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An Eye for an Eye?

Read: Matthew 5:38-48

Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.” (Prov. 24:29)

Speaking of payback, let’s listen to Jesus: “Turn the other cheek,” “Go the extra mile,” “Give him your cloak too.” In these famous examples Jesus is modifying what was known as the lex talionis—the principle of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Matt. 5:38). That Old Testament law was actually a moderating influence. Human nature being what it is, people have a tendency to adopt escalating acts of retaliation. As mobster Jim Malone said to federal agent Eliot Ness in the movie The Untouchables, “[Al Capone] sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.” The Law said no, you can’t do that. You can’t take an eye for a tooth. The penalty must match the offense.

But even that is too much for Jesus, at least when it comes to our personal quarrels. Thankfully, in North America, we live in democracies that have legal systems and police forces. When functioning properly, these are God’s means of protecting our lives and property. Jesus isn’t saying we mustn’t go to court to defend our rights. Turning the other cheek is how we should respond to an insult, not to a criminal assault. Jesus is telling us that the little grievances or demands that may come our way shouldn’t provoke us to violence. Just let them go, he says. Leave it to the Lord. —David Bast

As you pray, ask each day for the fruit of the Spirit to ripen in your life.

About the Author

david bast
Rev. David Bast

Rev. Dave Bast retired as the President and Broadcast Minister of Words of Hope in January 2017, after 23 years with the ministry. Prior to his ministry and work at Words of Hope, Dave served as a pastor for 18 years in congregations in the Reformed Church in America. He is the author of several devotional books. A graduate of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, he has also studied at both the Fuller and Calvin seminaries. Dave and his wife, Betty Jo, have four children and four grandchildren. Dave enjoys reading, growing tomatoes, and avidly follows the Detroit Tigers.