The Ten – Value of Life
I want us to begin this morning by reading one of the oldest stories in the history of time. It’s a story found in Genesis 4: Time passed. Cain brought an offering to God from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat. God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn't get his approval. Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk. (Genesis 4:3-5 The Message)
I would venture to guess that the emotion Cain felt that day was not a new one. He knew anger. He'd been angry at the land when his crops wouldn’t grow, angry at the weeds that invaded his garden, and angry at the heat that dried up his hard work. But this anger was different. It was directed not at something, but someone. Cain was angry with his brother, and in a strange way, the anger felt good.
Our Father who knows everything about us, invites Cain to examine this emotion, this powerful feeling, when He asked: What's wrong with you? Why do you have such an angry look on your face? If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling. But you did the wrong thing, and now sin is waiting to attack you like a lion. Sin wants to destroy you, but don't let it
This was not the first time that Cain had heard of sin. His dad and mom had told him of it, warned him about it. He knew that those weeds and the heat that he hated so much were a result of sin. He knew that sin only brought pain and destruction and now the Father was telling him that sin was crouching at the door. But this time he could not see anything but his anger.
When the Father left, Cain got up and went to find his brother. He said to his brother Abel, let's go for a walk and Abel led the way. As Cain followed behind him, he glared at Able and felt his anger grow. A breeze passed by and brought the odor of sheep and the anger turned to hatred. When they walked over the crest of a hill where no one could see, Cain shoved Able, knocking him to the ground. Before Abel could voice a protest, Cain picked up a large stone and the only thing he could see was his anger and his hatred. With all his might he hurled the stone down upon his brother. Abel rolled in the dirt for a moment, then was still. The last thing Cain saw before he turned to walk away was his brother's blood gathering in a depression in the earth.
I imagine that the first murder on planet earth might have happened in that way. The sixth commandment may not be the most frequently violated of all the commands, but when we break this commandment, more is broken than the law. From the beginning, human life has been sacred. In Genesis 1:26, God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; Verse 27 adds, And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them..
In Genesis 9:5-6, God told Noah, If anyone takes human life, he will be punished. I will punish with death any animal that takes a human life. Man was made like God, so whoever murders a man will himself be killed by his fellow.
While God has valued life from the beginning, it seems that humans have sold it at a bargain. Besides Cain's murder of his brother Abel, Genesis records other acts of violence. In one of the earliest poems we have recorded is Genesis 4:23-24, One day, Lamech said to his two wives, "Adah and Zillah, hear my voice! You wives of Lamech, listen to me. A man hurt me, so I killed him. I even killed a child for hitting me. The punishment for killing Cain was very bad. But the punishment for killing me will be many times worse
Our disregard for human life doesn’t stop in Genesis; the Bible records hundreds of murders. And they didn't stop with Revelation. History records millions. We are a murderous people. But there more to the sixth commandment than a way of measuring how far the human race has fallen from the ideal. This commandment is vital to us today living in Mid County, not because any of us are guilty of murder. While I am sure anyone who has driven through Houston has been tempted by it. But we cannot breeze through this commandment as if it has nothing to say to us. As with all of these words from God, there is more than first meets the ears.
Before we talk about what this command means to us today, let’s talk about what it’s not talking about.
First of all, The King James Version is not a good translation of the Hebrew. The commandment is not “Thou shalt not kill” but rather “Thou shalt not commit murder.”
The Hebrew word that is used here is ????? (ratsach pronounced rä-sackt) and is a very specific word that refers to premeditated murder or assassination. We need to be honest with the text here and admit that God didn't intend to prohibit all life-taking.
We already noticed that God told Noah that whoever kills a person must be killed. (Genesis 9:5-6) And under the Law of Moses there were penalties for breaking certain laws that required death. Breaking the Sabbath law was punished by stoning (Exodus 31:14), Practicing magic and worshiping idols (Exodus 22:18-20) were also punishable by stoning. While some some sexual sins were punished by burning the offenders to death. (Leviticus 20:14).
There is a definite distinction made in the Bible between killing which is lawful and killing which is unlawful. If this commandment meant that you could never take a person's life, then God would not have established laws that required Capital punishment
I just mentioned the Mosaic Law not only permitted but required the death penalty for certain crimes. Every book in the Pentateuch, the first 5 books of the bible, mention laws of capital punishment. God commanded the death penalty for murder, rape, kidnapping, and several other crimes.
Another interesting fact is that under the law of Moses there were cities of refuge that were established in every tribe, with the exception of the tribe of Levi. The Mosaic Law stated that anyone who committed a murder was to be put to death; but for unintentional deaths, God set aside these cities to which the murderer could flee for refuge (Exodus 21:13). He would be safe from the avenger, the family member charged with avenging the victim’s death (Numbers 35:19), until the case could go to trial. The congregation would determine if the attacker acted unintentionally. If he did, he would return to the city of refuge and live there safely until the death of the high priest who was in office at the time of the trial, at which point he could return to his property. If the attacker left the city of refuge before the death of the high priest, however, the avenger would have the right to kill him (Numbers 35:24-28).
