Summary: 1) The Principle of Mosaic Law. 2) The Perspective of Divine Truth.
Fallout is continuing over a gaff from Health Canada this week in sending body Bags to a remote Manitoba First nations community. Although an apology was made by Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, Garden Hill Chief David Harper did not accept it. When we look at the history of relations between aboriginals and the rest of Canada, mistrust and resentment are prevalent. We see examples of pride, lawsuits, hostility and vengeance from both sides. We can see these things because the situation involves human beings.
When our supreme concern is getting and keeping what we think is rightfully ours, then whoever or whatever gets in our way-including the law-becomes expendable. Since it is not possible for everyone to have everything anyone wants, to insist on our own way invariably tramples on the rights and welfare of others. Respect for law and for the welfare of others is always among the first and major casualties of self-assertion. When self is in the foreground, everything else and everyone else is pushed to the background.
Probably no part of the Sermon on the Mount has been so misinterpreted and misapplied as 5:38–42. It has been misinterpreted to mean that Christians are to be sanctimonious doormats. It has been used to promote pacifism, conscientious objection to military service, lawlessness, anarchy, and a host of other positions that it does not support. The Russian writer Tolstoy based one of his best-known novels on this passage. The thesis of War and Peace is that the elimination of police, the military, and other forms of authority would bring a utopian society.
But Jesus already had made plain that He did not come to eliminate even the smallest part of God’s law (5:17–19), which includes respect for and obedience to human law and authority.
How can we come to grips with Jesus` extraordinary directives here while living in a world of hostility, greed and vengeance? The way not to do it, was the way of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). Their plan included was their insistence on personal rights and vengeance. In His fifth illustration contrasting their righteousness with God’s, Jesus again shows how rabbinic tradition had twisted God’s holy law to serve the selfish purposes of unholy people. Here he shows 1) The Principle of Mosaic Law. Matthew 5:38 and gives four illustrations on: 2) The Perspective of Divine Truth.
1) The Principle of Mosaic Law. Matthew 5:38
Matthew 5:38 "You have heard that it was said, ’An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (ESV)
Please turn to Deuteronomy 19
This quotation is taken directly from the Old Testament (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deut. 19:21) and reflects the principle of lex talionis, one of the most ancient law codes. Simply put, it required that punishment exactly match the crime. The same idea is carried in the expressions tit for tat and quid pro quo. The earliest record of lex talionis is in the Code of Hammurabi, the great Babylonian king who lived a hundred or so years before Moses. It is likely, however, that the principle was in wide use long before that time.
Deuteronomy 19:18-21 The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (ESV)
• Most people, including the Scribes and Pharisees, have completely missed both the context and intent of this passage. Verse 18 specifies that it is the state who is to take action. This is not an issue of personal vengeance. This passage is meant as a guideline for state punishment to be proportionate to the crime.
The principle of punishment to match the crime had two basic purposes. The first was to curtail further crime. When a person is punished for his wrongdoing, “the rest will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you” (Deut. 19:20). The second purpose was to prevent excessive punishment based on personal vengeance and angry retaliation. Punishment was to match, but not exceed, the harm done by the offense itself.
The law of an eye for an eye was a just law, because it matched punishment to offense. It was a merciful law, because it limited the innate propensity of the human heart to seek retribution beyond what an offense deserved. It was also a beneficent law, because it protected society by restraining wrongdoing.
Selfish overreaction is the natural response of sinful human nature. We are tempted to get more than just even.