Do you love hearing stories, or watching movies or shows about revenge and retaliation? I do, I loved Charles Bronson's movie "Death Wish," from 1974. A New York City architect becomes a one-man vigilante after his wife is murdered by street punks.
Thirty years later I also liked the 2004 movie, "The Punisher." Thomas Jane played Frank Castle / an undercover FBI agent who becomes a vigilante assassin and sets out to unleash vengeance upon the corrupt businessman, John Travolta, who slew his family. Castle single handedly kills all the bad guys. I love happy endings! Castle says in the movie, "It's not vengeance, it's punishment."
I like it when the bad guys get what's coming to them. I think we all share that type of sentiment. We feel that we have a right to retaliate.
In our "Declaration of Independence" we are told that we have certain rights. Among these rights are "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We are a nation founded on the notion that we have certain rights.
As a nation, we have certainly taken this concept of rights and applied it everywhere. We talk about civil rights, women's rights, children's rights, worker's rights, victim's rights, defendant's rights, gay rights, prisoner's rights, and the list goes on and on.
We want what we think is ours. And we are willing to fight for it. When anyone threatens our rights or takes what we think belongs to us, we are inclined to retaliate.
For the next two weeks I want to look at a couple of paragraphs in the "Sermon on the Mount." I said last week that I believe that our nation is under judgment because of the mess the Church is in. I believe that the American Church today is illiterate, and needs to get into His Word, we need to learn it and live it. The Church needs to walk righteously in the midst of a fallen world. These two paragraphs in Matthew 5 give us some very concrete attitudes and actions that Yahweh expects of His followers.
In this paragraph in the "Sermon on the Mount" Yeshua deals directly with the issue of rights. He reveals how we are to respond when we have been wronged. He gives us valuable insight into the selfish desires which drive us and cause us to be consumed with self-interest.
The Church today is quite divided on to whom this sermon was intended. Some have virtually set this entire sermon aside by dispensationalizing it. They believe that it was given as a kind of constitution for a physical Kingdom for the Jews that is yet future. "Since it gives to Israel the Law of the Kingdom, we in the church age are not under its requirements," they say.
I believe that in the "Sermon on the Mount" Yeshua is speaking to believers, all believers. To enter the Kingdom of Heaven one must trust in Christ and be born from above. A person can't just decide to live by the "Sermon on the Mount" and then do it. You can't. It is so easy to read these commands like the Nike commercial: "Just Do It!" So we must never lose sight of the bigger point that we can only live these commands out once our heart has been transformed by Christ. This is supernatural living.
This section in the "Sermon on the Mount" is a very difficult section, not difficult to understand, but difficult to accept and to live out. How do you respond to being wronged? This is the real question we must answer. Our desire is to retaliate. There is no question about that. All of us have been wronged, and all of us have wanted to get back at the one responsible. Has that attitude helped us? Did it really make us feel better? Could it be that this kind of thinking has actually hurt us? Is there a better way?
Our text reveals that there is a better way than retaliation. There is a higher ground upon which we must walk as believers in Yeshua Christ. It is the road of compassion. While the common maxim is to exact justice, the correct response is to show compassion. Let's examine this text:
"You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' "But I say to you Matthew 5:38-39 NASB
Notice that Yeshua said, "Ye have heard that it was said...But I say unto you..." With this expression, Yeshua is saying there is a contrast between what He is teaching and what the scribes and Pharisees have taught. The scribes and Pharisees took this statement: "...An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" out of context as many today do. They expounded this precept as though Yahweh had given permission for each individual to take the law into his own hands and avenge his own wrongs. They taught that it allowed each person to take private revenge upon his enemies. Thus a spirit of resistance was cherished and the act of retaliation condoned.
When Yeshua pointed out this common maxim, He was quoting directly from three passages in the Tanakh (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20 Deuteronomy 19:21). This Law was given to Moses to assure that the judges would render righteous and proper judgment. In every instance in the Tanakh when a reference was made to "...an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," it was referring to judgment rendered by judges. A punishment sufficient to serve as a deterrent to the crime was to be rendered. So Castle is wrong when he says in the movie Punisher, "It's not vengeance, it's punishment." For him it was vengeance.
