The Commandments of the Noahide Part 5

Do Not Murder

The next commandment in our series of the seven Noahide Commandments is usually stated , “do not murder”, or “do not kill”. This is similar to the Mosaic Commandment found in Exodus, and again in Deuteronomy stating the same. However this commandment is taken from Genesis 9:5 & 6. For this study we will take a close examination of this Scripture to investigate what it possibly may be saying.

A translation of Genesis 9:5 & 6

“But your blood of your souls, I will demand (an account); from the hand of every beast I will demand it, and from the hand of man, from the hand of each man, his brother, I will demand the soul of man.

Whoever sheds the blood man, through man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God He made man.”

At this point I want to repeat these two verses and insert some vital Hebrew words. Because much can be lost in translation, especially when many translators like to translate with their own personal bias. Some of the key words are: blood, soul, man, shed/sheds, image. Following these key words in brackets I will give the Hebrew word and its accepted English translated word.

“But your blood (dam – blood) of your souls (nepheshem – souls), I will demand (an account);

from the hand of every beast I will demand it,

and from the hand of man (adam – human being/mankind),

from the hand of each man (‘iysh – a male/man),

his brother (‘ach – brother/same father and or mother)

I will demand the soul (nephesh – soul) of man (adam – human being/mankind) .

Whoever sheds (shaphak – pour out/spill) the blood (dam – blood) man (adam – human being/mankind),

through man (adam – human being/mankind) shall his blood (dam – blood) be shed (shaphak – pour out/spill);

for in the image (tselem – image/likeness) of God He made man (adam – human being/mankind).”

Did we gather anything from this exercise? I believe we so! Some translations use the word “life” instead of soul for “nephesh”, which typically can give the wrong meaning. The nephesh is what G-d created in the garden and placed into each of us, and continues to live on, even after the death of our earthly bodies. The word “soul” closely represents “nephesh”, the word “life” can give a different meaning. It can represent more of the now, and the fact that I am alive, not so much what G-d had created in the garden, and will live on. The word “man” is used through out the two verses, which can represent a male or mankind. In one of those instances it was used to represent a male correctly. All in all this is a good translation and understanding of the selected verses. If nothing else it reinforces the fact that we all need to learn Hebrew and read the Scripture in its intended language.

The Scripture doesn’t actually say, whoever takes the life of another, but it says “whoever sheds/spills the blood” of another. We may think that if someone sheds/spills another’s blood they have taken that person’s life, but that doesn’t have to be the case. We could be in a fight with someone and hit them in the nose causing them to bleed, thus shedding or spilling their blood. Actually there are many ways to cause another person to shed their blood. So is this what the verse is saying or is the phrase “sheds/spills the blood” an old way of saying “murder”?

What does Rashi say:

Braking down the verses —

  • “But your blood, of your souls” – Is referring to someone who commits suicide.
  • “from the hand of every beast”
  • “and from the hand of man” – One who kills intentionally, with out witnesses, G-d will require his life.
  • “from the hand of each man, his brother” – This refers to an unintentional killing from one who loved the deceased like a brother. He will be punished unless he goes into exile, nor beg that his iniquity be forgiven. Everyone requires atonement.
  • “through man shall his blood be shed” – If there were witnesses of what happened, he is to be killed, because “for in the image of G-d He made man”.

It appears here that Rashi is seeing this as someone has killed another either intentionally or unintentionally. And the perpetrator either needs to go into exile if unintentional or be executed if intentional, and witnesses were present. Take note, it appears that “circumstantial evidence did not exist, or is not recognized in the Scriptures.”

Notice that the use of “blood” and “souls” is a major theme in these verses. Lets look at some possibilities for these two reoccurring words. A good place to start is in the beginning. The first occurrence of blood being spelt was the case of Cain and Able.

Gen 4:8b …that Cane rose up against Able and slew (harag – to kill) him.

Gen 4:10:b …..the voice of your brothers blood (dam – blood) cries unto me from the ground.

The record of Able being murdered by Cain, is simply that he was killed. However when G-d addresses it with Cain He doesn’t say murdered or killed but instead addresses Able’s blood as crying out.

