|Picture adapted from Rembrant’s Moses |
Smashing the Tablets of the Law
The sixth commandment of the Christian god is that you should not kill people other than in the many cases where the god allows or instructs you to kill them.
According to the Bible, the sixth commandment is:
Thou shalt not kill. (Ex 20:13, Deut 5:17).
Some recent Christian Bibles have edited this to read “you shall not murder.” But even this revised version did not apply to the man who God chose to convey this very law to the Israelites.
When Moses was an adult, he saw an Egyptian hitting an Israelite. Moses checked to see if anybody was watching, then killed the Egyptian and buried his corpse in the sand (Ex 2:11-12). Moses then went into hiding, knowing that he had acted unlawfully (Ex 2:14-15). And when the Israelite God decided that he needed somebody to lead his tribe, this is who he chose (Ex 3:9-10).
2:11 Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
2:14 Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” So Moses feared and said, “Surely this thing is known!” 15 When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from [b]the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well.
3:9 Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.
The sixth commandment does not apply if you kill your slave, as long as the slave takes a day or two to die (Ex 21:20-21). Or if you stone to death a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Num 15:32, 35-36). Or if you slaughter all of the adults and children of every city you attack, apart from the virgin women who you can keep for yourself (Deut 2:31-34, Num 31:12-18).
21:20 And if a man beats his male or female servant with a rod, so that he dies under his hand, he shall surely be punished. 21 Notwithstanding, if he remains alive a day or two, he shall not be punished; for he is his property.
32 Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day… 35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.
2:31 “And the Lord said to me, ‘See, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to possess it, that you may inherit his land.’ 32 Then Sihon and all his people came out against us to fight at Jahaz. 33 And the Lord our God delivered him [k]over to us; so we defeated him, his sons, and all his people. 34 We took all his cities at that time, and we utterly destroyed the men, women, and little ones of every city; we left none remaining.
31:12 Then they brought the captives, the booty, and the spoil to Moses… 14 But Moses was angry with the officers of the army…15 And Moses said to them: “Have you kept all the women alive? … 17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. 18 But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately.
You must kill witches, or people who sleep with an animal, or who sacrifice to another god (Ex 22:18-20). You must also kill mediums (Lev 20:27) and strangers who approach the tabernacle (Num 18:7). There are many more examples. Ironically, on his very return from Mount Sinai with the ten comandments, Moses ordered his tribesmen to kill three thousand of their brothers, friends and neighbours (Ex 32:27-28).
22:18 You shall not permit a sorceress to live. 19 Whoever lies with an animal shall surely be put to death. 20 He who sacrifices to any god, except to the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed.
20:27 A man or a woman who is a medium, or who has familiar spirits, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones. Their blood shall be upon them.
18:7 Therefore you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything at the altar and behind the veil; and you shall serve. I give your priesthood to you as a gift for service, but the outsider who comes near shall be put to death.
32:27 And he said to them, Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’ 28 So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day.
In effect, the sixth commandment is really “you should not kill people other than in the many cases where the god allows or instructs you to.” But there is no ethical basis to this god’s arbitrary killing choices.
He once drowned the entire population of the world apart from one family (Gen 7:19-23). He killed Lot’s wife for looking around (Gen 19:26). He killed Onan for not completing sexual intercourse with his dead brother’s wife (Gen 38:7-10). He killed the first-born child of every Egyptian family (Ex 12:29-30).
7:19 And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered. 20 The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered. 21 And all flesh died that moved on [c]the earth: birds and cattle and beasts and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every man.
19:26 But his wife looked back behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
38:7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord killed him. 8 And Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and marry her, and raise up an heir to your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the heir would not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in to his brother’s wife, that he emitted on the ground, lest he should give an heir to his brother. 10 And the thing which he did [a]displeased the Lord; therefore He killed him also.
12:29 And it came to pass at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was [h]in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock. 30 So Pharaoh rose in the night, he, all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where there was not one dead.
He killed 14,000 Israelites for murmering against Moses (Num 16:41-49). He killed 50,000 men for looking into his Ark (1 Sam 6:19) and another man for trying to stop the Ark from falling over when an ox shook it (2 Sam 6:6-7).
16:41 On the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You have killed the people of the Lord … 44 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment” And they fell on their faces … 49 Now those who died in the plague were fourteen thousand seven hundred, besides those who died in the Korah incident.
6:19 Then He struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the Lord. He struck fifty thousand and seventy men of the people, and the people lamented because the Lord had struck the people with a great slaughter.
6:6 And when they came to Nachon’s threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 Then the anger of the Lord was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God.
As there is no ethical basis to this god’s arbitrary killing choices, there is no ethical basis behind this commandment, which is ironically enforced under the threat of being killed (Ex 21:12).
21:12 He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.
It is not about universal values of right and wrong. It is about protecting the stability and interests of one tribe.
So that is commandment number six. I will examine the seventh commandment in my next post.