We have been taught for many years that the sixth commandment tells us “Thou shalt not kill.” As we study Torah and learn more about Hebrew, we learn that the commandment actually says “You shall not murder.” To many, this is a seemingly insignificant change in wording. It is simply exchanging one synonym for another. Is this the case? Do the words mean the same thing? It is easy for us to simply answer “No, they are not the same” and give all kinds of linguistic explanations to justify our answer. We would be more correct than incorrect (as I doubt many of us are actually linguists) but that doesn’t always complete our argument. We must therefore be able to establish our argument with scripture. Scripture will interpret scripture.
One question that comes up often when discussing the meaning of words in Torah is “How do you know how the word is supposed to be translated?” Often, Hebrew words have multiple meanings in English. Sometimes the word doesn’t actually translate directly into English at all. This can make it difficult to determine the intended meaning of the word or phrase. This is why there are so many differences from one translation to another. So, how can we know the intended meaning? There is only one way that is accurate far more often than not. It is not difficult, but can be complex and time-consuming.
We must use the context in which the word is
· We must then compare it to other uses of the word and the contexts of those uses.
· Finally, we must determine if any translation would contradict either the wording or the spirit of Torah. If a possible translation of a word would cause a conflict with known scripture, it cannot be the correct translation.
Before we move on, I would like to mention that violating the First Stated Principle is the primary cause of wrong theology in modern Christianity. It shows up as well in Judaism and Messianism(?). Unfortunately, none are immune. However, I believe that the desire to understand Torah has led most Messianics, and many studying Hebrew Roots, to begin correcting many of these misunderstandings. One of the primary tenets of Christianity that has drawn its adherents away from Torah for so long is the concept that “Jesus did away with the Law.” Many Christian theologians can argue very eloquently, using many different scriptural references to prove their point. Often quite convincingly. They do a very good job of allowing scripture to interpret scripture in a way that most Christians, and some Jews and young Messianics (meaning those who have not studied Torah long, not necessarily those young in age,) will be swayed, or at least unable to give a convincing counter-argument. They miss one vital point, however. Their entire argument, and most other arguments about the validity of Torah and its applicability today, can be destroyed with one simple verse. Malachi 3:6 states “I am YHVH, I change not.” This is simply another way of stating (with much stronger authority) the concept of the First Stated Principle.
While I used several sources for this study, two were very helpful in finding good ways to state certain topics and in finding source scriptures.
The Hebrew word used in Exodus 20:13 is ratzach (resh, tzadi, chet) meaning to murder, slay, kill, or to assassinate or murderer. As we can see already, there is a potential for confusion. Acceptable translations of the Hebrew text would be “You shall not kill,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not be a murderer.” This is why we must look deeper for the meaning in this case. The first thing to determine is if there are any prior uses of the word in Torah. A quick search in English shows dozens of uses of the word kill prior to Exodus 20. However, if we look for the Hebrew word ratzach, we find that this is the first usage. Therefore, all subsequent uses of the word will be heavily influenced by the intended meaning here. Since we can’t determine context from prior uses, we must now look for prior uses of similar words, or words that express the same or similar concepts. This is where those many uses of the word kill in English become relevant. If we look at their primary meanings and their uses, we begin to get a better picture of what kill means in context. The first usage is, unsurprisingly, the story of Kayin and Hevel in Genesis 4. Here, it is the Hebrew word harag. There is no doubt reading the account that this is an unjustified, deliberate murder of Hevel by Kayin. This fits the definition, to murder or to smite with deadly intent. We see that YHVH gives immediate punishment for the act. So we see that YHVH is against the deliberate murder of our fellow man.
The next word we see as kill is the Hebrew word nakaw, meaning to kill in judgment or to punish. This word is used when referring to Kayin bearing the mark that will prevent people from killing him. We’ll get to why this usage is important later. But bear in mind, it is significant, as it is both a sin and not a sin based on the context. Remember, context is crucial.
The next usage pertaining to men is the Hebrew word muth, meaning to have one executed. This word is used when Pharaoh decreed that all male babies were to be killed. It is also the same word used when YHVH was going to kill Moshe for not circumcising his son. Once again, we see context being important to the usage. Both Pharaoh’s and YHVH’s intentions are described with the same word. In this case, it refers to a decree by one in authority. Pharaoh had the authority by his position in Egypt to order executions. YHVH has the authority by His position as King of the universe to order executions.
