I can’t jump into a thoughtful commentary without first sharing my bias and two disclaimers. The discussion about Hamas and Israel has been a bit well-traveled in my mind over many years, and I feel that a deep dive into some language might help us here. Killing and murder are not synonyms.
When I was young, I visited the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria above the Danube River. There could not have been a more serene spot to build a place of evil and mass murder. It was in the middle of a forest, and the beautiful river was not far away. It was not near any significant city, and the primary way to the concentration camp was by train. When I visited, I needed to rent a bicycle and ride the distance between the new train station and the museum, as there still was no road that led to the facilities. During the entire ride, I could hear birds chirping all around me. It was a lovely ride. Yet, on the ride home, the birds could not make me forget what I had seen.
Mauthausen was one of the first massive concentration camp complexes in Nazi Germany and the last to be liberated by the Allies. The camp was filled with signs that contained quotes both by the inmates and the Nazis who worked there. They were heart-wrenching in some instances as the children tried to make sense of what was happening around them. There were other quotes from the guards and wardens that were evil beyond description. I won’t repeat or describe what was said.
I left there knowing that history is rich with people who wish Jews to be eradicated from the earth. At Mauthausen, they were indiscriminate. Women and children were killed at the same frequency that grown men were. This was evil. I challenge anyone who questions the existence of evil to visit a concentration camp. This experience muddies my thinking. I am not agnostic when it comes to the existence of good and evil.
I am a student of Biblical Hebrew. I am currently reading Exodus in the original, and I am in awe as God creates the first “nation” and the first “government.” It is a model that the founding fathers of the United States referenced in their models of our republic. I also understand the idea of tyranny and the road to freedom as both part of a process as well as events in time. Seldom is anything both an event and a process.
Point you don’t know #1:
Friday’s event was prophetic. Let’s start with the word Hamas. It translates from Hebrew accurately as “violence.” I don’t know if that is why the Palestinians used it or not. That is above my pay grade.
Now, let’s look at some specifics. The day of the attack was Shabbat or the 7th day. It also occurred on the 23rd day of the month of Tishree (September/October). Let’s look up what this might be pointing at, specifically the prophetic book of Ezekiel 7:23. This should invoke some sense of goosebumps. I am going to blend English and Hebrew now. Here is the verse.
“He will take hostages, for the land is full of crimes. There will be bloodshed, for the city shall be filled with Hamas.”
Certainly, Israel was filled with Hamas last Friday. There was violence, and there was a group called Hamas. And it seems like God knew all about this day, something like 2600 years ago.
Point you don’t know #2:
In Hebrew, there are two words for causing another man to die, just like the English, the Hebrew people discriminated between killing and murder. In modern-day thinking, we would say ending Hitler’s life would be harach. It was a righteous killing. It was the right thing to do. When a young woman is intentionally run over by a car because of the color of her skin, that is Ratsach. It is murder. It is unrighteous killing.
The immediate question is, who decides if it is Ratsach or harach? When is it murder, and when is it righteous killing? If you can pull back the layers of the global dialog on the attacks on Israel, it is obvious that there is a segment of the global population who deems this to be Harach, whereas most of the world sees it as Ratsach.
In the book of Exodus, there is a verse that is two words long that says, “Lo Ratsach.” In English, we incorrectly translate this as “Thou shalt not kill,” even though that is not what it says. It says (and I am adding a few words that don’t exist in Hebrew), “Thou shalt not murder.”
Murder is premeditated and considered unlawful killing. That means there are instances when killing is lawful. In all cultures, the law permits killing in instances of undeniable self-defense. In the book of Exodus, it says, “If a thief is found breaking in, and he is struck and dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.” (Exodus 22:2). The history of lawful killing is as old as history. So is the history of unlawful killing (Cain and Able).
To further muddy the conversation, both the Jews and the followers of Hamas acknowledge that the book of Exodus is the inspired word of God, and its contents are true and trustworthy. Yet, when it is time to differentiate between killing and murder, Hamas thinks of their actions as righteous killing, but the rest of Planet Earth sees their actions as murder. This is another fine moment where we see that it takes more than reading the bible to get its meaning. You need to think about what is said and how God intended us to apply it.
For Hamas, the behavior palette on killing vs. murder is perhaps the only grey item of discussion. Raping, decapitating children, etc., are all evil acts, disputed by literally no non-evil person. For most Americans, the difference between murder and killing has been defined by Hollywood, and, for the most part, they got it right. When the Emperor died in Star Wars, the theatre erupted in applause. That was righteous killing. The same is true for the death of Sauron in Lord of the Rings. However, the hearts that break during a murder scene leave little doubt that the difference is not grey and yet very real.
As you listen to media reports, start intentionally screening and criticizing the language used. The most likely event that you will experience is that killing is used to describe both righteous killing and premeditated murder. Start replacing the word kill with murder and end this madness these words are synonyms.
Finally, when someone says that they condemn violence but support the rights of the Palestinians, remind them what the word Hamas means. The odds are it will be the first of many things that they are getting wrong.