0110 – Source Code 6 -The Call of Justice

“You shall not murder.
(Exo 20:13)

While many of the Ten Commandments seem clear-cut, surprisingly, this one has become more murky, especially as it has been interpreted. In the King James, this text reads, “thou shalt not kill.” Seems simple enough, right? But it is right to “kill” sometimes? What about Capital Punishment? Isn’t that a just “killing” by the state to execute a law-breaker?

Many years ago I got into an argument (surprised?) with a lady I worked with. Our argument was basically about Capital Punishment. To her, executing a condemned man violated this commandment. As as seen as an absolute, this is not incorrect. All life is sacred, even life which has taken the life of another, or committed treason against the state. But this is not a position I take lightly. The State is authorized, even commanded to take the life of the convicted man (or woman) who takes the life of another person. It is the very seriousness and sacredness of life that one ought not to take it from another person. God tells the family of Noah after they emerged from the ark:

And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. (Gen 9:5-6)

Because God considers life so precious (it is made in His image), He commands that anyone who takes someone else’s life ought to be killed and thus deliver him up to God for judgment. If you follow the Old Testament Law, you find that God pronounces several categories of sin, in addition to murder, that call for the killing of the perpetrator, including religious malfeasance, sexual deviance, dabbling in witchcraft and sorcery and so on. However, these later laws were only binding on the people of Israel, not the whole world. However, the law given in Genesis 9 is binding upon all men who are descendants of Noah, which is everyone.

Does this have anything to say about state-sanctioned killing, like war? This commandment comes from the same God who commanded the Israelites (as a King commanding his troops) to go to war against Canaan and retake their rightful property (according to the promises made to Abraham). Because God commanded it, it was automatically a just war. So the idea of going to war and killing your enemy in a just cause seems to be legitimate. What a Just War is or what a state is should the subject of another blog entry. The point here is that killing on behalf of a state, as a soldier or representative of that state, is also exempt from this command, “do not kill.”

So it seems obvious that Exodus 20:13 does not supersede Genesis 9:5-6. So if this command does not refer to the state-authorized killing of murderers to whom does it refer? All other taking of human life apart from the state. Thus it is translated above as “do not murder”, meaning do not take someone else’s life as an individual. But where does this impulse from from? Jesus explains it this way:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Mat 5:21-22)

Have you ever been angry?

Have you ever been angry with another person? What was it that made you angry? I think people get angry for one of two reasons: 1) that their own sense of right is violated, or that 2) someone else’s right has been violated.

If someone steals your car, your promotion, your place in line, you get angry. Why? Because they were not entitled to these things, you are. And your sense of justice, the oughtness of things, is violated, by which you choose to become angry, because taking back by force seems just under those circumstances.

But have you ever been angry for someone else? Someone called your wife a name. Does that make you angry? Your kid being bullied at school. Does that make you angry? Four planes were used by terrorists to hurt your country. Does that make you angry? Though these things didn’t happen directly to you, your own sense of right and justice are violated, and you can respond with anger.

But this anger comes from a judgment call. If the repo man “stole” your car because you were delinquent on payments, you may still be angry, but are you righteous in your anger? If your child was being rude and obnoxious, did he deserve to be treated in kind? You may still be angry, but is it a righteous anger? We often make these judgment calls, resulting in ANGER with insufficient information. We take action before we’ve heard all the facts. That’s why the state is authorized to execute a man, because the state takes the time to gather all the facts and make summary judgment towards the accused. It takes longer, and justice isn’t always Just, but is better than a snap judgment, and the horrible long-term consequences that emerge from it. If you remember the Hatfields and the McCoys, you know why its a bad idea for people to “take the law into their own hands” and act as “judge, jury, and executioner” because it leads to murder and destruction of whole families due to near endless feuds.

This commandment is more than trying keep us from killing each other. It is to prevent the massive internal conflicts that happen when people feel justified in killing their fellow man. It is to stem the tide of aggression and destruction when anger is not held in check.

I’ll cap this here, but I think you get the idea. Please comment below and tell me what you think . Looking forward to reading your comments. Thank you all for subscribing.


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I've been in ministry in the Christian Churches/ Churches of Christ for 20+ years. Finished my doctorate in Biblical Studies in 2015. Serve today as a Hospital Chaplain.

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