Exodus 20:13 Thou shalt not kill.

In the first five Commandments we have seen how God safeguarded His own glory; in the second five we are to behold how He provides for the security and well-being of men:

  1. First, for the protection of man's person

  2. Second, for the sanctity and good of his family ("thou shalt not commit adultery")

  3. Third, for the safety of his estate and substance ("thou shalt not steal")

  4. Fourth, for his reputation or good name ("thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor")

  5. Finally, as a strong fence around the whole Law, God not only prohibits outward crimes, but inward motions of evil in our thoughts and affections ("thou shalt not covet")

It is the first of these regulations which specially relates to our neighbor that we shall now consider: "thou shalt not kill."

This Sixth Commandment prohibits that barbarous and inhuman sin of murder, which is the firstborn of the Devil, who was "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). It is the first crime we read of after the fall of Adam and Eve, wherein the corruption transmitted to their descendants was fearfully displayed by Cain: his rancor and enmity goading him to slay Abel, because his brother's "works were righteous and his own evil" (1 John 3:12). But this Commandment is not restricted to forbidding the actual crime of murder, it prohibits all the degrees and causes of it: as rash anger and hatred, slanders and revenge, whatever may prejudice the safety of our neighbor or tempt us to see him perish when it is in our power to relieve and rescue him.

Exceptions to this Commandment

Capital Punishment

Let us begin by pointing out that every killing of a man is not murder. It is not so in the execution of justice, when the magistrate sentences a slayer, for he is vested with lawful authority to put capital offenders to death, and if he fails to do so then God will charge it upon him as his sin. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed" (Genesis 9:6) states the general and unchanging principle. God's order to the magistrate is: "Thine eye shall not pity, but life shall go for life" (Deuteronomy 19:21).

Righteous War

Nor is the shedding of blood in a righteous war chargeable with murder. It is lawful to take up arms against an invader and to recover what has been unjustly taken away—thus David pursued the Amalekites who had carried away his wives captive. So, too, for the punishing of some great injury or wrong—as David made war upon the Ammonites for their outraging of his ambassadors (2 Samuel 10).

As there are some who decry this assertion and denounce all war as unlawful in this Christian dispensation, let us point out that when soldiers came to Christ's forerunner for instruction saying "What shall we do?" (Luke 3:14), he did not say, "Fight no more, abandon your calling," but gave them directions how they should conduct themselves. When the Centurion came to the Savior and drew arguments from his military calling, our Lord did not condemn his profession or rebuke him for holding such an office: instead, He highly commended his faith (Luke 7:8-9). When examined by Pilate, Christ declared, "My kingdom is not of this world: if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is My kingdom not from hence" (John 18:36). Those words clearly imply that though carnal means were improper for advancing Christ's spiritual kingdom, yet had not His state of humiliation prevented His assuming the royal sceptre, His followers might lawfully have fought to defend His title.

Accidental Manslaughter

There is one other exception, namely, accidental slaying, which is not chargeable with murder: when life is taken without any intention of so doing. Such a case we find mentioned in Scripture, as when hewing wood the axe should slip and undesignedly kill a neighbor (Deuteronomy 19:5). For such innocent slayers the Lord appointed cities of refuge, where they could find safe asylum from the avenger of blood. But let it be pointed out that we must be employed about lawful things, otherwise if we are engaged in what is unjustified and it leads to the death of another, this cannot be excused from murder (see Exodus 21:22-24).


Next we consider cases of murder.


Suicide is self-murder, and is one of the most desperate crimes which can be committed. Inasmuch as this sin precludes repentance on the part of its perpetrator, it is beyond forgiveness. Such creatures are so abandoned by God as to have no concern for their eternal salvation, seeing they pass into the immediate presence of their Judge with their hands covered in their own blood. Such are self-murderers, for they destroy not only their bodies but their souls, too.


The murdering of another is a most heinous crime. It torments the conscience of its perpetrator with fearful affrights, so that often he gives himself up to justice.


Those who are accessory are guilty of murder—as those who counsel it to be done (2 Samuel 12:9), or consent to it (as Pilate), or conceal it (as in Deuteronomy 21:6-7 by clear implication).

Causes Leading to Murder

This Commandment not only forbids the perpetration of murder, but likewise all causes and occasions leading to it. The principal of these are envy and anger.


Envy has been well described as "the rust of a cankered soul, a foul vice which turns the happiness of others into our own misery." Cain first enviously repined at the success of his brother's sacrifice, and this quickly prompted him to murder.


So, too, unjust and inordinate anger, if it be allowed to lie festering in the heart, will turn into the venom of an implacable hatred. Such anger is not only a cause, but it is actually a degree of murder, as is clear from the teaching of Christ in Matthew 5:21-22.

It should be pointed out that anger is not, as envy, simply and in itself, unlawful. There is a virtuous anger, which so far from being sin, is a noble and praise-worthy grace (Mark 3:5). To be moved with indignation for the cause of God when His glory is degraded, His name dishonored, His sanctuary polluted, His people vilified, is a holy anger. So there is an innocent and allowable anger when we are unjustly provoked by offenses against ourselves, but here we need to be much on our guard that we "sin not" (Ephesians 4:26). A vicious and sinful anger, which darkens the understanding and makes one act as in a frenzy, is one which is without cause and without bounds. Jonah 4:1 gives an illustration of a groundless anger. Immoderate anger is when it is violent and excessive, or when it continues to boil: "let not the sun go down on your wrath" (Ephesians 4:26)—if it does, the scum of malice will be on your heart next morning!

Rules and Helps for Restraining and Repressing Anger

In closing, let us give some rules for restraining and repressing anger:

  1. Labor and pray for a meek and humble spirit. Think lowly of yourself and you will not be angered if others slight you. All contention proceeds from pride (Proverbs 13:10). The more you despise yourself the easier it will be to bear the contempt of your fellows.

  2. Think often of the infinite patience and forbearance of God. How many affronts does He bear with from us? How often do we give Him occasion to be angry with us, yet, "He hath not dealt with us after our sins" (Psalm 103:10)—let this great example be ours.

  3. Beware of prejudice against any, for it is sure to misinterpret their actions. Fight against the first risings of envy and anger; when injured, put it down to ignorance or as unintentional.

  4. Shun angry people (Proverbs 22:24-25)—fire quickly spreads.

Taken from Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 20, No. 8, August 1941.

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