In 1885, a man named William Palmer accompanied his friend, John Cook, to bet on some horse races in Shrewsbury, England. Palmer had been a chemist earlier in his life and then later became a physician; yet at some point, slowly, his life became encumbered with a large number of gambling debts. The only thing that had prevented Mr. Palmer from avoiding financial ruin all together were the “fortuitous” inheritances he received from the, rather sudden, deaths of his Mother-in-Law, Wife and Brother. Yet, after a short while, once again, the money began to wear thin; and some of Palmer’s creditors were threatening to expose him by speaking with his mother, whom he was also defrauding.
So on this mid-November day, while at the track; Palmer bets heavy on the horses, and loses. His friend, John Cook, however, did not lose. He ended up wining a fairly sizable sum that day; so much, in fact, that he decided to take his friend Mr. Palmer, to go and celebrate. They went out to a local pub where they had several rounds of drinks (a few that Mr. Cook claimed, ‘burned his throat’). Fast forward one week later, where the now violently ill Mr. Cook dies (with much lighter pockets) in agony, in Palmer’s home, who was caring for him. Just a few weeks later, William Palmer was convicted of poisoning Mr. Cook with strychnine. He was suspected of murdering several others, including his wife, mother-in-law, brother and four youngest children (whom all died within months of their birth). And on June 14th, 1856, William Palmer was publicly hanged to death for the murder of John Cook.
And while there have been countless murderers throughout the ages. Those whom have committed atrocities beyond any rational comprehension; the reason why I know the name William Palmer, the reason why many know the name William Palmer, is because of his infamous last words. You see as he was taking his final steps up to the gallows, he looked up at the noose that awaited him, and then down at the trap door below, and followed by asking the question, “Are you sure it’s safe?” And though, there was a point where I used to read that statement and laugh, I came to realize that that remark epitomizes the very heart of a murderer.
Many have claimed that they were driven to murder, whether it be through poverty, or passion or even possession. But after all that is abandoned and striped away; while a man like this is approaching his final moments, and can look back at all he’s done without even the slightest hint of remorse, and with his last breaths, mock his own life as he loses it; you can see clearly that this man in no way, shape or form had any respect for human life.
So as we start to examine this command, I want us to see that. I want us to see the distinction; that if the lawbreakers are defined by a complete lack of respect for human life, then we, as those that seek to be obedient children of God, need to uphold it as a sacred gift of God, and preserve it wherever possible. And so, I believe we can accomplish that by looking at this commandment in three ways. One, by what it prohibits. Two, by what it protects. And three, by He who commands it.
Thou Shall Not…
Exodus 20:13 (The Sixth Commandment) –
“You shall not murder.”
So how do we define ‘murder’? Well, I don’t think it requires a lot of speculation to understand the basic application of this command. We’ve just heard a pretty straightforward example of it, right? The act of murder is the act of a human being; who intentionally and personally ends the life of a human being. And while that is something that can be accomplished in many many ways, I believe that we can classify all acts of murder into one or more of the 5 forms that it takes:
So let’s begin with Premeditated. William Palmer was a premeditated murderer. He poisoned Mr. Cook so that he could then seize the opportunity to rob him of money. And that’s one of the ways that we distinguish whether or not someone has committed murder. We look for a motive. We realize that people don’t kill other people for no reason. There’s always an intent (unless we’re talking about some kind of accidental death; but we’ll get to that). When a prosecutor is building a case against someone accused of murder, he knows that a motive is absolutely essential for a conviction. He’s looking for motive, opportunity, eye witnesses & the murder weapon. But if he can’t first demonstrate that the act was done deliberately, and purposefully, in order to satisfy the desires of the accused murderer, then he may very well walk free. The courts were very quickly able to prove the motives of Mr. Palmer. His motive was money. And at the end of the day, he saw the worth of Mr. Cooks money to be more valuable than that of his life, so he took it.
Q: But the first, and most essential, question that we have to ask here is, ‘why is that wrong’? What’s wrong with placing the value of something above that of a human life?
