The Ten Commandments -Sixth – Sanctity of Human Life

Title: The Ten Commandments -Sixth - Sanctity of Human Life

Bible Book: Exodus 20 : 13

Author: Paul E. Brown

Subject: Murder; Sanctity of Human Life



The sixth commandment points up the sacredness of human life. Human life is sacred because it is a gift of God, because we are created in his image, and because man lives forever in heaven if he has repented of his sins and by faith received Christ as Savior, and in hell if he has rejected Christ.

This commandment, though brief, is a weighty and powerful statement. Unfortunately, though, it is frequently misunderstood--sometimes woefully so.

In the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, the sixth commandment literally reads: “Thou shalt do no murder.” Considering it in the context of other Scripture, let’s first take note of...

I. What This Commandment Does Not Prohibit

A. It Does Not Prohibit The Killing Of Animals

We should never mistreat animals, and we should never slaughter them needlessly, and to do so -is wrong, but it’s not murder. Human life is one thing, and animal life is quite another. Those folks who try to equate animal life with human life have gone beyond left field; they’ve completely exited the ball park; they’re not even remotely in sight of the stadium. Human life is unique. Only man was made in the image of God, the animals were not. God told man to have dominion over the birds, fish, and all living creatures. Animals were placed here for man’s benefit. Killing animals is in no case murder and killing animals for useful purposes is clearly in line with the plan of God.

God killed animals in the Garden of Eden to make coats of skin for Adam and Eve. After Noah and his family had come off the ark, God said, in Genesis 9:3, “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.” God commanded the offering of animal sacrifices as a part of worship during the Old Testament era. Jesus, himself, ate of the Passover lamb and following his resurrection he cooked fish on the shore of Galilee and dined with several of his disciples. David, when he was a lad, killed a lion and a bear that had slain one of his sheep and were threatening to attack him, and obviously it was with God’s approval that he killed these beasts of prey.

Proverbs 12:10 says, “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” A wicked man’s thinking is so twisted that even what he considers mercies are actually cruelties, but a person who is right with God will treat animals with genuine kindness, realizing that they are, after all, a part of God’s creation.

B. The Sixth Commandment Does Not Prohibit Killing In Justifiable Wars

No one in his right mind likes war, but sometimes it is necessary. There were many instances in the Old Testament when God sent Israel to war against those who would have destroyed them, or would have enslaved and corrupted them. For example, in 1 Samuel 15:18 (NIV) the old prophet reminded Saul of the command God had given him: “And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.’”

So, obviously God is not against all wars. In Psalm 144:1 David said, “Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight." In Hebrews 11:30-40 several Old Testament warriors, who were men of faith, are commended in verse 34 for having “waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” In the book of Acts we read of the conversion of Cornelius and there is no indication whatsoever that God instructed him to change professions.

We should do everything reasonable and honorable to avoid war but I agree with the writer who said, “In a world filled with evil people, sometimes war is necessary to prevent even greater evil. If Hitler had not been defeated by World War II, how many more millions would have been killed?” He went on to say, “The most important thing we [believers] can be doing in a time of war is to be praying for godly wisdom for our leaders, praying for the safety of our military, praying for quick resolution to conflicts, and praying for a minimum of casualties among civilians on both sides....”

C. The Sixth Commandment Does Not Forbid Killing In Self- Defense
1. Self-Defense Approved In The Old Testament

In the book of Esther, we read of how an evil man named Haman tricked the king of Persia and Media to set a certain day to have all of the Jews throughout his kingdom killed women, and children included, and to take their property. The king later realized that he had made a terribly wrong decision, but felt that he could not reverse the decree he had sent out. But through divine leadership, Queen Esther, who was a Jew, persuaded the king to issue another decree, allowing the Jews to arm themselves and resist their enemies. Esther 8:11 says, “Wherein the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay, and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey.”

We are told, then, that the Jews did successfully defend themselves. Esther 9:5 says, “Thus the Jews smote all their enemies with the stroke of the sword, and slaughter, and destruction, and did what they would unto those that hated them,” in other words, to those who tried to murder them.

Centuries earlier God had promised that Abraham’s descendants would be a great multitude. Had Haman’s evil intent been carried out, the Jewish population would have been drastically reduced at this strategic point in history. Thus, God intervened by working through circumstances and enabling that group of Jews to defend themselves against those who would have eliminated them.

