The shortest commandment, consisting of only four words, may be read from Deuteronomy 5:17. It is most commonly read from Exodus 20:13. “Thou shalt not kill.”
In these texts, the Hebrew word ratsach, in many versions of the Bible, is translated as the word kill. However, ratsach does not just mean kill or killing. It is more accurately translated as murder, implying the willful intent to kill. Properly translated, these texts would read, “Thou shalt not murder.”
“You shall not commit murder.” It was never in God’s plan that one human being should take another human being’s life in a wanton manner. He placed this commandment as a prohibition, a hedge around the innocent, and a protection to keep passion from getting out of control.
In the sequence of the ten commandments, this sixth commandment is closely related to the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” It naturally follows the fifth, not just numerically, but sequentially and purposefully as well. The fifth commandment deals with the home, the place where life has its origin and is developed so that order and respect will exist in society. The fifth commandment builds a wall of protection around the family and provides the foundation upon which all human relationships are formed.
The sixth commandment shows us how we are to regard the sacredness of human life by protecting and safeguarding it. As the other commandments, it has a much broader application than just the taking of human life through cruel hands. It reveals the very nature of life, its origin, and why life is indeed a sacred and a moral issue.
What is Life?
As we study this very short commandment, let us look at what life is. From where does life come? Just what is it that makes the difference between lifeless matter and living matter? Many people have tried to prolong life, thinking that they can overrule some aspect of living matter.
There are some individuals who have directed that, upon their death, their bodies be quick frozen with nitrogen and kept in sealed capsules until science can discover some method of thawing them out and bringing them back to life again. In my mind, this is plain stupidity, just from the standpoint of what freezing does.
If you have ever left an undrained water hose in the yard during the winter, you know what happens. The water freezes and bursts the hose, cracking it. When the warmer temperatures of spring come and you turn on the water, water squirts everywhere. Well, in the human body, the blood vessels react to freezing temperature similar to the water hose, and when ice forms in them, they either burst or stretch beyond the point where they can function normally. In addition, ice in the blood vessels “captures” the water content, making it impossible for the blood cells to survive. Other types of cells are also damaged during freezing. Frostbite is a common malady caused by cold temperatures; frozen skin and blood cells are damaged from the dehydration due to freezing.
So, when a person tries to preserve the body by freezing it, thinking that they can warm it up and bring it back to life again, they are going to have trillions and trillions of fractured cells needing Band-Aids®! There is not a way that man can repair all of the damage. Only a divine hand could accomplish something like that.
What is it, then, that makes the difference between lifeless matter and living matter? What is the difference between carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen in an organic mass and hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon as an organic person? What is that subtle, potent spark of life, or vital force, which is housed in the center of an apparently structureless microscopic cell, lacking any chemical or biological action, which suddenly quickens it with energy, making it a living, growing, parental thing, organizing it into that wonderful thing called man?
These are the questions into which the keenest of minds are probing with the most intense interest today. But, interestingly, the most educated minds and the most sophisticated equipment cannot produce that life-giving force, either in plant or in animal. Life there is, though, and the Bible tells us how it originated.
Law of First Mention
The Law of First Mention must be recognized, as far as the study of Scripture is concerned, because if we fail to recognize this, then there is a great tendency and a great probability that we will get off on a tangent from which we may never recover.
When we study the Bible, we have to use tools of study in order to come up with proper doctrine, proper interpretation, and understanding of what it is that the Bible is trying to teach us. The Law of First Mention is one of those tools that has been given to us so that we can understand what the Bible has to say.
We find an example of the Law of First Mention in the Book of Genesis, where it describes to us how God brought life into being: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Genesis 1:1. This tells us the origin, how the earth came into being. Genesis 1 continues through the first four days of creation, and then, in verses 20–27, it says, “And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl [that] may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that [it was] good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his [own] image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”
Then, Genesis 2:7 tells us how all of this came together and how this one called man took on life: “And the Lord God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
From all of the study researching man’s origin, there have come many theories concerning how man came into being, but in the middle of all the confusion there is one area of argument: man’s body is composed of the same chemical elements as the soil upon which he walks. This should tell us something—either God created man or he came up out of the earth in some way. The Bible tells us how he came up out of the earth. God formed him out of the dust, and then it says, He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” But man is dust. He was taken out of the dust, and the Bible says he will return to dust. (Genesis 3:19.)
