Preparing to read Exodus 21:12-35

Here we find very specific laws to give a vision for how Israel was to live out the Ten Commandments--more specifically the last six commands about human relationships. If one of the primary human commands is to love your neighbor, then how exactly do we love our neighbor? Exodus 21 begins to describe the How of loving neighbor in ancient Israel.

The command says "Honor your father and mother" but here we get specific consequences for those who choose to dishonor mother and father. A person who attacks his own father or mother is to be put to death. This is serious business!

Intentional murder is punishable with the death penalty. Unintentional murder is punishable by banishment to sanctuary cities. A person who accidentally kills someone is able to escape to a specified city of refuge.

Here is where we first hear the concept of "Eye for an Eye and Tooth for a Tooth." What does this mean? It sounds very vicious and retaliatory, right? Actually, the teaching of Eye for Eye, Tooth for Tooth is meant to prevent revenge above the crime. In modern language we say that "the punishment should fit the crime." It begins to no longer seem severe in this light? Is it more humane to lock someone up in a cage (we call them euphemistic names to get around what it is, a lock up like animals) or to knock out a tooth in return for someone knocking out a tooth of another guy in a bar fight? 

From Logos: "The law [of "Eye for an Eye and Tooth for a Tooth"] was intended as a regulation for judges of Israel, a procedure for determining the amount of compensation or punishment for crimes against neighbors in Israel. Later in Jesus' lifetime, Jews mistook this principle of judging compensation or punishment as a moral precept, and some used it to justify personal revenge, but Jesus corrected this in his words found in Matthew 5:38-42.

Jesus said don't even start retaliating. If your neighbor slaps you on the cheek, "turn the other cheek." 


In the words of a musical "Upside Down," we wonder what to do when we've run out of cheeks to turn toward someone! We look to you, Jesus, who continually turned the other cheek, even to death on the cross. 

Action Step

In the smallest ways in traffic or in conversation or in the biggest of ways when someone betrays or wants us harmed, how can we move our primal, sinful nature of wanting revenge to turning the other cheek? For 24 hours, every time you feel the urge to lash out, seek revenge in your heart or actions, remember "Eye for an Eye" is not a moral precept to be used as an excuse for personal revenge. "Eye for an Eye" was redefined by Jesus as "Turn the other cheek." How can you turn the other cheek in the next 24 hours?


Greg Taylor

Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.

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