Tag Archives: eye for an eye

Real meaning of “Eye for an Eye”: God’s lessons in peace-making

JeffLast time, we discussed lashon ha-ra (evil tongue, i.e., gossip, slander and divisiveness) and how it is one of the latter-day plagues among God’s people. 

In this excursus, we will explore a related principle taught in Torah by Yeshua and His apostles: proportionality. A number of Christians often consider “eye for an eye and tooth for tooth” an example of the “old covenant” not to live by anymore and cite one Yeshua’s supposed “six antitheses” — Matt. 5:38-39 — as proof that Yeshua did away with “eye for an eye” altogether. And cultural knowledge of Bible phrases has made this understanding common, even cliché.

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Matthew 5:38-42: Yeshua restores the mercy-full meaning of ‘eye for eye’

“You have heard it said, but I say…” was a common rabbinic phrase used when a rabbi wanted to encourage yeshiva students to dissect and discuss a particular Torah principle.  A “problematic” Torah edicts is “eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” etc. Many Christians and Jews are very uncomfortable with this “barbaric” “tit-for-tat” law. 

Other texts: Ex. 21:22-27, Lev.24:17–22; Deut. 19:15–21; Ex. 23:1–12; Col. 2:8–14

This is often referred to in Latin as lex talionis, or the law of retribution or retailation. What does the Torah say and not say about lex talionis?

Three primary passages in the Torah for עַיִן תַּחַת עַיִן ‎’ayin takhat ’ayin (an eye in place of an eye) in Ex. 21:22–27 and Lev. 24:17–22 as well as ‏עַיִן בְּעַיִן ‎’ayin b’’ayin (an eye with an eye) in Deut. 19:15–21.

Exodus 21-22 contains a number of these judgements or mispatim (Strong’s H4941) which discusses the treatment of Hebrews purchased as servants, treatment of daughters sold as handmaidens and the prosecution of assault on freemen, servants and pregnant women, kidnapping, cursing one’s parents and neglecting safety. 

The Torah specifically forbids vigilantism and all these judgements are handed down in a court of law (Lev. 19:18), in the presence of witnesses, not randomly carried out between victim and perpetrator. 

What is the connection between blasphemy and capital punishment? Blasphemy “kills” God in the minds of those who hear it, and God’s law treats slandering your fellow man very seriously, too. 

This phrase is also used in the context of perjury. A malicious,lying witnesses is punished with the punishment their evil testimony would have brought upon the person they slandered. If the punishment was a fine, the fine would be placed on the perjurer. If the perjurer was testifying falsely in a capital case, they would bear the punishment of death they were conspiring for the court to place on the other party. 

Mercy is completely different from justice. You can’t favor the rich or the poor. Mercy doesn’t come before justice, mercy follows justice. 

Justice does not include personal vengeance. Vengeance and retribution is God’s not ours (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30). Vengeance often involves mob rule. People are emboldened when they are in a mob to commit actions they wouldn’t be “brave” enough to do on their own. Both the Torah and several New Testament writers repeat this point. 

The instructions of “an eye for an eye” also fall upon the judges. They are commanded to be impartial, not taking bribes and to treat the stranger and the native born equally under the law. If they knowingly kill an innocent person, they are held liable just as false witnesses are held liable. 

There are some precedents for “eye for eye” vengeance (naqam, H5358) including: 

Gen. 4:13-15 which is the story of Cain’s punishment for killing Abel. God placed a mark on Cain and said that anyone who kills Cain would have a seven-fold judgment upon him. 

In Gen. 9:1-7, God tells Noah that mankind will have permission to kill animals for food, but forbid the consumption of blood. God also tells Noah that there would be a “blood for blood” punishment for a murderer because man is made in the image of God and when a man kills another man, they are killing God’s image. So slander, blasphemy and murder all have the same source and the same punishment. 

Ultimate justice and ultimate mercy are embodied at the Cross of Yeshua (Col. 2:8–14). Yeshua took upon Himself the ultimate justice called for by “eye for eye” so God can give us ultimate mercy.

Speaker: Jeff. Summary: Tammy.

Exodus 21-22 — God’s view of justice and mercy on display

Nineteenth-century commentator Adam Clarke said of Exodus 21, “There is so much good sense, feeling, humanity, equity, and justice in the following laws, that they cannot but be admired by every intelligent reader; and they are so very plain as to require very little comment.” The Torah is not difficult for God’s beloved to understand and follow. These next few chapters show us many examples of laws and precepts which carried over directly into the British Common Law as well as American jurisprudence. What do we learn about God through these judgments?

Continue reading Exodus 21-22 — God’s view of justice and mercy on display