Breath of Life
The form of clay that the Lord molded in the beginning was just that, until He breathed into its nostrils the breath of life, that spark of life. Then that clay became a living, moving image of God Himself. The breath, here, is a symbol for something greater.
Science can create breath, and by that I mean oxygen and nitrogen. Those elements can be manufactured by science, but scientists can pump as much of those they want into clay and they will never come up with that spark that animates the body and brings it to life. Man is of divine origin, and he is under the sovereignty of the Creator. It is God who keeps him alive and gives him his being. His life is a part of the eternal purpose of God.
God gave to this newly created creature—man—a part of Himself, and He told Adam to be fruitful and multiply. As we read the genealogy of man in the Bible, we see that indeed man can trace his origin to God himself. Genealogy recorded in Luke states: “. . . Which was [the son] of Enos, which was [the son] of Seth, which was [the son] of Adam, which was [the son] of God.” Luke 3:38. Every person in the world can eventually trace his or her heritage back through the maze of the family tree to divine parentage. Our origin comes from God Himself.
Because of its lineage and how it originated, the human body is a sacred thing. This is why the apostle Paul tells us, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” The human body is a living shrine wherein God’s Spirit dwells. As such, it is a priceless container of unknown sacred potentialities.
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” 1 John 3:1–3.
There are some things about Jesus we clearly understand, but there are other things that we are not able to grasp. These are so complex to the human mind and to the human understanding that God has not been able to share them with us. He is not able to portray to us, so that our minds can comprehend, what is in store for us. But we do know that when Jesus comes, and when we see Him, we are going to be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, and we are going to be like Him.
When God proclaimed in thunderous tones from Mt. Sinai the words, “You shall not kill,” or “You shall not commit murder,” it was for the purpose of preserving the image of God that had been created in the very beginning of time. God wants His image to fill the whole earth. He desires to have Himself replicated in this creation.
God loves individuality. The thinking of man is so shallow in many ways. Have you ever thought about how individualized the human race really is? The basic building block for humanity is carbon. This is where carbon dating comes into play. When an old bone is discovered, it can be run through a process that reads the carbon to find out how much it has deteriorated. It is possible to get a fairly accurate reading to about 4,500 years—after that it begins to slide down the slippery slope of interpretation and speculation. Carbon is the building block of the human race.
We are told that no two snowflakes are alike. This is rather difficult to believe when you experience a blizzard and see all those snowflakes! God loves individuality. You can look at flowers and at leaves on a tree, and even though you can identify them as a specific kind of flower or tree leaf, no two of them are exactly alike.
Suppose for a moment that God decided on another world somewhere to use a different building block, a different element than carbon, because He loves individuality. Suppose that God used gold as the building block. Possible? Of course it is; it is an element. What if He used silver as the building block on another world? God loves individuality, and I believe this is why Ellen White, as she in vision saw some of the creatures from other worlds, could not really describe them, other than the fact that they were beautiful to behold. (See Early Writings, 39, 40.)
Crime Against God
Man’s body is the true glory in which Deity itself is to dwell and shine. So murder, in its final analysis, is sacrilege, because it destroys the shrine in which God wants to house His Spirit.
Not only is murder a crime against man, but it is a crime against God, in whose image man is made. The whole human family is made in God’s image. Do not think for a minute that the expression “made in the image of God” applies only to those who are good. It applies also to those who are bad. Wherever there is a human being, regardless of how wicked he or she may be, there is an image of God. Terribly defaced? Yes. Tremendously degraded? Yes. But not altogether destroyed. In spite of all its abrasion and corrosion, in this image that God preserves there is still hope that the gospel message can reach down and touch something in that mind so it will respond, be converted, and begin to reflect the glory of God.
