The Law of Payback for the Kingdom of God

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 

Matthew 5:38-39

Jesus was turning their mode of life upside down. For centuries the people dealt with perpetrators with a heavy hand.  There is justice in the kingdom of God. Still, Jesus is calling for a pattern of behavior that did not sound like justice at all.

First of all, He says, But I tell you not to resist an evil person. 

Do we avoid people who have wronged us or people we’ve heard caused harm to others? Or are we more prone to plan a retaliation?

Matthew Henry says in his commentary, “but we must not render evil for evil, must not bear a grudge, nor avenge ourselves, nor study to be even with those that have treated us unkindly, but we must go beyond them by forgiving them. The law of retaliation must be made consistent with the law of love: nor, if any have injured us, is our recompence in our own hands, but in the hands of God.

So Jesus is saying, “if you see an ‘evil person…’ don’t immediately think of ways to attack them. Resist this urge.”

Proverbs 20:22 Don’t say, “I will get even for this wrong.” Wait for the Lord to handle the matter. NLT

So, Jesus is saying don’t take matters into your own hands but let God settle the matter as He wills.

 Then He goes on. BUT whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Now, what is He saying? What on earth? Is this what your daddy taught you to do? Probably not, but in the Kingdom, it is the right thing to do. Let’s see. 

Exodus 21:21-25  is where the phrase and ‘eye for an eye’ is first introduced. 

“Now suppose two men are fighting, and in the process, they accidentally strike a pregnant woman so she gives birth prematurely. If no further injury results, the man who struck the woman must pay the amount of compensation the woman’s husband demands and the judges approve. 23 But if there is further injury, the punishment must match the injury: a life for a life, 24 an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, 25 a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise. 

As you read on in Exodus 21 there are several other instances mentioned involving compensation or retaliation. 

It is then repeated in Leviticus 24. 

Leviticus 24:19-21 ‘If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him— 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him. 21 And whoever kills an animal shall restore it; but whoever kills a man shall be put to death.

Leviticus 24:17-18 Anyone who takes another person’s life must be put to death. Anyone who kills another person’s animal must pay for it in full—a live animal for the animal that was killed.

The law was called Measure-for-Measure. In the 1st century Judaism, if you harmed someone, you had to repay that person, not the state. The payment matched the harm caused. Someone could not sue you for twenty million dollars for spilling hot coffee in their lap. The payback could not exceed the damage done. 

The reason for this was to bring quick restoration to the community, not imprisonment. They forgave the person responsible and he returned to function in the community. 

This was true except in more serious cases where up to five times the value of the injury was required—ie. Adultery, idolatry, or murder—all warranting death. 

Still, the whole turning of the cheek counsel is a very interesting matter. To understand it, you must understand the culture.

First note, the specific thing Jesus says. “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” 

The right cheek. People were all thought to be right-handed. They used their left hand to wipe their behind in the bathroom. It was unclean. Imagine, then, that you are facing a right-handed person, and he slaps you on your right cheek. How does he do that? He backhands you. In their culture, one only back-handed slaves.

A slap of any kind was a great insult, but a backhanded slap was far more demeaning. It was an insult and considered twice as offensive as an open-handed slap. 

Here is a brief rundown from an article by Corey Farr.

One day, your master backhands you. He expects you to cower and whimper and slink off back to your duties. Maybe he expects you to get on your knees and beg forgiveness. But instead, you look him in the eyes and turn your head to put your left cheek forward. You’ve already insulted him by failing to break down, so he has the right (in his mind) to slap you again.

“But he can’t slap you with his left hand because that is unclean for both of you. And he can’t backhand, because your right cheek is away from him. To strike again, his only option is to slap you with the palm of his hand…This was reserved for equals. If he chooses to slap you again, he is forced to upgrade your status. He has to bump you up to a higher class citizen in order to get his revenge.”

There are few of us who experience physical violence. But instead of a slap, consider how we respond to an insult. What do you do when someone insults you? Do you strike back with harsh words or do you shut your mouth, take it, and leave it to God to settle the matter? 

In Matthew 27:11-13, we get a picture of the way Jesus handles this kind of situation.

Now Jesus stood before the governor. And the governor asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

Jesus said to him, “It is as you say.” 12 And while He was being accused by the chief priests and elders, He answered nothing.

13 Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” 14 But He answered him not one word so that the governor marveled greatly.

Let’s take this counsel to heart and put it into practice. It will take supernatural resolve that can only come from Holy Spirit. So, we must call on Holy Spirit. “Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4) He has the strategy and the knows the timing. He will counsel us in what to say or not say, what to do or not do. If we try and do it without Him, we will reap more chaos.

Let’s spend some time in prayer and ask God to show us where we are missing the mark. Let us submit ourselves to Him and let Him call the shots. His yoke (His kingdom pattern for life) is easy and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30).

Shalom until next time. ♥

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