Clearly, self-defense is approved by God. When Nehemiah and his colleagues were attempting to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, they knew that their enemies might attack at any time in an effort to halt that project. So, all of the workers were armed. We read in Nehemiah 4:17-18: “...everyone with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, everyone had his sword girded by his side, and so builded....” They didn’t want trouble and weren’t hunting for it, but they were ready to defend themselves if necessary.

2. Self-Defense Not Prohibited By Jesus

Some people regard certain statements and actions of Jesus as prohibiting all killing, including killing in self-defense--but when we look carefully at what Jesus said and did, in context, we see that he was not at all teaching what the pacifists claim he was.

In Luke 22:36, just prior to his crucifixion, Jesus said to his disciples, “...he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” But he also made it clear that they were to be discerning as to when to use the sword and when not to use it. When the officers from the Sanhedrin came to arrest Jesus, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant--but Jesus rebuked him for that hasty action, because in that instance, Jesus chose not to resist; he had determined to die on the cross and thereby take the punishment for our sins, that we through repentance and faith in him might be saved. In John 18:11 we read: “Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” Notice that Jesus did not tell Simon Peter to throw away his sword; he told him to put it back into its sheath. It appears that Jesus was saying, by implication, “Peter, you might need that sword later but on this occasion the use of a weapon is out of order.” Perhaps Jesus had in mind Peter needing his sword at some future time to defend himself from would-be assailants or against beasts of prey on some lonely, isolated road.

In Matthew 26:52 we learn that Jesus went on to say, “...all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Apparently Jesus was saying that people who pursue violence as a way of life will die by violence. Believers are to be peace makers, and while justified in defending themselves, are to use deadly force only as a last resort.

Some might say, “But didn’t Jesus tell us in Matthew 5:39 not to resist evil but to turn the other cheek?” He did, indeed, but you must not take that statement out of context. Jesus never contradicted himself. When you take that statement along with the other things he said, and you put all those statements together, it is clear that Jesus was saying, “There are times when you should just stand there and take personal insults, but there are other times, such as when your life or someone else’s life is threatened, that you need to take action and resist.”

3. Self-Defense Approved In The New Testament

In 1 Timothy 5:8 we read: “But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” While that passage primarily addresses providing materially for our families, common sense tells us that providing for our own certainly includes also providing for their protection. Surely if someone were trying to murder you, or to murder or rape your wife, or your children, the Lord doesn’t intend you merely to stand by and let it happen. It would be a profoundly serious thing, of course, to send a soul into eternity and every Christian ought to pray that he will never be placed in such a position. But killing that would-be murderer or rapist in such a case would not be murder. God never intended for decent people to let themselves be doormats for evil men to trample on.

The sixth commandment most assuredly does not prohibit self-defense.

D. Neither Does The Sixth Commandment Forbid Capital Punishment

After the flood God commanded that capital punishment be administered for the crime of murder. In Genesis 9:6 God said, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” Exodus 21:12 says, “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall surely be put to death.”

There are sincere people, whom I respect, who oppose the death penalty for murderers but I believe that they are sincerely mistaken. I find no indication anywhere in the Bible that God ever revoked the death penalty for murder. He revoked it for adultery, and for some other things that were punishable by death in the Old Testament era, but there is simply no evidence that he ever revoked it for the crime of murder.

In Romans 13 we see that God intends that capital punishment be carried out by duly constituted government authority. Verse 14 says, “For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” Hank Hanegraaff, in The Bible Answer Book, says that the “sword” was “the Roman symbol for capital punishment.”

We’ve looked at some things which are not forbidden by the sixth commandment; now let’s consider...

II. What This Commandment Does Prohibit

A. It Prohibits Homicide

From the earliest history of the human race, the horror of homicide has been present in our society. In Judges 3 we read of the murder of Eglon, the ruler of Moab. A man named Ehud claimed he had a secret message to share with Eglon, but when they were alone Judges 3:21 says, “And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly.” Throughout the Biblical record, we read of the murders of various kings, and of others.

According to one F.B.I. report, every 31 seconds someone is murdered somewhere in America. We are living in a violent society and I’m convinced that one contributing factor is the constant stream of violence on TV, in movies, in video games, and in other media. Another major reason is that so many murderers never receive full retribution, that is, not in this life. Still another factor is alcohol and   drugs. When a person gets drunk or high on drugs and kills innocent people, whether with a gun or an automobile, he is a murderer, plain and simple, regardless of what a court of law may rule.

