The Sixth Commandment
The last five commandments give us an outline of conduct by which we may love our neighbor as ourselves. The first of these is found in Deuteronomy 5:17, “You shall not murder.” It is the negative form of “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
As with all the Commandments, this was meant to state the basic principle, leaving the other statutes to define it further and the judgments of the law to instruct us in the penalties for its infraction.
When Restitution is Impossible
One of the most basic principles of biblical law is that the judgment must always be in direct proportion to the crime. The crime, then, must be matched proportionately to its resolution or restitution. Simple theft requires double restitution (Ex. 22:4) to the victim in order for justice to be accomplished.
In the case of murder, it is not possible to restore the loss to the victimized family—unless one has the power to raise the murder victim from the dead. And even if he could be raised up, the victim and his family have the right to demand double restitution. How would one restore two lives?
The same problem is faced with kidnapping (Ex. 21:16). How does one pay restitution in such a case? In cases where restitution is not possible, the judgment of God is death. That is, it is the right of the victims to call for the death penalty, and the law must enforce their will. It should be clear, however, that the victims always have the right of forgiveness. The law is only empowered to enforce the rights of the victims of injustice. Grace and mercy is always the right of a victim, though not of a judge in the performance of his office.
Premeditated Murder and Accidental Manslaughter
Premeditated murder calls for the death penalty (Ex. 21:14). Yet one who unintentionally killed another without malice was required to confine himself to one of the six cities of refuge, where he was to remain until the death of the high priest (Ex. 21:13; Deut. 19:11). This was a voluntary imprisonment that did not prevent the killer from supporting himself by whatever labor he could find. If he left the city of refuge, he could be executed by the “redeemer of blood” with full immunity (Num. 35:26-28).
Cases of premeditated murder, when proven by two or three witnesses, required the court to impose the death penalty. We read in Deut. 19:11-13,
11 But if there is a man who hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him and rises up against him and strikes him so that he dies, and he flees to one of these cities [of refuge], 12 then the elders of his city shall send and take him from there and deliver him into the hand of the avenger [ga’al, “redeemer”] of blood, that he may die. 13 You shall not pity him, but you shall purge the blood of the innocent from Israel, that it may go well with you.
The law is required to sentence such a man to death. However, keep in mind that the victims always retain their right of forgiveness. Both Jesus and Stephen forgave their murderers (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60), because this was their right. That right naturally passed to the victim's representative, the redeemer of blood, whose responsibility it was to represent the interests of his family when they were victimized by crime.
The ga’al h’dam, “redeemer of blood,” is the kinsman redeemer. The term “blood” in this case means a blood relative, or kinsman.
Whenever the law imposes the death penalty, God implicitly recognizes that earthly courts are incapable of dispensing justice to such victims. In other words, restitution is not possible for murder. For this reason, the court was to defer the case to the higher court at the Great White Throne and put the guilty to “sleep” (as it is called) until that Day. When a judge finds it impossible to restore what the victim has lost, he has no choice but to defer the case to the Great White Throne judgment.
The redeemer of blood, too, is incapable of obtaining justice for his kinsman in such cases, and so his options are either to put the offender to death or to forgive him. It is likely that the most important factor that would make him consider forgiveness is if the offender was truly repentant, even as repentance is required of all of us to appropriate the provision made to us by the blood of Jesus Christ. The redeemer of blood is called to be a redeemer, not an avenger; but in a case of murder, he cannot fulfill his calling through the law of restitution or by any other law. In the end all he can do is forgive or defer the case to the Great White Throne.
The provision of the cities of refuge is a diminished form of the death penalty. The penalty is lessened on account of the unintentional nature of the homicide. The redeemer of blood again has the option of forgiving the manslayer, which in most cases would be the better option, seeing that the death was accidental. But if the redeemer remains angry, the manslayer can be protected by the law only within the boundaries of the city of refuge.
The city of refuge serves the same basic function as the death penalty itself. Both serve to isolate the offender but in different ways. The death penalty holds the murderer until the time of the Great White Throne, where our great High Priest judges all mankind in the context of His death on the cross which paid the penalty for the sin of the world. For the lesser crime, the manslayer is sent to a city of refuge until the death of the high priest, which speaks prophetically of the cross, where sin is forgiven.
The calling of the redeemer of blood has been greatly misunderstood over the years, because men did not understand the heart of God or the mind of Christ. When Christ came to show the heart of God by His example, He revealed His role as the ultimate redeemer of blood by His own death on the cross, for He did not come as a prosecutor, but came on behalf of the defendants.
