…What Is a Life Worth?

Many adults today have the feeling that human knowledge and technology have outdistanced our ethics. Just because we have the technology to do something does not mean that we should do it. A lot of issues fall under this category: genetic engineering, cloning, abortion, and euthanasia are only some of these. Issues such as abortion and euthanasia remain divisive in American culture, and one’s stance on these issues relates directly to one’s basis for authority about human life. Some people stand firmly on biblical convictions about the sanctity of human life, but they don’t know what they can do to show that they value human life. God wants us to act in ways that demonstrate that we value human life.

I Will Require

These words are found three times in Genesis 9:5, twice about people and once about animals. The phrase can be rendered “I will demand an accounting” (NIV). God will demand an accounting about all He has told us to do, but here the focus is on taking the life of a human being.

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After the flood, God told Noah that He would demand accountability for the killing of human life because humans are made in God’s image. David determined to praise God for forming him in his mother’s womb and for watching over him even before he was born. A wise father taught his son to refuse to wantonly attack and kill human beings. God expects His people to defend and protect innocent people whose lives are threatened.

Worth Taking Accountability For (Gen. 9:5–6)

What is the background for these verses? What is the accountability set forth? What is the relation of humans and animals? How could sinful humans still be in God’s image?

Genesis 9:5–6: And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, He was not telling the people things that they did not know. For example, the Seventh Commandment did not introduce the sinfulness of adultery. Joseph knew it was wrong long before the Seventh Commandment (see Gen. 39:9). Likewise, people knew that murder was wrong long before the Sixth Commandment was given. Murder began in the first family. God warned Cain about nursing his hard feelings against Abel (4:6–7). After Cain murdered his brother, God asked him where his brother was, and Cain cynically asked if he was his brother’s keeper (v. 9). Then God told him that his brother’s blood was crying out from the ground against him (v. 10). One of Cain’s descendants, Lamech, boasted of how many people he had killed (vv. 23–24). By the time of the flood, “the earth was filled with violence” (6:11). This was one of the sins that led to the flood.

After the flood, God commissioned Noah as representative of the new humanity with some key words. God told him to multiply and repopulate the earth (9:1). He also enlarged the scope of man’s dominion over the rest of creation, allowing the eating of meat as well as plants (vv. 2–3). He emphasized that blood represented life; therefore, He forbade eating the blood of animals (v. 4). This represented a new relation from that in the garden. There apparently man and animals could eat only plants. Now permission to eat meat was given to men and animals, but there were restrictions. The man was not to eat blood, and the animals were accountable for killing a human. This set the stage for emphasizing the value of human life and the accountability for taking a human life.

The word require means “be held accountable.” Responsibility and accountability are often disregarded by people. Many people have an immoral or an amoral view of right and wrong. In their view we are accountable to no one but ourselves for what we do. This sounds like Lamech and the people before the flood. We can do no wrong because we decide what is right and what is wrong. But God has set forth certain basic moral laws, and He holds people accountable for their actions.

The basic moral law here is the value God places on human life. “From each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man” (v. 5, NIV). Verse 6 gives the punishment and the reason for this statement. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed is a key verse about capital punishment. At one stage in human history unlimited vengeance was practiced by the murder victim’s family. Then this was replaced by the law of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life. This placed some limits on the avengers. The law later distinguished between intentional and unintentional taking of another person’s life. The indiscriminate taking revenge on anyone involved in someone’s death was forbidden. Personal vengeance was taken out of the hands of individuals and the issue was taken over by the state. “This verse is very significant, because there is implied in it the setting up of civil government in human society, with power even of life and death. The Bible regards the civil government as divinely instituted and the right to ‘bear the sword’ as given to the rulers by God. As a commentary upon or amplification of this verse one might read Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Pet. 2:13–17; 1 Tim. 2:1–3. It is implied that government is necessary in every race of mankind and in every age, and the setting up of political authority in the world is here traced back to God’s covenant with Noah.”

This does not ensure that every government dispenses justice. Sometimes evil people gain power and do great harm. The Roman government provided protection for Christians until the evil Nero made it into an instrument of persecution. Hitler was an evil ruler who used the state to murder millions. But these are perversions of God’s intent.

Verse 6 is also significant because it grounded the sanctity of human life on the fact that humans are created in the image of God. Thus taking a human life is a sin against the Creator. Also implied here is that God continues to make humans in His image even after the fall. He does this through parents bringing children into the world. Sin marred the image in humans. We come into the world with a nature that is prone to sin, and we enter an imperfect sin-scarred world; but we still have the potential to have a right relation to God. This fact has strong implications for the issue of the time when life begins, which is discussed in Psalm 139:13–16.

What are the lasting truths in Genesis 9:5–6?

Taking human life is a serious sin.
2. Humans are accountable to God for the terrible sin of murder.
3. Murder is wrong because humans are made in the image of God.
4. Christians should not seek personal vengeance.
5. God instituted government to punish evildoers.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

One thought on “…What Is a Life Worth?

  1. I think too many people in the US/Canada treat life as disposable. I tried to help people supporting doctor-assisted-xx by sharing my story of survival, and got comments saying euthanasia for someone in their 20s who is depressed is “the most loving thing” one can do. I stopped commenting on YouTube. That was sad to see…

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