THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT: YOU SHALL NOT MURDER. Deuteronomy 5:8. Tanakh Version, JPS.
The King James Version renders this as, “THOU SHALT NOT KILL.” Deuteronomy 5:17.
The days of Moses and his successors were violent. Warfare was ongoing and kings and emperors could murder and kill as they chose. So this commandment was a step towards the freedom and rights of ALL mankind.
What is the difference today between the words MURDER and KILL? To kill sounds more casual and thoughtless and murder certainly sounds cold blooded and done with intent, but the victim is just as dead either way.
In our Justice System there are different degrees of murder, with First Degree Murder being the most heinous. Second and Third Degree may have some kinds of extenuating circumstances. Then there are Manslaughter charges, voluntary or involuntary. And some charges may be based on criminal negligence, or accidental death. I’m not certain of the legal niceties here, but we seem to have a lot of leeway on charges. I choose, for now, not to address the matter of abortion and other forms of legalized murder.
Certainly we should never kill if we can possibly help it, but there are times when one must kill in order to protect the innocent or to stop direct harm to one’s own person or to another. To fail to act may be a matter of moral cowardice or just plain fear.
I think it was in CRIME AND PUNISHMENT that Fyodor Dostoyevski said there are two perpetrators to every crime, the person who commits the crime and the person who allows the crime to happen. I remember being quite incensed at the idea of “blaming the victim” for any part in the crime. We do tend towards doing that today. There are certainly no excuses for harming the defenseless, but I sometimes wonder if part of the reason it’s right to fight, and maybe even kill, is to help prevent another from BECOMING a murderer. But then there is the argument that they are a murderer in their heart already. There may be times when it is necessary to kill, but forming the intent to murder, with malice aforethought, is ALWAYS wrong. Cain murdered his own brother to get gain and God told him that he was a murderer from the beginning and placed a mark upon him. Murderers, known to man or not, are known to God and still carry a mark on their souls.
There are people who thrive on the pain of others, who enjoy murder, the people without conscience. Perhaps we will never understand them and it’s comforting to know that God holds final judgment in His own hands.
Perhaps if we obeyed the other commandments mankind would have little need for killing and none at all for murder.