Another factor is the widespread teaching of evolution. If a person believes that man is simply a sophisticated animal, then such a person is more likely to act like an animal and not to value the lives of others.

There are, of course, many other factors as well; the main one being that so many folks today neglect God, his Word and his church. People who ignore God are more vulnerable to sin of every kind, including murder.

One reason that homicide is such a horrendous crime is that you can’t undo it. If you steal a man’s property, you can make restitution but you can’t give him back his life. But not only is homicide a crime against the victim, it is a crime against his family, it is a crime against society, and it is a crime against God, who is the giver of life.

B. The Sixth Commandment Also Forbids Abortion

I believe that God’s mighty judgment is going to fall upon America with devastating force because of the widespread practice of abortion throughout our land. Abortion, which is nothing less than the cruel murder of precious, innocent, unborn children, is America’s national disgrace. It has become so commonplace that many folks are no longer shocked by it; some even accept it as a woman’s right. But what about the rights of that unborn baby? As James Merritt has said, “Every child deserves a birthday.”

Someone says, “But that little fetus is not yet a person.” But that’s as wrong as wrong can be. The Bible makes it unquestionably and emphatically clear that the unborn baby is a person. For example, God said to Jeremiah the prophet in Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee.

Before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.“ In Luke 1 we find that when the Virgin Mary learned that she was going to give birth to the Savior she went to the hill country to give her cousin Elizabeth the good news. Elizabeth was, at that time, “great with child,” expecting John, the “forerunner” of Jesus. According to verse 44, Elizabeth said to Mary: “For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”

From the moment of conception, that unborn baby is a living person--and no one has a right to take that baby’s life. Yet since the 1973 “Roe Vs. Wade” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, more than 50 million unborn babies have been aborted. When Cain killed Abel, God said to Cain, in Genesis 4:10: “What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother‘s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” If the blood of Abel cried out, how much more the blood of 50 million innocent unborn babies. May God help us to wake up to the heinousness, the enormity, the ungodliness of what is happening in our nation and may God give us the grace and courage to somehow find a way to stop it.

C. The Sixth Commandment Forbids Suicide

Just as we have no right to murder another person, neither do we have a right to murder ourselves, and yet suicides have occurred throughout history. For example, in 2 Samuel 17 we read of a man named Ahithophel giving certain advice to Absalom, the son of David, and when Absalom rejected his advice Ahithophel was so depressed that he took his own life. 2 Samuel 17:23 says, “And when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his ass, and arose, and got him home to his own house, to his city, and put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died, and was buried in the sepulcher of his father.” What a sad, foolish thing for him to do!

Someone says, “But what I do with my own life is my business, and mine alone.” No, it’s God’s business. Whether or not a person is a Christian, the life he has was given to him by God, and only God has a right to take it. Psalm 100:3 says, “Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” The fact that your heart  is beating and that you are breathing oxygen into your lungs is a gift of God. So far as the believer is concerned, there is this further word in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Suicide is a tragedy that occurs with horrible frequency in our own day and time. Even one is too many, but I read that there are approximately 30,000 suicides in the United States every year. That means there is an average suicide rate of about 83.3 per day, or 3.4 per hour and the statisticians tell us that for every completed suicide there are about 25 attempts.

I have been asked the question, “Can a person who commits suicide go to heaven?” I have to respond to that question in two parts. First, I can unequivocally say, with total confidence and full Biblical support, that if a person has truly been born again, that person goes to heaven when he dies, regardless - no exceptions - no ”ifs.”

However, the other part of the question is this: “Can a person who is truly born again commit suicide?” I have to say, with sadness, that I believe the answer is yes, although committing suicide is a pathetic, tragic thing for a Christian to do, just as it is for a non-Christian. Obviously, only God   knows with absolute finality what is in anyone’s heart, but Jesus did tell us that there are outward clues, or indicators, as to whether or not a person is a Christian, and in regard to those indicators he said, in Matthew 7:20, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” I know of people who have given strong, convincing indications throughout many years that they truly knew the Lord, but then shocked everyone by committing suicide.

So, when I consider what a horribly wrong, God-dishonoring thing suicide is, I can only conclude that if a truly born again person commits suicide, he must have temporarily lost his mind; he must have “snapped” in order to commit such an atrocious act.

