The Ten Words are a portrait of the true Israel, the true Adamic Son. They provide, in short, a portrait of Jesus.
They are commandments, yes, but they are more fundamentally a character sketch of the true man who worships God alone, who bears the Name of God weightily, who gives rest, who honors father and mother, who does not kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet.
Once we get Jesus in view here, two things come clear about the Sixth Word.
Jesus’ teaching about the sixth word shows the breadth of the commandment.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus doesn’t merely forbid murder but warns us against hatred, anger, and angry words.
We can be breaking the sixth commandment every moment of our lives. For some people, anger is the driving force of their life, always churning and bubbling beneath the surface, breaking through the surface without warning – when a child misbehaves and embarrasses you, when you’re under pressure at work, in a traffic jam.
You say you’re ambitious, but what looks like ambition is actually envy, a desire to take down the competition; and you’re a murderer. You say you’re plain-speaking, but what you’ve actually done is turn your tongue into a sword to kill with insults and curses and other forms of verbal violence. You say you’re a leader, but what’s actually happening is that your anger intimidates everyone around you.
We can be dominated by anger – breaking the sixth commandment every moment – without being fully aware that this is what’s happening. We find techniques that keeps our anger suppressed, keeps it from breaking through the patina of polite sociality, at least most of the time. Or, the anger turns curves in on itself, and your self-hatred gets disguised as humility. Some of the angriest people in the world would be shocked to hear that they are angry people. (Thanks to David Field for these thoughts.)
What Jesus commands is a set of practices that defuse anger and bring reconciliation. If we’re angry, we should recognize that anger may lead to murder. We are to leave our offering at the altar in order to be reconciled with our brother. Instead of pursuing a lawsuit, we should make friends quickly.
We break the Sixth Commandment when we refuse reconciliation, when we hold grudges and don’t forgive. The Sixth Word not only prohibits us from killing or harming another; it demands that we seek harmony, reconciliation, and peace.
Beyond His teaching, Jesus embodies “Thou shalt not kill.”
He doesn’t wound; He heals. He doesn’t take life, but gives it, abundantly. He doesn’t oppresses or enslave, but liberates slaves. His words, even His harshest ones, are words of life; He uses the sword of His tongue to defend the weak and to call the wicked to repentance.
Jesus has cause for self-defense and vengeance. Jesus has the power, legions of angels at His command. But instead of calling on those, Jesus gives Himself, suffers in silence and patience, loves his enemies.
And He calls us to follow Him, to renounce murder in all its forms, and to become agents of His abundant life.