Photo borrowed from the internet from the Lord of the Rings
“You have heard that it has been said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:’ but I say unto you, that you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:38,39
Does anyone stuggle with the idea of “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth?” Or do you struggle with the idea of not resisting evil? What? Let the gunmen in Chatanooga and in the movie theatres shoot away? Let people be gunned down in their churches? Just keep allowing people to be beheaded throughout the world and don’t resist? Is that what this means?
I want to think about these words, Lord, and think about what it is You are really trying to tell me here. Was a man who formed a whip with his own hands and overturned the tables of the merchants at the temple a pacifist? How about the man who told His followers it was time to carry a sword? Was that only the “sword of the Word” or was that preparedness for the correct response in a situation? How about the man who allowed Himself to be crucified who is coming back to fight the final battle against His enemies? Are You really talking about pacificity in these verses?
Let’s springboard off of all the prior teachings You’ve been leading us through while looking at Your character being reflected from within us. Let’s think about those beatitudes and the teachings that follow them, all flowing from a life flowing with You inside and out. And here You begin, “You have heard that it was said…” Whenever You say that, You are talking about man’s traditional teaching. If You were referring to Scripture, You would say, “It is written…” And it’s true that these words are written in Scripture in Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:19-20. Here they are, “”Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Again, it’s repeated in Leviticus “And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor; as he has done, so shall it be done to him; breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he has caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.” So what does that mean?
The Scripture meant that justice should be served of equal value. Read the next verse in Exodus 21:26. It’s not about plucking someone’s eye out because they damaged yours. It says, “If a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake. “ We are responsible to make restitution of equal value. Think of the story of the prophet who had borrowed someone else’s axe and as he was working, the axe head flew off into the water. Why was the servant so distraught? Why did he run to Elisha, a prophet endowed with special powers by God? Because he had no means of restitution. He had no money to replace the axehead and he was responsible for his fellow man’s property that he was using. Wow, there’s that idea of being responsible for one another again. Interesting how that keeps popping up! So maybe these verses are about our responsibility to one another.
It’s one thing to live according to what was “written” and to the intent of what was written. But it is a whole different story, most often, to live according to what has been said about that which was written. Not everyone interprets properly. Often, it’s twisted according to our emotions and desires. But if I read on after the verses above, I see examples where two men are fighting and it causes a woman to loose her child. Is the man’s life taken? Is his own child forfeited? Is that what it means when You tell them to “give life for life”? It literally means “a breathing creature for a breathing creature.” Or does that mean restitution of the same value? Isn’t that what our court systems attempt to do? I mean, it’s awkward putting that kind of value on life, but it also protects life at the same time.
If we look back at the ten commandments, we come to one that has been translated, “You shall not kill.” If so, why did God call forth soldiers? Why does He have His own army? The actual interpretation should be, “You shall not murder.” Self-defense and murder are two different things. One protects others and the other is an emotional outburst that removes another’s value in your own eyes. Exodus 22:23 deals with a thief coming in during the night. If he was killed then, it was in self-defense. If it was during the day when he could be captured and made to pay restitution, then that would be the appropriate response because it wouldn’t have been as life threatening. In Nehemiah 4:17-18 the people were equipped with swords for self-defense as they worked on the walls.
I’m not seeing this as a cry to pacifism I’m seeing You warn me also to more than just a warning against doing what some people did in their translation. Even though “Torahless ultra-religious judges or pagan cultures opted for barbaric punishment as crime for crime…this is not a Torah principle.”(The Refiner’s Fire) Your Torah principle is the worth of a man which You are now taking beyond the worth of an eye or a tooth or a hand or a foot. It’s the worth of a living soul. How do I measure that?
So that’s one thought spurred by Your word today. Here’s the next. Let me just stop to think about being slapped on the right cheek. Now, most people in Jesus’ day, just like today, were right handed. What cheek does a right-handed person slap another person on? Get the visual? There are two people facing each other. If I take my right hand and smack the person across from me, I would slap their left cheek with the open face of my hand. But, if I were in Jesus’ day and insulting someone, I would take my right hand, and with the back of my right hand, I would swing from the left to hit their right cheek. That would be me inflicting insult deliberately on them. So, does that change how we think about what You are saying here, Lord?
Are You instructing me to willingly accept unjust shame and humility? Is that the point as opposed to violence? Is this maybe more about my attitude and my pride before others? Isn’t this what You did for us? You are withholding Your anger and punishment. You are giving us time to repent. Some of us have repented because of Your slowness to wrath and Your demonstration of love instead. Some of us will repent. And some of us won’t repent. But what if this is what Your words here are all about? Am I living this out?
So what are You telling me here? Are You trying to tell me that You are concerned with my reactions? Are You trying to tell me that You don’t want me reacting in like manner to evil inflicted on me? That You are encouraging me to respond instead through patience and temperance? Is that Biblical? But in James 4:7 You say to “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” And through Paul You tell us to “Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” What’s going to happen to Satan in Isaiah 14:15? Or in Revelation 20:10. It’s worth checking it out. Because to know the Word of God is to know His heart on how He expects us to respond in life. Our battle is sometimes against flesh, but the real battle is against more than flesh, isn’t it?
The whole idea here is that we were unjust and so You, Lord, gave us examples of just rectification. But Your justice way surpasses man’s idea. All we have to do to see that is look at Your life, death, and resurrection, as well as Your plans for our future, Your plans for those who You rectified. I want to listen again to Your words. ” “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 someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” This goes deeper than the Law. It’s more than a law of justice. It’s “more than a law of “just” love.” This is so much deeper. It goes to the heart of You God, Yourself.
