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Murder v. Manslaughter

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Published on: December 8, 2014

On the evening of November 24th, in the year of our Lord Jesus Christ 2014, “after more than 3 months during which it met 25 times and heard 60 witnesses, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson on any of the five charges put forth by the prosecution ranging from second-degree involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder in association with the death of unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown, who Officer Wilson shot multiple times.” The case is important because of its wider implications. We must remember that a grand jury is not tasked with proving guilt or innocence, but rather serves only to establish whether there is probable cause to move forward to trial.

This morning I don’t intend to solve the problem regarding the slaying of Michael Brown, but rather take a close look at the crucial issue involved, which is the Sixth Commandment. I hope to help us understand the nature of what constitutes murder in contrast to manslaughter or even justifiable homicide.

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Please turn to Exodus 20:13. It is important to note that with this commandment we are passing from the first table of the law (the first five), to the second table (the last five). Jesus distinguished the two tables when answering the question in Matthew 22:35-41, “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” So the first table is the duties we owe to God our Creator, loving Him with our whole being, the second table is the duties we owe to our fellow man, loving our neighbour as ourselves.

Defining Murder – Exodus 20:13

“Thou shalt not murder.”

So the first duty we owe to our fellow man is defending his God given right to life. The Hebrew word translated murder [ratsach] specifically refers to murder, though some translations (KJV) translate the word as kill. In fact some are opposed to the death penalty based on the wrong translation of this one word. God’s Word, however, clearly distinguishes between justified killing and murder.

Defining Manslaughter – Deuteronomy 19:1-6

“When the Lord thy God hath cut off the nations, whose land the Lord thy God giveth thee, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their cities, and in their houses; Thou shalt separate three cities for thee in the midst of thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it. Thou shalt prepare thee a way, and divide the coasts of thy land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee to inherit, into three parts, that every slayer may flee thither.”

Now watch closely as the Scripture here distinguishes between manslaughter and murder. “And this is the case of the slayer, which shall flee thither, that he may live: Whoso killeth his neighbour ignorantly, whom he hated not in time past; As when a man goeth into the wood with his neighbour to hew wood, and his hand fetcheth a stroke with the axe to cut down the tree, and the head slippeth from the helve, and lighteth upon his neighbour, that he die; he shall flee unto one of those cities, and live: Lest the avenger of the blood pursue the slayer, while his heart is hot, and overtake him, because the way is long, and slay him; whereas he was not worthy of death, inasmuch as he hated him not in time past.”

Manslaughter is when a killing takes place, but the person responsible for the killing is not worthy of death for what he did. It is distinguished by ignorance, lack of malice aforethought. In other words it is an accidental killing. There is no premeditation on the part of the actor with manslaughter; he did not willfully kill a fellow human. It is not deliberate and he did nothing with malice aforethought. The person who has done this is, however, in danger from the avenger of blood. This avenger is any near relative that has the right to avenge the death of his family member by taking the life of the guilty. The manslayer must flee to the nearest city of refuge where the avenger of blood cannot without bloodguilt take the life of the manslayer.

We need to understand God’s Law more than ever and work to help people understand the issues this commandment raises.

Learn more about your Constitution with Pastor David Whitney and the “Institute on the Constitution” and receive your free gift.

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