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Sermon on the Mount: An Eye for an Eye
Matthew 5:38-42 (also Romans 12:17-21)
““You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”
Matthew 5:38-42 NASB1995
Once again in this “you have heard” statement, Jesus challenges us to be different in a dog-eat-dog world that thrives on insults and revenge. The original context of “an eye for an eye” as found in Exodus and Deuteronomy was to delineate a standard of civil compensation for a wrongdoing, to be administered appropriately by the governing authorities. It is not meant as a personal vengeance checklist; to act in that manner results in the worst kind of gang warfare, like the murderous practices of certain drug cartels.
Jesus is really addressing His disciples here. He is admonishing them to not seek personal revenge for an insult, but to leave it to the authorities and to God’s perfect justice. The Apostle Paul reiterates this philosophy in Romans 12:17-21
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Romans 12:17-21 NASB1995
Jesus was whipped, beaten, slapped across the face (as was Paul) and subject to all sorts of personal insults and nasty remarks, occasionally from His own followers! He did not respond in kind, except to calmly call out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees when appropriate to His teaching. It was interesting to read as I studied for the devotional for this passage that a back-handed slap was considered a major insult in Biblical times. By not responding to this or other personal insults and, in fact, heaping grace on an evil person, you are moving away from sinful behavior and into the Kingdom of God. Of course, there are those situations where fighting back is necessary to save your own life or the lives of loved ones. Being slapped or deeply insulted is one thing; being hit with a baseball bat or held by gunpoint changes the scenario. The government has an obligation to step in to prevent physical assault, which is why we have police forces and the personal defense found in the Second Amendment.
A short commentary by David Guzik from Enduring Word talks about going the extra mile:
d. Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two: Positively, we are told to take command of evil impositions by making a deliberate choice to give more than we are required. At that time, Judea was under Roman military occupation. Under military law, any Roman soldier might command a Jew to carry his soldier’s pack for one mile – but only one mile. Jesus here says, “Go beyond the one mile required by law and give another mile out of a free choice of love.” This is how we transform an attempt to manipulate us into a free act of love.
Heap those coals of grace on those on-line insulters and people that live their lives to be snarky and pray for how to go the extra mile!
My next Sermon on the Mount devotional will examine Matthew 5:43-48 “Love your neighbor, but Hate your Enemy?”
Commentary by David Guzik from Enduring Word ministries is used by written permission.