“You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). The Sixth Commandment forbids direct assaults on God’s image bearers. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6).
Numbers 35 reveals three elements to murder. First, there is specific action which results in the death of another human being. Striking a person with an object of wood, metal, or stone, or with the hand, which may cause death, and does cause death, is murder (Numbers 35: 16-18 and 21). Second, there is ill will or hostility. This means striking out at a person with “enmity” or “hatred” so that death occurs (Numbers 35:20-21). Third, there is premeditation. Numbers 35:20 and 22 speak of “lying in wait” and then striking a person so that he or she dies.
In hopes of finding favor with David, two rebel commanders of Ishbosheth, Saul’s son and king of Israel, plot to kill him. They plan the murder for noonday when the king is napping. Second Samuel 4:7 describes the dastardly deed. “Now when they came into the house, as he was lying on his bed in his bedroom, they struck him and killed him and beheaded him.” Here there is clear premeditation and an act causing death. The desire to curry favor with David no doubt carries with it commensurate ill will toward Ishbosheth. Murder is therefore just as much a matter of heart as it is an outward deed. The desire is to inflict fatal injury.
It is to this matter of heart that Jesus turns when He speaks about this commandment. “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” (Matthew 5:21-22).
You see, Christ plumbs the depth of the commandment. It is not only outward acts which are significant. The Scribes and Pharisees emphasized only the outward acts. When their anger and rage erupted against Stephen, they stoned him to death. They saw no problem. In their hostility they suborned witnesses. The ends justified the means. In their eyes, Stephen was a heretic. He deserved death. They thought nothing of the anger filling their hearts. But it is this anger, ill will, hatred, and hostility which precipitates such murderous acts. The outward acts cannot be separated from the inward disposition of heart.
And so, you must take care. As the apostle Paul exhorts, “BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). How difficult this posture actually is. A brother or sister in the church may call you an empty-headed fool and moron. In anger, he or she may indict you as reprobate. Words like this spoken in anger, such assaults, are tantamount to murder.
In these cases, sudden anger may quickly overtake you. Subdue your own heart. Do not respond in kind. Especially do not allow anger and bitterness to stew in your heart through the night. Such brooding anger and hostility may lead you to retaliate. Remember, your assaults on God’s image bearer, your words and actions, made in the heat of passion are also equivalent to murder. Remember God’s word, “You shall not murder.”