The next commandment in our series seems a fairly straightforward one – do not murder. You can find it here in Exodus 20.
“You are not to commit murder.
Exodus 20:13 (ISV)
With a command like this, there may not seem all that much to say about it. Do not go around murdering people. Simple.
I am guessing that most people reading this have never broken this command, and are not likely to do so. But as we have seen with some of the other commandments, there is more here than meets the eye.
Murder is a very specific word. We may know this commandment from other Bible translations as “Thou shalt not kill,” but “kill” does not quite align with what it says. To kill is a much broader definition than to murder. You might be responsible, for example, for killing someone in an accident, but that is not murder. Neither are good of course, but they are distinct.
It may seem like I am splitting hairs here, but such distinctions are important. For instance, in times of war, is it a breach of this commandment to fight and kill the enemy? Soldiers at war are not committing murder as we might understand it in everyday life. The people of Israel, who these commands were given to, battled many enemies and killed them in war.
I am not trying to persuade you to become a pacifist, or to give soldiers a free pass to kill indiscriminately. My point is just to make you think that this simple commandment is more than meets the eye.
As Jesus often did, He challenges us to think more deeply about these words.
“You have heard that it was told those who lived long ago, ‘You are not to commit murder,’ and, ‘Whoever murders will be subject to punishment.’ 22 But I say to you, anyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to punishment. And whoever says to his brother ‘Raka!’ will be subject to the Council. And whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to hell fire.
Matthew 5:21-22 (ISV)
Jesus takes this relatively straightforward command, and turns it inward. Very few of us are guilty of murder, and yet none of us are innocent of becoming angry at our brother, neighbour or friend. At first glance, we can dismiss the commandment as having nothing to do with us, and yet Jesus points out that the physical action of killing someone is no different than the internal sin of hating them.
The murder itself is an outward sign of hatred within. While we may have the strength or wits to control our physical actions, we look just as guilty on the inside.
Anger is one of the strongest emotions. I picture it like you see in the movies; a gas explosion in a mine or similar, with fire flooding a narrow tunnel and bursting forth into the air. We feel it start deep inside us but it erupts out of us in word or deed. We may be able to control it to a point, or bury it deep down, but it will come out in one way or another.
This commandment, like so many of the others, cannot be fulfilled by us just because we want or decide to. I might choose not to murder someone, but it is not so easy to just decide not to be angry or to stop hating someone who has deeply wounded me.
For many hearing Jesus’ words for the first time, they reacted in disbelief, “We can’t possibly do that!” And you might be feeling the same. You were fine with not murdering, but now, being asked not to withhold anger or hatred, that’s too much!
That’s the point though. It is too much. The Law was not given to be fulfilled, but to show us how far short we fall. The teachers of the Law, the religious people of the day, thought they were good because they kept the Law. Had they listened to Christ, they would have seen that they were hypocrites who broke the Law time after time.
The truth is we need Jesus. He lived a perfect life and fulfilled every aspect of the Law for us. If we allow Him to be our substitute, then we take up a position of righteousness given to us through Him.
The Law was given to show us we need a Saviour! And that Saviour’s Name is Jesus Christ.
Are you a murderer reading this? Are you hiding anger in your heart towards someone? Both things break this commandment.
But good news! You can be forgiven and set free right now by placing your life in Christ’s hands. Ask Jesus to be your Lord and Saviour, and ask the Father to forgive you – not because of your perfect performance, but because of Christ’s!
If you are guilty of anger or hatred towards someone, then can you make a step towards resolution today? Can you call them? Write to them? Even just pray for them? It may be a big step but you can take it with God’s help. Anger and hatred in our hearts eat us from the inside out, and do no harm to the one we hate. Do yourself a favour, and ask the Father to help you start to let it go today.