In a previous post we looked at what the Lord Jesus taught about the true meaning and extent of the sixth commandment (i.e. “You shall not murder” – Exodus 20:13), that it prohibits, not just the outward act of unjustly taking someone’s life, but also the inward disposition of hatred. (See Matthew 5:21-26.) In other words, the very root of murder begins in the heart, and such hatred is itself a violation of the sixth commandment. In that sense, we are all guilty of the sin of murder.
But the Bible has much more to say about this subject. For instance, in Genesis chapter 9 (after the great flood of Noah’s day had finally subsided), God told Noah that “every moving thing that lives” (i.e. animals) shall be as food for mankind (v.3). But right after that God also told Noah that for the lifeblood of a man (a human being) He would require a “reckoning” (v.5).
What is that reckoning? In Genesis 9:6 we read,
“Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image.” (ESV)
This is not speaking of revenge or vengeance, which belongs only to the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19), but of capital punishment. This is a subject that is sure to cause some sharp disagreements among many in our day, but the Scriptures are more than clear on this matter.
So why do I bring it up? Not so much to stir the pot as to make a point. What reason does God give us there in that verse for His institution of capital punishment? What is the reason why “whoever sheds the blood of man” is to have his own blood shed by man (i.e. by the state, which does not bear the sword in vain – Romans 13:4)? He says that it is because “God made man in his own image.”
This is also taught all the way back in Genesis 1:26-27, where it says,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (ESV)
No less than three (3) times in those two short verses we are told that mankind was made in the image of God! God did not create animals in His own image or likeness – only mankind. That is to say that human beings are in an important sense different from the animals, and so are not to be reckoned as mere animals (not even as highly evolved animals). Human beings are created in God’s image, made by God for God, to be in fellowship with Him.
And so the unjust taking of human life by murder (which rears its ugly head in many more forms than we might care to admit) is such a heinous sin before God and deserving of the severest of earthly punishments and even of hell itself because it is, in a sense, ultimately an attack on the image of God in mankind. You could say that every attempt at murder is really an attempt at deicide (the murder of God). It is to wish that God were dead.
As Louis Berkhof writes,
“The crime of murder owes its enormity to the fact that it is an attack on the image of God.” (Systematic Theology, p.204)
So let us learn to take to heart the great biblical truth that every human being is made in the image of God. And may that cause us to examine our hearts when we are tempted to hate or unjustly harm another person.
If we were all more mindful of the image of God that is indelibly stamped on every man, woman and child (even in the womb!), how much differently might we begin to treat each other? How might that knowledge restrain our hate and even the very acts of murder that flow from it?