The sixth commandment says simply: ‘Don’t kill’. The Lord is prohibiting killing that is malicious and intentional. Other laws given to Israel will cover accidental or judicial killing.
We may think this command is simple, understandable, and hardly necessary to talk about because it would never occur to us to kill someone. But each of God’s commands show he is not just interested in what we do but in what we would like to do. This raises different questions!
Murder has been with us from the beginning. The world’s first family has to deal with homicide when Cain kills his brother. Later on, Lamech will attack anyone who gets in his way (Genesis 4:23-24).
Then the earth becomes ‘full of violence’ (Genesis 6:11), and God judges it with a flood. But God says we have no business killing each other because everyone is made in his image (Genesis 9:5-6).
What then lies behind murder? Jesus says, ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder…”. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment’ (Matthew 5:22). He urges us to be reconciled rather than to maintain our rage.
James says something similar. I’ll quote it as Peterson translates it in ‘The Message’. ‘Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? … They come about because you want your own way…. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it’ (James 4:1-3).
So, the command is requiring us to guard our anger, and so, to prevent murder. Here, of course, is something that affects us all.
Anger can take many forms. It might be verbal or physical. But then, it might be just withdrawal from real relationships. We think we are not doing any harm, but lack of love is powerful—just as love is.
Our anger may be about not being able to get something we really want or feel we deserve. Effectively, it’s a little god for which everything else must be sacrificed.
But there is a time and place to be angry. Just check the number of times the Bible tells us that God is angry. He is not content with the status quo when wrong is being done. People who abuse others need our attention. Those who neglect a responsibility deserve our anger.
But then, how does God get angry? His anger is very different to ours. We need to turn to Jesus who has revealed God to us. There are just a few examples to look at.
First, Jesus is among people who are critical of him healing someone on a Sabbath day. He looks at them ‘in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts’ (Mark 3:5). Notice the double description of his emotions—anger, and deep distress or grief.
On another occasion, he attends the funeral of a friend and is ‘deeply moved in spirit and troubled’ (John 11:33, 38). Again, both words are important.
Actually, the first word here means he is outraged. The cause of his anger seems to be the distress and hopelessness that death creates for us in this world.
In a way, we all get angry with death—ours, or that of someone we love. Jesus is well out front of us here. He is not only angry. He is going to do something about it (Hebrews 2:14-15).
But in these examples, the anger of Jesus doesn’t stand alone. He is also ‘troubled’, or ‘distressed’. It is a kind of grief that things have got to this state.
On another occasion, Jesus clears the temple of animal traders using God’s space for their private enterprise (Luke 19:45). Clearly, he is angry. But just before this he weeps over the city because it refuses to recognise what will bring them peace (v. 41). Again, the anger of Jesus—and the anger of God—is linked with grief.
If Jesus is angry, it’s because we are preferring our littleness to his generosity. He is grieved that we are not living in the good of what he is doing for us. His grief is a kind of hope. He knows things can be different, and that one day they will be. He refuses to accept the status quo and doesn’t want us to either.
Without this revelation, people who want to protest often move straight to anger—without grief. It’s clear that we can’t cure the world’s problems with anger! Two lots of anger don’t make peace! They divide our communities and make it impossible to talk to one another. Murder happens!
We need to see that God is more offended by wrong than we are. His anger expresses his goodness, not his frustration. It comes with compassion, not distain. He can see that we don’t know him.
And it is because we don’t know God that frustration makes us angry. We don’t know his care for us or his purpose to have us share with him in healing the world. So, everything that goes wrong we take personally. Jesus has loved us, and died for us, to remove this awful sense of loss and replace it with the certainty that we are God’s children.
This is why James can talk about the wisdom that comes down from God and which is pure and peaceable (James 3:17). It is why he can say, ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires’ (James 1:19-20).
Whatever the cause of our anger may be, this command is asking us to take control of it. By reacting, we may be part of the problem! And, as a result, the devil plays games with us. Paul says, ‘In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold’ (Ephesians 4:26-27, 31).
So, don’t murder! That is, don’t even think about it! But even more, see how eager God is that we don’t die, but live—us, and everyone around us as well.