Even in the New Testament, when Jesus was on trial before Pilate, Jesus never challenged the state's right to execute criminals. Rather, Jesus acknowledged that right and told Pilate that his authority came from God (John 19:10).
In Romans 13:4, Paul makes the case that the authority of the government to punish wrongdoers comes from God. "For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil."
The law of Moses also establishes rules for Justifiable homicide
The law of Moses said there were certain times when a person was justified in killing another person. Suppose, for example, someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night. You wake up and discover him, there is a struggle and the thief is killed. According to the law of Moses, that type of killing didn't fall under the sixth commandment. We read in Exodus 22:2 "If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed."
And the sixth commandment also does not forbid War
The Old Testament is brutally honest with the fact that there were times that the same God who told the Hebrews not to kill often sent them into war and told them to kill everything (1 Samuel 15). And nowhere in Scripture New Testament or Old, are soldiers told to give up their military careers in order to be faithful to God. So it seems that there are at least occasions when a person would be justified in taking a life in times of war.
Ok, enough of what the sixth commandment does NOT say. Let’s talk about what it does say and more importantly why it says it. God says, You shall not murder. What is the message or the principle that God is trying to get across to us in this commandment? Your mustard seed this morning is that God is saying is all human life is precious, it is sacred, and we ought to have the utmost respect for all human life. I believe that here are two basic reasons this is trues:
First, Human life is sacred because we are made in the image of God.
God created everything, including plants and animals. But according to Genesis 1 humans were created in a different way than everything else. In every other act of creation, God said, "Let there be," and it was so. Let there be light. Let there be plants. Let there be birds and fish. God spoke and creation occurred.
The creation of human life was different. God said, Let us make man... God didn't just speak us into existence as He did everything else; He made us. We are the closest thing in all creation to God. We are the only part of creation made in the image of God. In Genesis 2:7, God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being. God didn’t breathe the breath of life into any other creature, only man.
I like the words of T. S. Eliot who said, There's something in us, in all of us which isn't just heredity, but something unique. Something we have been from eternity. Something... straight from God.
Secondly, Human life is valuable because of the price that was paid
I would imagine that everyone collects something. Some of us collect things on purpose, some of us collect things on accident, and some of us only collect dust. Let’s say you collect Comic Books. What’s a Comic Book worth? Well, I’m sure if you added up the material cost: paper, ink, staples, it might come to somewhere around 10 cents. But if you have an Action Comics number 1 it’s worth an estimated 1.5 million dollars. But the truth is that we have to say estimated because the value of something is determined by what someone is willing to pay.
That concept is important, because we can use it to figure out exactly what a human life is worth. According to John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University whose work focuses on national security and risk analysis, "the value of a statistical life turns out to be around $5 million,”. The Conversible Economist’s Timothy Taylor says that estimate is to low and reports that the value of a human life is an estimated retail price? $7.4 million. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget says that figure is too low, and they estimate the value of a human life is closer to $9 million dollars.
As I was reading these studies this week, I noticed our little word estimated and around. We can actually know how much we are worth because the price for our lives has already been paid. Paul writes in Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus said in Mark 10:45, For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." You are priceless because the one who created you and sustains you also redeemed you.
Let’s get out of the comic book discussion and get a little closer to home. Your next door neighbor, you know the guy that lets his dog run through your yard and tear up your shrubs. The one who plays loud music at all hours of the night and refuses to mow his grass. How much is he worth? He’s worth so much that Jesus Christ was willing to give His life so that he might know salvation.
How about the guy who cuts you off on the Interstate? Or the driver who just sits there when the light turns green? Guess what, they’re worth that much, too. And so is every man and woman who irritates you, who frustrates you, and even those who may ridicule and abuse you.
You see, ultimately, the sixth commandment is about more than just murder. Which is a shame because I can feel rather self-righteous because I’ve never murdered anybody. Ultimately the sixth commandment has to do with the respect I have for people and the value I place on their lives.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment. ’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. Matthew 5:21-23
When we get angry with someone we are devaluing them as a child made in the image of God. In that instant of anger, we’re saying that this person is not worth my time and as far as I'm concerned my life would be better if his life would end. And perhaps we have been at that point more often than we’d like to admit. If we’re not careful, we can live our lives motivated by anger and hatred.
But I would suggest that the principle of the sixth commandment even goes beyond that. It is a call to respect people and care about them. That means that if we want to see the true value of human beings, we need to see them from God's perspective. Because the only way to truly cherish the lives of other people is to see each and every person the way God sees them: made in His image, and worth more than the life of His only Son.
At the root of the Sixth Commandment is God's concern for how we treat each other.
Any time we treat another with contempt, we are violating the dignity of that human being.
Any time we allow our anger to seethe and boil without resolution, we devalue not only the relationship we share with that person, but also that person's life.
Any time we dismiss someone out of prejudice, dislike or disrespect, we fall under the condemnation of the sixth commandment.
To Jesus, every human being is a brother and sister. And because we are members of the same family, the human race, we have a responsibility to each other. In Genesis, with the memory of his brother's blood still fresh in his mind, the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper. God said to him, The blood of your brother cries out to me from the ground. yes, Cain, you are your brother's keeper. And this morning God is reminding you that you are as well.