Did Jesus Change “An Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth?”

A Daily Little Lesson

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An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. What’s changed about that under the new covenant?

Picture of judge's hands next to gavel

Hi, welcome to today’s Little Lesson and this is a special Cuba edition. I’m spending a little over a week here checking up on some projects under the banner of the Ministries of Heaven’s Family. I stayed last night in this beautiful house. This is the courtyard of a home that’s almost 200 years old.

Of course, Cuba has a beautiful past, but they’ve been suffering quite a bit over the last few decades, but I’m happy to report that the Church of Jesus Christ is absolutely bursting out of the seams here, and thriving. Because people who suffer, often that opens their hearts to the Gospel. So there is great revival and I’ve been so blessed over the last few days here in Cuba to be hearing about it, and hearing how Heaven’s Family is a playing a small part in helping that revival to explode even further. Praise the Lord.

So we’ve been working our way through Matthew chapter five. Looking at Jesus’ five … excuse me, six statements where he said, “You have heard, but I say to you.” And a lot of folks have unfortunately thought that Jesus was making some major changes and appending some basic laws from the Old Covenant. And I think I’ve proven beyond any shadow of a doubt for anyone who’s honest, that, that may not necessarily be the case.

We’ve looked at four out of those six things so far and every one of them I’ve shown that the ethic that Jesus espoused when he said, “But I say to you his counterpoint,” it could be found in the Old Testament law. And so he wasn’t bringing something new. He was reminding his followers of what was there all along and correcting, not his own word in the Old Covenant, correcting the perverted teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees.

And if you haven’t listened to those other Little Lessons, you might want to go back. Because I can’t review all that, they would take us quite a long time. But we’re going to look at the very fourth of those six you have heard. But I say to you statements today, starting in Matthew Chapter 5 and verse number 38. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

And in my Bible those words are all capitalized indicating that it’s a verbatim quote from the Old Testament law. Sure enough, if you read through the Old Testament, you read through the law, you’re going to find those exact words in the Pentateuch. I think you’re going to find them three times. You’re probably going to find them, in Exodus and probably in Numbers, but also in Deuteronomy.

Which Deuteronomy number is the restating of the law of Moses because the first generation has passed away. All of them died in the wilderness. Now the next generation is getting ready to enter into the promise land. And Moses reiterates what he already said. So there you find a great example of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, the third time that it’s found in the law of Moses.

So Jesus is quoting from the law, but the question here is, is he changing that now? Because he says, “But I say to you.” And so here’s his counterpoint. “Do not resist an evil person, but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat. Whoever forces you to go one mile. Go with him too.”

So it does sound at first glance anyways, like, “Oh, this is something totally new. Jesus is changing the law of the Old Covenant.” But let’s first of all think about that on several levels. First of all, we’ve already seen that four out of the six in no way that, that can be rightly said, that he was altering the law of Moses or coming up with a higher moral … raising the moral scene.

Can’t be said because you can find the moral, the ethic that Jesus espoused in the Old Covenant. So that makes it doubtful that Jesus is going to make a switch up here now. And on the fifth of them, when the first four have been no change, then now he’s going to say, “Okay.” But in this case, this is different. I’m going to give you something totally, totally different, totally new.

Secondly, consider this, if you’re going to say it’s changed, then you know that now God wants us to be nice to evil people, then you have to say, “Well, under the Old Covenant He wanted us, He wanted people under the Old Covenant to exact personal revenge.” If someone pokes out your eye, the Old Covenant law and eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth, that’s what you should do back to him.

If somebody knocks out your tooth, God requires you as someone under the law of Moses, that you’re supposed to take your own revenge, that you’re supposed to knock out that guy’s tooth, if he knocks out your tooth. Well, you don’t have to know very much about the Old Covenant to know that, that would be incorrect. In fact, we’ve already seen that, that personal revenge was forbidden. Absolutely utterly forbidden under the Law of Moses.

Vengeance is mine and I will repay, says the Lord. And God set up within the mosaic law and therefore in Israel a system, a court system whereby a person could be taken before a judge and there could be witnesses called in, and rather than someone taking revenge on their own in the passion of the moment and their hatred and their anger, commonly presenting their case before a judge an impartial judge and maybe judges while witnesses are questioned and counter questioned and so forth, and then a determination is set by the judge as to what would be fair, what would be just.

And it is in the context of that court system that God set up, that we find in every case these three references to an eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth. Any honest person will have to admit that God was not instructing individuals to take personal revenge, exact personal revenge with perfect justice. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, in reading the Old Testament law.

Any honest person is like, “No, no, no, no, no. That wasn’t instructions for anybody. That was only instructions for judges.” Sure, and if they determine that someone was guilty of poking out someone else’s eye, then it was their responsibility to exact justice and the punishment was that person reaps identically what they sow, administering perfect justice. Okay, you got it? You got it.

So when Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said an eye for an eye to the tooth, but I say to you, don’t resist an evil person.” See, he’s not going to contradict himself. He’s not going to contradict the law of Moses and say, “Well, that was good back then, but it’s not good anymore.” Are you kidding me? You know, God’s smarter than that. God doesn’t change God’s perfect. When you’re perfect, you don’t have to change. Right?

And so he’s obviously correcting a perverted usage of those eye for eye, tooth for tooth scriptures, which I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the scribes and pharisees were the providers of it exacting revenge, personal revenge, and justifying it by quoting from the scriptures that were only applicable to impartial judges in court cases. Okay.

In our next Little Lesson, I’m going to develop this idea further that of course, even on the Old Covenant, God expected his people not to resist an evil person. And then he categorizes the kind of evil people he’s talking about. Okay? Gives three examples so that it’s unmistakably clear unless you’re not very smart, okay? And we don’t … we’re out of time. Okay? Thank you for joining me on this special Cuba edition of Little Lessons. See you next time.