We can still see God’s image, regardless of how defaced it may be, in those about us, so to commit murder against any person, good or bad, is to commit a sacrilege. It shortens an individual’s probation, and it shortens God’s day of grace, crushing out all possibilities of repentance, forgiveness, and salvation.
Murder Born of Despair
Another area to consider is the murder that is born of despair. That is, suicide. Suicide knows no age limits. It is a leading cause in the death of young people today, and it is on the rise. It is a problem in little towns as well as in large cities.
Connected very closely with instant suicide is suicide by degrees. It is possible to kill oneself through indulgences and dissipations that are known to be injurious to health. Anything that shortens our lives is a form of suicide by degree. Any pleasure or indulgence engaged in at the price of premature death is included in the sixth commandment. This is one of the reasons that the health message is so important for Seventh-day Adventists, those who are called to be, “The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” Isaiah 58:12.
What is it that makes the health message so important? It is this sixth commandment. The reason we have a health message is because of the sacredness of the clay vessel God created for us to indwell.
But God intends for us to have the longest, most productive life that we can have—not only from a standpoint of the physical well-being that the health message can give to us, but also from the standpoint of the mental health and the spiritual health.
God has been pleased to give us an abundance of information on how to live the most healthful lives possible, and if we are not willing to follow this counsel, if we want to do our own thing and to indulge ourselves, thereby shortening our lives, we transgress this commandment. There will not be any excuses in the judgment day. We will be held accountable for what we knew was right and did not do. “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth [it] not, to him it is sin.” James 4:17. We will never be held accountable for what we did not know.
The sixth commandment commands practices that produce health and long life and condemns those practices that impair health and shorten life.
Anger and Hatred
Another area we should bear in mind is given by Jesus in Matthew 5:21, 22: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” Jesus declares that anger and hatred, which contain the spirit and the seeds of murder, make one a potential murderer.
John, in his little book, said: “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” 1 John 3:15. The language used here cannot be misunderstood. It points out where murder has its very source. It is not the fatal blow that is the origin point of murder. Murder has its origin in hatred, in variance, strife, and anger.
I have heard parents say to their children, “I could just kill you.” How do the children then grow up? Do they have a regard for the sanctity and the sacredness of human life if their parents, whom they are supposed to honor, come forth with such a saying?
The Positive Side
We have looked at the negative side of the commandment, but, like all the commandments, there is also a positive side. We learn this through what Jesus said about how we are to relate to our fellowman.
How are we to relate to our fellow man? Are we to relate in a state of selfishness and variance all the time, or are we to relate in an attitude and in a thought of love? We are not only to refrain from injuring or killing or shortening his life, but we are to practice the Golden Rule that says that we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:44, 45.
That brings the commandment a little closer to home, does it not? Probably one of the areas that we as human beings struggle with more than any of the others is, how am I going to get along with those with whom I find myself the closest—those with whom I live, those in the family into which I have been born, those with whom I work, those who may have different political views than I do?
We have to not only understand the negative aspects of this commandment, but we must understand the positive side and put it into practice.
We must know that the sixth commandment is more than just refraining from hitting someone with a wooden instrument, as the Bible describes it, or an instrument of iron, committing an act of murder. We can perform murder many times much more subtly than that and get away with it, but we can be as guilty as if we had shed the blood with wood or iron.
The only way that we can really come to understand this is through the process of full and complete conversion. This is the only way that we can love our neighbor as ourselves. This is the only way that we can do good to those that despitefully use us.
This is really the challenge that Jesus Christ places before us in our Christian walk: how are we going to deal with these issues that come so close to home? Jesus said that He gave us a new commandment. That new commandment will take out the old, stony heart, and He will put in a heart of flesh. Upon that heart of flesh He will write His Law, which includes the sixth commandment.
Not only do we have the law in cursory form, but we also have it in an emotional form where we actually delight to do the will of God. We truly are living letters, known and read by all people.
A retired minister of the gospel, Pastor Mike Baugher may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.