The reason is because we are made in the image of the One true God. Genesis, Chapter 1, Verses 26 & 27 read, “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26 & 27). To take a life is to tear down and destroy an image-bearer of God, as if it were some worthless idol. It doesn’t matter who we’re talking about. Every single man, woman and child on this earth bears the same unique image of God. I am no more or less an image-bearer than you are. I am no more or less an image-bearer than President Trump. I am no more or less an image-bearer than the Apostle John. Our forefathers knew that; they stated as much in our Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
All men have the same Creator. All men are created equally by that Creator, bearing the same image. And through that creation, all men are given life, of which they are entitled, unless taken away by God, or by an additional means justly ordained by God. It’s a sad thing to debate the value of a human life. But it happens every day. We see the estimation of a man being valued different to that of a woman. We see the estimation of a third world nation being seen as less than that of a nation with the luxuries of power, and television, and running water. And we even estimate the value of an invalid as less than that of someone with a full range of faculties. All of these were created equal. And we have no right to terminate their life, to tear down their image because we see them as less.
The world says something different however. While examining the issue of ‘killing’, the Oxford Companion to Philosophy sums up one of its points by saying this:
The effect of these arguments is to distinguish a class of beings whom it is especially wrong to kill. The term ‘person’ is often used to distinguish this class from the class of human beings as a whole, for not all human beings are autonomous, or capable of seeing themselves as having a past and a future. Infants, and the profoundly intellectually disabled, for example, are not. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, appear to be persons in this sense. Hence it is an implication of this view that, other things being equal, it is worse to kill a normal chimpanzee than a profoundly intellectually disabled human being. Of course, to arrive at a final judgment about the wrongness of killing any being, we need to consider also the effect of the killing on relatives and friends, and on the community as a whole.
Genocide, another form of murder, stems right out of this notion, that some people were created as less than others. Three of the biggest perpetrators of genocide were Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Between them, it’s estimated that anywhere from 90 to 180 million people lost their lives; and most of those were lost between the years 1930 & 1950. Those are astounding numbers. Equivalent to almost half the size of the U.S. population lost in twenty years because of ambition, entitlement and rage. Which are motives for murder as much as anything else.
Mao wanted to transform his nation into a superpower. The political revolution and culture-shock led to a famine in the land which killed tens of millions of people, most of those being the poorest and with the fewest resources. Stalin, another political revolutionary, also wanted to change his country. He came into power shortly after the birth of the Soviet Union and remained in charge for nearly 30 years. Five years before World War 2, he instituted what was known as the “Great Purge”, where millions of senior military and political figures were declared to be “Enemies of the Working-Class”; and were sent to gulags (forced labor camps), where many died and many others were executed. And then, of course, there’s Adolf Hitler; a man who through his hatred of the Jewish people (those whom were declared ‘Untermensch’, or ‘Sub-Human’), coupled with his belief that he, by comparison was in possession of superior lineage; sought to eradicate the Jewish people, and others, so that he could begin the work of creating a “Master-Race”. Three men. Three image-bearers of God. 20 years, and up to nearly 180 million other image-bearers of God, extinguished. Gone.
These are things happening right now, before our very eyes, on television. There’s no shortage of those who want to devalue human life. Terrorism has gripped the nation in uncertainty and fear. And what does that do to a people. Well, if you spend any time at all on any kind of social media site, then you know that it breeds hatred and anger; a mob mentality which has led to many to shout publicly that ‘We should just turn them to glass. Lets drop the bomb, vaporize them. Then we wont have anything to be afraid of anymore. They’re killing us, so let’s just kill them right back.’ I would hope that this might go without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway; if you think that the answer to murder is more murder, then you are in need of some serious time in prayer, and the word of God. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Next, let’s take a look at another, very prevalent form of murder in our day, the act of Abortion. Now, look, I’m going to spare you with the numbers and figures of millions of tiny lives that were silenced by this reprehensible act since its legalization back in the 70’s. Because the loss of even one child, which is terminated, and torn apart in the womb so that a woman can claim a right to choose, is just Satanic. I hear a lot of people that want to equate this with those in the Old Testament who used to deliver their children to the false god Molech. That was just as murderous, but the individuals committing this act today, they’re doing it for the sake of self, not something greater than themselves, or outside of themselves. No it’s being done ONLY for themselves. It’s being done in the name of convenience and self-determinism and narcissism.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them.
As we’ve already seen, there’s no shortage of individuals that are willing to take one, if not many lives. You can always find someone willing to devalue, and take a human life. The fact that there are women in this world that hate and want to destroy their pregnancies does not shock me. The truly disturbing thing here, however, is the betrayal of our government in this regard. We already read the declaration; ‘These truths are self-evident, and endowed by our Creator.’ We have the right to life at the moment of our creation, which as we just read, comes far before our birth. Our governing authorities see that in most every regard but this one.
