Jesus’ saying “You have heard it said an eye for an eye” is the fifth illustration of becoming righteous. He is referring to the law of retaliation mentioned in Exodus 21:23-24, “But if there be any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
This law obligated the offender to suffer the same injury he had committed. Jesus is saying that rather than avenging injury or insult, one must be ready to suffer patiently a repetition of the same injury. He was referring to those who suffered for righteousness’ sake. It was not intended to permit men to take vengeance into one’s own hands especially for personal affronts.
Revenge often leads to irrational behavior including seeking revenge against a person when that person may not have been at fault. Looking at 1 Kings 3, we understand this passage usually refers to the wisdom given to Solomon to judge his people – a kind a wisdom that can only come from God.
In this story, two women come before Solomon, each claiming a child as their own. These two women were prostitutes (according to one commentary, this might have been referring to tavern keepers because prostitutes would not have dared appear before the king and prostitution was not permitted under the laws of the land at that time.) We know these women made their living in the same manner, lived in the same house alone, and each had a baby within 3 days of each other.
When one baby died during the night, its mother switched it with the living baby before dawn. In the morning, each woman claimed the living child as her own before Solomon. His solution was to set a trap to determine the true mother. He ordered someone to divide the baby into two parts and give half to each woman. The real mother said, “Oh no. Let her have the child so it might live.” The mother of the child who had died offered the baby to Solomon saying, “The child will be neither mine nor yours.” In other words, she was saying through misguided thinking that life is not fair and if I cannot have the child then neither can you.
The second mother’s reaction to dividing the child told Solomon she was not the true mother and the other one was awarded the child. As is often the case, retaliation can lead to that irrational behavior I mentioned earlier, causing even more pain.
The law from Leviticus 19:18 says “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of my people, but shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” This is the direction Jesus went next in His teaching: love our enemies.
Think about these two women returning home to the house they shared with all this conflict between them. These women had to learn to trust and care again. God granted Solomon the gift of wisdom that can only come from Him. This idea of loving our enemies too must come from God. It is the most noble piece of morality ever given to man. But who can obey it? No one can but the one that has the mind of Christ. Only God knows the full truth and can correct any situation or overcome our irrational thinking if we ask Him to do so.
In our world today, retaliation is more the norm than loving our enemies. This is often learned as children. “He hit me so I hit him back.” It continues in some people who avenge themselves for perceived injustices with a weapon. And it escalates to the point on the world stage of people groups against people groups.
Follow the link to read a powerful story about a young Palestinian that chose a different direction concerning retaliation after he came to know Christ: https://chosenpeople.com/site/sami-abbasi/