So we’ve covered a couple points to think about here. Here’s another point. What does this word evil mean here? Is it that dark sinister one or his heinous acts of murder and sexual and physical abuse beyond our imagination? Actually, this word for evil is “poneros” and it can mean hurtful in effect or influence. It’s not always about the character of evil or degeneracy. That points us right back to that slap in the face insult. It’s so easy for me or anyone to take that insult and label it as an “evil” against me and then respond as though I’m defending myself against some great evil. In reality, the “evil” creeps out of my own response which is what I am being instructed to learn to control in the Lord.
Let’s think about this a little more. I don’t want to take that word too lightly. The Greek word denotes “poverty or need” with the sense of being “sorrowful, unhappy, laden with care, bringing trouble, pitiable, poor, unfit, unattractive, bad ,unlucky, unsuccessful, plebeian, politically useless, worthless, and also morally reprehensible.” The equivalent in the Old Testament carries these meanings: “bad, unfavorable, worthless, unhappy, hurtful, futile, and evil in a moral sense.” It’s everything opposite of the way God acts and feels. It’s everything against what God calls good.
God showed us what He thought was good. You did that already, Lord, even in the Old Testament. Micah tells us that You have already showed us what is good. So when we ask what You require of us, we already know. Micah 6:8 continues to tell us that You require us “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God” so that right there makes everything else outside of those requirements evil. All those other actions, outside of these requirements, bring “sorrow, cause unhappiness, are unsuccessful, are unattractive, are futile, unlucky, worthless, or disobedient.” (Skip Moen) See, this isn’t about having to be a murderer or a robber to be doing evil. This is something more. This brings evil a lot closer to home, a lot closer to my own heart, doesn’t it?
Here’s the clincher. Here’s the condemnation. “[L]ight is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19) Hey, I’m one of those men, aren’t I? At least I am until I start listening to You today and square my deeds up with Yours. Because evil sure is looking a lot more personal today than it was looking yesterday. It’s easy to wag my fingers at the jihadists and race killers and rapists, but You are pointing Your finger at me here when I choose not to value my husband’s worth over mine, or when I choose to snap at someone angrily because I didn’t obey You in self-control that You give me. The point is that I’m supposed to continually be in a dependent relationship with You where I am responding time and time again in humble submission to Your Spirit and Your way as I truly “humbly” walk with You. See, it’s not humble for me to walk with You. But if I’m truly walking with You, it becomes a truly humbling experience. I must therefore treat others as You treated me. Even in response to their “evil.” How do You respond to mine? When I stop and think about it this way, I think I come out pretty reprehensible and pitiful. I’ve been guilty of inflicting hurt on others, often for my own defense. Ouch! How futile! How unsuccessful! How detrimental! Maybe I need to step more into the Light than I thought!
So, now that I see that, what about this not resisting? Brad Young says it is better translated here as “do not compete.” Now that fits in with everything You have said in this chapter. If we go back to Psalm 37:1 we find that same idea that says, “Fret not yourself because of evil doers.” But a better translation from the Hebrew would again be “Do not compete with evil doers.” That Hebrew use also means “do not bring yourself to burn, to anger.” Skip Moen states, “In other words, it is not about active resistance but rather about adopting a calm attitude of trust in God. When Yeshua uses this verb to describe the actions of Kingdom citizens, he is not suggesting that they remain passive victims. He is saying that they must adopt an attitude of serenity even if they combat the evil. They are not to be brought to a boil. They are not to burn with anger for God is still in control. They may oppose evil, and well they should since God Himself opposes evil, but they are to do so with composed and relaxed assurance. Peace is their posture even in the midst of battle….Resist when you must. Stand up for justice, for truth and for the One True God. Put on the armor (something very difficult to do if you are not to resist) and enter the battle. But remember that you do not fight with anger as your comrade. We are soldiers, no doubt, but we are soldiers of peaceful countenance and confident expectation in YHWH, the God of shalom.”
The whole point is that I am to learn to value my enemy as highly as You value him, Lord. How highly do You value my enemy? As much as You valued me. You value him enough to give Your life that he might have life and have that life in You abundantly. And to demonstrate that kind of “just” love, I am called to go beyond man’s standards and follow Yours. Yes, I may defend myself in appropriate situations, but my defense will never be of like kind. My defense should come in the form of the the love and power of God. When they inflict pain and hurt, I should “inflict love and blessing. When they curse, I should respond by doing something good, something truly good in God’s eyes, like in Micah. And when their hearts are full of hate for me, and all they want to do is use me despitefully, even to the point of persecuting me, I still ought to have a heart that longs for them to understand their own true value in God’s eyes and I ought to long to cry out in prayer for them.
So, Lord, when someone takes out my eye, or stabs me in the back, or slaps me in the face, fill me so much with You, that I don’t respond in like kind, but so that I respond like I truly am a child of God, a child of my heavenly Father. Teach me to allow Your sun to rise on them too, that they might feel Your warmth instead of my sting. Teach me to allow Your rain to fall on them and nourish them and let me not be a cause of draught in their spiritual lives. It’s easy to love the lovely. But it takes the perfection of my heavenly Father to learn to love those who don’t love me.
What is Your perfection? For You, it’s Your completeness and holiness and having everything together the perfect and right and good way. It’s total maturity. You are the One who has arrived at perfection, perfected by nature of who You are. But me, well, I need You to perfect me, to ripen me, to move me toward maturity, toward competency in Your goodness. Tough stuff and tough people, well, this is what will bring me to the culmination of Your desire for my character. This is the true test of whether I really will commit to living up to the standards of Your “beatitudes.” Because if I only choose to honor You in the easy stuff, well, then I haven’t really chosen to honor You at all. Because a child of God follows God’s example. And You went beyond “just” love. You took the hard road challenge. May I humbly follow my heavenly Father and walk as You walk.