Look at it this way, a woman can not legally take the life of a stranger. She’s not permitted to take the life of a friend. She can not take the life of a loved one. An elderly parent, or a sick child are also protected by the law. This woman does not even have the legal right to terminate her own life. And if she were pregnant, and I were to murder her, in many states, I would be charged with not only the death of the mother, but the murder of the unborn child as well. The law protects life at every point. It gives no one the right to terminate life, even the unborn, but for over 40 years now, we give the right to a woman to kill her unborn baby. Our government has completely and utterly failed in this. It has an obligation to observe and protect the life that has been given to every child, by it’s Creator. No one has the right to murder an unborn baby. Not the government, not a civilian, not even the mother; and yet, even though it has seen fit to properly acknowledge life in every state of development; here, it willingly gives that right to another. I just don’t get it.
Suicide is the forth form of murder. It’s no different than any other. Just as we described in the beginning, “The act of murder is the act of a human being; who intentionally and personally ends the life of a human being.” Just in this case, it’s the same human-being. Also, as we said before, there’s always a motive when someone takes a life. And those can get very complicated and over my head when it comes to the topic of suicide, so I’d like to be very careful in what I say here. But there are a few things that we can absolutely say in regard to suicide.
One, whoever seeks to take their own life, seeks to destroy an image of God. They are image-bearers, just as we all are. God has created every single person in His image, and He’s done so at His discretion, in every case. Two, God has given that individual their life. As we read in Psalm 139 a few minutes ago, ‘all the days that were ordained for that individual to have that life were predetermined before their birth’. And, as were told in Hebrews 9:27, ‘it’s already been appointed when they are to die.’ From our conception, to our death, and everything in between; our entire life is given by God, and is God’s to terminate on His terms. Three, there is no valid motive for devaluing the life of one’s self. Just as we have no right to devalue the worth of others, likewise, we have to right to devalue ourselves. Four, if we we have no right to devalue ourselves, and if we have no right to take our own lives; then we have an inherent responsibility to preserve our lives, and to hold ourselves in the proper esteem, as image-bearers of God, without committing the opposing sin of overestimation.
The corruption of sin has spread so far and wide that there are a multitude of things in a person’s life that may lead them to to a point where they may contemplate suicide. The first thing that anyone should do if they feel, in the slightest, compelled in that direction is to pray and seek immediate help.
I watched an interview with a man named, Kevin Hines. Kevin grew up dealing with paranoia and bi-polar disorder. And when Kevin was 17 years old, he walked out onto The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, and he jumped off the side. The fall was 220 feet to the water below. Since the bridge was completed in the 1930’s, over 2000 people have lept to their deaths, making The Golden Gate Bridge one of the most widely used locations for someone to take their own life. Kevin Hines was one of 19 survivors of the fall over the years, and in his interview, he says what has been reported by many many people who’ve survived an attempt on their own lives. He said that, “The moment my hands let go of the railing, I regretted what I had done.”
Finally, we come to the fifth form of murder, Hatred. Every form of murder that we’ve seen so far also fits into this category. Premeditated murder stems from the hatred of an individual. Genocide comes from the hatred of an entire race of people. Abortion is the hatred of the unborn in the interest of self. And suicide is the hatred of one’s own self. We’ve also seen that everyone of these forms of murder is a result of the devaluing of human life. So, from that, we can say that to devalue a human life, in any way, is a hateful act of murder.
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
So, this passage occurs early on in the Sermon on the Mount. And it’s important to note here, first of all, that although some believe that Jesus is expanding the law that was given by Moses; what he’s actually doing is trying to reorient his disciples understanding of the law to that which it was originally intended. Notice how He begins, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’” (Matthew 5:21). If Jesus were simply reciting the commandment here, or otherwise quoting the Old Testament, He would have said, “It is written”, but He doesn’t. Instead He says, “You have heard that the ancients were told”, and once again, if they were told anything from the Old Testament, then Christ would have started with “It is written”. So this must be something that these ancients were told from a source outside of the word of God, which would make this the wisdom of men that we’re dealing with.
And what were they told? Well first, here, Jesus now does repeat the 6th commandment, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER.”, but then it’s followed up with something not found in scripture, “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” This is the wisdom of men here. This is how they were expounding on the law of Moses. Notice that they say, ‘If you commit murder, you shall be LIABLE to the court.’ But as he continues in verse 22, he gives three examples, ‘If you’re angry with your brother’, ‘if you say ‘good-for-nothing’,’ ‘if you say ‘You fool’; all of these charge that one will be GUILTY of murder. The same as always, Jesus is dealing with those whom are only concerned with the outer appearance of things. They say, ‘don’t commit murder, you might get caught’. Jesus returns with, ‘Don’t even think about murder, or you’re already guilty.’