Hence, the first great example that we see is that a redeemer of blood primarily seeks to redeem and forgive, rather than to exact punishment. A redeemer ought not to be interested merely in the interests of his kinsman, but in the interest of establishing the will of God for the furtherance of His way of life. If the redeemer has the mind of Christ, he will seek the true balance of justice and mercy that is found in Christ Himself. In other words, he will understand that his duty is to God even before his kinsman. He will seek God’s will first and his own rights secondarily.
In fact, the law of God took notice of such a problem that might arise in cases of murder or manslaughter. Because the redeemer has the right to forgive, he may be so carnally-minded as to “make a deal” with the murderer. If the murderer’s family is rich, the redeemer might demand a herd of sheep in exchange for forgiveness. The law outlaws such deals in Numbers 35:31, 32,
31 Moreover, you shall not take ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death. 32 And you shall not take ransom for him who has fled to his city of refuge, that he may return to live in the land before the death of the priest.
This establishes the fact that forgiveness must be freely given, rather than earned by ransom, whether it is a case of first degree murder or accidental manslaughter. Forgiveness must be based upon repentance and true mercy, rather than treating it like a bargaining chip that might place some value on the life of the deceased victim.
Repentance and Correction
The importance of repentance is in the fact that it is a change of mind or way of thinking. It is to put on the mind of Christ. This has always been the goal of history and the underlying purpose of the law. The law’s judgments are corrective in nature and were never designed merely to inflict punishment, for the prophet says, “when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).
Christ, our Redeemer, did not automatically forgive the lawless in His death on the cross, as some have taught, even though He certainly had that option, as did any redeemer of blood. Instead, in His wisdom, He works to bring about repentance, so that forgiveness may benefit the sinner, rather than teaching him that grace is an excuse to sin further.
God judges as a Father, not as an impersonal judge. Hence, when our own children sin, we are often led to hold them accountable, in order to teach them the gravity of sin and the consequences of their actions. While parents may pretend to be angry at the child who has sinned, a good parent judges from the position of love and mercy, and all judgment is designed to correct them and bring them to a place of maturity and responsibility.
However, many people have lived according to their own self-interest, often victimizing others without ever being held accountable during their life time. Offenses remain unresolved, and injustice prevails on the earth continually. For this reason the Great White Throne judgment is necessary to bring all unresolved sin into accountability. The first purpose of the Great White Throne is to reveal to all humanity the truth of Christ, the awfulness of sin, and the grace that exceeds it. When men are enlightened at the Great White Throne, where all truth is revealed and all secrets are uncovered, “every knee will bow,” and “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10, 11).
This universal repentance is the start of their training to know God, for Paul says that “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Therefore, at the Great White Throne, all men will express their faith in Him and will be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the first portion of the “lake of fire” that will baptize them, a fire that is designed to purify them from sin by the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-9).
The lake of fire is the “fiery law” itself (Deut. 33:2) which proceeds from the throne of God, seen in Daniel 7:9 and 10. The fire of God was manifested at Mount Horeb on the day celebrated later as the Feast of Weeks, i.e., Pentecost. That fire was seen later on the heads of the 120 disciples in the upper room when the Lord instituted the Church of Pentecost in Acts 2.
And so, at the Great White Throne, all of mankind will begin to be subject to the fiery law of God. All who failed to place their faith in Jesus Christ as the One who paid the penalty for their sin will be judged by the fiery law according to their works (Rev. 20:12). None of them will have any assets with which to pay restitution for their sins committed during their life time, so the law says that they must be “sold” into servitude (Exodus 22:3) until their debt is paid.
They will be sold to the believers, for the believers will be given authority to rule and reign with Christ over others until the great Jubilee sets all creation free into the glorious liberty of the children of God (Romans 8:19).
During that time of lawful judgment, the believers will teach by word and train by example, so that they too may begin to put on the mind of Christ during this time of service and training. That time will be long, but it will end with Creation’s Jubilee, which I believe is 49,000 years after Adam.
Reconciling the Universe
Herein also is the reason why the idea of a never-ending burning hell is unlawful, for mere torture does not bring about justice. Justice is not done until all the victims of injustice have been repaid for their losses. The justice of God does not demand torture but restitution to recompense the victims of injustice. Mere punishment may correct the sinner, but it does not establish justice or restore the lawful order. Sin is not eradicated by torture.
