The Book of Matthew

Tuesday: What is Murder

Matthew 5:21-26 In this week’s lessons, Jesus shows us that murder is not only a matter of sinful actions, but of the sinful attitudes and thoughts of the heart.
What Is Murder?

The first of Christ’s examples is based on the sixth commandment, which said, “Thou shalt not kill [meaning murder].” For years, ever since the giving of the law to Israel through Moses on Mount Sinai, this commandment had stood in the Decalogue and had been known to Israel. And for the same length of time murder had been defined by most men, including the scribes and the Pharisees, as the external act. They had taken the sixth commandment as found in Exodus 20:13 and had combined it with a verse in Numbers that demanded death for anyone who unlawfully took innocent life (Num. 35:30). The clear implication was that the commandment referred to nothing more or less than this act. We do the same thing, of course, for our dictionaries define murder as “the offense of unlawfully killing a human being with malice aforethought, express or implied.”

Is this what murder is? Is murder nothing more than the act? Or if it is, is there no guilt to the man who almost kills another but is prevented from doing so by some unexpected circumstance? Or what about the man who would like to kill his enemy but does not do so from cowardice or from fear of getting caught? This is the way men reason, but it is not the intent of God’s injunction. Instead, as Jesus says, God is concerned with the heart. Therefore, God is as concerned with anger as with the actual shedding of blood. As Jesus says, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matt. 5:21-22).

Nor is this all. For not only is unjustified anger forbidden; according to Jesus, God will not even excuse a person who is guilty of expressions of contempt. “…whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (verse 22). Raca is a term meaning empty; but the insult of it is more in the sound than the meaning. If it means anything, it means “a nothing” or “a nobody.” The term moros, translated “fool,” means one who is a moron morally. It is one who “plays the fool.” Hence, it is a slur upon his reputation. Jesus said that these things also make one guilty when measured by the holy law of God.

Now obviously such a definition of murder searches to the depths of our own beings.

Study Questions
  1. How is murder generally understood by people, whether in Jesus’ time or in our own? How does Jesus deepen and explain its true meaning?
  2. Explain the ideas behind raca and calling someone a fool. Why is calling someone a fool taken so seriously by Jesus?

Prayer: Ask the Lord to guard your heart and mind from words and thoughts that violate the Bible’s commands.

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