This Law was also to insure against a judgment being rendered that was exorbitant. For a minor crime, you were not to lose your life; there was not to be unreasonable punishment. The measurement of punishment had to be exact. If you had caused the damage of someone's eye, the punishment may not exceed that of removing an eye. In other words, the punishment had to be equal to the crime. What is being taught in the Tanakh by "...An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" is that the punishment rendered by the judges must be appropriate to the crime. It was not a license to seek revenge by individuals.
"If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. "But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Exodus 21:22-25 NASB
Notice the end of verse 22 "...he shall pay as the judges determine..." The context is of judicial proceedings.
If you have committed murder, then you must give your life. That is still true today. Capital punishment is appropriate for a murderer, but capital punishment is not appropriate for punching someone in the face.
With this Scripture, Yahweh is teaching that in the judicial process, justice must be met in proper proportion with the crime. The punishment must be appropriate for the crime committed to work as a deterrent against crime.
On February 9, 2012 a Culpeper Virginia Police Officer, Daniel Harmon-Wright, shot and killed Patricia Ann Cook, a 54 year old housewife. Officer Wright said Cook began to drive away with his arm in her window; eyewitnesses testified they didn't see that occur. They also testified that Harmon-Wright pursued Cook's SUV on foot down the street, firing from behind.
Police said that Officer Wright was responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle in a church parking lot when he shot Cook, who was unarmed. Wright shot this unarmed woman four times. The first two rounds, fired at point-blank range, tore into Cook's face and arm. Another round, fired as Cook was driving away from the shooter, entered her brain. A fourth round severed her spine and veered into her heart, killing her. A telephone pole brought her Jeep Wrangler to a halt.
Officer Wright was fired from his job in June 2012 following his indictment. He is charged with murder, malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle, malicious shooting into an occupied vehicle resulting in a death, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
Soon after Office Wright was arrested, it was revealed that he had a tarnished military record, a drinking problem, and a history of harassing Culpeper residents. The first two problems nearly kept him from getting the job, and no one at the Culpeper Police Department will say why they didn't.
May 2, 2013 a judge sentenced Daniel Harmon-Wright, to three years, for killing of Patricia Ann Cook. He could have received up to 25 years. Daniel Harmon-Wright is going to do three years for murder while Cook got the death penalty for trying to avoid a confrontation.
In today's society, people commit murder and receive three years in jail where they sit on a sofa in front of a television set; then they are turned free. This is not proper administration of justice. This type of sentence for such a crime is not a deterrent. So what is happening? Murder is becoming rampant. Yahweh says that in the judicial process, the punishment must be appropriate to the crime.
Please understand this; every time the Tanakh speaks of "...An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," it is always in the matter of a judicial proceeding.
The pharisaical teaching of, "...eye for eye, tooth for tooth," in the way of revenge flew squarely in the face of:
Do not say, "Thus I shall do to him as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work." Proverbs 24:29 NASB
Does the Scripture contradict itself? No, it does not! This verse clearly says that one should not say they will seek revenge. The scribes and Pharisees took it out of context; they were teaching a revengeful spirit:
Do not say, "I will repay evil"; Wait for the LORD, and He will save you. Proverbs 20:22 NASB
Yahweh is saying that vengeance is His. Do you know why? Because only He knows the thoughts and intents of the heart; not only that, He has also ordained judges.
Revenge, or defending your own borders, is the first impulse of the unregenerate. We are not to fight with the same spirit as they do; we must have a Christ-like response.
An eye for and eye is the law of just recompense. It is not intended to be taken literally. If I put a dent in the fender of your car, I should be the one to pay for the damages. You shouldn't have to pay it, but I shouldn't have to buy you a new car--"... An eye for an eye." Please notice carefully what Yeshua expects from the citizens of His kingdom:
"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 5:39-42 NASB
Is this to be taken literally? This is an important question, is it not? So, what do you think--are these commands to be taken literally? If you say, "Yes, these are to be taken literally," then I'm going to ask you for your car keys. Yeshua said, "Give to him who asks you." So, I'm asking you to give me your car keys. If you take this literally, then you must give me your car keys. Do you see the problem here? So how do we know if these verses are to be taken literally or not? Good question, I'm glad you asked. We all know what Yeshua said. The important question is, "What did He mean by what He said?" How do we determine that? We are to determine what the Bible means by the use of Hermeneutics, which is the science of biblical interpretation. The purpose of hermeneutics is to establish guidelines and rules for interpreting the Bible. Any written document is subject to misinterpretation, and thus we have developed rules to safeguard us from such misunderstanding.
