Imagine coming out of the entrance of a grocery store. Imagine that you have 3 kids to feed and are very broke. You literally had to put things back in the checkout line because you couldn’t afford everything you had picked up. It was embarrassing. As you exit the store, you look down and see a $100 dollar bill on the ground. No one is around it. No one is even close. It is obvious that someone going in or coming out before you dropped it.
What is your first instinct? Your first thought? Your first action?
How about when someone hurts your feelings, what is your first “impulse” – your first “inclination” – your first “yetzer”?
You know what I’m talking about: the part Adonai sees even if no one else does – the part Adonai judges – your heart – your intent.
So what in your inclination?
Is it to forgive?
Is it to submit?
Is it anger?
Is it revenge?
The Rabbis teach that man has a dual nature:
- Good (in Hebrew “Tov”)
- Evil (In Hebrew “Ra”)
Which one do you choose concerning the money on the ground? When someone hurts your feelings?
Many of us know the “Bible School Answers.” However, answers are not always congruent with actions, are they?
In many instances it is easier to say than to do . . .
We have to guard ourselves against the “Evil Inclination” or “Yetzer Ra.”
Are the Rabbis teaching something biblically sound? Notice what it says in the text:
Genesis 6:5 (CJB)
5 (Maftir) Adonai saw that the people on earth were very wicked,
that all the imaginings of their hearts
were always of evil only.
Genesis 8:21 (CJB)
21 Adonai smelled the sweet aroma,
and Adonai said in his heart,
“I will never again curse the ground because of humankind,
since the imaginings of a person’s heart are evil from his youth;
nor will I ever again destroy all living things, as I have done.
It would appear that the Yetzer Ra (Evil Inclination) was rampant in the time of Noach (Noah) and as a result of this, Adonai was so grieved that he regretted making mankind:
Genesis 6:6-7 (CJB)
6 Adonai regretted that he had made humankind on the earth;
it grieved his heart.
7 Adonai said,
“I will wipe out humankind, whom I have created,
from the whole earth;
and not only human beings,
but animals, creeping things and birds in the air;
for I regret that I ever made them.”
In contrast, Yetzer Tov (Good Inclination) is a wonderful thing – even if it is just one man . . .
Genesis 6:8 (CJB)
8 But Noach found grace in the sight of Adonai.
The reason is simple and contextual:
Genesis 6:9 (CJB)
9 Here is the history of Noach.
In his generation,
Noach was a man righteous and wholehearted;
Noach walked with God.
Walking with God wholeheartedly as a man righteous . . . it can literally save the world!!!
Now comes the tricky part . . .
What about if someone hurts your physically?
It would appear that the Torah of Adonai teaches us not to be a doormat or “Lex Talionis”:
Lex talionis. [L.] The law of retaliation.
Noah Porter, ed., Webster’s 1913 Unabridged English Dictionary, (Springfield, Mass.: G. C. Merriam Co., 1913), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Lex talionis”.
Notice the following verses:
Exodus 21:24 (CJB) 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
Leviticus 24:20 (CJB) 20 break for break, eye for eye, tooth for tooth — whatever injury he has caused the other person is to be rendered to him in return.
Deuteronomy 19:21 (CJB) 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Is God commanding us to take revenge? To retaliate?
Some may say “yes!” It all really depends on how you look at it. David Stern gives another explanation in his Jewish New Testament Commentary:
“Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21,
where the context of eye for eye, etc. shows that
God was not commanding revenge, but controlling and limiting it.”
In our own judicial system, some people may see death row as nothing more than a way of exacting revenge on those that have harmed us. Other people may feel that death row limits the murders that would happen because there are consequences for taking another’s life. It all depends on your perspective.
How does Yeshua (Jesus) view it?
Matthew 5:38-39 (CJB)
38 “You have heard that our fathers were told,
‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’
39 But I tell you not to stand up against someone who does you wrong.
On the contrary,
if someone hits you on the right cheek,
let him hit you on the left cheek too!
Is Yeshua (Jesus) telling us to be a doormat?
It would appear that we have a difficult problem. Is God being passive aggressive? Strike – Don’t Strike? Don’t be a doormat or be a doormat?
What Yeshua has offered above in his teaching is not something new. Notice the following:
Lamentations 3:30 (CJB)
30 Let him offer his cheek to the one who strikes it, and receive his fill of insults.
Isaiah 50:6 (CJB) 6 I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who plucked out my beard;
I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
So, what is the correct response to someone striking us?
Before we can answer this, we must first understand that the text clearly does NOT say in the “tooth for tooth” verses to take revenge. You take your grievance before the ruling body. You get a judgment, you don’t get to BE the judge . . . or the executioner for that matter!
We must also understand that in Yeshua’s time, striking someone on the cheek was serious stuff:
The blow on the right cheek was the most grievous insult possible in the ancient world (apart from inflicting serious physical harm),
and in many cultures was listed alongside the “eye for an eye” laws;
both Jewish and Roman law permitted prosecution for this offense.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary – New Testament, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Matthew 5:38-42 Nonresistance”.
If we understand that tooth for tooth was not about revenge and that a strike to the cheek was a serious insult that could be prosecuted, we can understand that Yeshua the Rabbi is teaching . . .
