This is the sixth in a 10-part series that focuses on the covenant law of Yah which was inscribed on tablets of stone at Mount Sinai. What do these laws really mean and how are we to keep them?
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On the surface, the sixth commandment sounds simple and straightforward:
13 You shall not kill.
But when we look deeper into this command we find more layers beyond the surface meaning. For one thing, if it simply meant that no person is to kill another person, animal, insect, or creature, period, then this commandment would have been violated by Israelites many times over, particularly when Yah himself sent Israelites to kill their many enemies round about.
And then there is the dietary law to kill and eat animals designated as clean (see Leviticus 11). And let’s not forget the slaughter of animals as sacrifices during the Levitical priesthood. In this study we’ll look at various aspects of killing, and which kind are justified and unjustified according to Scripture.
A few inspired words found in Ecclesiastes chapter 3 give us the following:
1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.
The Word tells us that there is indeed a time to kill, therefore, we must look deeper into the sixth commandment of the covenant law in order to find its clear meaning. With regard to the enemies of Israel who dwelt in the land of Canaan, Yah has this to say:
24 Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for the people I am driving out before you have defiled themselves in all these ways. 25 Because the entire land has become defiled, I am punishing the people who live there. I will cause the land to vomit them out.
First let’s understand that the people of Canaan were cursed long before they were destroyed and driven out of the land. They were cursed back in Genesis 9:
25 Then he cursed Canaan, the son of Ham: May Canaan be cursed! May he be the lowest of servants to his relatives.
This is why they were eventually vomited or driven out of the land. Yah had marked the Canaanites for death long before the time came for them to be destroyed by Israel. That account is given in the book of Genesis as well:
13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that your descendants shall be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterwards they shall come out with great possessions.
15 And you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall come here again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.
The iniquity of the Amorites, another name for the people who inhabited the land of Canaan and surrounding territories, was not yet complete, meaning Yah allowed them to fully corrupt themselves before he felt it necessary to destroy them outright. And that destruction came at the hands of Israel, as Yah often uses one nation to judge or destroy another.
In the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, we see that Yah, however, does not destroy the righteous with the wicked. When the sins of those wicked cities reached up to Yah he sought to judge them accordingly, by destroying them. But the messengers sent to do the deed, who were led by Yeshua, were interrupted by Abraham:
23 And Abraham drew near, and said, will you also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
His question was followed by several others that involved the amount of righteous people it would take to spare those wicked cities. Reaching down to verse 32, we get the final figure that Yeshua would allow in order for those cities to be spared:
32 And he said, Oh let not Yah be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Suppose ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
This account gives us two things we’ll focus on in this study. One, as stated, Yah does not destroy the righteous with the wicked, even in his fiercest of judgments, the destruction of entire cities; and two, there truly were not so much as ten righteous souls left in those cities, which is why he had to remove the few who were there so the cities could be destroyed.
15 At dawn the next morning the heavenly messengers became insistent. Hurry, they said to Lot. Take your wife and your two daughters who are here. Get out right now, or you will be swept away in the destruction of the city.
This kind of sin and wickedness is what warrants Yah’s wrath and punishment, and the same can be said of nations that are destroyed by other nations for the sheer wickedness of its citizens.
This is what we see time and again in the accounts of Israel sweeping from town to town killing various people who dwelt in the land of Canaan. A case in point would be Jericho, to which Joshua sent spies prior to invading it. We are told that the prostitute Rahab, who aided Joshua’s spies, was spared for showing favor to the Israelites. And we are told she was justified by her works:
25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
And it resulted in her household being spared also.
23 And the young men that were spies went in, and brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had; and they brought out all her kindred, and left them outside the camp of Israel.
24 And they burned the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of Yah.
25 And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father’s household, and all that she had; and she dwells in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.
Again, Yah does not destroy the righteous with the wicked. Then we have the account of the golden calf incident, which led to Moses calling for the slaughter of many Israelites at the hand of the tribe of Levi, which we covered in our Scripture Study A Kingdom of Priests. Moses had gone up on the mountain to retrieve the laws in the form of tables of stone, and he had been gone so long that the people thought he had left for good. That is when they decided to make their own deity.
They descended into pagan revelry and committed all manner of abominations, and the apostasy reached up to Yah. When Moses came back down the mountain, he was appalled at what he saw and immediately took action.
25 And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had let them be naked unto their shame among their enemies):
26 Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on Yah’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.
27 And he said unto them, Thus says Yah Elohim of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.
28 And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
This act of killing was completely justified in the eyes of Yah. In fact, Moses even took the matter to Yah in order to seek forgiveness for their sin. That account is given in the next few verses:
30 And it came to pass on the next day, that Moses said unto the people, you have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto Yah; perhaps I shall make an atonement for your sin.
31 And Moses returned unto Yah, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them deities of gold.
32 Yet now, if you will forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray you, out of your book which you have written.
33 And Yah said unto Moses, Whosoever has sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.
34 Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto you: behold, my Messenger shall go before you: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.
35 And Yah plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.
The killing of the various apostate Israelites at the hands of the Levites was not attributed as sin. That killing was in fact counted as a just and deserving judgment against them. Understand also that Moses himself had killed an Egyptian slave driver who was beating his fellow Israelite (see Exodus chapter 2, verses 11 and 12). But that killing did not prevent Yah from choosing Moses for the great task of leading his people out of bondage, nor is it recorded that it was counted as a sin against him. We can gather that the killing was not premeditated, but accidental, and the law makes provision for this:
12 Anyone who assaults and kills another person must be put to death. 13 But if it was simply an accident permitted by Elohim, I will appoint a place of refuge where the slayer can run for safety.
With regard to that place of refuge we are told:
15 Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian.
Acts chapter 7 verse 30 tells us that Moses was in that land of refuge for 40 long years. Now when we continue to isolate the points and narrow the focus from national killing to localized killing, we get this additional account in the law:
2 If a thief is caught in the act of breaking into a house and is struck and killed in the process, the person who killed the thief is not guilty of murder. 3 But if it happens in daylight, the one who killed the thief is guilty of murder.
This law not only makes it plain that one kind of killing, involving a thief caught breaking in at night, is justified in the eyes of Yah, but also that night and day are indeed separate and distinct and not a 24-hour period as many believe. A thief caught stealing in the day could not be killed in a justifiable way, unlike a thief caught stealing at night.
One very important thing to note is that the accounts of the killing of individuals (such as thieves caught at night) or entire cities and nations of wicked people, and even the slaughter of sacrificial animals, are given to show us that the sole purpose of these sanctioned killings was to rid the land of evil. Otherwise, it is was not lawful to kill.
The preceding was given to shed light on what is justified and unjustified in the eyes of Yah with regard to killing. But the law itself, as it was given to the nation of Israel, pertains to us in a very different sense today, seeing we are in captivity and are no longer a nation. In the book of Leviticus, the third book of the Torah itself, we are told:
17 You shall not hate your brother in your heart.
Reading this law in and of itself seems unconnected to this study at first, but Yeshua, our Redeemer and King, our Creator and living example, connects this law to the sixth commandment in the covenant law to the point that it in fact defines the sixth commandment altogether, particularly for our time.
21 You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.
One could easily miss the connection and even the definition of the law “You shall not kill” in Yeshua’s statement here, but it is quite plain. To be angry in your heart with your fellow Israelite without a just cause leaves you as guilty and deserving of judgment as the actual premeditated killing of an individual. Examining this further reveals the fact that hatred indeed leads to murder. We see this in the account of Jacob and Esau:
41 And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.
This very idea is expanded upon by the Emissary John, who wrote in a letter:
14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loves not his brother abides in death. 15 Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer: and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
—1 John 3
This is also what the sixth commandment is driving at when we are told:
13 You shall not kill.
Keywords: You Shall Not Kill, The sixth commandment, do not murder, hating your brother, covenant laws, law of moses, hebrew laws, ten commandments, 10 commandments