An Eye for an Eye


An Eye For An Eye


According to the law of Moses: "If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him" (Leviticus 24:19-20).


The parallel passages to this are Exod. 21:24 and Deut. 19:15-21. In the Deuteronomy passage we see that this is actually dealing with the decree of the nature of the punishment that was to be meted out for various breaches of law. It speaks of establishing guilt on the basis of two or three witnesses (15-16). It directs the accused to appear "before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days" (vs. 17). Then the judges shall inquire diligently and after dilation of guilt they were to 'do to him as he meant to do to his neighbor', 'life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot' (vs. 21).


The purpose of such judicial renderings of punishment was simply to purge evil from Israel. Punishment DOES deter crime. Well, punishment when it is carried out justly, swiftly, and assuredly does deter crime. Knowing that such would be the penalty for one's actions would cause a person to control himself and restrain himself from doing such.


Such decrees of judgment were not done on the whim of an individual but were done by the authorities of Israel. When they met and sat in judgment upon one that was accused of murder or personal injury to one's neighbor, this sets the rule for deciding upon the punishment. Paul Earnhart wrote concerning this: "It is also very important to note that this justice was not to be administered privately but meted out only by the appointed judges of Israel (Deuteronomy 19:18). [Invitation To A Spiritual Revolution, pg. 55].


Jesus brought this up in the sermon on the Mount, recorded for us in Matt. 5:38-42. It appears that many in Israel had begun applying this to their own personal response to what they considered mistreatment by their neighbors. Jesus gives guidelines on the personal side of dealing with these things. In one's personal response he was to do good to those who did him evil. He was to turn the other cheek, give him your cloak as well as your tunic, to go the second mile, and to be generous in your benevolence. This did not undercut the judgment by the judges. They had their guidelines. It did require the making of a difference between the judges' response to such evil and the personal responses to such.


As to our personal response in such cases, again Brother Earnhart wrote: "Perhaps this will help us to understand that the Lord is not issuing a doctrine of mere non-resistance but simply using a series of very arresting statements to accentuate our obligation never to retaliate for wrongs done us, and never to withhold good from those who have injured us unjustly. ...What our Savior is concerned with in these verses is that we should never resist evil with evil" (op. cit., pg. 56).