“You shall not murder”

These are four crystal clear words, spoken directly by God to Moses (in Exodus 20:13), and they don’t leave much wiggle room for interpretation. After all, this imperative is one of ten commandments. It’s not one of ten suggestions or proposals…or one of the “Tips for a Happier Life!” that you were reading about online.

Many in our world seem to be in need of a reminder of this necessary regulation within any civil society. In a little more than a week, dozens have been murdered in high-profile attacks: most by gunshot, others being run down by a man driving a cargo truck. While the vast majority of humans remains incredulous over these heinous acts, others are even now quietly plotting to murder, and some will find themselves unlawfully discharging their lawfully carried arms.

“You shall not murder.” But I’ve been wronged! It’s not technically “murder” if…
“You shall not murder.” Okay. But what about when…
“You shall not murder.” I’m enraged by the systematic violence against…
“You shall not murder.”

“You.” Yes, you. Not that person over there.
“Shall.” I strongly advise you to do this.
“Not.” This negates the “do” part of the preceding “shall.” Whatever you were going to do, do the opposite.
“Murder.” Unlawful killing.

Since the circumstances classifying a particular killing as “lawful” are quite rare, and usually well defined (self-defense, for example), most killings are unlawful (abortion excepted) and are therefore, by definition, murder…which is the thing we’ve been commanded (by God, remember?) not to do.

So why have we been commanded not to murder? Apart from the obvious answer—that no one could ever be safe and civil society would utterly collapse—Scripture paints a vivid picture of God’s heart toward humans, and what makes us valuable to Him. These truths serve as a bedrock foundation of the Biblical directive against murder.

  • God created human life in His image (Genesis 1:27), and it is this image that establishes our worth.
  • Human beings are created by God, and we are—in God’s eyes, by His words—“very good” (Genesis 1:31a).
  • God hates the shedding of innocent blood (Proverbs 6:17). (Remember that God is the arbiter of innocence and guilt.)
  • God has created human beings, taking great care in our formation (Psalm 139:13-14).
  • God has a plan for each person’s life, and it was determined before any of us were even born (Psalm 139:15-16).

We only have to witness the devastating effects of a single “unlawful killing” within our community (or even in another community) to quickly understand the rationale for God’s commandment against murder. But even more significant than the destructive effects on society is the gravity of the offense against God, Creator of life, when a human being is murdered.

A murderer takes upon himself or herself an authority not given. The taking of another’s life through murder is never warranted, and always prohibited. This is the fundamental reality at the heart of God’s directive against murder, and one that must receive greater consent if our world hopes to halt its accelerating descent into vigilantism, barbarism, and violent extremism.