Death is a tragic consequence of the fall of man. When Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, they were placed in the Garden of Eden and told that if they disobeyed God’s command, they would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17). Little did they realize how ugly death would be! Of the first two sons born to Adam and Eve, the first killed the second. It is a sad testimony of consequence to humanity that the first man ever born on earth was a murderer!
Since the day that Cain killed Abel, unjust violence has become an ugly reality in this fallen world of sin and sorrow. At present, cruelty, rampant crime, abortion, and euthanasia make it very evident that human life continues to be devalued by our modern society. The sixth commandment comes as a reminder that God is still the God of life, and that He still hates unjust violence. Thus, God gives us the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13).
These words stand through the ages as the testimony of a God Who loves life. When Cain killed Abel, the Lord told Cain, “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground (Genesis 4:10). When Noah stepped off the ark onto a world devastated by a global flood, the Lord instituted civil government and gave human leaders the authority and duty to uphold the life of the innocent by punishing murderers with death. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:6).
These words remind us that the laws specifically against murder and more broadly extending to unjust violence of any kind are given because man is made in the image of God. To commit murder and violence in deed, in word, or in thought is to sin against the Creator Who created mankind in His image and is the ultimate Giver of Life.
This is why, as Christians, we are not only to abstain from murder and physical violence, but we also are to love our fellow men as Jesus taught us, applying the sixth commandment in the fullest and highest sense:
The Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, clearly indicates that the living God values life and wants His people to do the same. In His covenant with Noah, the Lord prohibits the eating of blood (Genesis 9:4) because blood is symbolic of life. The Lord reiterates this to the nation of Israel when He says “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11).
Throughout the case law of Moses, the Lord shows Himself over and over as the Defender and Protector of life. The life of the helpless unborn baby is valued by the God of Heaven (Exodus 21:22). Widows and orphans were not to be taken advantage of (Exodus 22:22). Those who had slain a man by accident were to be protected from the avenger of blood in one of the cities of refuge until a proper trial could be held to ascertain the facts of the case (Deuteronomy 19:4–6). The God of Heaven loves and values life.
The specific act forbidden by the sixth commandment is murder. The Hebrew word is רָצַח (ratsach). The word implies violence and cruelty in its root form and is never used for lawful killings, such as Biblically-mandated capital punishment or lawful lethal defense of home and family. The same God Who forbade murder also commanded the just and swift execution of murderers. Those who chafe against capital punishment as an old Mosaic commandment that was only for ancient Israel forget that capital punishment was first mentioned in God’s covenant with Noah and was to be firmly observed by all of Noah’s descendants—the entire human race. Capital punishment honors and preserves life by requiring the death of the murderer.
In the coming weeks, we will see that the sixth commandment forbids not only the physical act of murder, but also the violence and hatred that motivates it. In these days of video gaming, sensationalized movies, and television shows glorifying brutality, a man must purposely choose to avoid the evil that is constantly in front of his eyes and can ultimately lodge in his mind and heart. Anger and violence are at the root of all murder (James 4:1–2). We will examine Jesus Christ’s teaching that whoever is “angry with his brother without a cause” is in violation of the sixth commandment. Christ calls us to be men of reconciliation, men of humility, men of meekness, men who understand that our brothers and sisters are likewise made in the image of God. Over the course of this month, we will also look at the lives of men in Scripture as well as men in history who were notable for the valiant role that they took as protectors of life.
As we begin this month’s study, let each one of us purpose afresh that we as God’s children will learn to value life as God does. God has made each one of us in His image; for that reason, every human soul—from the unborn baby to the elderly individual in the nursing home—has inestimable value in the sight of the Lord. We should look for ways to defend the unborn, to shelter the widow, to reconcile the estranged, to care for the aged and infirm, to strengthen the weak, to heal the sick, and to care for the widow and orphan. When we do these important duties, we are demonstrating that we value what God values—human life that is created in God’s own image.