Looking at Lev 17:11

For the soul (nephesh – soul) of the flesh (basar – flesh) in the blood (dam – blood): I have given it to you ……………

According to G-d, where does the Nephesh (soul) reside? The answer is: in the blood of our flesh.

Lev chapter 17 addresses this whole topic of blood, why it is not to be eaten (the primary topic) and why it is to be sprinkled on the alter, or buried if the flesh of an animal is to be eaten. Blood is to be handled in a special way because it is the home of the soul while it dwells in the flesh. It is be used in the atonement ceremony, but it is not required for atonement!

Our text concludes with “for in the image/likeness of G-d He made man.” This reads as an explanation for the previous statement. The reason we are not to spill another human beings blood is because they are made in the likeness of our Creator.

What is the Creators likeness or image? According to Exodus 33:20, “…you cannot see My face (paniym -face), for man (adam – mankind) shall not see (raah – look at) Me and live (chayay – to live).” Nachmanides gives us a comment on the portion, “…not see me and live”. He presents that this does not mean, that if a person happens to see G-d they will die, but rather the flesh would need to die and our soul would then be able to see G-d. He states it this way, “This does not mean that a man would die after seeing G-d, but before he could see Him, his soul would depart from him”. G-d does not present Himself here on earth where we need to be worried that we may see Him and die. Moses could not see G-d and be in the flesh, because G-d has not created a fleshly body for himself, He has remained as He was. He never changes. However Moses was able to experience the “Glory” of G-d passing by him, as G-d had prepared protection for him in the crevice of the mountain. G-d tells us that He created us in His likeness, and this is His likeness. We are not Him, we are His creation, and subject to Him.

I think we could say that the “likeness of G-d” that we are created in, is that part of us we cannot see. This is known as the nephesh or the soul. The soul dwells in our blood, so to shed another persons blood is making an attempt to destroy that persons soul. An attack on the soul is an attack on the “likeness of G-d.” Keep in mind that our “flesh” or “body” is the container or vessel, of our soul. Can we verbally attack another pesons soul, when we speak badly of them? Or if a person is in need, we are blessing the “likeness of G-d” when we go to their aid.

Looking at Isaiah 45:7 G-d tells us that He “makes peace and creates evil”. Why would G-d create evil? He also has given us choice or “free will” according to Deu 3:19. G-d then addresses the Israeli that He “has set before them life and death; blessing and cursing”, He is giving them the choice but He is encouraging them to choose that which brings “life”. In order to give us “free will” so that we aren’t robots, He created booth good and evil with us having the ability to choose.

Each of us has a good or righteous inclination and an evil or animalistic inclination. The difference between us and the animal world is that G-d breathed His breath (spirit) into us. Thus connecting us with Him. An animal does what its instinct tells him to do, in order to survive. We have similar instincts for our body functions, but we also have the balance of the “good” or righteous inclination that the animal world does not have. An animal wants to eat – it goes to find something eatable and eats it, killing it if necessary, eating it while its still alive possibly. During mating season, animals will mate anywhere, anytime, with no regard to the surrounding conditions, or faithfulness of its previous mate. (some exceptions to this) However we have the balance of the righteous inclination versus the animalistic inclination, that we can choose between them.

At birth our entire inclination is to survive, and then as we grow older we learn and mature learning from our parents and others in our immediate circle how to balance this inclination with righteousness. As we study Torah and draw closer to our Creator our righteous inclination becomes stronger, and the pendulum swings more and more towards righteousness in our lives. The animalistic inclination becomes weaker to where it only controls the subconscious functions of the body, and conscious efforts are focused on living a righteous life.

G-d has given us the gift of “Free Will”, He hasn’t taken it away, nor will He. He has also given us the Torah, as a standard to live our lives by. He does not step in and interrupt the choices people make. We can see this by the “good” and the ‘evil” that takes place around us every day, and from the past. What we choose affects others around us. They can become a “victim”, or they can become “blessed”. The choice is ours, G-d does not choose that for us.

I can and desire to be a blessing to the vessel that another soul is dwelling in thus blessing that soul, and then in turn I am blessing the “likeness of G-d” in that person. (a little confusing but think about it) I think we can see that this commandment can go further than “not committing murder”, and be seen as not attacking another “soul”, but instead being a blessing to other’s, as several of the 613 commandments refer to.

by Jim Behnke

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