The Shedding of Innocent Blood

The Sixth Commandment in the Prophets

4 min

The sixth commandment—“Thou shalt not kill”—embraces much more than the prohibition of murder. On the positive side, God’s Law calls for the upholding of life; the deliverance of the oppressed; the kind treatment of strangers, orphans, and widows; and the defense of the innocent. These positive truths are amplified throughout the law of Moses and the prophets.

These positive aspects of the sixth commandment can be seen in many places in the Old Testament, where God intended for leaders to do all they could to preserve life. For example, in Jeremiah Chapter 22, the prophet Jeremiah sent a message from God to Zedekiah, the king of Judah. The care of God’s people was entrusted to the ruler, and judgment would come upon the land of Judah if justice was not upheld and innocent blood was shed.

“Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, that sittest upon the throne of David, thou, and thy servants, and thy people that enter in by these gates: Thus saith the LORD; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:2–3).

Jesus would later show that the Pharisees and Sadducees were wrong to limit the scope of the sixth commandment to murder alone. He taught that how we treat our brother is also a matter covered by the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” We will look at this teaching in detail next week. For now, it is important to see that the Old Testament standards for the sixth commandment fully embraced what Jesus was advocating in the Sermon on the Mount.

These five points given by God through the prophet Jeremiah are not exhaustive, nor do they all relate exclusively to the sixth commandment. The Bible is an integrated book, and many of the commandments are closely related to one another. For example, violence against human life (the sixth commandment) is related to selfish plunder and robbery (the eighth commandment) and both of these can be motivated by covetousness (the tenth commandment). These five calls to action in Jeremiah 22:3 illustrate that the Law and the Prophets anticipated the teachings of the Lord Jesus on the positive call of the Law to actively protect and promote life in society. Let’s examine each call issued in the prophet’s message to King Zedekiah:

  1. “Execute ye judgment and righteousness”
    Obedience to the sixth commandment not only calls us to abstain from murder on the negative side, it also calls us to action on the positive side. The Hebrew verb here translated “execute” is the same word that is often simply translated “do” or “make.” This is what the Lord Jesus said when He taught His disciples, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Do you condemn your brother by your own standards of right and wrong, or do you make your every judgment call based upon the righteous standards laid down by God Himself?
  2. “Deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor”
    The king of Judah also was called to intervene when oppressors take advantage of “the spoiled.” Those who selfishly rob and plunder are to be held accountable for their actions. It is right for a Christian to intervene when he sees unjust violence. Jesus honored the Good Samaritan who bound up the wounds of the man wounded by robbers (Luke 10:33–37). Do you “pass by on the other side” (Luke 10:31–32) when you see men and women under oppression, or do you seek to deliver the oppressed from the selfish clutches of the oppressor?
  3. “Do no wrong”
    This is the same word that is translated “vex” in Exodus 22:21, which says, “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” As God’s children, we are not to selfishly take advantage of those who are weaker. The strong should give preference for the weak. Do you ever selfishly take advantage of others who have less than you or know less than you, or do you look for ways to benefit them, especially helping the foreigner and the stranger?
  4. “Do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow
    God has a special love for strangers, orphans, and widows, as recorded in Psalm 68:5, “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.” We read in the Old Testament Law and also here in the message of Jeremiah that it was the duty of kings to ensure that strangers, widows, and orphans are protected. But it is the duty of every Christian gentleman to take a special interest in the lives of these vulnerable ones. According to James 1:27, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” Do you personally look for ways that you can assist orphans and widows? Have you ever given time or money to meet their needs or invited them to share your hospitality?
  5. “Neither shed innocent blood in this place”
    A devastating calamity that existed in the prophet Jeremiah’s day, as well as in our own, is the cruel shedding of innocent blood. The Lord particularly links this phrase “innocent blood” with the blood of children in Psalm 106:38; according to that Scripture, God says of His people that they “shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood.” Of all the people who are least able to defend themselves, children are certainly in this category of innocent ones. In spite of the many medical advances of our day, our culture allows for the horrors of abortion and the harvesting of organs from healthy children. As Christians, we should support the efforts of Godly leaders who defend the lives of the innocent, and we should seek to remove from office the leaders who permit the shedding of innocent blood.

In the days of the wicked king Manasseh, the Bible specifically says that he “made his son pass through the fire” (II Kings 21:6). This dreadful practice of throwing babies into the arms of the false god Moloch exists today as legalized abortion—a form of shedding innocent blood that is perhaps more civilized and less horrific but no less murderous. God’s people should always be defenders of innocent blood. Have you ever personally prayed and labored for the protection of the lives of innocent children? God takes this matter of innocent blood very seriously, and we should do the same.

This article is from our Matters of Life & Death teaching series.

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