There is a certain irony regarding the modern view of murder. On the one hand, murder tends to be the first thing we think of when we think of a serious crime and probably the first act most people think of when they consider crimes worthy of capital punishment. On the other hand, we have become exceedingly loath to execute people convicted of first degree murder, and execution of murderers has become exceedingly rare in the United States. The liberal mindset pervading our nation today regards capital punishment as a cruel, anachronistic throwback to barbaric times. Compassion and rehabilitation for murderers, they believe, demonstrate the proper enlightened attitude toward such miscreants. But contrary to popular sentiment, it takes a truly moral society to execute violent criminals in a legal, just, and humane way. Capital punishment for murderers confirms God’s character and the righteous mores of society because God’s view of this sin has not changed nor will it. God hates “hands that shed innocent blood (Pro. 6 17b).
Pre-Law: the first command for society after the Flood. Following God’s use of capital punishment, if you will, after He had executed all but eight members of the entire human race Himself, His first commandment to the one remaining family of Noah addressed, of all things, murder. “Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:5, 6). This initial command from God as He, once again, established a society of men on the earth indicates the sanctity of human life and the centrality of its preservation for the existence of a civil society. God’s instructions offer several salient points. (1) God requires the execution of murderers. And He alone is the Arbiter of what is just and right. (2) God charges duly constituted human authorities with the responsibility to execute murderers. Failure to do so is a dereliction of duty in His eyes. (3) The reason murder is so heinous to God is that man is not a highly evolved animal but a special creation of God, who manifested His image in man.
The Law: the sixth of the Ten Commandments. When it pleased God to establish a chosen people as a nation through whom His righteousness would be expressed before the world, God gave their leader, Moses, two tablets of stone on which He had written with His own hand ten foundational laws that would honor Him and order a godly society. Estimates of the number of federal laws governing the United States vary from 15,000 to 50,000 or more (depending on the definition of law). God required only ten to create a properly functioning society. But one of those ten prohibited murder. Furthermore, God’s hatred of murder is so pure and complete that He sanctioned stoning—a particularly gruesome means of execution—as the just means of dealing with someone convicted of murder. That method, not only assured justice, it served as a dramatic deterrent to anyone with murderous inclinations.
Grace: capital punishment authorized. The full manifestation of the grace of God following Pentecost did nothing to soften God’s view of sin nor the need to curtail the murderous inclinations of the human heart. Speaking of the authority vested in rulers, Paul warns the believers in Rome that the exercise of that God-ordained authority “is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (12:4). Beheading was a standard method of executing criminals under Roman authority. Under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit, Paul sanctions such authority and its proper use as directly serving the purposes of God. Furthermore, his language allows room for its use for lesser crimes than murder. Therefore, those who look benignly on a murderer while hurling invective on the executioners of justice properly derived from God and calling them murderers either know nothing or care nothing about God’s revealed will. He hates murder and, for that matter, sin of any kind so much that He condoned the murder, if you will, of His own dear Son in order to pay the price to redeem us from sin. Nevertheless, make no mistake: God hates murder and will punish all who wantonly kill another.
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