SPECIAL TOPIC: MURDER (EXODUS 20:13)
A. It needs to be remembered that even the commands that seem to be of a social nature are really religious. God's sovereignty over creation and redemption are shadowed in these commands. The command not to murder is, in proper focus, a word about the image of God in every human being and God's care and concern for human life.
B. It needs to be remembered that each command focused on the believing community. Its implications are as wide as humanity!
II. Word Study of Significant Terms
1. This term rasah, רצח, BDB 953, means taking a life. It is used only forty six times in the OT. There are several other overlapping Hebrew terms used hundreds of times.
2. The term (rasah) seems to have an original limited meaning and an expanded meaning.
a. Originally it related to taking the life of a covenant partner in a legal, premeditated way, often associated with "the kinsman redeemer" or go'el. This usage involved premeditation, but in a sense of legal revenge (cf. Num. 35:30-34; Lev. 24:13-23). In reality the Lex Talionis, "eye for eye," (cf. Gen. 9:5-6) was a way to limit revenge. Later, the cities of refuge (Deut. 4:41; Josh. 20:3) were established so that a covenant member who accidently or passionately killed another member of the community could flee the wrath of the victim's family.
b. Later the term came to refer to the motive or attitude behind the taking of a life. The concept of "intentionality" becomes uppermost (cf. Exod. 21:12-14; Num. 35:11,22; Deut. 28:24).
c. This distinction becomes significant in this command. It seems in context to refer only to others within the covenant community. It is related to the kinsman redeemer, or blood revenge. However, the term is used in later passages which reflect the Decalog, Hosea 4:2 and Jer. 8:9, to refer to a murderer. This word relates not only to the law, but to the motive. It expands from neighbor to fellow human being.
3. This term certainly does not relate to our modern ethical issue of capital punishment or war. The Jews never had a problem with community execution or holy war (or, for that matter, unholy war!).
4. The best translation for our modern culture would be "premeditated murder."
III. Contextual Insights
A. The sixth, seventh, and eighth commands are made up of only two Hebrew words. They are very short and to the point.
B. Life, like all of creation, is related to God. How we treat others reflects our thoughts about God.
IV. New Testament Parallels
1. His expansion of this commandment in Matt. 5:21-26 gives us the proper orientation for our modern discussion about how to apply this text to our day.
2. Jesus obviously moved the Decalog from the realm of actions into the realm of motives. We are what we think! "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." The thought life is more relevant and significant than we normally give it credit.
1. In John 3:5, this same concept of hate being considered murder is stated.
2. The Greek terms used in Matt. 5:21ff and I John 3:5 are different, but the meaning is essentially the same.
3. Note the positive aspect in I John 4:19-21.
A. Even though an unintentional murderer can escape the blood avenger by fleeing to a city of refuge (Numbers 35; Joshua 20), he has to pay the penalty of confinement in that city until the death of the High Priest. The consequences of his act still remain.
B. Although this verse does not directly relate to suicide, as the ancients probably never thought of this event, the text still gives a spiritual principle concerning the sanctity of human life.
C. This text does not, however, speak a decisive word to the modern question of (1) capital punishment or (2) war. For Israel, these were not evil things in themselves. The Israelites were involved in both of these acts. Still, the principle of the significance of life made in God's image and under His control is an important truth in this area.
D. This text does speak a needed word about the dignity and sanctity of human life! We in the believing community are stewards, not only of our own actions, but of our society. The gift of life is both individual and corporate.
We are as responsible for the physical, social, and psychological abuse of our own bodies as we are the physical, social, and psychological abuse of others in our community. This is especially true in a culture like ours where we are allowed to speak to and, thereby, change the system. We are our brothers' keeper!
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