The Ten Commandments: The Sixth Commandment

“Thou shalt not kill.”

The Sacredness of Life

Human life is sacred. It comes to every person as a gift from God who made man in His own image (Gen 2:6). The Scriptures speak of man possessing body, soul and spirit; it is the last of these, the spirit, that distinguishes mankind from the animal creation and enables us to relate to our Creator. Our bodies give us a sense of the world around us; our souls make us aware of the self within us – intellect, emotions and will; and our spirits give us the consciousness of God above us. We can come to know and love Him, worship and serve Him.

The “image of God” does not relate to any outer physical attribute – God is a spirit – but rather to the inner spiritual life. While it is true that sin has marred the stamp of God’s image upon mankind, every person remains precious to God. There is always the potential for a sinner’s redemption and reconciliation while life is present. After death, all hope of salvation is gone.

The sorry history of man’s inhumanity to man began not long after creation: the first family upon earth was plunged into grief when Cain needlessly slew his brother, Abel. The problem was jealousy. Even before the giving of the Mosaic law, God had said to Noah and his sons, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Gen 9:6).[1]

When the law was codified, the general principle was “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Exo 21:24). The punishment was to fit the crime. Under the Mosaic law, those who murdered and willfully took another’s life by shedding “innocent blood” forfeited the right to their own lives (Deu 19:10). God said that “the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev 17:11). Provision was made for those who accidentally killed others. Cities of refuge were designated throughout the land, conveniently located on either side of the River Jordan (Num 35:9-15).

The Old Testament permitted not only judicial killing, as mentioned above, but also killing in a time of war waged against the murderous enemies of Israel. The need for self-defense soon became apparent, as when the Amalekites attacked Israel soon after their exodus from Egypt (Exo 17:8-16). Subsequently, the nation’s conquest of the promised land depended upon the defeat of their enemies. God helped them gain the victory (Jos 10:10,14).

There were other occasions when personal belligerence was not excused, even against known enemies. There was a man called Joab who liked a fight. He had a swift answer for every perceived threat – a sword! He wrought personal vengeance on some who were opposed to King David, but the king rightly assessed the evil heart of Joab and urged Solomon to judge him: “Take away the innocent blood, which Joab shed, from me, and from the house of my father” (1Ki 2:31).

The Disregard for Life

Throughout the ages of world history, the sin of murder has been committed on countless occasions. Needless wars, genocide and assassinations have stained the earth. It is not only the animal creation that is “red in tooth and claw.” When men disregard God’s commandments, they can sink lower than the brute beasts. In the 20th century alone, cruel dictators like Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, and Pol Pot sent millions to their death. They shared an unrestrained lust for power that brooked no opposition from without or from within. The enormous guilt they bear has not been overlooked by God.

The criminal world depends upon the use of lethal force; issues are resolved with violence and death. There is no respect for life. The media entertainment capitalizes on this to hold audiences captive. It has been estimated that by the time a child has finished primary school, he or she will have watched eight thousand televised murders and one hundred thousand acts of on-screen violence. The most popular video games are awash with blood. Is it any wonder that so many young people’s minds and hearts are scarred by this constant exposure to bloodshed?

There is another dimension that is sometimes avoided. We will need to broach the subject with sensitivity and care. The medical world has been accommodating its opinions to fit the popular mood of our times and keep pace with changing legislation. The profession faces major challenges relating to both the beginning and the end of life.

Millions of babies developing normally in the womb have been aborted for no other reason than that they were regarded as an untimely inconvenience. The women who should have protected them have lodged a personal counterclaim: they have the exclusive right over their own bodies; therefore, the new life developing within them can be regarded as disposable and of no value.

On a personal level, I had to face this issue some 40 years ago. After graduating from medical school, my chosen specialty was Obstetrics and Gynecology. The year before leaving for Botswana, I was assigned to a higher-grade post in which one would normally have been expected to perform abortions. However, in a providential way, the hospital selected for me was known as the only institution in the city of Belfast where “therapeutic abortions” were forbidden. God was good in sparing me the agonizing dilemma that many Christian doctors have to face in contemplating a career in this specialty.

Murder begins in the heart. The Lord Jesus Christ explained that those who might claim they have never murdered, but have entertained vengeful and evil thoughts about others, are culpable: “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” (Mat 5:21).

These issues engender endless debate and have the potential to divide God’s people. We could end up fighting each other instead of engaging the real enemies – sin and Satan. An assembly in which there are both proud patriots ready to bear arms and conscientious objectors will need extra grace. This brief article could never hope to provide all the answers, and yet, the conclusion can be simply stated: seek to follow Christ.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.