“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13
The last five commandments are brief, you could even say terse, unadorned, unexplained, imperative statements.
The direct meaning of the statements is clear. Using our focus text as an example, “You shall not murder.”, we don’t have any difficulty understanding this statement at all.
This translation of the text, taken from the New King James Version of the Bible, renders the Hebrew original with precise accuracy. The word translated “kill”, in the original King James Version, is a word that excludes the taking of human life in times of war or when it is a part of the execution of judgment. Therefore the rendering of the word as “murder”, in english, is most accurate.
Still, Jesus makes it very clear that the principle embodied in the sixth commanded surpassed the limitations of the literal meaning of the four word statement, “You shall not murder.”
In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus includes within the boundaries of the commandment the prohibitions of being angry with your brother without cause, calling someone the name “Raca”, a word whose meaning is a verbal judgment of an individual’s worth as a person, and calling a person “fool”, a word that is a judgment of a person’s motives or intentions.
When we’re angry with a person without just cause we naturally set ourselves on a course of injustice towards that person. To make a pronouncement regarding how low we estimate an individual’s personal worth places ourselves in a position where we’re in opposition to God who has so valued the lives of every person that he’s purchased their salvation by sacrificing himself. When we believe ourselves capable of judging another person’s intentions and motives we once again place ourselves in a position only God can occupy for only he is able to read the intentions of our hearts and know what motivates us. God, himself, said it to the prophet Samuel, “…man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
In the sixth commandment and in the expansion provided by Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, we see that God’s desire for us is that we consider all human life precious. Our first goal, then, is to protect, nurture, and treasure human life, whether it’s ours or others. It’s true that in this sinful world there arise times, in our efforts to protect life, when we have to take life but even in these we find that the exception proves the rule.
People are precious. We need to protect and preserve each other by nurturing each other in all that we do and all that we say.