Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have [thy] cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.Matt.5:38-42
As you may have discovered over the last number of Bible studies, most of the teachings from Jesus have their roots in Israelite commandments from the Lord God as recorded in the Old Testament. The above verses from scripture reflect commandments given to the Israelites when the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, “And if [any] mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” [Ex. 21:23-25]
These commandments and laws were documented near verbatim in Lev. 24:20 and Deut. 19:21, further illustrating the importance of them to the Israelites. The first part of the above noted verse as originally written, is a representation of justice in balance (eye for an eye, etc.,). It likely served as a deterrent for offenses in the first place, as fairness in legal and civil settlements and as a prevention for vengeance and retaliation thereafter. As with the earlier teachings of Jesus on other commandments such as thou shalt not kill and thou shalt not commit adultery, the above verse reflects a deeper meaning and more inward motivation toward such offenses.
A Road less Traveled
Let us now see how the deeper meaning of an eye for an eye now starts to come into perspective. In short, Jesus is saying instead of getting even so to speak when someone has wronged you, he is advocating more virtuous godly motives toward such individuals with meekness, kindness, compassion and charity. Perhaps a good example of this was during his own cross examination following false accusations made against him from the Jews, “And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what [is it which] these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace.” [Matt. 26:62-63] How seldom do people take this less offensive road during human interactions which may very well prevent disputes and arguments from spiralling out of control.
This week’s scripture reading, taken from Matthew, is also recorded in Luke which contains an additional and helpful verse to highlight the point Jesus is making in this passage, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” [Luke 6:31] This teaching of inward character was also encouraged by the disciples of Jesus in their writings such as from Paul when he wrote, “Recompense to no man evil for evil.” [Rom. 12:17] Paul further wrote on the notion of vengeance as being completely contrarian to Christian conduct and character as he noted for believers to, “See that none render evil for evil unto any [man;] but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all [men.] ” [1 Thess. 5:15]
Compassion and Love
The apostle Peter also encouraged people to resist the urge for retaliation under unjust circumstances in this scripture by saying to us, “Finally, [be ye] all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, [be] pitiful, [be] courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.” [1 Pet. 3:8-9] Similar teaching also came directly from the Lord God as recorded by Solomon when he wrote, “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; [but] wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.” [Prov. 20:22]
As with the other comments shared by Jesus in this week’s scripture, Paul was also concerned over litigious conduct even among fellow Christians as he wrote, “Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather [suffer yourselves to] be defrauded?” [1 Cor. 6:7]
So, here in general, Jesus is teaching people a response that in all likelihood runs contrary to human nature. People do not like to be wronged unjustly but would rather prefer to seek justice at any and all cost. Think of the many incidents of road rage as one small example where a turn of events spirals out of control so quickly. Think how the deeper meaning of an eye for an eye could change such circumstances in life for so many people.
Kindness and Charity
This week’s scripture reading from Jesus also completely harmonizes with ancient wisdom once shared in that, “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.” [Prov. 25:21-22] These acts of uncommon kindness, compassion and charity, while contrary to conventional thought, is really what Jesus is really teaching in this scripture.
Jesus goes on to explain the rationale for such inward motivation by saying that, “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend [to them] of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? For sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” [Luke 6:32-34] This is indeed the higher calling for people of faith to take the high road, a road far less traveled in society, where kindness, compassion and charity are shown under such difficult and trying circumstances.
Compassion was one of the most noble characteristic traits demonstrated by Jesus, not only in his own actions but also in his teaching. He was often seen and recorded in scripture in demonstration of such inward heartfelt actions as shown in this passage, “And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.” [Matt. 14:14]
Jesus also provided countless examples and illustrations on the importance of compassion for his followers. One of these is noted in the story of the prodigal son who squandered his inheritance long before the death of this father. Upon coming to his senses, the son, “…arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” [Luke 15:20] There was no grudge, no anger or contempt, no resentment, just love and compassion upon his son whom he thought was lost.
Origin of Compassion
Compassion in its truest form, originates from the God of compassion as King David scripted in the Psalms, “The LORD [is] gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy.” [Ps. 145:8] Here, the compassion noted also reflects upon the other teachings of Jesus in being slow to anger and showing mercy, perhaps when least expected. Paul, the most prolific writer of letters throughout the New Testament, also wrote a phrase encompassing this thought, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” [Eph. 4:32]
While God is not only a God of mercy, he is also a God of justice but the deeper meaning of an eye for an eye is demonstrated through his compassion upon us. This is truly where compassion, kindness and love stems from among Christians. As previously described, it starts with a new spiritual birth in Christ when people come to the realization of what Jesus has done for them through his death, burial and resurrection. His atoning sacrifice for people’s sins was the ultimate act of love, mercy and compassion.
Let us now close off this Bible Study on the deeper meaning of an eye for an eye. The apostle John not only wrote the Gospel according to John but also wrote three incredible letters on the subject of love. He scripted in one of his passages this message of love that has life application for all believers,
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” [1 John 4:7-11]
John continues with this short and inspirational letter to emphasize the interrelationship between love, God and ourselves by encouraging us that, “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” [1 John 4:12b-13]
Interestingly, near the conclusion of his letter to believers, John sought to highlight the feeling of fear that can often result when someone is unjustly treated . God’s love however, expressed through us as his vessels, is the remedy to such fear as he recorded by saying, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” [1 John 4:18]
Let us therefore go forth not seeking out vengeance or retribution for an eye for an eye circumstance. But rather, let us go forth with God’s love reflecting compassion, kindness and charity to a world in need. As Paul proclaimed in his letter, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” [2 Tim. 1:7] This is the Christian life living out by faith in Christ through his imputed righteousness in us!
Bible Study Questions
- The deeper meaning of An Eye for an Eye is different than a typical person’s reaction to being wronged. True or false?
- Fill in the blank. Many of the teachings of Jesus stem from ___________________ given in the Old Testament to Israelites. (hint – Deeper Roots section)
- In the section A Road less Traveled, what are the three virtues instead of and eye for an eye?
- In Proverbs 25:21-22, why do you think kindness and compassion is described as heaping coals of fire upon someone’s head?
- For further study on compassion, it is recommended to read the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15.
- Ephesians 4:32 states that God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us but what has he forgiven? Hint – 1 John 1:9.
- Is there someone who may have wronged you but would perhaps see Christ living through you by a show of unexpected compassion, kindness and charity?
WORD GUIDE – * (cloke – loose outer garment) * (twain – two) * (smite – to strike hard) * (railing – to complain bitterly) * (propitiation – conciliation, appeasement)