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God’s Word for You

Numbers 35:16-21 Murder and revenge

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, February 8, 2022

16 But if a person strikes someone with an iron object so that he dies, that person is a murderer. The murderer must certainly be put to death. 17 If a person strikes someone with a stone in his hand that could kill someone, and the victim dies, that person is a murderer. The murderer must certainly be put to death. 18 Or if a person strikes someone with a wooden object in his hand that could kill someone, and the victim dies, that person is a murderer. The murderer must certainly be put to death. 19 The avenger of blood himself will put the murderer to death. When he apprehends him, he is to put him to death. 20 If a person pushes someone out of hatred or throws something at him with malicious intent so that he dies, 21 or in hostility strikes him with his hand so that he dies, that person who struck him must certainly be put to death. He is a murderer. The avenger of blood is to put the murderer to death when he apprehends him.

After settling the matter of accidental death, God moves immediately into the realm of the Fifth Commandment, and three different methods of murder are set out as examples:

1, Murder with an iron object (whether edged or not).
2, Murder with a stone (again, edged or not) .
3, Murder with a wooden object “that could kill,” such as a club or even an arrow.

Then, three more examples are given:

4, Pushing someone out of hatred … so that he dies.
5, Throwing something with malicious intent so that he dies.
6, Striking someone with your hand so that he dies.

The first three are all forms of hitting someone with something heavy, hard, or sharp. Obviously iron or stone can be given an edge (like a flint knife), and this is a lethal weapon, but so is a big old rock. And on top of that, anything made of wood like a club, a bench, a bar stool, or an arrow would be lethal. Some arrowheads are made of iron or stone, but those are still clearly covered by the command.

The second group are additional examples, and a judge would be able to discern whether something else would still fall under the heading of murder. When we teach the Fifth Commandment, we remember the three classic exceptions (warfare, self-defense, and capital punishment ), but we also emphasize the way Jesus taught the command. “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment, and anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21,22). To this we add: Under the Fourth Commandment and Romans 13:4, retribution is no longer a matter for private citizens. Justice is handed out by the government, and the greater and lesser degrees of that punishment are as much there to protect each of us from errors as they are there to carefully handle the punishment of others.

This command and its terrible warning of vengeance teaches us to lead outward lives that are not only free of blame in this regard, but also for us to be examples of what God’s people truly do when they love one another, even if disagreements arise. Our hands must be clean of blood, that much is obvious. But the hand does not strike a blow without the intent of the mind, and therefore the mind and the mouth must be free of blame and clean of blood. This is why we avoid false testimony and lies, gossip, and thinking we can judge a matter when we don’t have all of the facts.

And there are sins of omission here as well. Luther says: “If I saw someone wearily struggling in deep water, or fallen into a fire, and could extend my hand to him to pull him out and save him, and yet I do not do it—How would I appear before all the world in any other light than as a murderer and a scoundrel?” (Large Catechism, para. 192).

If someone disagrees with you, they do not deserve death. If you have a bad day at work, do not go home and take out your frustration on your dear spouse or children. If someone makes a mistake, don’t assume it’s because they have it in for you. Forgive. Admit that you make mistakes, too, and love them.

While murder still plagues our world, it is the whole commandment we should strive to keep out of love for our loving God: “We should fear and love God that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and befriend him in every bodily need.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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