An Eye For An Eye


One of the hardest things that we have to deal with in our lives is how to respond when we are offended or somehow wronged by someone else.? Should we get even or somehow seek justice for the things that people do to us?? We hear the old saying, ?An eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth? in regards to responding to offenses.? Should we retaliate every time someone wrongs us?? Should we seek retribution every time someone offends us or causes us grief or pain?? Should you legally pursue payment every time someone wrongs you and you have a legal right to do so?? Can we say for certain that the will of God is that we always retaliate for the wrong that is done to us?? What we call justice may not be the same thing that God calls justice.? We may think that it is the will of God to seek retribution, but God may want us to let it go and move on.

We are going to examine the law of ?an eye for an eye? relative to retaliation relation to forgiveness.? We will then use the information gained to help us govern our lives particularly during those situations when we are wronged by someone else.? Our main text will be Matthew 5:38-48.


An Eye For An Eye

Matthew 5:38 (NKJV) ?You have heard that it was said, ?An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.?

The ?eye for an eye? and ?tooth for a tooth? is part of the widespread ancient Near Eastern law of retaliation. In Israel and other cultures, this principle was enforced by a court and refers to legalized vengeance; personal vengeance was never accepted in the Law of Moses, except as a concession for a relative?s murder (see Numbers 35:18-21). The Old Testament did not permit personal vengeance.? Vengeance was actually the prerogative of God (See Deuteronomy 32:35).

The primary purpose of the ?eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth? law was to ensure that the punishment for a crime was indeed fitting for the crime.? It was designed to provide fairness or justice in the penalties for crimes committed.? For example, consider the following scripture.

Exodus 21:22 through Exodus 21:25 (NKJV) 22?If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman?s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

The penalty must be fitting to the crime.? That was again the whole purpose of ?an eye for an eye.?? This was important because in some cultures the penalty for a crime could have far exceeded what would have been considered just or fair.


Turn the Other Cheek

Matthew 5:39 (NKJV) 39But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Here is that famous scripture regarding turning the other cheek.? It is believed that this scripture suggests that Christians are not supposed to respond to offense.? For example, if someone slaps a Christian in the face then the Christian is not supposed to respond or retaliate.? However, this is not true.? Yes there are times when retaliation would not be in the best interest of the person slapped or perhaps the slapping person.? This however does not mean that we should not respond in all cases.? If this were so then Jesus would not have had to give us instruction of dealing with offenses against us (See Matthew 18:10-14).? So what does Jesus mean by turning the other cheek?

Being slapped on the face was a great insult in the ancient world.? Therefore, someone who was slapped on the cheek would typically retaliate because of the insult.? Jesus said that we should not do this.? Why not be insulted?? What difference does it mean to be insulted in regards to the Kingdom of God?? It does make a difference to us in this world because we typically do not want to look bad.? No one wants to be embarrassed so we retaliate to save face so to speak.? We surely care about what others think of us and therefore we do things so that people would have a positive perspective of us.

It is easy to say that we should not care what others think of us, but in reality we do care how others think of us.? We don?t want people to think we are weak in any way so we promote a posture of strength even if it means to retaliate.? We have to learn to live without the need to ?look good? to others and be more concerned about how we look to God.? We should be more conscious of our standing with God and how we measure up to his kingdom instead of the world?s.


Being Sued

Matthew 5:40 (NKJV) 40If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.
The tunic was an undergarment and the cloak was a loose fitting outer garment.

Here Jesus again tells us to refrain from retaliation.? I would also like to say that there must be some reason why someone would want to sue you in the first place.? If someone does sue you and wins then let them have it.? Perhaps one could say that justice was done.? Let it go and move on with your life.

What about those times when it is justified for you to sue someone.? Well first of all Jesus was not commenting on you suing someone, though Paul brings this up later.

1 Corinthians 6:7 (NKJV) 7Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?

Of course we probably wish we were all at that level of Christian living.? Many philosophers who believed that property did not matter could advocate ignoring offenses rather than going to court. Paul prefers the Jewish method of settling disputes within the community, which serves both justice and the community?s witness to the outside world.

