“Your ancestors have also been taught, ‘Take an eye in exchange for an eye and a tooth in exchange for a tooth. ‘However, I say to you, don’t repay an evil act with another evil act. But whoever insults you by slapping you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well.”
A few years ago, one of my kids, deeply hurt by something another teen did, told me angrily, “Forget about giving grace, Mom—I would rather flip back to the other part of the Bible where it says ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ ” (Lev 24: 17-22).
Haven’t we all felt that way at times? When someone wrongs us or does something that hurts us, our human nature often wants to hit back. Does “an eye for an eye” mean that it is okay?
As I read about the three instances in the Old Testament where “an eye for an eye” was decreed, one thing stands out. The context for all three was a situation where a representative of God was being sought to mediate a conflict that could not be resolved between two Israelites—kind of like a court. In Leviticus 24, it says that Moses, as a representative of God, would wait to dole out any punishment until God’s will on the matter became clear to him. The application of “an eye for an eye” was in reference to a just sentence from a judge, not an instruction for everyday conflict.
So what does He say about navigating everyday challenges with others? Jesus teaches that before seeking mediation, we are to put the relationship first by going directly to the person who hurt us and having a conversation (Matthew 18:15). He also asks us to pray for them. In these situations, God’s heart is for us to handle conflict in a way that reflects that we are His children—loving our neighbor as ourselves and meeting unkindness with kindness. (This isn’t to say that we are to accept abusive or harmful behavior from others, though.)
Just like with my kiddo, it was easy for the Israelites to take the “eye for an eye” verse out of context to justify fighting back, revenge, or vengeance. But vengeance is His—not ours. After teaching us to turn the other cheek, Jesus went on to share our Father’s kind and loving nature (v. 45), “God is kind to all by bringing the sunrise to warm and rainfall to refresh whether a person does what is good or evil.” His heart for us knows no bounds!
Many years ago, a friend shared with me a tool to help move my heart from resentment to forgiveness. It is simply to pray for the person who caused my anger daily for 30 days, asking God to bless them with everything I want for myself. I have experienced heart change from this practice many times and invite you to give it a try should you need it!
Grab that printout again, or your Bible. Today, mark any transition phases you see in the text and then take a few moments to summarize the chapter in just a few sentences.