The sixth in a series on the Ten Commandments:
"You Shall Not Murder" (Exodus 20:13) It sounds so plain, doesn't it? What is not to understand in this commandment? It says not to murder anyone. This is from the NRSV which uses the word "murder" in place of the word "kill" that had been in the KJV. The reason for the change is that the text in the original language did not prohibit killing such as if required in military action. Some who were conscientious objectors used the King James Bible as part of their reasoning for not serving in the military. This new language of the NRSV contains the commandment that prohibits non-military killing of other persons for any reason.
In the ancient world before the commandments were given, tribes of persons would take revenge upon others if a murder had been committed. A horde of warring tribesmen would descend upon a village and kill everyone there in retribution for the death of one of their own. Then, early Judaic law ordered that such a practice be contained to "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." In other words, tribes were forbidden from killing an entire village of people in exchange for the death of one of their own. Instead, one person's death would pay for the death of another. This also made it okay for someone to kill your ox if you accidentally killed their ox. This applied to other property as well that could be seized if you by some chance destroyed the property of another person. Equal vengeance under the law.
So, this commandment takes the law a bit more into the future by forbidding murder at all, even if someone has murdered your relative. No retribution is the rule now. Do not murder anyone. If everyone would follow the law, then there would be no need for justice to be done on behalf of one whose life has ended tragically. Society has never reached the place, however, when murder does not happen. Today, in America, murder is a commonplace event in every state in the union. A day hardly goes by when it is not reported in the news media that persons across the land have been murdered by others. Even law enforcement officers are at risk. It used to be that dangerous persons feared law enforcement officers but suddenly there has been a rash of killings of persons involved in law enforcement.
There was for a while a series of ads posted on billboards that had phrases that were attributed to God with the phrase, "What part of ______ do you not understand?" and signed by God Almighty. This commandment could easily fill in that blank. If the commandment says, "You Shall Not Murder" then why do people continue to murder unless they no longer care what the commandments say. I generally think that is the reason why it continues. Not only do some people no longer respect law enforcement officers but some people do not respect authority of any kind, even biblical authority. Perhaps the great experiment in personal liberty in America has yielded a harvest of violence that we do not know how to stop.
I have never broken this commandment. At last, one that I can easily and confidently say I have kept for my entire life. And I believe that just about everyone reading this can say the same thing. We would never think of murdering another person. It is far from anything we could ever contemplate. Yes, there are times when we become so angry that such an act could happen if we did not have enough self-control but thank God we restrain ourselves and do not go that far. Murder seems to most persons to be at the top of the list of sins that would be the most serious. To deny life to another person ranks up there as bad as you can get. Perhaps that is what makes us more human---when we realize that our humanity depends upon allowing others in the human race to be human in the way they desire and to bear with them and forgive them when they commit acts that make us wish they were somewhere else or nowhere else.