But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand…. (Exodus 21:23,24)
The MORAL CODE of the Ten Commandments was given in Exodus 20. Now in chapters 21-23, it is being applied to the CIVIL CODE, affecting the community. Does it look a little draconian? It’s actually pure justice!
1. The principle of equivalent damages. Here was guidance for Israel’s magistrates, in setting out the level of compensation for injuries inflicted within the community. The principle was to be as exact an equivalent as was possible. The best evaluation of a servant’s eye which had been knocked out was to give the servant his complete freedom (v. 26, 27). For some injuries, money equivalents could be paid over (v. 30). After all, a lost tooth was barely compensated by the attacker losing his own tooth.
2. The principle of community protection. Jesus corrected the Pharisees’ tendency to apply the principle to the area of personal relationships (Matthew 5:38-42). No one was to take the law into their own hands – and certainly any concept of family feudings or ‘honour killings’ were ruled out from the beginning. This was community law, to be applied by appointed magistrates, for the security of all.
3. The principle of no personal revenge. In this, Christ is our supreme example (1 Peter 2:21-23). In his forbidding of individual revenge, he was simply upholding the Old Testament law of Leviticus 19:18: that declared: ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself.’
Uphold justice publicly; express love personally. That’s the balance!