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Passages in the Hebrew Scriptures
(Old Testament) that discuss suicide

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Suicide in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament):

There are many stories of individuals who either pleaded with God to end their life, or who killed themselves, or who sought the assistance of another to kill them:

bullet Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 contain two similar version of the Ten Commandments. Both Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 appear in the King James Version of the Bible as  "Thou shalt not kill." This obviously cannot be interpreted literally, because people continually kill plants and animals for food. It has generally been interpreted as meaning that one should not murder a human being, except in cases of self defense or warfare. Christians are divided over whether these verses include suicide. Religious conservatives tend to say that it does; many liberals believe that there are circumstances where suicide is morally justifiable.

A decade of experience as a volunteer at a suicide prevention line has led me to believe that suicide is rarely justifiable; it is often a permanent solution to a temporary problem. However, it can bring an end to a life made intolerable by pain and loss of personal control caused by a terminal illness.
bullet Numbers 11:12-15 Moses was in despair because of the complaints of the Israelites whom he was leading. The burden of leadership was too heavy for him to bear. He asked God "If You treat me like this, please kill me here and now..."
bullet Judges 9:52-54: The warrior-king of Israel, Abimelech, was attacking a tower in Thebez, hoping to exterminate large numbers of unarmed civilians as he had just done in Shechem. As he attempted to burn the door to the tower, a woman dropped a piece of a millstone on Abimelech's head. He felt that he was mortally wounded. The king's contempt for women was so great that he quickly asked his armor bearer to kill him with his sword, in order that people not say that he had been killed by a woman. Throughout much of the Hebrew Scriptures, women were regarded as property. To be attacked and fatally injured by someone whom he considered so inferior was more than he could handle.
bullet Judges 16:29-30 Samson had been chained to the two middle pillars of a temple. He pushed them apart. thereby knowingly causing the collapse of the building, his own suicide and the death of a few thousand Philistines inside. The death toll exceeded the number of people that he had killed during the rest of his life -which was considerable. Samson had been blinded, and no longer wanted to live as a captive. By causing his own death, he had a chance to destroy many of the enemy.
bullet 1 Samuel 31:4-6 In a war against the Philistines, Saul's sons Johnathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua were killed, and Saul himself was seriously wounded. He asked his armor bearer to kill him, but his assistant refused. So he took a sword and fell on it. The armor bearer then also fell on his sword. Both ended up committing suicide. The same events are also described in a parallel passage: 1 Chronicles 10:3-7. Saul's justification for committing suicide was that because of his injuries, if the Philistines arrived, he would have been abused and killed by uncircumcised men.
bullet 2 Samuel 1:2-17 An unidentified Amalekike man described to David a very different account about Saul's death. The versions in 1 Samuel 31 and 1 Chronicles 10, describe how Saul committed suicide by himself, after his armor bearer refused to perform the task. In this version, Saul had the Amalekite, a stranger, kill him, in a form of assisted suicide. After hearing the story of how the Amalekike had carried out the wishes of Saul, David had him executed on the spot, because he had "slain the LORD's anointed." The implication is that one can assist in the suicide of a commoner, but not in the case of a king. There is no criticism of Saul asking for help in committing suicide.
bullet 2 Samuel 17:1-29 Ahithophel recommended that he be allowed to choose 12,000 men, to pursue King David immediately, and kill him. When his advice was not accepted, he became so depressed that he returned to his city, "put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died..."
bullet 1 King 16:15-20 Zimri, king of Tirzah, saw his city besieged and taken. He was distressed at the sins that he had committed. He "went into the citadel of the king's house and burned the king's house down upon himself with fire, and died..."
bullet I King 18:40 and 19:4 In an act of vicious religious intolerance, Elijah ordered 400 priests of Baal executed. Ahab went to Jezebel, telling her that Elijah had "executed all the prophets with the sword." She swore to kill Elijah within the next 24 hours. Elijah fled for this life to Beersheba, went into the wilderness, and "prayed that he might die." He said, "It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"
bullet Jonah 4:1-11 God had threatened the destruction of the Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people. But the king and people of the city listened to Jonah, repented of their sins, and fasted. God changed his mind and did not destroy the city. Jonah was so angry at God's display of mercy that he asked God to kill him, "for it is better for me to die than to live!" He repeated the same request to God on the next day.

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Copyright 1997 to 2009, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated on 2009-SEP-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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