Exodus 20:13, “You shall not murder.”
The word murder used here in Exodus 20:13 is the transliterated word ratsach, and according to Strong’s dictionary it means, “To murder, slay, kill, premeditated, accidental, as avenger, slayer intentional, and to assassinate.”[i]
Man was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) in order to live in harmony with his fellow man. This harmony became impossible once sin came into the picture (Genesis 3). With sin came the propensity for acting violently against one another. Anger, jealousy, pride, and hatred can fuel man’s evil bent towards life-ending aggression. The first recorded act of murder was when Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8). From that moment on, taking the life of another has been commonplace and, in some circles of society, acceptable. To God every life is important.
Is there a difference between murder and killing? First, it is important to note that not all killing is wrong. For instance, the Apostle Paul talks about the right of the state to take the lives of evildoers (Romans 13:1-7). This relates to what is commonly referred to as capital punishment. Most countries have consequences for murder. In some cases, this requires the life of the perpetrator and a suitable means of putting one to death is chosen and administered (Matthew 5:21; Exodus 21:14). Another instance of acceptable “killing” is that which is done during times of war and at the command of superiors. There were quite a few instances in Scripture where God endorsed and allowed the taking of other lives (1 Samuel 11; Judges 6–7). And finally, although far from acceptable, manslaughter is yet another form of killing someone. This unintentional act apparently happened so often in biblical times that cities of refuge were designated for the manslayer to seek refuge in (Exodus 21:13; Joshua 20). Again, it was never God’s intent to have to use such a drastic measure as taking one’s life to rectify a situation. So, God does make exceptions for the taking of another’s life as long as it lines up with His will. Premeditated murder of an individual is never God’s will.
What is murder in God’s eyes? From the human perspective, murder is the physical act of taking another’s life. We also must consider that God defines murder as any thought or feeling of deep-seated hatred or malice against another person. In other words, it is more than a physical act that constitutes murder to God, who tells us that “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15 ESV). When we harbor hatred in our hearts for another, we have committed the sin of murder in God’s eyes. The disdain towards another person never has to be demonstrated outwardly because God looks upon the heart for the truth (1 Samuel 16:7; Matthew 15:19). As Christians and as human beings, we know that unjustified killing is wrong. God’s Word is very clear on this point: “You shall not murder.” And what God says we must obey, or we face the consequences on judgment day.
In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus amplifies the meaning of the sixth commandment “You shall not murder.” He brings out that to commit murder means more than the killing someone, it means having an angry and unforgiving attitude towards them.
Matthew 5:21-26, “21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[a] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[b] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[c] of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
The Apostle John elaborates on this by writing that to hate someone is the same as murdering them.
1 John 3:15, “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him”
Murder like all sin begins in the human mind (Matthew 15:18-19; Mark 7:20-23) it starts as a thought, in this case, hatred, which leads to the action of murder (James 1:13-15; 4:1-3). The opposite of hating someone is loving them, we should even love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48), seeking not revenge, but looking for ways to help them (Romans 12:17-21).
Since all people have sinned against God (Rom. 3:23), all people are under the judgment of God. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). So when God executes someone, it is not murder. It is killing because it is a lawful taking of life. Remember, all people have sinned. Sin is the breaking of God’s law. Therefore, God’s execution is lawful. The gospel is the only hope for all sinners, including murders.
[i] Strong, James, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson), 943.