Murder by Mouth


The Hebrew verb “retzach,” might be translated “to kill without justification,” or “to kill unlawfully.” Yet, it also has a wider range of meanings, generally describing destructive activity, including “to break, to dash to pieces” as well as “to slay, kill, murder.” In the case of the Ten Commandments we understand it in terms of The Sixth: “Thou Shalt Not Murder/Kill” [ Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17].

For most of us it is enough to say to ourselves, “Well, at least I am not guilty of that Commandment! I have not murdered anyone.” But, is that true? Given the depth and breadth of meanings this Hebrew word has, perhaps we had best revisit our spiritual situation in relation to the Sixth commandment. Is it too far afield to suggest that there are more ways to kill or murder a person than physically? What about emotionally or spiritually — “to dash piece by piece…”

How often have we been on the sharp edge of a verbal attack calculated to hurt, humiliate, bully, or taunt us? Worse, how often have we been the bearer of the sword meant to slay another’s spirit or reputation? Does that sound too overt for anything you might have done? What about gossip? Snide or cutting remarks? Angry retorts? Revenge? Name calling? Have you ever participated in a verbal attack or assault to the point of “overkill?”.

Though we may not acknowledge it, such mean-spirited and hate-filled assaults (whether they be made of a few words or many) are calculated to destroy — to kill. Maybe not kill the body, but I believe the spirit that drives such sin-sickness comes from the same very dark place as murder.

Jesus came to bring life, and shouldn’t our goal be the same? To build up and strengthen the life in ourselves and others? “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly [John 10:10].”

Rather than using our tongues as weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), perhaps we should consider bridling them in the spirit of the Commandments as interpreted by Christ, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.[Matt. 22:37-40].”

The next time we feel our spirit under attack by another, or our own desire to lash out at someone else, remember that such “weapons of words/war” are not of the spirit of Christ, and we need to cast them back to the dark places from whence they come — not allowing them to kill a part of our spirit, or of another’s…

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The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.

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