What ‘thou shalt not kill’ means for soldiers in war

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Thou Shalt Not Kill
Ex. 20:13 “You shall not murder.” (ESV)
Ex. 20:13 “Thou shalt not kill.” (KJVA)

Recently there was a Doctoral Dissertation written about the effects of hand-to-hand Combat training in real world combat. During the research conducted a few soldiers were interviewed who had actually killed men in hand-to-hand combat. As to be expected, the soldiers were dealing with the emotional ramifications of killing another human. Specifically, these men were asking themselves the question: “How does God feel about my actions?” It left me wondering how many of our men and women serving our country in the Global War on Terror have similar questions and feelings?
Personally, several times in my life as a pastor, I have heard another individual (preacher or otherwise) speak about how the Bible forbids the killing of another human. Generic statements like this fail to address the complexities of war, the details of the word in the Hebrew language, and the realities of the fallen world we live in.
This type of belief is a gross misinterpretation of the Bible that isn’t supported in the Scriptures themselves and seems to only bring guilt and condemnation upon our honorable men and women who are simply serving their country.
It is my hope that we can take a quick look at the Bible and show that not only is killing in war allowed but that God harbors no ill will towards the soldiers of this nation who have had to take a life. We can do this by examining the word, looking at the rest of Scripture, and applying the Grace of God to men and women in this situation.
In Exodus 20:13 Moses, in writing down the commands as given by God, uses the word ratzach. Regrettably, the King James Version translates as killing. The word actually means, “to murder”. Keil and Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary summarized it this way “…not only is the accomplished fact of murder condemned, whether it proceed from open violence or stratagem but every act that endangers human life, whether it arise from carelessness or wantonness or from hatred, anger, and revenge.”
Notice that word killing, as in war, is missing. The idea of killing in war never crossed the mind of Moses because there is another word in Hebrew he would have used to express that. But that is not the word Moses chose to use. It would also violate the rest of the Scripture had God said; “You shall not kill” in relationship to war. There are specific times God orders Israel to kill people. In Ecclesiastes God says through Solomon that there is a “time for war” which implies that people will be killed.
David Grossman in his book On Killing draws the conclusion that mankind was never intended to kill other humans; that our purpose is to create life not to take life. He continues on to discuss the sophisticated methods that militaries take to overcome the natural aversion man has to killing.
The significance of this is in that God has built us with an internal compass, which directs us in our life. God originally created us with the desire to create life not to take life. But something went terribly wrong. When Adam and Eve sinned against God everything in the world was then subjected to the effects of sin.
God’s original intention for us was to live in peace- not war. Since our original design was made for peace, and sin brought death, there will now be the constant tension between the original intent and what happens in a fallen world. Couple that with the natural stress and other emotional factors when a soldier has to take a life and it could seem insurmountable. The Good News is Jesus Christ has taken care of that for us. When we begin to understand the fullness of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross we will see that His death literally begins to undo all the effects of the fall. His death gives us forgiveness and right standing with God.
With all the stress of combat and the emotional complexities of the job of a soldier I think 1 Peter 5:7 leaves us with a prescription for help which is this: Peter tells us to cast all our anxieties on him, for He cares for us.

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