The overriding goal of the divine plan is to reconcile the universe by putting all things in subjection to Christ. Paul speaks of this in Colossians 1:16-20,
16 For by Him all things [ta panta, “the all”] were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things [ta panta, “the all”] have been created by Him and for Him…. 20 and through Him to reconcile all things [ta panta, “the all”] to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
Paul says that the same God who created “the all” will also reconcile “the all” to Himself. Paul’s favorite verse, which he quotes more than any other, is Psalm 8:6, “Thou hast put all things under His feet.” He explains this in detail in 1 Cor. 15:26-28,
26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For He has put all things in subjection under His feet. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He [God] is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all.
To reconcile creation is to eradicate all disharmony and eliminate all disagreement with the mind and will of Christ. God accomplishes this in the faithful believers by discipline, even as a father disciplines his children (Heb. 12:5-8). While the discipline is more rigorous upon unbelievers, the heart of God remains the same. His love does not begin with our faith, but as Rom. 5:8 says,
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
His love is a father’s love, designed to correct His children, even if the results must come by severe judgment. The law defines the parameters of that judgment. The only type of justice where torture or pain is involved comes when a man may have tortured another man in this life time. Where church leaders have burned people at the stake—a punishment foreign to God’s law—it may be that they too will suffer the same fate, according to the law in Exodus 21:25, “burn for burn.”
But even such terrible judgment is temporary, for no judgment is “everlasting,” as some translations would have it. Judgment is olam (Hebrew) and aionian (Greek), and both terms indicate an indefinite period of time, allowing the law to define the length of judgment according to the severity of the crime.
Our Redeemer of blood is not only loving and just but is also wise enough to devise a plan for creation whereby nothing will be lost in the end. That plan is revealed in the law, and the redeemer of blood plays his role in this plan.
The Hebrew word for redeemer is ga’al and is spelled ??? (gimel-aleph-lamed). Gimel means a camel and signifies being lifted up, on account of a camel lifting up a load on its back. The last part of the word is aleph-lamed, which spells El, or God. Thus, a redeemer literally means “to lift up God.” This was behind Jesus statement in John 3:14,
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
Again, we read in John 12:32,
32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.
When Jesus died on the cross, He was lifted up as the serpent in the wilderness to bring healing to all who would look upon Him. He was acting out the role of a redeemer: “to lift up God.” Not only does this portray Him as the serpent in the wilderness, but it also shows the deity of Christ, for in His crucifixion, God was lifted up on the cross.
Likewise, it reveals that “all men” will indeed look upon Him and find healing. A few look upon Him in their life time, but the vast majority will not do so until the Great White Throne.
This word picture in the letters of ga’al shows the mind of Christ behind a redeemer of blood. Such a guardian was the kinsman redeemer in a court of law, empowered to be the advocate for anyone in his family who had been victimized by crime. It was his duty to bring redemption, not revenge. Jesus’ example shows us that He brought redemption by His willingness to give His own life, not only for the victims of crime but also for the criminals. As a result, “all men” will be drawn to Him.
This is the example of love that reveals the heart of God and the mind of Christ in regard to the redeemer of blood. To refer to guardians as avengers or revengers might portray the carnal mind of avengers on earth, but such men do not reflect the heart of God as seen by Christ’s example.
So we see that while it was the duty of the judge and the court to determine guilt or innocence and to sentence the murderer to death, it was the right of the victim’s guardian to act in love. If the murderer was unrepentant, the death penalty might be the best option in order to protect future victims. But if the murderer was truly repentant, the redeemer had the option to forgive.
Jesus has the capability and the wisdom to go beyond other redeemers of blood, because He does not function under time constraints. He also has the power to open men’s eyes to see the truth and to cause men to repent by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Hence, He has devised a plan for creation that includes the Great White Throne, where law enforcement reaches its pinnacle of success in bringing all men to repentance by the power of the Spirit.
The Laws of War
The law itself is a war on crime. But whereas most of the laws deal with social relations within the community, there are times when nations victimize other nations. In those cases, the law is applied internationally. God Himself judges the nations to restore the lawful order in this highest Court.
Deuteronomy 20 gives us the main outline of the laws of war. The chapter presumes, of course, that the war being contemplated is just and that God has already given the ruling in His Divine Court in regard to the international dispute. In the religions of most of the nations, it was assumed that their god simply wanted to impose his will upon the other nations, and that their gods would assist them (the “chosen people”) to extend their power and territory. The people did not normally think of such conquests in terms of restoring the lawful order of the universe. War was waged usually with selfish motives, with little or no regard for the well-being of other people.
