Exodus 20: 13 “Thou shalt not kill.”
Many have “memorized” the Ten Commandments in the short version. While this is a commendable act it is incomplete and inaccurate. When we read the entire Ten Commandments in the long form we get a more accurate understanding of the meanings. Unfortunately, the King James Version mistranslated the Hebrew word “Rasah” in Ex. 20:12 as kill when it should have been translated as “murder”. This mistranslation makes a big difference in the understanding of this sixth commandment. “Thou shalt not ‘kill’” is a very different meaning than thou shalt not “murder”. The N.I.V. translation uses the word “murder” in the sixth commandment and in the comments section states, “The Hebrew for this verb usually refers to a premeditated and deliberate act.” The N.I.V. First-Century Study Bible comments “This does not apply to war or matters of legal justice in the Biblical mind.” With this correct translation and meaning we can better understand the rest of the Bible, especially where God told His servants to kill.
First: We need to look at some of the verses in the Bible where we see the word “kill” translated in the English language. This quick linguistic exercise will increase our understanding greatly.
Ex. 20:12 The sixth commandment. Kill in Hebrew is Rasah, meaning to murder. Strong’s #7523.
Gen. 4:5 Concerning Cain and God’s command not to kill him. Hebrew is Naka, meaning to be struck, destroyed, slaughtered, beat, defeat. Strong’s #5221.
Joshua 6:21 The story of the fall of Jericho and God telling Israel to “destroy” everyone (Exception of Rahab the harlot and her family). Destroy in Hebrew is Haram meaning, Disfigure, mutilate, utterly destroy, exterminate and annihilate. The people of Jericho were apparently so vile God wanted to send a message to the other nearby city states Joshua was to conquer in God’s name. Strong’s #2763.
Joshua 8:21-22 Joshua and Israel are attacking the city of AI. Israel “slew” and “smote” AI. The Hebrew word used for “slew” and “smote” is the same used for “kill” when God said not to kill Cain. Hebrew word is Naka meaning to be struck, destroyed, slaughtered, beat and defeat. Strong’s #5221.
Matthew 5:17-19 A young man asked Jesus what he needed to do to get into the kingdom. Jesus answered by telling him to keep the commandments and then repeated commandments 5-10. In verse 18 Jesus used the word “murder” not kill. The Greek word used for murder in this verse is Phoneus, meaning to commit murder, kill, murder. Strong’s #5407.
We can clearly see by there is a difference between murder and kill in God’s eyes. The sixth commandment is to not “murder”. We also see God does “kill” when it suits His needs. God, as creator of the universe has the right to decide life and death.
Second: To understand the sixth commandment ATTITUDE is paramount. Jesus tells us to continue in His love and keep his commandments, this includes not killing (John 15:9-14). When the scribes asked Jesus “which is the first commandment of all” Jesus answered by summarizing the entire Ten Commandments by saying 1. Love God with all your heart and 2. Love your neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:28-31 and Matt. 22:36-40). He gave them (and us) TWO great commandments to live by.
God has the right of deciding life and death. God decides based on different criteria than man does. God is the one deciding between eternal life and eternal death, not man. When understanding the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not murder” we must understand from God’s perspective of eternal life verses this temporary physical life. This is the difference between “kill” and “murder”. This is the difference between God telling Joshua to go to war (Abraham went to war and was to sacrifice (kill, Gen. 22) Isaac, David went to war, Solomon went to war and they were right with God). God shows us He is willing to utterly destroy (kill) those who do not obey Him. He asks us to choose between life and death, blessing and cursing (Deut. 30:15-20) and only He makes the final judgement of life or death (Rom. 6:23 and Rev. 20:12-15). These are God’s decisions to make not ours, therefore, “Do not murder”.