The act of murder, the act of hatred, the devaluing of human life, they are all one in the same. They all come from the same wicked heart. We don’t want to believe that our thoughts can be that dangerous, but they are. “For out of the heart the mouth speaks,” and out of the heart the limbs act. When you have a hateful, vengeful, spiteful, or disparaging word on your tongue about anyone, keep in mind that the only thing preventing you from taking that persons life is the grace of God.
And trust me, I know that all of you have things that push your buttons, and try your patience. I know this because I wrestle with a lot of things that try mine too. The office where I work is in my sister’s home. She’s a nanny, and at times there can be up to six small children about 15 feet away that have a tendency to scream at remarkably high volumes when they don’t get their cookies. All the while I’m on the phone like, ‘Yes , Sir, we’ll be there on Tuesday.’ We try to laugh things like that off, because we’ve all been there. But those are the thoughts that can lead to murder.
Q: Now, before we move on to the next section, what are some ways that we devalue human life? Some that we may not have touched on. What’s one example you can give about something you’ve done or said that devalued human life?
So, we’ve examined what this commandment prohibits, be it any form of murder, hatred, or the diminishing of human life. Now, let’s take a look at what it protects. If the 6th commandment prevents the willful destruction of the one who bears the image of God, then by default, this commandment protects all human life. Not only is all life protected from the malicious act of murder, in destroying the image of God; but it upholds the value of such individuals as well which, if kept to it’s fullness, would also fulfill all commandments which pertain to how we regard our neighbor. One commentary phrases it this way, “Life is placed at the head of these commandments, not as being the highest earthly possession, but because it is the basis of human existence, and in the life the personality is attacked, and in that the image of God.”
Still, we know that this commandment is not kept in its fullness, and is in fact is broken all the time. But this commandment continues to protect life in that it allows provision for certain other forms of killing. There are times when a human life may need to be ended in order to protect the lives of others. And here, I see there being three different forms that this type of killing can take:
– Capital Punishment
– Just War & Civil Protections
We have to start this part by stating clearly that although the law allows provision for the occasional killing of a human-being; these are not allowances that are given to us in any and all circumstances. No, in fact, any of the forms discussed in this section can just as easily be counted as murder if carried out with an impure motive, or a wicked heart. The same criteria that define murder in the previous section (hatred/devaluing of life/personal motives), all still apply when discussing the acceptability of any killing of a human being.
So let’s look briefly at these, beginning with Self-Defense. In the book of Exodus, Chapter 22, Verses 2& 3, we read this, “If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.” (Exodus 22:2 & 3).
Right away, we can see that only a narrow provision is made for the victim of a crime to take a life. It’s not the “Southern Justice”, ‘He’s on my property, so his life is forfeit’ thing. No, we instead have a responsibility to consider our circumstances before we act. And the only specific difference between these two scenarios is the time of day. Gratefully, that’s something that can be ascertained quickly, when moments matter. But we do need to take that moment, so that life may be preserved. There are many speculations as to why this distinction is made, and there were two that stood out to me. The first is that at night, especially during the Exodus when this provision was given, it wasn’t all that easy to see at night. You wouldn’t have had great vision with which to properly discern what the motives were of the man who has now broken into your home. You have the right to presume the worst in that situation, and defend yourself, even to the point of killing your intruder. The other reason that this would be a reasonable distinction is that men and women in the wilderness at this time; they didn’t spend all day in their homes the way that we do now. They were outside and working and keeping busy. But at night, that’s when everyone was home. So if a thief breaks in during the morning, he does so in the hope that no one will be home. But the one who breaks in at night, despite being concealed by the dark, must understand that he will probably not be breaking into an empty home, and that if caught, he may have to take drastic measures to ensure his escape.
Whatever the scenario, you have a right to preserve and defend your life. If you truly believe that your life is in imminent danger, The sixth commandment does not prohibit the taking of life in that situation, nor do the local laws that govern us.
Next, we can look at Capital Punishment. Now, this is another one of those areas where I want to be careful, so I’m not going to say much on this topic. But I want to start with scripture.
But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
If he struck him down with a stone in the hand , by which he will die, and as a result he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
Or if he struck him with a wooden object in the hand, by which he might die, and as a result he died, he is a murderer; the murderer shall surely be put to death.
