Sermon – May 14, 2017
The injunction to not commit murder is fairly clear, so that little needs to be said concerning its merits or application. However, the command means more than just not ending life, but also in supporting life and upholding and honoring the image of God within humans. We are not fulfilling this command simply by not taking life; we must be those who fully support it.
1. Protect the innocent
We must be sure that we are not a vengeful people, calling for blood simply because blood has been spilt. Rather, we are to be people who are careful in justice, seeking to make sure that innocent people are spared a wrongful sentence and condemnation by our hands. This means acknowledging that accidents will happen (19:1-10) and making sure that guilt of all kinds are rightfully determined (19:15-21).
2. Prevent unintended casualties
By giving exemptions for allowing able bodied men to stay at home from war (20:1-9), God demonstrates that we must be careful to think through our actions. Forcing such men into war puts their compatriots in jeopardy, lest their melted hearts infect the rest of the ranks. We need to think carefully about our actions and those actions we support, lest they lead to the unintended deaths and guilt be upon our hands.
3. Punish the guilty
In stating all the above, however, we are not to think that allowing the guilty to go unpunished is the purpose of justice, or that in doing so we uphold the honor and character of God. As God makes it clear in 20:10-20, the guilty are to be held culpable for their crimes. Those who inhabited the land were guilty of great atrocities before God, and therefore were to be punished by God through Israel.
4. Pursue justice
Deuteronomy 21:1-9 sets out the somewhat odd case of an unsolved murder. Even in this case, however, it is clear that the nearby cities must take it upon themselves to see that justice is, even if symbolically, carried out. We are never to simply accept injustice because of difficult circumstances or worldly sin. The killing of the heifer does not bring justice around for a wrongful death, but it does demonstrate the fundamental conviction that justice must be done.
Few of us, if any, are tempted to murder. Yet we are tempted by the world to allow justice to slip by the wayside, to allow the sinfulness of the world either make guilt or justice impossible. We, however, cannot allow such a temptation to rule us. We must fight for the innocent, upholding their cause and disavowing judgment apart from witnesses. Yet, we do not let the guilty to unpunished. We do this because we are people of the gospel, which has purge the evil from our midst, so we can be people of mercy and justice.