An Eye For An Eye


‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.’ Matthew 5:38-42

The Jews twisted the teaching of the Old Testament law on this matter, they basically took these principles and applied to their everyday relationships. The ‘eye for an eye’ was a civil law of the Old Testament where the people had the authority to punish offenders, but the punishment must fit the crime.

‘But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot’. Exodus 21:23-24

The retaliation law that was given to Israel was more compassionate than the law that existed previous to the giving of the law to Israel. In reference to this law, Jesus stated that love should succeed over the will to retaliate against our neighbour.

‘Anyone who injures their neighbour is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.’ Leviticus 24:19-20

The principle of the law would be that the death penalty would be given to those who voluntarily murdered another person. If someone voluntarily took the life of another, he had his right to life taken from him.

‘Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.’ Deuteronomy 19:21

This law made accusers think twice before slanderously accusing one of a deed for which he had no evidence. We have to remember that the law of the land before God gave his instructions were really bad. If you kill my child, I will kill all your children, your wife, your brothers, your whole generation! If you knock out my tooth or eye, I will knock out all of yours and kill you also.

Here in Matthew, Jesus is teaching against the concept of retaliation. What Jesus was condemning was the Pharisees’ misapplication of the principle of this law. They were using the principle as a justification for personal revenge. They misunderstood the principle of the law.

That principle is that there is a punishment for the violation of law, and the punishment must match the crime. In other words, the death penalty wouldn’t be given for one who told a lie.

Wrongdoing that is committed against Christians originates from Satan, Christians must resist the temptations of Satan.

‘Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.’ James 4:7

However, retaliation against those whom Satan uses to promote his work isn’t a Christian principle. The slap here is an insulting blow or
what we would call an insulting blow and anyone who is willing to slap a Christian is allowing Satan to use them to persecute Christians. It’s better to suffer ill treatment than to resist or retaliate against those who would persecute us.

‘Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.’ 1 Peter 2:18-20

It was a Roman law that a government official could command into service any person or thing that was needed to carry a soldier’s armour. Jesus’ disciples are here commanded to willingly comply with those who would compel their services. The disciples shouldn’t retaliate by withholding from those who would ask of them.

‘Rather, be open-handed and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbour this wicked thought: ‘The seventh year, the year for cancelling debts, is near,’ so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.’ Deuteronomy 15:8-10

‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’ Galatians 6:10

‘What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ James 2:14-17

The disciples must willingly give when compelled by those who would demand of them according to law.

‘Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.’ Luke 6:29-30

The whole point is that instead of retaliating against those whom would insult us or demand things from us, the Christian can overcome evil by doing good. Hence why Jesus goes on to speak about how to love our enemies.

‘But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’ Luke 7:27-36

Imagine how putting into practice Jesus teaching would affect the world we’re living in now. Imagine a world where good was returned for evil! What if we practiced what Jesus did?

Don’t curse your offender, that’s the worldly thing to do, when we get struck, we want to retaliate, when we get wounded, we want to wound back. And it’s so easy to rationalise, it’s so easy to justify your offence and to want to hurt back. Most people in life think you survive by hurting back, you slap me, and I’ll slap you back harder.

‘Bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them’. Romans 12:14

Don’t curse your offender, if someone hurts you, the first thing you want to do is shout at them to God. Do we have any record of Jesus cursing when He was wounded? Check out the record

‘He was insulted and did not retaliate with insults; when he was suffering he made no threats but put his trust in the upright judge.’ 1 Peter 2:23

You want to let your enemy, have it?

The Bible says no! Do what Jesus did, let God have it. Just hand over the whole situation to God and trust Him with it, if you need to talk out your pain, talk it out with God, don’t curse your offender.

Don’t nurse your pain because how does holding onto it change the past or repair broken relationships? Why do you want your enemy to pay for something that Jesus has already paid for? If the blood of Jesus has satisfied God for their sin, why are you still not satisfied? You see, the cross has invalidated all justification for holding a grudge.

‘And through the cross, to reconcile them both to God in one Body; in his own person he killed the hostility.’ Ephesians 2:16

That doesn’t mean you still can’t hate, it means you don’t have a right to. You have no right because of the righteousness of the cross of Jesus to be holding onto a grudge with anybody. We have got sufficient motivation to let go of bitterness. The struggle to forgive is the struggle of the will and to soften your will, you have to do some serious business at the cross. Forgiveness is hard but so was Calvary and that’s our model.

‘Be generous to one another, sympathetic, forgiving each other as readily as God forgave you in Christ’. Ephesians 4:32

‘Bear with one another; forgive each other if one of you has a complaint against another. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same.’ Colossians 3:13

The cross doesn’t make forgiveness easy, but it does make it possible. Love your enemies, do good to them, feed them when they are hungry, give them clothes when they are cold, and visit them when they are sick.



"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Philippians 4:7