The blood avenger himself shall put the murderer to death; he shall put him to death when he meets him.
And from every man,
from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.
Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God He made man.
So I’ll just say these few things regarding capital punishment. First, anyone who commits murder is, too, an image bearer of God. Second, as a murderer, they have destroyed an image of God. Third, yes, through the act of murder, their lives are forfeit according to the law. Fourth, there is grace.
Ultimately, this is one of those hot button issues that people have a broad spectrum of opinions on. There are plenty of arguments both for and against capital punishment; most of which are perfectly valid on either side. You can not read the scriptures and say that the bible is against capital punishment. But you also can not read the scriptures without seeing that one of our primary goals is to preach the cross of Christ to the lost.
But we need to understand, that in addition to being a form of judgment, capital punishment has a purpose; in taking the lives of those who seek to take the lives of others. It’s a way of protecting us from harm. Personally, I believe that capital punishment is a biblical, and justifiable form of punishment which is being implemented by a severely flawed and inconsistent judicial system.
Now, on to the next form of protection, that being of Just Wars & Civil Protection. I lump these together because, even though they are different in terms of their scope & range of authority; they all function through the same means.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation on themselves.
For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same;
for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
When we live in a world, and especially in a country that seems as though it’s constantly warring with itself; it’s easy to forget that our government has been given to us, by God, for our protection. Both our police and local agencies, as well as our military forces are always at work to help maintain the safety and security of our country. Not only do we have those nations around us that seek to achieve comparable firepower against us, but we also have those who have been desperately attempting to undermine, suppress and expose our defenses, so as to make us vulnerable. We could go on for a full hour on the biblical principals regarding war alone. But for our purposes today, we can simply say that our government has a responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens. And all throughout history, the occasion has presented itself time and again where nations will rise up against nations with little to no regard for the citizens that inhabit them.
And finally, I’d like to look briefly at Refuge. Now refuge is unique in that it doesn’t permit any certain type of killing, but instead provided a place of sanctuary for those whom had unintentionally taken a life. If one man had taken the life of another without any motive to do so, and instead killed a man by accident, then he was permitted to flee to one of the refuge cities. But he was not declared innocent. In fact, if a man was to flea to a city of refuge, and was later found outside the city by the blood avenger, then the blood avenger was permitted to kill the man slayer without any guilt or repercussions. But if the man slayer stayed in the refuge city until the High Priest passed away, then at that time he would be permitted to return home. So even though this man was responsible for the death of a human being, and the law still allowed his life to be taken from him. God still offered a way to him that preserved life.
I Am the Lord Your God…
So as we conclude this lesson, I want us to take a few minutes to examine, not just the commandment, but the Commander. God has a right to command us because He is our Creator. He created us in His image, and as His image-bearers, we should reflect the glorious character of Him. In Deuteronomy 32, God declares, “See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, And there is no one who can deliver from my hand.” (Deuteronomy 32:39)
As we saw in Romans earlier, all authority comes down by God. There are some things that God has given us authority over, and others He has not. When it comes to who lives and who dies outside the law, God has not given us the authority to make those kinds of decisions. Instead we need to turn to the great Image of God, His Son Jesus Christ. We should seek to live as Christ, and humble ourselves as He humbled Himself to the Father. We need to be obedient. We need to follow His commands. We should seek not to extinguish life but to instead be fruitful and multiply. Seek not to serve ourselves, but instead to lay down our very lives for the Church.
There is no way to keep any one commandment on it’s own. If you’ve broken one, you’ve broken them all. Christ fulfilled the law at every point. And in doing so, He loved the Father with all His heart, and all His mind, and all His strength, and He loved His neighbor completely. We never have any excuse to commit murder. That’s a deed for the devil. Christ said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).
Remember the final words of William Palmer? “Are you sure it’s safe?” I was reminded of the novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when the children go back into Narnia, and they meet with Mr. Beaver. And Mr. Beaver tells the children about Aslan. And at hearing the name, all of the children wanted to know more; and young Lucy asked, “Is he a man? Mr Beaver replied, ‘No, he’s not a man, he’s the King of the wood. Aslan is a lion.’ And then Lucy asks, “Is he safe?, and Mr. Beaver replied by saying, “Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.
Death isn’t safe. Murder isn’t safe. God isn’t safe. But He’s good!
You can listen to the audio of this Bible Study at SermonAudio here: