Laws of Murder and Manslaughter--Part 1
Jan 12, 2008
The sixth commandment says, "Thou shalt not kill." The Hebrew word for "kill" covers both murder and manslaughter. But as usual, the commandments are summarized statements or "headings" which are further defined by particular "statutes." The penalties are defined by the "judgments," and these differ, depending on the circumstance of the killing.
The law defines murder as something premeditated, deliberate, and having motive (Deut. 19:11). Because the court is normally incapable of restoring the lawful order (unless someone can raise the dead), the law calls for the death penalty in such cases (Deut. 19:12, 13).
Manslaughter, on the other hand, is defined as accidental or the result of negligence (Deut. 19:4). The law sets up cities of refuge for such a person, and he was to live in one of those cities (Deut. 19:2) until the death of the high priest (Num. 35:25).
Because the death penalty is an emotional issue as well as a political issue today, let us cover this first. In the ultimate sense, death is the penalty for ALL sin, as Paul tells us in Romans 6:23, "the wages of sin is death." But God applied this death penalty in a way that did not bring immediate death, for otherwise, the earth would have lost its population immediately. Mortality is the death penalty applied with mercy. It gives mankind time and opportunity (a grace period) to repent, restore one's relationship to God, and find the path to immortality and salvation.
In cases of murder (as defined above), the law calls for a more immediate death penalty because it is one of the sins that finds no possibility of restitution. After all, how can one restore life to the victim? So the penalty is "life for life" (Ex. 21:23), an equal exchange. As much as is possible, the judgment of the law is equal to the crime.
Death was the most severe penalty reserved for sins where restitution was not possible. Most people view the death penalty as a terrible thing, especially those who live without hope of an afterlife. But in God's view, death is actually a limitation of judgment. How often have we heard it said by relatives of victims, "Death is too easy for you!" Is it not clear by such statements that the death penalty is a limitation of liability for sin? Many would like to increase the penalties of the law to include torture. But God has refused to do so, and there is no law in His Book allowing torture, unless we consider a beating to be torture.
In fact, true to its character, the divine law limits all judgment for sin. Beatings are limited to 40 stripes (Deut. 25:3). When a man incurs a debt (for sin or business disaster) and has to sell his labor as a bondservant to another, his servitude is limited to the year of Jubilee. This is all by the mercy of God, and such mercy is built into the divine law.
The death penalty is no exception. Though many in the Church have been taught that death sends a sinner to a torture pit called "hell," the fact is that the biblical "hell" simply means "the grave." It does not include torture, for that would be a violation of the divine law, which in turn is an expression of God's righteous character.
The death penalty is God's mandate to the earthly court, telling them to appeal the case to the Divine Court. The earthly court has no power to raise the victim from the dead and cannot do more than judge the evidence in the case. In all such cases, the judgment must be sent to a higher Court, where justice is possible. The death penalty is, in essence, a prison housing the sinner until his day in court arrives at the Great White Throne judgment.
When Jonah was cast overboard, he says in 2:6, "the earth with its bars was around me forever" [olam, an indefinite period of time]. Here we find one of those many examples in the Old Testament where olam is clearly seen to be an indefinite period of time, rather than an infinite time ("forever"). But we quote this verse to show that death is associated with a divine prison, complete with prison "bars." In Job 17:16 we also read of "the bars of Sheol."
The carnal mind of man has departed greatly from the original concept of divine judgment by turning death into a torture pit. Psalm 115:17 says, "The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into SILENCE." Ecclesiastes 9:5 says further,
"For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward [shalam, ability to make restitution or amends], for their memory is forgotten."
Many in the Church have been taught that the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16) shows that when an evil man dies, he goes to "hell." But that is a parable, not of an individual man dying and going to hell, but of the nation of Judah being destroyed and the condition of the Judeans afterward. In that parable, Lazarus is the House of Israel, which had "died" seven centuries earlier, with its citizens "outside the gate" and being comforted by "dogs" (popular term for "the gentiles").
Unfortunately, because so few understand the history of Israel and Judah today, most people miss entirely the significance of Jesus' parables of the Kingdom. For those who would like to learn more of this, I have eight audio cassette tapes on The Parables of Jesus, available for just $24 for the 8 tapes.
Death is not a divine prison where inmates are tortured. In fact, death is usually referred to as "sleep" or "rest." For example, in Psalm 13:3 David says, "Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death." In the New Testament, Paul confirms this in 1 Cor. 15:20, "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep."
I cannot expound upon this here, because it is another topic in itself, but let me just say that death is a return. The body goes to the tomb, the soul to sheol (or hades), and the spirit returns to God. We find these all mentioned in regard to the death of Jesus Himself.
The point that I am trying to make here is that when God sends someone to prison (death), He mercifully puts them to sleep so that their souls have no sense of the passing of time. This differs greatly from the world's prison systems, where men's souls languish for certain lengths of time according to their sentences. The Bible would call such a practice "cruel and unusual punishment," but men often think that the death penalty is what is cruel and unusual.
There is far too much to say about this than can be set forth here, but I do want to comment upon the debate today about the application of the death penalty in modern society. There are many Christians who believe in the death penalty, and others that do not for various reasons. First, in my view, Christians do not have the right to demand the death penalty or any other law or judgment of God if they teach that God's law has been put away. There is much inconsistency and even hypocrisy in the Church when it comes to these matters.
Secondly, we must make a distinction between the Kingdom of God and a Christian Nation. Those who demand a reinstatement of the death penalty in America often cite the fact that America was founded as a Christian Nation. In the past century, however, we were conquered by Mystery Babylon, a hidden or secret Babylonian system that put America into captivity primarily through the passage of the Federal Reserve Act in 1913.
Once we understand this, we can see how America has been transformed into a Babylonian society. Question: Given Babylon's anti-Christian sentiments, do we really want to give Babylon the power to impose the death penalty?
This is the first part of a series titled "Laws of Murder and Manslaughter." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones