Ask Me Anything - Is It Ever Okay To Kill?
March 11, 2020
Ask Me Anything
Is it ever okay to kill?
My mother had a saying she spouted out often when I was growing up, “Do as I say, not as I do.” She said that because I would catch her making a rule for me and then breaking that rule herself. I used to think how unjust and terrible my mother was… until I grew up and had children. I haven’t carried over the saying, but I do have to explain every now and then how even though Mom and Dad fail to live up to what we preach, our children are still expected to do right.
Some folks think God is like that. He doesn’t practice what He preaches. And one example they offer is the seeming contradiction of the Sixth Commandment with the actions of God in the OT. The Bible clearly commands…
“Thou shalt not kill.” Exodus 20:13 (KJV)
There it is plain as day. The implication is that we must not kill people, since the Commandments were given in the context of relationships (Commandments 1-4 vertical and 6-10 horizontal). The taking of human life is a grievous sin because human beings, unlike every other living creature on the planet, are made in the image and likeness of God.
Genesis 1:27 (ESV) — 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
This does not mean we can mindlessly slaughter animals by the way, just that human life is sacred above all other life.
Proverbs 12:10 (ESV) — 10 Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
A problem seemingly arises when we see God commanding the destruction of whole people groups when the Israelites invade the already occupied Promised Land.
Deuteronomy 20:16–17 (ESV) — 16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded,
God commands his people not to kill people (commandment) while at the same time commands them to kill people groups. What gives? This causes many to see God as contradicting himself, even being hypocritical. If that’s so, he can’t be God. God by his very definition means he never changes or wavers.
To solve this dilemma we must have the proper understanding of the Hebrew word translated as “kill” in the KJV, the translation upon which most base the Ten Commandments. You get an idea of this by comparing the KJV to modern translations…
One scholar explains why the proper word is murder, not kill…
“The Hebrew language possesses seven words related to killing, and the word used in this sixth commandment appears only forty-seven times in the Old Testament. This Hebrew verb… refers only to the killing of a person, never to killing animals, and not even to killing persons in a war. It carries no implications of the means of killing.
If any one of the seven words for killing in the Old Testament signifies what we refer to as ‘murder,’ this is the verb. It implies premeditation and intentionality. Without exception, especially in the later Old Testament periods, it refers to intentional, violent murder (Ps 94:6; Prov 22:13; Is 1:21; Jer 7:9; Hos 4:2; 6:9). In each instance, the act was conceived in the mind first and the victim was chosen deliberately.”
If I said, “John killed Jim last night” there would be room for the possibility that it wasn’t murder. Maybe Jim attacked John and he killed him in self defense or it was an accident. But if I said, “John murdered Jim last night” there’s no doubt as to what happebed. To murder means to kill but to kill does not necessarily mean to murder.
When we understand what the specific Hebrew word in EX. 20:13 means, we are able to clarify the Sixth Commandment. It specifically prohibits murder, the premeditated, wicked, unjustified act of taking a human life. But it does not prohibit the taking of human life in any and all situations, just murder.
If that’s the case, then we have to decide whether or not the command God gave the Israelites to wipe out people groups was murder or not. Let’s go back to that text but put it more in context…
Deuteronomy 20:16–18 (ESV) — 16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.
We see that God had a very good reason for calling for their destruction. He wanted to protect His people from the wicked and detestable things they did. In Leviticus we are told what these things were…
Leviticus 18:19–24 (ESV) — 19 “You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. 20 And you shall not lie sexually with your neighbor’s wife and so make yourself unclean with her. 21 You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion. 24 “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean,
These wicked nations were practicing:
- Sexual immorality – adultery, homosexuality (as a novelty and not what we see today, though both are wrong in God’s sight), bestiality
- Infanticide – the offering of children up to Molech
This wasn’t isolated or common to a few, it was the whole peoples’ way of life. They were utterly deviant, much like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. Their behavior was irredeemably depraved, and they were so depraved because a spirit of wickedness had infected their very essence as a group. What would have happened if the Israelites had tried to live among them? Or let them go? Does God have the right to judge a people like this?
Note that God didn’t tell the Israelites to exterminate all non-Hebrew people groups they came across, just certain ones.
Deuteronomy 2:8–11 (ESV) — 8 So we went on, away from our brothers, the people of Esau, who live in Seir, away from the Arabah road from Elath and Ezion-geber. “And we turned and went in the direction of the wilderness of Moab. 9 And the Lord said to me, ‘Do not harass Moab or contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land for a possession, because I have given Ar to the people of Lot for a possession.’ 10 (The Emim formerly lived there, a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim. 11 Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim.
Deuteronomy 2:17–23 (ESV) — 17 the Lord said to me, 18 ‘Today you are to cross the border of Moab at Ar. 19 And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.’ 20 (It is also counted as a land of Rephaim. Rephaim formerly lived there—but the Ammonites call them Zamzummim— 21 a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim; but the Lord destroyed them before the Ammonites, and they dispossessed them and settled in their place, 22 as he did for the people of Esau, who live in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites before them and they dispossessed them and settled in their place even to this day. 23 As for the Avvim, who lived in villages as far as Gaza, the Caphtorim, who came from Caphtor, destroyed them and settled in their place.)