Sometimes a deeply despondent person, contemplating suicide, says, “I’m going to end it all.” But suicide does not end it all. It doesn’t end the family’s heartache; that remains with them the rest of their lives. Nor does suicide exempt a person from having to answer to God. Whatever the cause of a person’s death, Hebrews 9:27 says that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Only God is wise enough and good enough to know when it is time for your life on earth to end. James Merritt said: “Suicide never paid a bill, never righted a wrong, never solved a problem, never healed a hurt, never restored a marriage, never cured a disease, and it never glorifies God.” Elliot Miller, commenting on professing Christians who commit suicide, says, “They furthermore do severe violence to their Christian testimonies, sending a message to both believers and nonbelievers that they did not find Christian faith and hope sustaining in the face of life’s difficulties.”

Anyone considering suicide needs to remember that as long as there is life, there is hope, regardless of how dire their situation might be. People who surrender their lives to Christ, or in some cases reaffirm their commitment to him, can claim our Lord’s promise in Matthew 19:26 that “with God all things are possible.” In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God said, “My grace is sufficient for thee....” However unbearable the pain seems, however apparently hopeless the situation, God can make a way; so don’t ever give up. Don’t ever throw in the towel. Don’t ever even consider such a disastrous step as suicide; it always makes things worse for all concerned, and it is irreversible.

D. The Sixth Commandment Also Forbids Inward Murder

That is, God not only condemns the outward act of murder, he also condemns the inner passion, in other words, the inner hostility which leads to the act. One of the most sobering, hard-hitting verses in all the Bible is 1 John 3:15: “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”

That does not mean that murder in the heart does the same amount of damage as outward murder. Your neighbor would rather that you hate him than kill him. Nor does murder in the heart involve the same degree of guilt or retribution as outward murder, but that verse does mean that in God’s sight ongoing hatred in a person’s heart is a form of murder, and if left unbridled it can lead to the outward act.

It may be that everyone has occasional episodes of hatred, but as terribly wrong and damaging as such episodes are, I don’t believe that’s what is being addressed in 1 John 3:15. The Greek word translated “hateth” in that verse is a present active participle, which suggests continuous action. The inspired writer is saying that anyone who hates on a continuing basis simply is not saved. That doesn’t mean that such a person might have once been saved but became lost again, it means that he never was saved to begin with.

A truly born again person cannot harbor hatred in his heart on an ongoing basis, because when he has an episode of hate one of two things will happen: either (1) he will repent of it “on his own” and get right with God again, or (2) God will chastise him and cause him to see his need of repentance. The Bible teaches that in some extreme cases when Christians get into sin and are reluctant to repent, God has taken them out of the world by a premature death.

Can a person with an ongoing hateful, murderous attitude in his heart get saved? Yes, by facing up to the heinousness of his sin, repenting of that sin, and by faith asking Jesus to cleanse him and change him. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Once a murderer has truly been born again, he is no longer a murderer, in terms of his internal character. That doesn’t mean, however, that he shouldn’t face the consequences of his crime in this life - he should. If he has committed outward murder, he should receive the death penalty. But if he has truly been saved, he will never have to experience what the Bible calls “the second death,” meaning the torments of hell.


Let me conclude by emphasizing that this commandment not only has a negative prohibition, it also has a positive implication. We are to recognize the sanctity of all human life. The boys and girls sing, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world,” and we must realize that Jesus continues to love them when they’re grown.

One human life, however humble or undeveloped, is worth more than all the oil ever produced by all the oil wells in the world. It is worth more than all the sophisticated technology that men have ever developed. It is worth more than all the gold ever stored at Fort Knox. Man is the crowning climax of all of God’s creative activity. The author of Psalm 8:5 said, “For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor.”

We’ve all heard the expression, “Live and let live” but, as the late Herschel Hobbs put it, what God is saying to us in this sixth commandment is, “Live and help live.” God intends not only that you and I abstain from an angry, hateful attitude and from hurtful outward actions--more than that, he intends that you and I aggressively protect people’s lives. The basis of murder is hatred, and the opposite of hatred is love. Thus, the ultimate, implied teaching of the sixth commandment is: Love one another, look out for one another, and help one another.

The only way any of us can be what he ought, inwardly or outwardly, is by linking our lives trustfully and obediently to Jesus Christ.

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