These are all the forms of kill used in the Bible before Exodus 20 that refer to killing of men. We won’t deal with the killing of animals, although there are some who try, incorrectly, to use the sixth commandment to condemn that also. It doesn’t take much study of Hebrew to destroy that argument entirely. After seeing the words used so far, we still haven’t established a clear pattern of the meaning of ratzach. Therefore, we must now start looking for further usage of the word after Exodus 20:13 to establish further meaning and context. Throughout the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, there are multiple instances of the word ratzach. Each time, it refers to someone who kills another person deliberately, accidentally, or through negligence. These three uses make for a pretty broad understanding of the word. This is where some would claim victory in their argument that all killing is wrong. After all, if deliberate, accidental, and negligent killing are all wrong, what is left to be justified?
Now it is time to get to the other side of the argument. We’ve established that the sixth commandment has very broad application. But are there exceptions to the rule? This is where we must start letting scripture interpret scripture. Shortly before getting the commandments at Mt. Sinai, in Exodus 17, we see an exception to the rule before it is even given. Moshe commands Y’hoshua to take troops and fight against Amalek in war. As YHVH was quick to judge Moshe any time he transgressed His will, the lack of any rebuke from YHVH proves that this killing was considered righteous and justified. In fact, rather than rebuking Moshe, YHVH tells Moshe to write down the account of the war so that it will not be forgotten. Throughout the rest of the Torah, we see the Israelites commanded to wage war. They are even commanded to slaughter all the inhabitants of the Promised Land when they arrive. Throughout the Tanakh, we see Israel being sent to war by YHVH and by leaders selected by YHVH. We can clearly see that YHVH believes killing in a just war is justified killing. That is our first established exception to the rule.
Now it is time to discuss the importance of nakaw, the sin that is not a sin. As we established earlier, this word refers to killing in judgment or as punishment. We clearly see throughout the Torah that many transgressions of Torah are to be punished by death. We also see that it is the people of Israel who are to do the killing. Two good examples of this punishment being used are the Levites after the golden calf punishing idol worship, and Pinchas killing the Israelite man and the Midianite woman in front of the Tabernacle with a spear. Both instances resulted in the killers being rewarded by YHVH. And yet, this is the same word used for the killing that YHVH forbade against Kayin. It is the type of killing that Yeshua appears to speak against in the Sermon on the Mount. Many Christians use Matthew 5:38-39 as proof that Yeshua spoke against Torah and against killing – some would say all violence. However, a further study of the context (there’s that word again) of his Sermon will show what he was really speaking against. He was speaking out against personal vengeance. Punishment for crime was to be determined by the government (meaning whoever was lawfully in charge of the people. This began with the appointment of leaders by Moshe, then the priests, then judges, and then the king, carrying over to governors, etc. as they were appointed in later times.) While the people were commanded to carry out the sentence, guilt had to first be established by the proper authorities. We are not to punish wrongdoers simply because we think they deserve it. Especially if the punishment is to be death. Civil punishment is the responsibility of the people. Vengeance is not. As YHVH says in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is Mine.”
We now come to the exception that has caused the most disagreement in this country in recent years, and the one that caused me to begin this study; self-defense (and by extension, defense of others.) As I said earlier, there are some who do not believe we have the right to take another life in self-defense. But does that fit with what Scripture says? Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about protection of life. Then we will look at some more examples of justified killing as it relates to self-defense.
First, let’s look at what the Bible says about protecting life. Deuteronomy 22:8 tells us “When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring blood-guilt on your house when one falls from it.” We are required to ensure the safety of others. Psalm 82:4 says “Rescue the poor and needy; Deliver them from the hand of the wrong.” Proverbs 24:11 says “Deliver those taken to death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.” But perhaps the best-known passages about defense of others is Ezekiel 33:6. “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and shall not blow the ram’s horn, and the people shall not be warned, and the sword comes and takes any being from among them, he is taken away in his crookedness, and his blood I require at the watchman’s hand.” Moving to the B’rit Chadasha, let’s look at 1 Timothy 5:8. “And if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the belief and is worse than an unbeliever.” In light of the requirements to protect life, does it not make sense that safety and protection for our own and our household would be a part of that required provision? Probably the best example is John 15:13. “No man has greater love than this: that one should lay down his life for his friends.” Now let’s see what is said about protecting oneself.
