Having taught about divorce, Jesus moved to the subject of oaths. That makes sense, because a divorce is essentially the revocation of an oath. Jesus’ viewpoint is that we shouldn’t take unnecessary vows, simply letting our yes mean yes, and our no meaning no with all honesty. In that context Jesus moved to the subject of justice, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
The Jewish people had in fact heard, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,” for Moses received this instruction from the Lord, “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
Of course, that passage actually speaks of injury to the unborn. It is God telling us to value the unborn child as an actual child – not a lump of cells but a real human being, deserving of the rights of protection and certainly at least as much care as a fully-grown adult. But the Lord had also said to Moses, “If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.” People were to treat each other with respect, and share in the sufferings they deliberately inflicted on another. That rule even extended to those who had planned harm, “If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, […] The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. […] Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”
Yet in every one of these cases, it is not up to the offended party to inflict punishment. It was the corporate whole of society – represented by the judges and legal system – who were to inflict discerned punishment on the accused – and that only after due process. It was not meant to be something that each wronged individual immediately sought to do to those they felt wronged by, because God was also very clear that, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” To take up your own cause for justice while you have ‘skin in the game’ (that is, a vested interest in seeing a particular outcome) is at the very least a conflict of interest. At worst, it is to seek to displace the judge of all creation.
God’s people should know better than to do either. Though we may not see God’s justice happen immediately, we can still trust Him for the right outcome. We must never allow a personal thirst for justice to trump God’s prescription for holy justice.
For these reasons Paul reminded the disciples in Rome of both Deuteronomy 32 and Proverbs 25, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Though the mills of God grind slowly, Yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, With exactness grinds He all.Longfellow
Thank God that He does not let unrepentant perpetrators go. Thank God that He yet has mercy upon those who do repentant.