Thou shalt not kill. Exodus 20:13, KJV
"I don't believe in war. It costs a lot of money, and it can be hard on your health. Besides being immoral, the Bible says that we shouldn't kill!" How would you answer that? More than one college student has told me, "That's how I feel."
First, the Bible does says, "Thou shalt not kill." In just two Hebrew words, God gave us the sixth commandment. It was intended to stress the fact that life is sacred, that God alone gives life, and that no individual has the right to arbitrarily take it from another person. The command which God gave to Moses literally says, "You shall do no murder."
Some believe that this extends to participating in the military or fighting for their country. And I respect their convictions; however, the sixth commandment does not seem to mean the inadvertent taking of a life in the defense of one's country. Jesus said there would be wars with us until He finally returns and establishes His own kingdom (Matthew 24:6‑8).
Any way you look at it, war is a horrible, terrible thing. World War 1 cost the lives of thousands, but World War 2 took the lives of hundreds of thousands, and the cost of human suffering continues to escalate today. The older I get, the more I realize what a terrible, senseless tragedy is warfare.
The Bible says that wars come because of the sinfulness of the human heart. Notice James 4, which specifically talks about this. But there are numerous occasions mentioned in Scripture when God actually ordered the battle. In Genesis 14, God directed Abraham to do battle with the king to rescue his nephew, Lot. It is also important to notice that the battle was in self‑defense, not to simply take loot or territory belonging to another. Genesis 14:20 says that God actually delivered the enemy into his hands.
The second observation that should be made is that the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," is not a prohibition against capital punishment. After the flood, God gave definite instruction to Noah regarding the sanctity of human life. He said, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man" (Genesis 9:6). These words are the basis for modern capital punishment, which is not the taking of a life by another person but the forfeiting of the right to life in a society by violating the laws of a land. Exodus 21 mentions a number of offenses for which a person forfeited his right to life; and, remember if you would, that it was God who gave those commandments and injunctions.
Just what is the sixth commandment and how does it apply today? Here it is: The sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill" can aptly be translated, "Thou shalt not murder!"
The willful taking of another's life is murder, and it is this which is clearly forbidden by the sixth commandment. This means that a person presumably could violate this commandment in war, but all war is not forbidden by this commandment. Jesus said that murder comes from the heart, and Christ went even beyond the sixth commandment when He said, "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment" (Matthew 5:21-22).
I want to remind you of one great truth that may balance the heaviness of today's guidelines. "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). Let's teach our children the moral imperatives of God, at the same time we show them there is forgiveness for our sins through Jesus Christ.
Resource Reading: Matthew 5:17-20.