But the God of the Bible is not like those other gods. When Jesus came to reveal the heart of the father, we find that He had as much compassion for the Samaritans and Romans as He did for His own tribe. In fact, the law itself mandated that the Israelites love the aliens as themselves (Lev. 19:34), remembering that they too had been mistreated as aliens in Egypt. So God's instruction to make war on other nations was not based upon self-interest but upon law enforcement for actual crimes against God or His nation.
The Canaanites, for example, had rejected the Creator and had given His sovereign right of kingship to false gods who had imposed unjust laws victimizing many people. Nonetheless, the judgment to destroy the Canaanites was based upon their works, their practice of injustice, their murder of innocent babies in religious ceremonies, and other corrupt practices.
If the Canaanites had repented of these practices and had submitted to Joshua (Jesus), they could have avoided the death penalty that God had imposed upon them as a nation. Sincere repentance would have resulted in their incorporation into the nation of Israel. They would have stopped being Canaanites, and their citizenship would have been transferred by faith from a kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of light.
In fact, the sentence upon Canaan was pronounced by Noah’s curse in Genesis 9:25. Then God gave them 828 years in which to repent and avoid the death sentence. I showed in my book, Secrets of Time, the many biblical examples of Cursed Time—cycles of 414 years. Cursed time can be 414 years (or days) or a multiple of it, but the purpose of Cursed Time is to provide a grace period so that the guilty party may have time to repent and thereby escape the death penalty. Canaan received 2 x 414 years of grace, but at the end of that time, they refused to submit to Joshua (Yeshua).
Hence, the death penalty was imposed upon Canaan.
Those who do not fulfill the requirement of the Divine Court during the grace period must pay the penalty, as the Canaanites did. But the Canaanites did not believe what God had decreed, nor did they inquire of it. Instead, they chose to fight Israel.
The point is that God raised up the nation of Israel to exercise authority in His name to enforce His laws and His judgments. Hence, Israel was called to make war on the offending Canaanites. It was not a power play to see which god was more powerful. The war was not simply a matter of obtaining land for Israel at the expense of the Canaanites. It was not simply a matter of self-interest. God did not declare war just because He hated Canaanites and loved Israelites. In fact, when we see the whole story and how it began with Noah’s curse on Canaan, we see a merciful God, full of grace, who had already given the Canaanites 828 years in which to repent and comply with the judgment of the divine court.
This reveals the mind of Christ insofar as international justice is concerned. Anyone who desires to reign with Christ must learn to issue His judgments according to His will and mind. This is the only way in which all nations will desire to become states in the Stone Kingdom, when it grows to fill the whole earth, as Daniel 2:35 and Isaiah 2:2-4 tell us.
Psalm 67:4 tells us that all nations will rejoice when God’s judgments are applied to the nations,
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for Thou wilt judge the peoples with uprightness, and guide the nations on the earth. Selah.
This paints a picture of international justice that is based upon love. It does not paint a picture of Israel making war on the nations to subdue them and to subject them as slaves of the chosen people. It is a picture of international respect, due to the awesome system of love and justice that God has set forth—once that law is understood by the mind of Christ.
When one nation does an injustice to another, any nation has the right to appeal to God's International Court of Justice. If Israel is the offending party, God will rule against Israel. If Israel is the victim, God will rule in their favor. God's justice is impartial, for that too is the law. Num. 15:16 says,
16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.
When this law is applied in God's International Court of Justice, we see that God judges all nations impartially according to the principles of law that emanate from His own will and character. All nations were created to conform to His image, and He intends to rule them all.
Therefore, the laws of war must be conducted according to His instructions—and then only when He leads us into battle. Under those circumstances, killing in time of war is not murder, but all war that is done outside the parameters of God's law is murder, and the guilty nation (not individual soldiers) is held accountable.
There are other types of killing that we must study to see if they are unlawful or not. In the case of deliberate abortion, or pre-birth infanticide, the Bible is clear that God establishes life prior to one's birth. Hence, to destroy that life is to take a life, and unless it is done according to some proper judicial process, such killing is murder. Jeremiah 1:5 says,
5 Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.