Yahweh has spoken, and what He has said is recorded in Scripture. The basic need of hermeneutics is to ascertain what Yahweh meant by what He said. If we are going to rightly handle the Word of God, we must diligently work at it applying the rules of hermeneutics.
The primary rule of hermeneutics is called: The Analogy of Faith-- this means that Scripture interprets Scripture. No part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. Using the rule of The Analogy of Faith, let's look at what Yeshua said and see if what He said is to be taken literally.
When Yeshua says, "Do not to resist an evil person", is He saying that we are not to resist evil? The word "resist" is from the Greek word anthistemi, which means: "to stand against, i.e. oppose, resist, withstand." Is Yeshua saying, "Don't oppose evil"? No, He is not, and we know this by comparing Scripture with Scripture.
The teaching of Christ in other passages forbids us to understand "resist not evil" in an unqualified and universal sense. He gave explicit directions to His disciples concerning their duty toward those who wronged them:
"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17 NASB
Now that is very definite resistance to evil: It challenges the wrong done, examines the offence, and punishes the wrongdoer.
Notice how Paul deals with Peter's hypocrisy:
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. Galatians 2:11-13 NASB
Paul "resisted" Peter when his actions were evil. He didn't ignore Peter's hypocrisy, he stood against it. Paul was a man of God, he was not disobeying Yeshua's words.
Believers, we are to resist evil. We are to stand against evil. The Bible clearly teaches us that we are to speak the truth, to stand for the oppressed, to uphold righteousness. What Christ was forbidding was not the resisting of evil by a lawful defense, but by way of private revenge.
To deduce from this passage the doctrine of unlimited non-resistance to evil is to pervert its teaching, just as to insist that the plucking out of a right eye which offends, or the cutting off of an offending right hand (vv. 29, 30) must be understood and obeyed literally, would be to miss entirely our Lord's meaning in those verses.
What Yeshua is saying is that we are never to personally retaliate against other people. We are never to take matters into our own hands as if justice depended upon us. When we do that, we merely feed the selfish, sinful desires of our own human hearts.
In verses 39-42 of Matthew 5, Yeshua teaches His followers that they are to respond to evil by doing good! Yeshua illustrates this principle with several examples: 1) Responding to physical abuse (verse 39b). 2) Responding to a civil suit, by giving more than what the person is suing! (verse 40). 3) Responding to government oppression, by offering to do more than what is being demanded of you! (verse 41). 4) Responding to those asking for help, by giving them what they ask! (verse 42).
Let's look at the first one: Responding to physical abuse.
"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. Matthew 5:39 NASB
Our text speaks of being smitten on the right cheek, which indicates a backhanded slap. Now Scripture presumes that a person is right-handed. If you and I are facing each other and I slap your face, I am going to slap you on the left cheek because I use my right hand. This Scripture talks about being slapped on the right cheek, which means you use the backside of your hand to swat the other person on the right cheek. In Bible times, a backhanded slap was a degrading, insulting slap across the face.
That backhanded slap in the face can also be degrading, insulting words which are untrue. It doesn't necessarily have to be a physical slap. It is a backhand slap anytime you are saying insulting or degrading things to or about a person, especially if they are untrue, but it can be backhanded even if they are true. Such words can be especially insulting when spoken in front of others.
Are we to literally turn the other cheek when we are slapped? Remember, Scripture interprets Scripture. Yeshua said in our text, "Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." We know that Scripture does not contradict itself, and certainly Yeshua does not contradict Himself. Yet Yeshua defended Himself when He was smitten wrongly on the cheek; He did not just turn the other cheek:
When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Yeshua, saying, "Is that the way You answer the high priest?" Yeshua answered him, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?" John 18:22-23 NASB
Yeshua admonished them of their violation against the principle of the Law, but He did not go out to avenge Himself. This is the principle Yeshua teaches when He says if they smite you on the right cheek, turn also the left. He is not saying to just let people slap your face. Yeshua is teaching that you do not go out in a revengeful spirit, but He did defend Himself when He was smitten by pointing out to them their wrong.
Notice how Paul responds to being struck:
The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, "God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?" Acts 23:2-3 NASB
Was Paul in violation of Yeshua's teaching? No! Yeshua was obviously not teaching that we should turn the other cheek when slapped, but that we should not retaliate.