The Christian community should be capable of settling its own disputes, but instead we rely on the world system.? I believe that the main reason for this is that the Christian community is not really a Christian community at all, but rather a religious social club.

In any case, Paul advocates that Christians should settle disputes among themselves without going to the Gentile community.? He also suggests that it is not necessary to go to the law when we are wronged.? Why not be wronged or cheated?? Why do we have to retaliate whenever we have been wronged?? The suggestion here by Paul is the same as Jesus? in our lesson text.? What difference does it make when we are offended or otherwise wronged?? What could anything matter compared with an eternity with the Father (remember that eternity with the Father starts when you are saved not when you die).


Go the Extra Mile

Matthew 5:41 (NKJV) 41And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.

Roman soldiers had the legal right to impress the labor, work animal or substance of local residents (see Mark 15:21). The Roman government could press anyone into its service to carry a load as far as one mile. Matthew records a Roman officer doing this to Simon of Cyrene in Matthew 27:32.? In the subject scripture, Jesus suggests that a person go an extra mile even though the law only required that the person was only legally obligated for one mile.

The Jewish hierarchy favored the status quo with Rome; some revolutionaries wanted to revolt. Most Palestinian Jews in this period wanted freedom but were not revolutionaries. But by a.d. 66 Jewish Palestine was caught up in a war, and by A.D 70 the wisdom of Jesus? course was evident: Rome won the war, and the Jewish people, led to defeat by the revolutionaries, were crushed.? Jerusalem was burned down and destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, which was brought on by Jewish resistance.


The Message

Jesus seems to be speaking in hyperbolic terms to teach the lesson of non-retaliation. Generally He commands us to have a generous and compassionate attitude toward the needy. He makes this application in four areas: physical attacks (verse 39), legal suits (verse 40), government demands (verse 41), and financial requests (verse 42).

Jesus uses hyperbole to make his point about retaliation.? Hyperbole is a rhetorical exaggeration, a figure of speech often used by Jewish wisdom teachers to underline their point. The point of Jesus? hyperbolic illustrations is generally to grab the hearer?s attention and force that hearer to take his point seriously.? So Jesus? hyperbolic illustrations should not be considered as teachings on what to do when slapped or sued but as a means of rhetorically getting his point across about the primary message, which in this case is non-retaliation.



Now if you think about what we have said so far then you may wonder what you are supposed to do if you don?t retaliate for a long period of time because surely people will offend you from time to time.? What are we to do about the feelings of hurt and harm that come upon us when we are offended and then don?t retaliate?? How are we to just not retaliate?

Let me say it with an illustration.? You have heard many times before that we should trust God or have faith in the Lord.? We shout in church acknowledging that we should indeed have faith in God.? However, when we are home alone we are left with the question, ?How do I have faith in God??? What do we do to have faith in God?? Likewise, we can ask, ?How do I not retaliate??

We can not retaliate if we don?t feel the need to or reckon that there is no point in it.? How do we get to the point where we don?t feel the need to retaliate?? What do I do to not retaliate?? I believe the answer is found in forgiveness. ?Forgiveness is the key to being able to deal with the offenses that come our way. Let?s spend a few minutes discussing forgiveness.

According to my Bible dictionary, the word forgiveness means:? The giving up of resentment or claim to requital of an offense.? Forgiveness is conditioned on repentance and the willingness to make reparations, or atonement.? The effect of forgiveness is the restoration of both parties to the former state of relationship.? The Hebrew word for “forgive” means to pardon or spare.? The Greek word for “forgive” means to send forth, lay aside, let go, omit, put (send) away. In general we can say that to forgive is to release the resentment caused by an offense.

You cannot forgive someone unless you repent of the resentment that you hold in your heart for him or her.? You can’t forgive someone unless you make a decision to release the resentment.? Forgiveness starts with repentance.? Unless you repent you cannot and will not forgive.


