Matthew 5:38-42: Overcoming Evil With Good

Read: Matthew 5:38-42

The phrase, and “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” most often portrays the idea of vengeance or retribution in most peoples mind. This phrase appeared in the ancient Code of Hammurabi which predates the Old Testament Law which was engraved on a stele. The stele contains this phrase too then outlines a number of scaled punishment that were supposed to be fitting for the crime committed. The Old Testament too in a number of conditions and repayments for various crimes that attempts to capture the essence of the phrase such as repayment for an ox that falls into a pit or a life for a life whenever a life was taken (Exodus 21:12-36, Leviticus 24:17-21) . At the same time though, the Law also describes how accusations and cases were to be settled. Innocence was presumed, so it required the testimony of witnesses in order for one to be declared guilty and a sentence carried out (Deuteronomy 19:15-21).

What happened though was that the people of Jesus’ day had forgotten that the Law was not to be interpreted and applied by one individual upon another. It was the role and responsibility of the government to be the arbiter of justice and Paul affirms this view in the New Testament context (Romans 13:1-7). Interestingly, Paul had just finished giving a discourse in Romans 12:9-21 similar to what Jesus was saying in the Sermon on the Mount about not repaying evil with evil and overcoming evil with good. Jesus was correcting the twisted version of how the people had come to understand law that was to be applied by government as a justification for personal retaliation.

In the same breath, Jesus gives one of his most famous admonitions to “turn the other cheek”. The implication of turning the other cheek was not telling people to lay down and be trampled, rather to endure the persecution and in effect “fight back” with good as Paul says in Romans 12:21 rather than seek to retaliate. This sort of fight shows strength of character that overcomes the evil while retaliation shows weakness of character on the part of the one who really wants revenge.

Christians today still live under the same principles that ancient cultures lived under. Punishment for crimes ought to reflect to the best degree possible the severity of the the crime. But at the same time, the agency of justice ought to be government and innocence should be presumed rather than guilt. And likewise, it is not the place of the Christian to seek retribution, even when one is wronged. Rather one should over come evil with good and in doing so one can win over another through his or her strength of character.

Lord, help me to overcome evil with good!

Joshua 2:1-24: Difficult Decisions

Read: Joshua 2:1-24

Rahab was a prostitute that lived on the walls of Jericho that allowed the men from Israel to “lodge” at her home. She somehow found out that they were from Israel, and apparently this fact leaked and reached the ears of the king. Rahab was faced with a difficult decision: expose the spies that had come into Jericho and face certain retribution from God or hide the spies from her own king and face possible retribution from her own king. She chose the latter, but in doing so had to make a decision to deceive her king. Rahab and all that were in Jericho and the surrounding area had heard about the awesomeness of God and what God had done for the Israelites in the desert and at the Red Sea. After lying about their presence, she strikes a deal with the spies asking for favor when Israel attacks the city in exchange for hiding them. She honors her side as the Israelites honor theirs (Joshua 6:17,23,25).

Some, however, may question whether or not Rahab was right in lying about the spies or not. The Bible does command the people of God to submit to governments. Governments that exist are established by God and the ones in authority are God’s servants for good. One that rebels against them brings judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1-7). But one has to realize though that the ultimate authority for government is God – that is even those one authority are still subject God’s authority. Sometimes, men in positions of authority make commands that run contrary to the commands of God. In these cases, one has to ask, does one obey man or does one obey God? On two occasions the disciples were brought before the authorities and told not to preach about Jesus. On both occasions, the disciples said that they must obey God rather than man, and they did so (Acts 4:19-20; Acts 5:27-32). Rahab, like the disciples, recognized the authority of God over the authority of man and acted. What is even more interesting is the redemption of Rahab. James 2:25 and Hebrews 11:31 cite her actions as evidence for her faith in God. By all counts, Rahab would not be considered a “good” person because of her occupation and the fact that she lied, but when Rahab is remembered in the scriptures, she is remembered as a woman of faith. And if that wasn’t enough, Rahab is also mentioned in Matthew 1:5 as one of the ancestors of Jesus himself. Rehab is not the only person in the Bible who was faced with difficult decisions. Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel all had to consider the consequences of worshipping God. They chose to continue to worship God and were thrown into a fiery furnace because of it (Daniel 2-3). The Egyptian midwives lied about having babies and were blessed by God because they protected the babies (Exodous 1:15-21). The Pharisees attempted to corner Jesus about healing on the Sabbath in John 7, and Jesus said it was better to do good on the Sabbath than be legalistic about it.

In any case, Rahab’s actions do not make lying right — the Bible is clear that lying is a sin. But there are certainly occasions when one has to make a difficult choice, and in some cases the choice is not clear, as it may require one to seemingly commit sin in order to maintain faith and have obedience in God. In any case, the acts of Rahab were courageous and did maintain her faith in God because of her deeds. When faced with difficult decisions, Christians have to consider the circumstances and act, and sometimes there is not a whole lot of time to mull over and weigh the options. In such circumstances it is certainly best to side with God and seek him above all else!

Lord, help to make tough decisions when they come!

Ecclesiastes 8:2-8: Government

Read: Ecclesiastes 8:2-8: Government

The Preacher’s admonition to obey the king comes sandwiched between the accolade to wisdom and the warning on the limitation of wisdom. The Preacher gives a number of observations concerning one’s relationships to the king when one is on the presence of the king:

  • Do not be in a hurry to leave the presence of the king. Being in the presence of the king, so it seems, is a matter of importance. One should not be hasty to leave, as this could show disrespect for the one in authority.
  • Do not stand up for bad cause. This almost goes without saying, but the Preacher qualifies it saying that the King will do as he pleases concerning matters. In matters of procedure, one should exercise wisdom on choosing the causes one wants to advocate and not advocate.
  • The one who obeys the king avoids harm. The text here is talking about matters of proper times and procedure – that is, in a matter of court. Related to being hasty, one should do what is necessary in terms of procedure so that there can be no mistake made concerning the issues at hand or the importance of a matter being addressed by the procedures.

The Bible commands Christians to submit to governments. Governments that exist are established by God and the ones in authority are God’s servants for good. One that rebels against them brings judgment on themselves. The ones who do what is right are really the ones who are free from the government because governments exercise the most authority over those that break the laws rather than follow them (Romans 13:1-7). But one has to realize though that the ultimate authority for government is God – that is even those one authority are still subject God’s authority. Sometimes, men in positions of authority make commands that run contrary to the commands of God. In these cases, one has to ask, does one obey man or does one obey God? On two occasions the disciples were brought before the authorities and told not to preach about Jesus. On both occasions, the disciples said that they must obey God rather than man, and they did so (Acts 4:19-20; Acts 5:27-32).

When Ecclesiastes was written, perhaps the most common form of government was an absolute monarchy. The world has shifted away from absolute monarchies to more democratic forms of government. Even though the forms of government have changed, the principles taught concerning matters of procedure and due respect are no different. Democracy in many respects provides procedures for the people under authority to express their concerns and descent through petition, peaceful gatherings, and voting among other things. For this matter, Christians should exercise these civil liberties to help bring about change for the better and help empower people who represent the ways of God in government and ultimately in laws. But at the same time, some places do not have such liberties, and Christians who live under these circumstances have to ask the same sort of questions as the early disciples: does one obey men or God. Many choose God, and suffer greatly for it. Christians in places of religious freedom ought to pray for those who are persecuted. In all things whether one is living free or under persecution, people under authority should pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-4, Matthew 5:44). God, who is the ultimate authority, will judge everyone who is under him.

Lord, I am under authority. Help me to recognize this and act in the appropriate manner!