1 Corinthians 6:19 says “Or do you not know that your body is the Dwelling Place of the Set apart Spirit who is in you, which you have from Elohim, and you are not your own?” If our body does not belong to us, but belongs to Elohim, do we have the right to allow it to be destroyed? Only in certain circumstances. As mentioned above, John 15:13 is a great example of when this would be permitted. Otherwise, we should be protecting ourselves. Do we have examples in scripture to defend this viewpoint? Of course we do. Let’s look at Exodus 22:2. “If the thief is found breaking in, and he is smitten so that he dies, there is no guilt for his bloodshed.” But, there is a caveat to this. Read verse 3. “If the sun has risen on him, there is guilt for his bloodshed, he shall certainly repay.” We see here that killing a thief is permissible if done in the dark, but not in the light of day. Why the difference? In the daytime, there is sufficient light to see that the thief is simply that, a thief. He has not caused or attempted to cause bodily harm or death. It is clear that he is not a kidnapper or rapist. Therefore, we do not have the right to take his life. Bloodshed is not allowed for protection of property. However, at night, it is dark. That makes it much more difficult, if not impossible, to determine if the man is a thief or if he intends further harm. A thief and a murderer look the same in the dark. This is where I had to change my attitude and opinion on something. There is a common attitude, (supported by law in Oklahoma and many other states,) that if someone breaks into your home, you should shoot first and ask questions later. “If he comes after my stuff, he’s leaving in a body bag.” I’ve been known to express this opinion in the past. As I said, it is an accepted attitude these days. Unfortunately, it is a violation of Torah; IF IT HAPPENS IN THE LIGHT. The nighttime provision still stands. So now we have to ask, what if a thief breaks in during the day and we don’t know his intention? What of the robber who claims to have a gun in his pocket, but we don’t see it? I believe that this would be covered by the implied meaning of the scripture about the thief at night. We cannot determine his intentions, therefore we must assume the worst. We must not wait for him to murder, rape, or kidnap someone before we take action. On the contrary, we must act to prevent any of these outcomes. Protection of life is paramount. That is why the punishment for someone who commits any of these acts is death. The life of the innocent should never be forfeited to the guilty.
Now that we have established the right to defend ourselves and others in our home, what about when we are outside our home? Do we have the right to defend ourselves and others? After all, we have police to handle that job. Perhaps Nehemiah can shed some light on that. Look at Nehemiah 4:8-23. This passage tells of the Israelites’ return to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the city walls. As you read, take note of who was guarding the city and what each person was carrying. Verse 13 says that people were set “according to their clans.” The people were responsible for guarding and protecting each other, not a police force or army. The same verse says they were “with their swords, their spears, and their bows.” What weapons did armies use in those days? That’s right; swords, spears, and bows. These were short range, medium range, and long range weapons. Today’s equivalents would be handguns, shotguns, and rifles. The weapons of armies in the hands of the people for protection from their enemies. Some might say that those appointed to guard the wall were a de facto police force and therefore they should be the only ones armed. Wrong again. Verse 17 tells of those who were doing the work, “working with one hand in the work, and with the other holding a weapon.” Verse 18 then states “As for the builders, each one had his sword girded at his side as he built.” The people were expected to be armed for their own protection, even though a guard force had been established. Our own Supreme Court has recognized that protection of self is a personal responsibility, ruling multiple times that the police have no duty to protect your life. Their job is to apprehend criminals, not to prevent them.
This right of self-protection can be seen again in the book of Esther in chapters 8 and 9. When the plot by Haman has been foiled, the king allows all the Jews to defend themselves with deadly force. When given that right, we see in chapter 9 that they then destroyed their enemies with the sword. We have an obligation to defend our lives and those of others with “the sword” if necessary.