Yeshua's next example is of responding to a civil suit:
"If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Matthew 5:40 NASB
Yeshua is speaking of the evildoer who wrongfully takes your possessions. Someone might sue you at the law to take your possessions to make you pay your debts. Scripture is not speaking about this; it is speaking about someone taking your possessions when you owe them nothing.
This does not mean that you surrender your property without defending yourself, but that you do not go out to retaliate. I want you to understand, it does not mean that if someone comes to take your property unjustly that you just give them everything you have. This is not what this Scripture is saying. It is saying that you do not go out to retaliate.
These words of our Savior, "If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also," must not be taken out of context. To properly understand Scripture, we must never take it out of context. These words of Yeshua were in the context of His teaching on how the pharisaical teaching of "...An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" was contrary to Christianity. Yeshua is contrasting the pharisaical teaching of revenge with the intent and spirit of the Law. The spirit of revenge is what the Lord is teaching against.
This does not mean that there is never a time when it is necessary to go to court. In fact, this is the true meaning of "...An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." It involves the courts. Every time "...An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" is mentioned in the Tanakh, it is in the context of how to administer justice. If it were wrong to go to court, why would the Lord have established the court system? Why would He have established the principle of "...An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" in the courts if it were wrong to go to court? This is the God ordained place where justice is to be meted out. Yahweh has ordained the courts. We are not to avenge ourselves in a revenging spirit; justice is to be meted out in the courts, which Yahweh has established.
The Apostle Paul stood up for legal principles, yet without seeking revenge or retaliation. Paul and Silas were wrongfully beaten, put in prison, and bound with chains. Paul did not seek revenge, but he defended himself using the Law:
But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out." Acts 16:37 NASB
He is charging them with their wrong. They may have had great fears that Paul would have revenge and sue them at the Law, because he and Silas were Romans condemned unjustly. Paul did not seek revenge. He walked in the principle of Christ's teachings, but he certainly stood to defend. There is a difference.
Yeshua's next example is of responding to government oppression:
"Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Matthew 5:41 NASB
This is the third of the four examples Yeshua is using to correct the perverted teaching of the scribes and Pharisees regarding revenge. The word "forces" is from the Greek word aggareuo, it means: "to be a courier; i.e., by implication to press into public service:--compel (to go).to force." This word comes from the Persian language. The famous Persian Royal Post authorized its couriers whenever necessary to press into service anyone available and/or the latter's animal. The word "mile" is milion, which means: "a thousand paces."
To understand what Yeshua is talking about, we have to understand the history of the times and place where Yeshua spoke these words. This is a reference to the practice of "impressment" which, among other things, allowed a Roman soldier to conscript a Jewish native to carry his equipment for one Roman mile (milion = 1,000 paces/app. 1,611 yards)-- no easy task considering a Roman soldier's backpack could weigh upwards of one-hundred pounds.
At the time Yeshua spoke those words, the nation of Israel was under Roman rule. As was its custom, Rome allowed the Jews to go about their daily lives with as much normalcy as possible. However, practices such as impressment were a constant reminder of who was in charge. By refusing to retaliate and instead voluntarily going far beyond what was required, Christ's followers would demonstrate that the true object of their allegiance was more powerful than even the mighty Roman Empire.
We read an example of this custom in:
They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. Mark 15:21 NASB
The word "pressed" here is the Greek word aggareuo. This word is only used three times in the New Testament. The man was coming out of the country, into the city, and they arbitrarily summoned him and compelled him to carry the cross. This spirit of resentment brought about much murmuring. The Jews hated the presence of the Romans in their country. It was especially humiliating for them to be compelled, as a servant, to carry a Roman's baggage for a mile. A Jew, regardless of his position in the community, could be forced to turn from his journey to be a servant of the Roman soldier. Scribes, Pharisees, or the ordinary citizen who was Jewish had to stop in their journey, wherever they were going, to carry the soldier's baggage.
Yeshua contrasts this spirit of rebellion with the spirit of submission, not only as unto the Romans, but as unto the Lord. When we go that extra mile cheerfully, it reveals a submissive heart. In case you were wondering how to respond to the demands of a repressive government, now you know.