The Decision

It is so easy to make a decision.? So why is it so hard to decide to forgive someone?? We get to the point in knowledge where we know that we should forgive and we reach a point where we are ready to forgive.? However, at the time of decision-making there appears to be some force that makes it almost impossible to let go of the resentment.? Why?? Why can’t I just say, “OK I will forgive this person and love them anyway?? What force hinders this decision?? Sure I can say it but I have a hard time meaning it.? Do you see what I mean?

For some reason we like to resent people.? For some reason we seem to or enjoy hating people.? Not that we enjoy hating them per se, but we enjoy the feeling of the emotion.? What is locking us onto these emotions of resentment? ?Indirectly we are saying that we like to be offended so that we can enjoy that feeling.? Why? If I hate resentment then I would want to get rid of it as soon as possible.? Yes I was hurt by so and so but I don’t have to hate him.? However, because the resentment has somehow locked itself to me I can’t let it go just by saying it.? Resentment is of the sin nature.? Therefore the feelings of retaliation fuel our desire for resentment.? It is easier to talk about why we hate someone then why we love someone. ?The flesh loves to hate those that offend and we follow the lead of our flesh.? However, the power of God is always there to release us of this bondage to the flesh.

Haven’t you noticed your carnal love for resentment?? You get to a place where you want to forgive someone (initiated by the Spirit) but you can’t get yourself to do it or even start to do it.? You just want to continue resenting the person because you were offended.? Why is being offended such a big deal?? Paul said

(1 Corinthians 6:7 NIV)? The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?

What’s the big deal?? Why not just take it, release it, and then move on with your life.? Imagine the freedom.? But because we love that resentment, we can’t let it go.? Therefore, we must repent of such a life style of being controlled by the sin nature.? We have to make the decision to be led by the Spirit and love instead of resent.


Forgiveness Is One-Sided

A minister in my youth used to say, ?It doesn?t matter what you think of me but it does matter what I think of you.?? This was a profound statement with a life changing principle implied.? The resentment that people has for me is insignificant as far as my own spiritual health.? However, what I have in my heart towards others will directly affect my spiritual health.? Therefore, forgiveness is one-sided.? The Bible doesn?t teach us to forgive others as they forgive us.? The Bible simply instructs us to forgive and for our benefit.? Therefore, forgiveness is one-sided in that our releasing of resentment is mutually exclusive of what others do.


The Will To Forgive

It is imperative that we develop a will to forgive.? We would rather save face, protect our ego, or otherwise not let things go.? The question I have for you is, ?What difference does it make?? What difference does it make for you to retaliate for an offense?? Now I am not talking about being robbed and wanting to get your items back, though this may apply to that too.

Develop a desire to forgive instead of a desire to retaliate.? This means that your faith in God has to be greater than your perception of the affects the offense will have on your life.? Do you believe that nothing can thwart God?s blessing in your life or do you think that the affects of the offense will somehow


Final Words

We don’t have to retaliate every time someone wrongs us or every time something happens to us. It is not necessary to get even so to speak when someone has offended us. If you were to look back on your life then I’m sure you would be able to recall events that you thought were so significant and so life-changing that you had to do something about it. However, you find that the event had very little impact on your life since we can always see clearer looking backwards.

What difference does it make anyway when we are offended. Of course emotions may be involved and we shouldn’t take it lightly. However, beyond that, what effect does any one offense have on us in the long run? Very little in most cases and if we allow it to have an affect.

We should learn to trust God for our lives. Realize how insignificant everything else is compared to God and his will for our lives. What difference does anything make in you accomplishing God’s will. Of course God will be with you and he will provide for you to accomplish what he wants you to do in the first place. So why bother getting upset and resenting those who have offended you. What difference do they make? None. So trust God and rely on him to take care of you and to keep you and realize that he will provide for you. Nothing can thwart the will of God for your life unless you stop it. Keep offenses from hindering you by forgiving and not feeling like you must retaliate for each offense. Amen


An Eye For An Eye and Forgiveness
Insight into The Kingdom of God and Retaliation

? 2006 William R. Cunningham
December 3, 2006



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