Vengeance is mine Matt.5:38-42
What was the origin and intent of this law?
This is a regulation in order to bring justice and it is instituted and drawn from Exodus 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21. For us to understand this law we need to find out why Moses instituted this civil law. This is appointed to be done by the magistrate, who “bears not the sword in vain, but is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath,” (Rom. 13:4). It was a direction to the judges of the Jewish nation what punishment to inflict in case of mutilation and other injuries for those who would do such mischief on the one hand, and for a restraint to such as have mischief done to them on the other hand. The regulation is that they may not insist on a greater punishment than is proper. For example it is not a life for an eye, nor a limb for a tooth! This principle was also applied in the matter of oaths, divorce and adultery.
The main intent of this Mosaic Law was to control and regulate excesses. In this particular case it would control anger and violence and the desire for revenge. The natural reaction when one is injured is to attempt to avenge oneself. This is something that we all are guilty of. The children are the most illustrative of how this desire for revenge in engraved in our fallen human nature. Sadly, it shows how much we fell into the mire of sin. This Law of Moses was therefore meant to control and reduce this chaotic condition and bring order. I like what Dr. Lloyd-Jones has to say about it:
“God the Author of salvation, the Author of the way whereby mankind can be delivered from the bondage and tyranny of sin, has also ordained that there shall be a check upon sin. The God of grace is also the God of law, and this is one the illustrations of the law. God will ultimately destroy evil and sin and all its works entirely. He is also in the meantime, controlling it and has set a bound upon it. we find this working out in the book of job, where even the devil cannot do certain things until he is given permission. He is ultimately under the control of God, and one of the manifestations of that control is that God has gives laws. He gave this particular law which insists that a certain principle of equality and equity must enter into these matters. So if a man knocks out another man’s eye, he must not be killed for that – ‘an eye for an eye’. Or if he knocks out the tooth of another, the victim is only entitled to knock one of his teeth. The punishment must fit the crime and not be in excess of it.” D Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies In The Sermon On The Mount, Vol. 1, IVP, 1959-60, p. 272
But who were to enforce this law, was it an individual or the judges?
This was a law given to the judges who would be responsible for law and order among the people. There were judges among the Israelites who had the mandate to execute this command. Of course if it were to be left to the private individuals, especially the injured persons, it would be more chaotic than before, because then people would take law into their own hands. But God is not the author of confusion but of order and so He instructs that, “all things should be done decently and in order.”(1Cor. 14:4)
Jesus is now seeking to deal with the Pharisees who were ignoring completely the fact that this law was for the judges and not for the private individuals. They considered it as a matter of right of each individual to have his offender’s eye gouged out or his tooth removed in a very legalistic manner, even overlooking the greater needs for forgiveness, submission and love towards those who oppose us because we are depending and trusting upon God to be with us and on our side.
How does it apply to us now?
1. We are not to revenge
As Christians we are not to resist evil, and this applies to our personal relationships with others (as opposed to non-Christians and nations). Obviously this would be ridiculous where it to be applied to inter-state relationships, or the citizen’s relationship with the civil order. Christians forgive readily because of the forgiveness they have received from the Lord. Having been forgiven, we should be very careful not to fall into the same category with the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35). We must not seek to avenge (Prov.20:22; 24:29; 25:21, 25:22; Rom.12:7). Our unwillingness to forgive will be crowned by God refusing to forgive us as well. The law of retaliation must be made consistent with the law of love. Therefore, bear blows and scorn patiently leaving to God to avenge for you and to the magistrate.
A Christian’s attitude toward himself is considered by the Lord here and He is telling us that if we are truly Christians then we must be dead to ourselves in regard to sin. This brings to the fore the whole lesson of meekness. Not fighting to have our own rights – like Moses (Num. 12:3). This would only happen where a person has a right attitude toward oneself. The question of self-defense when a wrong is done is evaluated here. It involves dealing with one’s attitude to the natural instinct of revenge, retaliation and leaving it to God for God to do.
It also involves the Christians having the right attitude towards one’s possessions. If a man decide to deprive you of your property (Cloak), let him and wait for the Lord not only to recompense you but also to give you some more. How selfish we are with our possessions? When it comes to the things we own we only think of how we can own more and more with due considerations to the others. One would always ask why should part with my hard-earned possession and hurt myself? Why should I be impoverished by others unjustly? But our Master is saying that we should be careful with how we deal with ourselves when we are attacked, or when something is taken away from us, so that when we are borrowed, we are not only willing to give but to give more than enough to those who are asking.
2. We are to be both helpful and generous to others
We must not hurt to our neighbors, but labor to good to others with all our efforts.
• We must be ready to give; “Give to the one who begs from you” If you are able, look upon the request of the poor as giving thee an opportunity for the duty of almsgiving.” However, we must be careful not to give that to the idle and unworthy and so promote laziness. What God says to us, we should be ready to say to our poor brethren, Ask, and it shall be given you.
• We must be ready to lend. This is sometimes as great a piece of charity as giving; as it not only relieves the present emergency, but obliges the borrower to providence, industry, and honesty. So we should not turn away those who come to us in need, either by excuse or by straight denial (or even worse by a lie!). Be easy of access to him that would borrow even though he might be shy, and does not have confidence to make known his case it becomes our duty to be forward in acts of kindness, because even for us; before we call, God hears us, and provides us with the blessings of his goodness.
Everyone who follows Christ must learn to deny himself and to be like Him in order to be able to follow Him.