“But that’s all from the Old Testament and Jesus came to do away with all that. He was a pacifist who would never condone such violence.” Is there justification for this viewpoint in the New Testament? Of course there is. We’ve already mentioned Matthew 5 and Yeshua’s exhortation to “turn the other cheek.” But let’s look at Matthew 26:51-56, Luke 22:49-53, and John 18:10-11. In these passages, we see Kefa’s reaction when they come to take Yeshua from the garden. He cuts off the ear of the slave with his sword. What is Yeshua’s reaction? He tells Kefa to put away his sword and allow him to be taken. He stops Kefa from defending Yeshua with a sword. Proof positive that the sword and the violence done therewith were condemned by Yeshua. Not so fast. It’s time to bring back that little word we used earlier, context. Was it the sword that Yeshua was rebuking? Let’s see what took place just a few short verses earlier. Luke 22:35-39 tells us much more about Yeshua’s attitude toward weapons. In verse 36 we see him state clearly “And let him who has no sword sell his garment and buy one.” A sword has become more important than clothing. Yeshua knew what was coming soon. He knew that self-defense could become a necessity for his followers. In verse 38, they show Yeshua that they have two swords. They have been carrying swords with them during their meetings with him, at dinner, and in the garden. Do we see Yeshua rebuke them for carrying weapons? No. If Yeshua told them to get swords and did not rebuke them for the equivalent of carrying weapons in church, would it make sense for him to then rebuke Kefa for having and using a sword? Only if he was schizophrenic, wishy-washy, and/or addle-brained. Thus, there must be another explanation for his rebuke. Reading on, we see Yeshua explain, giving the context for his words. He was telling Kefa to allow the events to happen because it was part of the Father’s plan. Kefa’s interference went against the will of the Father and therefore had to be rebuked. Again, it was not the sword or even the employment of it for violence that was an issue. It was simply that it was not the right time to interfere.
If we need further proof that Yeshua was no pacifist, we need only look to his public ministry. Yeshua repeatedly verbally assaulted the religious leaders quite publically, often raising an angry mob by his actions. He was willing to stir up intense feelings among those who were listening to him teach. He even had to escape from angry mobs stirred up by his rhetoric at times! The best example, however, is his treatment of the money-changers in the Temple. Overturning tables and whipping people while yelling at them is not the work of a pacifist. It would therefore by hypocritical to demand his followers be pacifists when his own actions prove he was not.
Yeshua stirred up angry mobs, whipped people, threw coins, allowed his followers to carry weapons, and even told them to sell their clothes to buy swords. The evidence simply does not support the claim that he would be against self-defense and the carrying of weapons. Once again, we cannot simply take verses out of context and apply them as proof of our preconceived ideas.
Throughout the Tanakh and the B’rit Chadasha, we see weapons and their use regarded in a positive light. King David in Psalm 144:1 says “Blessed be YHVH my Rock, Who is teaching my hands for fighting, My fingers for battle.” King David, a man of war who came to greatness through the killing of Goliath, was called a man after YHVH’s own heart. The Torah is called a sword. Yeshua says when he returns, a sword will come from his mouth. He will slay all his enemies in the ultimate righteous war. The hosts of Heaven do battle. The angel placed at the entrance to the Garden carried a flaming sword. It is clear that a weapon in the hands of the righteous is a good thing.
Now that we’ve discussed the need and justification for self-defense and the carrying of weapons, I feel we should end with a reminder of the limitations. We must always remember that vengeance is not an approved use of weapons. Vengeance is YHVH’s responsibility, not ours. Punishment is our responsibility within the rules of righteousness and civil authority. Killing in war is acceptable, but making war because we can is not. Defending ourselves and others is a moral imperative, even if it means killing. Killing to defend our “stuff” is murder, punishable by death.
If we choose to carry and/or employ weapons, we must never rely solely on them. As anyone who is familiar with weapons knows, they are simply a tool for a specific job. We must always remember that our trust and reliance must be in YHVH. Just as it says in Nehemiah 4:20, “Our Elohim will fight for us.” For further examples see Psalm 44:6-7 and 1 Samuel 17:47.
The carrying and use of weapons is never to be taken lightly. Shedding of blood is a serious issue throughout scripture and we must always remember that. When making the decision to carry or not to carry a weapon, we must weigh all the information that YHVH has given us in His Word.