands His people to kill. Moses kills, Joshua kills and even King David kills. In light of the commandment and God’s execution orders, is God an accomplice to sin? Or is God flippant about sin? Nothing could be further from the truth!
A Reformed Statement of Faith called the Belgic Confession states, “God is…almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good.” As the Confession says, God is both just and good. The insufficiency comes in the expression, “Thou shalt not kill.” The more modern translation of “You shall not murder” is closer to the idea meant by Moses when he penned God’s words. The original Hebrew word for “murder” used here is not the same word as “kill”. God through Moses, is stating that “You shall not unlawfully intentionally take a life.”
God is commanding that first-degree murder must never be committed. In ancient Israel, in the time of the Old Testament, the penalty for breaking the sixth commandment was that the convicted murderer would be put to death. The Old Testament provides countless examples of Israel enforcing God-approved capital punishment. Though, the civil laws are no longer in effect (as they all were fulfilled in Christ) the moral law which we see summarized in the Ten Commandments are always in all-places in effect, for they are written on the hearts of mankind. Even after the garden of Eden, well before the giving of the Law, in the story of Cain and Abel we see God punishing Cain for breaking the law by means of his premeditated, unlawful taking of a life. Jesus would go on, to make clear in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew five that Cain violated the sixth commandment well before he ever killed Abel. You see, Cain’s act was nothing more than the unveiling of Cain’s vicious heart.
When Jesus quotes the sixth commandment, He does not state that it is merely a physical act (as the Pharisees of his day promulgated). Instead, Jesus declares “everyone who is angry with his brother…whoever insults his brother…[and/or] whoever says, ‘You fool’ will liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:23 ESV) Do you see what Jesus is doing? Murder is not an act limited to your hands. Rather, murder is a violence birthed from the heart, and it is your heart that renders you guilty well before you hand does. In other words, your inward attitude of hatred is equally as blame-worthy as the action. We like to think that we’re better than murders, but Jesus asks you: Have you ever hated someone before? Have you ever hoped that something bad would happen to someone? Have you ever cussed somebody out? Is there someone you refuse to forgive and want to see suffer? Is there someone who you just can’t stand to see? If you’ve answered yes, then Jesus accuses you of murder and warns you that your heart is placing you in danger of hell’s fires; just being unjustifiably angry with your brother makes you liable to hell, the place reserved for Satan and his angels. Why does Christ mention this? Because He loves you and does not want you to suffer in eternity.
What was God’s counsel for Cain before he killed Abel? God said to Cain, “Why are you angry…sin is crouching at the door. its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7 ESV). God gives the same advice today, whether you be the villain or victim. Seek forgiveness from your victim, for Christ has forgiven you and your sin no longer identifies you, He does. Give the gift of grace to your villain as Christ has given it to you; yet place practical safeguards if necessary. We must allow the grace of God to be at the core of our hearts if dare call ourselves disciples, if not, then we allow hate to fester within us and seeds of bitterness grow where the fruit of the Holy Spirit should be blossoming. To be like Christ is to live by grace alone, and give grace as it has been bestowed on the Church, give this grace away that you have received.