Matthew 5: 38-42. “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.”

How about a little humor for a rather heavy topic?  This little boy colored the Sunday funnies every week when I was a kid.  He’s a classic, kind of like Charlie Brown. I loved the expression on Mr. Wilson’s face.  That must be the way a lot of people feel when we choose not to retaliate, but to forgive.  Shock, chagrin, and maybe a little dread. 

This is quite an interesting passage to study.  I’m using three sources today; one is Gaebelein’s Matthew, and the other two are Bible commentaries, especially my trusty old Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible.

Do you know that this passage goes against our grain so strongly that we’ve been trying to explain it away ever since Jesus first uttered the words?  We don’t like it.  We want to get even when someone harms us.  Everyone’s favorite motto is, “I don’t get mad; I get even.” The trouble with that is, who gets to decide what “even” means?  You?  The other guy?  A neutral third party?  

In my experience, getting even usually means getting on top.  It’s always a one-up, one-down situation.  The Hatfields and the McCoys are often used as examples of the futility of getting even.   You can read all about them here:

The Hatfield Clan.

I wonder what would have happened if, instead of being taught to kill each other, babies in these families had been taught to love each other, to forgive? 

So what’s really going on here with this eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth business? 

The Old Testament law permitted, but did not require, that if you were harmed or your property were harmed, you could retaliate only in kind. If you lost an eye in some kind of altercation, you could not demand that the other guy lose his eye, his hand, and his foot. Only his eye. The same held true in matters of property.  Restitution could be demanded, but only in accordance with the loss. 

Now, Jesus is saying there’s a new and better way for the citizens of the kingdom to deal with matters that used to be considered matters of retaliation.  He  says we are not to resist evil, but to forgive. We are not to insist on dire and dreadful punishment, but only that which is necessary to maintain law and order in the land. There will always be evil-doers among us. We can’t just close our eyes and say, “Well, I can’t get even. I have to forgive, no matter what.”  We have an odd understanding of forgiveness these days that leads us to believe we must continue to accept mistreatment. Not so, and that’s a subject we’ll get into in Chapter 6. 

What Jesus is teaching here is that we must not be revengeful. “Resist not evil” means we are not to seek vengeance, not render evil for evil; not bear a grudge nor avenge ourselves.  We must go beyond them by forgiving them. 

Remember when you were a kid and your sibling whacked you a good one?  Did you fight back?  I sure did!  “He started it!”  isn’t the approach Jesus is teaching here, partly because it always leads to “Did not! Did too!”  He’s teaching that he who forgives goes beyond the one who wants to pick a fight. He chooses the better path, sets the better example, and demonstrates the character of Christ. 

It took me a long, long time to figure this out.  Even now, as old and crochety as I am, my old nature wants to retaliate.  It’s not worth it, and I know it’s not worth it. But, boy, does that old habit of going on the attack rise quickly in my heart!

Instead of revenge, we need to cultivate love and kindness toward those around us.  We can’t be stupid about it. We need to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in this environment of entitlement, but we need to be beneficent where and when we can. 

Sometimes, that just means choosing the high road of forgiveness over the low road of revenge. 




6 thoughts on “Retaliation

  1. With this post, I am totally caught up on blog reading. And it was a good one to end my reading today. Since I don’t like to confront people, it is easier to forgive and forget than hold a grudge! Take the easy way out! I wish that were totally true. I use a lot of caution when someone has hurt me in the past and then I have to be around them or work with them. Is that wrong? I tend to call it self preservation, but sometimes I wonder if I have really forgiven them? I bet I am not the only one reading this that has that question, so I decided to be transparent and ask.


  2. It’s a good question, one that comes up often.

    Forgiveness is simply erasing a debt. It is giving up one’s right to demand justice; to demand the pound of flesh; it is releasing the offense in order to avoid self-pity and bitterness.

    Forgiveness does not imply that one must continue to accept mistreatment. Only a fool would return to a relationship in which the other person is continually abusive, no matter what. To be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove is good advice. Difficult to achieve, but important because we need to have discernment without malice. We are called upon to forgive as Christ has forgiven us, to forgive 70 x 7, which of course is the number of perfection and infinity. Offenses will come. Knowingly setting yourself up for offense, unless it is for the cause of Christ, is just poor judgment.


  3. Thank you for your prompt answer. I have a bit of unplanned time on my hands this morning. I hope that may have answered questions for any other readers as well. So, the expression, “Hurt me once, shame on you; hurt me twice, shame on me.” really can apply. I don’t avoid a person just because they have hurt me, but I don’t sign up for the same committees either! Water under the bridge is important to remember though and truly expect better of that person–to a degree. David, in the Bible, sets such a good example when it came to King Saul.


    1. Exactly. This issue becomes very important if, for instance, a woman is living in an abusive marriage. She is NOT required to continue to endure abuse; nor is she given a pass to do him grievous bodily harm when he’s asleep. Best choice: leave. However, many women are so completely disempowered that they have no money, no relatives/friends to turn to, no place to go where he can’t find her.

      Oy. Can you see how easily this topic pushes my hot button?


  4. Yes, I am smiling, but inside hurting. Bob never struck me, except with his tongue and attitude. And he controlled everything. But that is for another day or maybe never. I did determine that I would never be around another man like that again. I left a church because of my promise to myself. Some pastors think they sit on the right hand of God. Yet, another subject.


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