This is very interesting, as Michael Heiser comments…
We learn several things of significance in this passage and its geography. Proceeding from south to north, the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites were to be left unmolested by the Israelites because God had long ago allotted that land to Abraham’s nephew Lot and his grandson, Esau, Jacob’s brother. It is fascinating to note (vv. 10–11, 19–20) that giants had once lived in those territories prior to the arrival of Moses, Joshua, and the Israelites. These giant clans were known among the Moabites and Ammonites as the Emim and the Zamzummim. Other inhabitants had also been driven out: the Horites, the Avvim, and the Caphtorim. These tribal groups are never themselves referred to as being unusually tall, though they surface in connection with giant clans in a number of other passages. The thing to observe here is that these giant clans had already been removed from the land promised to Abraham’s descendants by the descendants of Esau and Lot, who were also descended from Abraham, like Israel (vv. 12, 21).
These giant clans were related to the Anakim (vv. 10–11), who were, of course, “from the Nephilim” (Num 13:32–33). We aren’t told specifically how the bloodline lineages worked, but we are told a relationship existed.
What wicked act of rebellion are the Nephilim associated with? The sons of God in Genesis 6. And what judgment follows that? The flood. Heiser brings out the fact that all the people groups targeted for extinction were associated in some way with the Nephilim. They were among them or had influenced them. These people groups weren’t just bad, they were supernaturally bad, having been associated with the rebellious offspring of the sons of God. They were aligned with the enemy in a terrible way, and it came out as sexual sin and the killing of children (Molech may have been an errant son of God).
God has the authority to initiate judgment against a people if He desires. God would never desire it without a legitimate reason even though his reason might be beyond our understanding. That judgment is always just. This was not murder in any sense and thus not a contradiction to the 6th commandment.
God has the authority to take life, but do we? Are there times it’s okay for us to kill a human being?
The OT law exempted those who killed in self defense.
Exodus 22:2–3 (NLT) — 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. “A thief who is caught must pay in full for everything he stole. If he cannot pay, he must be sold as a slave to pay for his theft.
One fellows says…
“God’s people have always recognized that there are some situations where taking a life is not only permitted but actually warranted. One such situation is self-defense, the protection of one’s self and one’s family from violent attack. To extend the principle, we may also kill in the defense of our nation. As Stephen Carter explains, ‘War is horrible and should be fought rarely, and only to avoid greater horrors.’”
The Bible also allows for the taking of human life when that life took another’s. We know it as capital punishment.
Genesis 9:6 (ESV) — 6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.
This must be done through the governing authorities and not a matter of personal vengeance.
Romans 13:1–7 (ESV) — 1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
“The execution of a murderer stops him from killing again and deters other would-be criminals from doing the same. His execution is also a matter of justice. The Bible says, ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man’ (Gen. 9:6). This is the Biblical logic behind capital punishment. It is precisely because life is precious that someone who takes it unlawfully must be put to death. What makes life so precious is that every human being is made in God’s image. God has put his stamp on every one of us the way a great artist signs his name to a work of art. Therefore, to damage a life is to deface one of God’s masterpieces. 
There is big debate among even Christians on this one. I respect both sides, especially in light of all the innocent convicted. As I said, the Bible allows for the taking of human life in this instance, but does not necessarily command it. Life in prison is pretty much the same thing.
Thou shall not MURDER pretty much explains it all.
Sidenote: some modify this view and say it’s fallen angels possessing human men who mated with human women, but it holds little support.
The second view is that the sons of God are rulers of early dynasties (nobles) who mated with the “daughters of men” who were lowly common women. Their sin was polygamy, the taking on of many wives.
Sin = polygamy
This view requires the reading of much into the text
Though I tend to prefer the last view, the Scripture does not give us enough info to confirm or deny these three views (though it does some that are thrown out).
A divine judgment – v. 3
This could mean a time (120 years) for repentance
This could mean a shortened lifespan (which is later shortened in Psalm 90:10)
An unholy offspring – v. 4
The text does not identify the “Nephilim” as the offspring of the unholy union in v. 2
The KJV rendering of “Nephilim” as giants here is an assumption that they are the same as the Nephilim mentioned in Numbers 13:33
These could not literally be the descendants of the Nephilim mentioned here because of the flood. In Numbers the spies were equating the Nephilim with giants in the land but this may have been a descriptive term meaning that they were like the mighty ones, men of renown mentioned in Genesis – a scare tactic.
The Hebrew word literally means “fallen ones” or “ones who fall upon”
Note that the Nephilim existed before the “unholy unions and there offspring” and after.
They were mighty warriors, men of renown but not giants
Walter C. Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, Il: InterVarsity, 1997, c1996), 148.
 Heiser, M. S. (2015). The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (First Edition, p. 195). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
 Stephen L. Carter, God’s Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion and Politics (New York: Basic, 2000), p. 126.
 Philip Graham Ryken and R. Kent Hughes, Exodus : Saved for God's Glory, Includes Bibliographical References (P. -1202) and Indexes. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2005), 617.
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