He is teaching us to avoid anger which can turn into an evil inclination (Yetzer Ra) – revenge. If we look at the Hebrew word for anger חֵמָה chﬁmāh, we see something very interesting. חֵמָה chﬁmāh can be translated as:
- Heat of wine (burning sensation as it goes down your throat)
- Wrath or anger
Chﬁmāh is most often used in the context of Yahweh’s indignant anger, focused upon the human agents who have ignored, abused or wronged Him. . .
Chﬁmāh is also used of human anger, focused against other humans.
In the human world, even righteous indignation is not a just cause for wrath.
In wisdom literature, anger is universally denounced.
It is considered the path to evil (Ps. 37:8),
Psalm 37:8 (CJB)
8 Stop being angry,
put aside rage,
and don’t be upset
— it leads to evil.
Proverbs 15:18 (CJB)
18 Hot-tempered people stir up strife,
but patient people quiet quarrels.
Thoralf Gilbrant, ed., “2635,” in The Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary – Heth-Yodh, (Springfield, IL: World Library Press, Inc., 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “2635”.
Yeshua is telling us to follow our good inclination and turn the other cheek because if don’t and we let our anger or revenge take control of us – DANGER it is literally poison to us!
ANGER LEADS TO EVIL . . .
We are warned in the proverbs concerning anger:
Proverbs 12:16 (CJB)
16 A fool’s anger is known at once,
but a cautious person slighted conceals his feelings.
Proverbs 14:29 (CJB)
29 Being slow to anger goes with great understanding,
being quick-tempered makes folly still worse.
Proverbs 16:14 (CJB)
14 The king’s anger is a herald of death,
and one who is wise will appease it.
Proverbs 19:11 (CJB)
11 People with good sense are slow to anger,
and it is their glory to overlook an offense.
Proverbs 20:3 (CJB)
3 Avoiding quarrels brings a person honor;
for any fool can explode in anger.
Proverbs 29:9 (CJB)
9 When a wise man argues with a foolish one,
he meets anger and ridicule without relief.
Proverbs 30:33 (CJB)
33 For as pressing milk produces butter
and pressing the nose produces blood,
so pressing out anger produces strife.
Proverbs 15:18 (CJB)
18 Hot-tempered people stir up strife,
but patient people quiet quarrels.
And revenge נקַם nāqam is out of the question as well because it is dealt with in the 2nd most important command in the text:
Leviticus 19:18 (CJB)
18 Don’t take vengeance
on or bear a grudge against any of your people; rather,
love your neighbor as yourself;
I am Adonai.
It is reiterated several times in the text:
Matthew 22:39 (CJB) 39 And a second is similar to it, ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’
Mark 12:31 (CJB) 31 The second is this: ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other mitzvah greater than these.”
Luke 10:27 (CJB) 27 He answered, “You are to love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your understanding; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Romans 13:9 (CJB) 9 For the commandments,
“Don’t commit adultery,”
and any others
are summed up in this one rule:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
James 2:8 (CJB) 8 If you truly attain the goal of Kingdom Torah,
in conformity with the passage that says,
“Love your neighbor as yourself,”
you are doing well.
In other words, Yeshua is NOT teaching us to be doormats – He is teaching us how to avoid our evil inclination – our Yetzer Ra. He is teaching us how to avoid anger and wanting revenge. He is teaching us these things because we will be judged for every careless word we utter. We will be judged by the works we do (both good and bad). Our INTENT (inner motive) behind our actions will be judged.
For the believer, this is NOT about being a doormat, this is about lines we should be terrified to cross or even get near. If we allow ourselves to be engulfed by anger or revenge, our hearts can harden and we may never be able to let go of it. As a result, we may end up hating our brother or him hating us . . . if we hate our brother which we have seen, how can we love God whom we have not seen?
1 John 4:20-21 (CJB)
20 If anyone says,
“I love God,”
and hates his brother, he is a liar.
For if a person does not love his brother, whom he has seen,
then he cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
21 Yes, this is the command we have from him:
whoever loves God must love his brother too.
To put ourselves in a situation where we may end up angry or seeking revenge would be similar to playing spiritual Russian roulette. Yeshua is warning us to not even pick up the gun.
Matthew 5:44-46 (CJB)
44 But I tell you, love your enemies!
Pray for those who persecute you!
45 Then you will become children of your Father in heaven.
For he makes his sun shine on good and bad people alike,
and he sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous alike.
46 What reward do you get if you love only those who love you?
Why, even tax-collectors do that!
The following video is an amazing example of this:
If we ignore Yeshua’s teaching and warning, the consequences are stark:
1 John 3:14-15 (CJB)
14 We, for our part,
know that we have passed from death to life
because we keep loving the brothers.
The person who fails to keep on loving is still under the power of death.
15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer,
and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
Is losing eternal life worth the risk of avenging some injustice suffered – a slap – an insult?
Happy New Year bothers and sisters! May you have a a blessed and wonderful New Year – May our precious Creator be blessed in all of your deeds and actions, may the Messiah be at the forefront of your thoughts, and may the Holy Spirit be your guide in loving your neighbor in ways that are honoring to Adonai and His name!