Properly, nothing is truly “formed” until it is fully formed into a given shape and size. Hence, God was talking about the time between conception and birth when Jeremiah was known by God and appointed as a prophet. Likewise, Jacob and Esau were called while they were in the womb prior to birth (Rom. 9:11). This divine recognition of their personhood is beyond dispute to anyone who truly believes Scripture.
God's statement in Jer. 1:5, “I knew you,” is not fully appreciated in most circles. The personal application, of course, has to do with the level of intimacy in personal relations. But in the realm of international law, it applies to diplomatic relations between nations. In that application, it has to do with recognition.
If one nation refuses to recognize another, it means there are no diplomatic relations between the two. Often they are in a state of war, perhaps having a truce but no real peace treaty. Deut. 11:28 speaks of “following other gods which you have not known.” This means that other gods were not to be officially recognized in Israel. Those gods had no legal standing, and the law of God will not back their pretentious claims of authority.
When Jesus spoke of lawless faith healers in Matt. 7:23, saying, “I never knew you,” He did not mean that He had never heard of them, but rather that they were still in a state of hostility toward Him and His law. They were not in agreement. Hence, He did not recognize them in a legal sense.
By contrast, Paul says in 1 Cor. 8:3, “but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.” They love God if they keep His commandments, and God recognizes such people as having “standing” in a divine court of law. They have rights as Kingdom people. The lawless lose their rights when judged by the law. In the great Love Chapter, we read in 1 Cor. 13:12,
12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.
Recognition in law gives us our standing in law. After this has been established, we may begin to “know” Christ in an intimate and personal relationship. Christ came to reveal and to make known the Father's heart and mind in all matters.
Therefore, when God “knew” Jeremiah while he was yet in the womb, it means that God had given the prophet legal standing as a person before his birth. With that legal standing came God-given rights both as a citizen of the Kingdom and as a prophet by calling. This shows not only that life begins at conception, but more importantly, that an unborn child has legal standing in the government of God—including the right to live in security.
This is supported by the law in Exodus 21:22,
22 And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him and he shall pay as the judges decide.
This is clearly a case of accidental homicide, as the woman in question was not one of the two men fighting but was rather attempting to intervene. The precise penalty is to be determined by the woman's husband and the judges. However, this case does not refer directly to the unborn child's legal standing, but rather that of the parents. Even so, the unborn child is given value beyond today's label as “just a piece of flesh.”
The early Church faced the problem of abortion and child murder in their own time, and they unanimously condemned such practices. Their view in this matter did not differ from Judean belief. In the late first century, Josephus testified of Jewish belief in his book, Against Apion, II, 25,
The law, moreover, enjoins us to bring up all our offspring and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have done so, she will be a murderer of her child.
In those days men had discovered certain herbal potions that would induce abortion. Roman law permitted abortion and even infanticide, as it upheld the father's right of life and death over his children. By contrast, the Epistle of Barnabas 14:11 says,
Thou shalt not destroy thy conceptions before they are brought forth; nor kill them after they are born.
The Didache, or “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” says in 2:1,
The second commandment of the teaching is: “You shall not murder” ... you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide.
In 177 A.D. Athenagoras took issue with the rumors circulated by pagans in his day that Christians killed infants and drank blood at their meetings when they partook of communion. He refuted this, saying in his Plea, ch. 35,
What reason would we have to commit murder when we say that women who induce abortions are murderers, and will have to give account of it to God?
In 210 A.D. Tertullian, a Christian Roman lawyer in chapter 9 of his Apology, or “defense” of Christianity,
In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance.
Around 400 A.D., The Apostolic Constitutions summarized the accepted teachings of Christianity, saying in 7:3,
Thou shall not slay thy child by causing abortion, nor kill that which is begotten; for everything that is shaped and has received a soul from God, if it be slain, shall be avenged, as being unjustly destroyed.
We see then that abortion is not a new issue in the Church. It was practiced by humanistic cultures that based their laws on the belief that parents were the originators of life and therefore also had the right to take away the life of their children. God's law does not allow this, even for the worst juvenile delinquent. Even the unborn enjoyed recognition by God in the divine court and were afforded protection by law against parental malice.
Though parents did beget and give birth to children, they do not originate life. All life comes from God and is therefore subject to His will. God’s law, therefore, regulates parental rights over their children.
The Sixth Commandment prohibits murder and conversely recommends love. It is the first commandment that helps to define how we may love our neighbor as ourselves. If we truly love God, we will keep the Sixth Commandment.