Written in November 2005
Some of you know that I am trying to write a commentary on Deuteronomy. I am presently working on the Ten Commandments. When working on the command not to murder I decided to compile a list, from the murder stories and comments about murder recorded in the Bible, of the things that trigger murderous intentions in people. I was thrilled to see again how wonderfully relevant the Bible is. Here’s my list:
In the first murder Cain’s jealousy that God accepted his brother Abel’s sacrifice, and not his, led him to kill Abel (Gen. 4:1-16).
- Lamech killed a young man as an act of revenge for wounding him (Gen. 4:23).
- Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi killed the men of Shechem because one of them had defiled their sister Dinah (Gen. 34:1-31). Absalom killed his half brother Amnon for the same reason—he defiled Abslalom’s sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13). These were cases of defending the family honour which had been offended.
- Pharaoh ordered that the male children of the Israelites should be killed for national security, so that their growing population could be kept in check (Exod. 1:8-22).
- Moses killed an Egyptian out of rage when “he saw an Egyptian was beating a Hebrew, one of his people” (Exod. 2:11-12). Here it was ethnic loyalty confronting injustice to ones own people.
- Ehud, seeking freedom from oppression killed Eglon, king of Moab, who had oppressed the Jews for 18 long years (Judg. 3:12-26).
- Abimelech killed seventy people from a Royal family who were a threat to his royal ambitions (Judg. 9:5-56).
- Joab stabbed Abner to avenge the death of his brother (2 Sam. 3:24-27).
- David had the Uriah the Hittite killed because of his lustful desires for his wife Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11).
- Ahab was a rich king whose greed for a land, a vineyard belonging to Naboth, caused his wife Jezebel to have Naboth killed so that he could acquire the vineyard (1 Kings 21:1-29).
- Proverbs talks of the greed of robbers who kill in order to get material things of the people they kill (Prov. 1:10-19).
- Herod the Great killed boys in the Bethlehem area because he feared a threat to his rule through a child who been born there (Matt. 2:13-18).
- Herodias had Herod the tetrarch behead the bold prophet John the Baptist because he disapproved of the adulterous relationship between them (Matt. 14:3-12). It was a case of wicked people angry at being confronted by righteous servants of God.
What an amazing list this is! Almost every conceivable trigger for murder is found in this list of murders. It shows what a relevant book the Bible is!
The only kind of murderer found today which I did not see in the Bible was the psychotic serial killer. This may have been because such are usually found in highly individualistic cultures where the family unit is not so binding and where it is possible for a person to become so separate from the rest of society that he or she could act in such a highly individualistic way. That was not the culture of societies in biblical times.
If the Bible is such a relevant book, why is it that church in this generation is using it so little? Why is it that people are reaching the Bible less and that expository preaching so scarce in the church today? I think there are several reasons. Let me state three.
- Our generation is reading less and less. So people are reading the Bible less. In our fast moving culture, preachers are finding less and less time to study the Word to prepare expository messages. And I fear that when the children are asking for bread they are giving them stones (Matt. 7:9)! Christians are too busy to spend time in unhurried study of the Word. If you are too busy to read the Bible you are just too busy. That is suicidal from an eternal perspective. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mark 8:36).
- The Bible teaches some embarrassingly difficult things which people today prefer to avoid bringing up. The Bible has become an uncomfortable book to many. For example, the Bible says that unrepentant adulterers will go to hell (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Those who take the Bible seriously would be wicked if they do not warn people of this. But adultery is so commonplace today that most Christians would fear being ostracised if they started doing that. Then how about the challenge of proclaiming in this pluralistic age that the Christian gospel is absolutely unique and the only way to salvation? How about the command to give servants a Sabbath rest every week (Deut. 5:14)? How about the statement that God hates bribery (Deut. 10:17) and lying lips (Prov. 12:22)? How about the teaching that if we treat people differently because of class, caste, or race we violate God’s order of creation? Indeed the Bible condemns many of today’s commonly accepted practices!
- Our generation has greatly lowered the value it assigns to objective truth. This is a feature of post-modern people who have been described as being “instinctually stimulated.” Ours is a generation that places higher value on feeling than thinking. But what pleasures it is missing? Reading the Bible is one of the most delightful things one could do. There is amazing security, freshness, joy, peace, life, revival, comfort, guidance, correction and learning, that come from sitting at the feet of God and listening to him speak through the Word. David says that God’s word is “more to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). In my ESV Bible the psalmists use the word “delight” twelve times to describe their attitude to the Word.
How we long to see Christians experience what David said he desired from the word: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psa. 119:18). We need to rediscover the joy of truth. Evangelists for the gospel have had a treasured place in church history. Today we need to go one step back and have a new kind of evangelist who will open the way for people to think that such bodies of truth as gospels are worth considering. We need evangelists for truth who will show that truth is still a vitally important and attractive value.