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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Kill

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Shâchaṭ (שָׁחַט, Strong's #7819), “to slaughter, kill.” This word is common to both ancient and modern Hebrew, as well as ancient Ugaritic. The idea that the ancient Akkadian term shachashu (“to flay”) may be related appears to have some support in the special use of shâchaṭ in 1 Kings 10:16-17: “beaten gold” (see also 2 Chron. 9:15-16). Shâchaṭ occurs in the Hebrew Bible approximately 80 times. It first appears in Gen. 22:10: “And Abraham … took the knife to slay his son.” Expressing “slaying” for sacrifice is the most frequent use of shâchaṭ (51 times); and as might be expected, the word is found some 30 times in the Book of Leviticus alone.

Shâchaṭ sometimes implies the “slaughtering” of animals for food (1 Sam. 14:32, 34; Isa. 22:13). The word is used of the “killing” of people a number of times (Judg. 12:6; 1 Kings 18:40; 2 Kings 10:7, 14). Sometimes God is said “to slay” people (Num. 14:16). Backslidden Judah went so far as “to slaughter” children as sacrifices to false gods (Ezek. 16:21; 23:39; Isa. 57:5).

Hârag (הָרַג, Strong's #2026), “to kill, slay, destroy.” This term is commonly used in modern Hebrew in its verb and noun forms to express the idea of “killing, slaughter.” The fact that it is found in the Old Testament some 170 times reflects how commonly this verb was used to indicate the taking of life, whether animal or human. Hârag is found for the first time in the Old Testament in the Cain and Abel story (Gen. 4:8; also vv. 14-15).

Rarely suggesting premeditated killing or murder, this term generally is used for the “killing” of animals, including sacrificially, and for ruthless personal violence of man against man. Hârag is not the term used in the sixth commandment (Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). The word there is hârag, and since it implies premeditated killing, the commandment is better translated: “Do not murder,” as most modern versions have it.

The word hârag often means wholesale slaughter, both in battle and after battle (Num. 31:7-8; Josh. 8:24; 2 Sam. 10:18). The word is only infrequently used of men’s killing at the command of God. In such instances, the causative form of the common Hebrew verb for “to die” is commonly found. In general, hârag refers to violent “killing” and destruction, sometimes even referring to the “killing” of vines by hail (Ps. 78:47).

Râtsach (רָצַח, Strong's #7523), “to kill, murder, slay.” This verb occurs more than 40 times in the Old Testament, and its concentration is in the Pentateuch. Râtsach is rare in rabbinic Hebrew, and its usage has been increased in modern Hebrew with the exclusive meaning of “to murder.” Apart from Hebrew, the verb appears in Arabic with the meaning of “to bruise, to crush.”

Râtsach occurs primarily in the legal material of the Old Testament. This is not a surprise, as God’s law included regulations on life and provisions for dealing with the murderer. The Decalogue gives the general principle in a simple statement, which contains the first occurrence of the verb: “Thou shalt not kill [murder]” (Exod. 20:13). Another provision pertains to the penalty: “Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses …” (Num. 35:30). However, before a person is put to death, he is assured of a trial.

The Old Testament recognizes the distinction between premeditated murder and unintentional killing. In order to assure the rights of the manslayer, who unintentionally killed someone, the law provided for three cities of refuge (Num. 35; Deut. 19; Josh. 20; 21) on either side of the Jordan, to which a manslayer might flee and seek asylum: “… that the slayer may flee thither, which killeth any person at unawares” (Num. 35:11). The provision gave the manslayer access to the court system, for he might be “killed” by the blood avenger if he stayed within his own community (Num. 35:21). He is to be tried (Num. 35:12), and if he is found to be guilty of unintentional manslaughter, he is required to stay in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest (Num. 35:28). The severity of the act of murder is stressed in the requirement of exile even in the case of unintentional murder. The man guilty of manslaughter is to be turned over to the avenger of blood, who keeps the right of killing the manslayer if the manslayer goes outside the territory of the city of refuge before the death of the high priest. On the other hand, if the manslayer is chargeable with premeditated murder (examples of which are given in Num. 35:16-21), the blood avenger may execute the murderer without a trial. In this way the Old Testament underscores the principles of the sanctity of life and of retribution; only in the cities of refuge is the principle of retribution suspended.

The prophets use râtsach to describe the effect of injustice and lawlessness in Israel: “… because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery …” (Hos. 4:1-2; cf. Isa. 1:21; Jer. 7:9). The psalmist, too, metaphorically expresses the deprivation of the rights of helpless murder victims: “They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless” (Ps. 94:6).

The Septuagint gives the following translation: phoneuein (“murder; kill; put to death”). The KJV gives these senses: “kill; murder; be put to death; be slain.”

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Kill'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/k/kill.html. 1940.

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