In Exodus 21:23-25 God said, “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.”
One might read verses like this and think God is vengeful. However, the opposite is true. God gave this to Moses and the Israelites who had spent their entire lives in Egyptian captivity under extreme oppression and cruelty. As God introduced himself to the Israelites and ultimately to us he wanted to make sure we understood He isn’t like the gods of Egypt. He is not a God who mistreats and oppress people. So he says, when it comes to civil order and judgement I want you to make sure your judgement of punishment for a crime isn’t greater than the offense. The punishment must match, but not exceed, the damage or harm done by the perpetrator. The law placed strict limits on the amount of damages anyone could collect. It’s a law of grace not vengeance.
We find recorded for us in Matthew 5:38-42 Jesus addressing this very issue and says,
“‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.’”
Is Jesus contradicting what God had told Moses? No. Again, Jesus lived during the oppression of the Roman Empire. Jesus is expounding on God’s law and instructing the people grace is always better than vengeance. Forgiveness is always healthier than resentment. Giving the benefit of the doubt is better than critical judgement for peace of mind.
Ultimately, God is teaching us a way of living that is better than what our sinful nature would like to do. Three words that sum up what these verse teach us: Forgive when hurt, give to a need, and serve those who need help. Imagine a society were everyone was forgiving, generous, had a servant’s heart, and who seeks the good of others. THAT WOULD BE LIFE GOD’S WAY!