by Mike Ratliff
13 “You shall not murder. (Exodus 2:13 NASB)
As I have been studying our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, I have come under deep conviction of my extreme need of grace. Oh, I’ve always known since God saved me that I was saved by grace not according to my merits or works, but as the working of the Word of God on my heart does what it is supposed to do, that is, the Law kills any bit of self-righteousness I have, stripping it away, leaving me with only the grace and mercy of God, anything else is to end up with my clothes torn, lying and weeping in dust and ashes rather than joyfully resting in my Lord.
21 You heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘You shall not murder'; ‘Whoever might murder will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you, ‘Everyone being angry with his brother will be subject to judgment and whoever might say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ will be subject to Gehenna of fire.’ 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave the gift there before the altar and go first and be reconciled to your brother and then come offer your gift. 25 Be well disposed to your opponent quickly while you are with him on the road lest your opponent might deliver you to the judge and the judge to the official and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Amen I say to you, you may never come out from there until you repay the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21-26 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
Our Lord’s statement in v21 is a quote of Exodus 2:13, which I placed at the top of this post. The second part, ‘Whoever might murder will be subject to judgment’ is a quote of Deuteronomy 5:17. When he said, “But I say to you…” in v22 he was not altering the terms of the law. Instead, he was correcting what the people had “heard,” which was the rabbinical understanding of the law.
What is our Lord saying in v22 about murder and anger? He was saying here that verbal abuse stems from the same sinful motives (anger and hatred) that ultimately lead to murder. The law actually prohibits the internal attitude that leads to murder, therefore an abusive insult carries the same kind of moral guilt as an act of murder.
Gehenna refers to the Hinnom Valley, which is southwest of Jerusalem. Both King Ahaz and King Manasseh permitted human sacrifices there during their reigns (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6), therefore it was called “the valley of Slaughter” (Jeremiah 19:6). In Jesus’ day, it was a garbage dump where fires burned continually and was thus an apt symbol of eternal fire. Therefore, some Bible translators render ‘Gehenna of fire’ as “hell fire” or something similar for that is the analogy our Lord was making.
In vv25,26 our Lord makes it clear that we are to seek reconciliation eagerly, aggressively, and quickly even to the point of it involving self-sacrifice. As Paul said, it is better to be wronged than to take your brother to court. Why? These types of disputes between brethren dishonor Christ. I have always tired to seek reconciliation as long as it did not involve me compromising doctrinal truths, et cetera. If I could not do that, I have always attempted to quietly and simply end the relationship. Yes, that is the part of it being costly, losing position in a church, losing friends, et cetera, but not causing a running “gun battle” that can only bring dishonor to our Lord. This the part where it can seem like everyone is following those who are in apostasy while the few are out here on the fringes in small pockets, in small fellowships, et cetera. The Lord knows who are his.
Soli Deo Gloria!