by Mike Ratliff
23 “But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Exodus 21:12-25 NASB)
19 ‘If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him. 21 ‘Thus the one who kills an animal shall make it good, but the one who kills a man shall be put to death. (Leviticus 24:19-21 NASB)
16 “If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing, 17 then both the men who have the dispute shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who will be in office in those days. 18 “The judges shall investigate thoroughly, and if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, 19 then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you. 20 “The rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. 21 “Thus you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy (19:16-21 NASB)
In the passages above, Moses was giving the Law of God to the Israelites in their dealing with injuries done by one person on one or more people in a way that would limit retribution to that which was just. Its design was to insure that the punishment in civil cases fit the crime, but were never intended to sanction acts of personal retaliation. Therefore in Matthew 5:38-42 (below) the Lord Jesus made no alteration to the true meaning of the law, but was merely explaining and affirming its true meaning.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you not to oppose the evil one, but whoever hits you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also; 40 and to the one wishing to sue you and to take your shirt, give to him your coat also. 41 And whoever will force you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 From the one asking you to give and the one wishing from you to borrow, do not turn away.” (Matthew 5:38-42 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
To be honest, what our Lord said in v39 is especially difficult for me. Then as he progresses even deeper into self-denial in vv40-42 we must all realize that this not natural behavior. No, those who operate in the flesh do not react to injustice or persecution this way. Only those who are poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3) react to these pressures this way. In other words, he is not giving us a command we can’t follow here, but an indicative of the characteristics of those who are truly in his kingdom for their righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. I examine myself in light of this mirror and I cringe. Of course, I also know that when I do react to these sorts of things from a basis of pride, I am convicted almost immediately and this causes me to confess and repent. This will mark those truly in the kingdom of heaven, not perfection.
We are not expected to be perfect. That is why we have 1 John 1:8-10:
8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 NASB)
We are able to obey our Lord as we abide in him and prove to be his disciples.
1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. (John 15:1-8 NASB)
This obedience includes not retaliating when wronged. That means being poor in spirit is evidence of being a branch abiding in the vine, which is pruned by the Father. Now, God is Sovereign and uses our circumstances as part of our pruning. That would include being persecuted, wronged, robbed, sued, misrepresented, et cetera. How we react to those things is evidence to us of what is really inside. If we react like the world then our flesh is controlling us and that means God is showing us that we are not humbling ourselves under his Lordship in all areas of our lives as we should. We are demanding control when we should be surrendering all that control to him. This leads to depression, anger, doubt, as God allows us to see the ugliness of what fleshly rebellion remains within. What a joy it is though when he draws us back into the light and, we confess, repent and move forward with him as living sacrifices, taking up our crosses and following Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!