Yeshua then gives a fourth example of responding to those asking for help, by giving them what they ask:
"Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:42 NASB
Natural man does not see his possessions as loaned to him by the Lord, but as something he has earned. This is you and me by nature. When we have gained some assets through our labor, by the sweat of our brow, then we put a tag on that as mine. "I earned it by my hard work," but that is not the Spirit of the Lord.
When we have a biblical perspective, we understand that Yahweh owns everything:
"For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. Psalms 50:10 NASB
What we have to understand is that everything that we have, that we claim is ours, is only a loan from Yahweh, He has lent it to us to use for His service. The cattle, the gold, the silver are Yahweh's.
When He tells you to loan it to your fellow man, He is instructing you, as His steward, as to what He wants you to do with that which is His. It is not ours. We have to understand that when we lend unto our neighbor; it is lending as unto Yahweh.
Please listen carefully: Though I don't think that these commands by Christ are to be taken literally, as I have tried to demonstrate, I do not think that it is wrong to literally respond in this way. I think that one of the most convicting Scriptures to our self-centered materialistic attitudes is:
But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Hebrews 10:32-34 NASB
It says they, "...accepted joyfully the seizure of your property..." I would very much like to tell you that this is a textual error, but it's not! This is very convicting. This is the concrete action of the tribulation mentioned in verse 33. Their property was being confiscated.
The word "seizure" is from the Greek harpage, which most likely points to mob violence, the unjust seizer of their property. Notice that it doesn't say anything about retaliation or resistance. I would like it to say, "And they took their AR-15's and MP-5's and joyfully defended their property." But it says, "...accepted joyfully the seizure of your property..."
Now, I know from experience that ordinarily there is nothing in this world that causes more distress, depression, grief, anxiety, and sorrow than the loss of one's material goods--especially those material goods for which an individual has diligently and honestly labored, and which they and their families still need. But our text says they accepted it joyfully. How could they have this attitude? What did they know that we don't? They knew Yahweh in such an intimate way that it controlled how they lived. Joy is a by-product of a spirit controlled life.
Listen to what some Christians in the second century had to say, "Do good, and give liberally to all who are in need from the wages God gives you. Do not hesitate about to whom you should not give. Give to all. For God wishes gifts to be made to all out of His bounties." (Hermas, A.D.135)
"And he said to love not only our neighbors but also our enemies, and to be givers and sharers, not only with the good but also to be liberal givers towards those who take away our possessions." (Irenaeus, A.D.185)
These statements were written at a time when Christians were constantly mistreated, abused, and manipulated by others!
It is difficult to even consider actually doing what Yeshua commands us to do in this text. The idea of turning the other cheek when someone gives us an insulting slap is not what we really want to do. We want to strike back. We feel we have the right. When someone feels wronged by us and wants compensation, to be willing to give more than is required is not something we relish. We want to defend ourselves and be vindicated. When we are coerced into doing something we don't want to do, the idea of doubling that demand is repugnant to us. When we feel we are being taken advantage of, being willing to go along with that is not in anyone's best interest, we think. But Yeshua calls us to live by a higher law. He calls us to show mercy and compassion where mercy and compassion are not deserved.
What purpose does this serve? Why would Yeshua call us to live by this higher law? He calls us to compassion in order to show the love of Yahweh through our lives. By doing so, we become a living testimony to His grace and mercy. This is what Yeshua is after in our lives. He wants to develop our character to the point where we are not concerned to assert our own rights. He desires that we look at others through His eyes, eyes of compassion, which see people based on their needs.
Let me ask you a question. Is anyone brought closer to the Kingdom by your asserting your rights? Is anyone brought closer to the Kingdom by your retaliation? I think the answer is obvious. We do not win people to Yeshua by beating them up. We were not won that way. Neither do we become more like Christ by asserting our rights. He never did.
You see, Yahweh has a purpose. His purpose is to show His grace through His people. His purpose is to touch people's hearts by His mercy. His purpose is to develop our character so that we think and act like our Rabbi, Yeshua. His purpose is to reveal His Kingdom on earth through His people.
The choice is yours. The choice is either to take matters in your own hands or to be an agent of the Kingdom of God. You can assert your rights, or you can reach out to others. You can retaliate, or you can show compassion. You can respond like Yeshua, or not.
A talmid is not above his rabbi; but each one, when he is fully trained, will be like his rabbi. Luke 6:40 CJB
Are you like your Rabbi?
|Continue the Series|