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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW - Chapter 5 - Verse 38

Verses 38-41. An eye for an eye, etc. This command is found in Ex 21:24; Le 24:20; De 19:21.

In these places it was given as a rule to regulate the decisions of judges. They were to take eye for eye, and tooth for tooth, and to inflict burning for a burning. As a judicial rule it is not unjust. Christ finds no fault with the rule as applied to magistrates, and does not take upon himself to repeal it. But, instead of confining it to magistrates, the Jews had extended it to private conduct, and made it the rule by which to take revenge. They considered themselves justified, by this rule, to inflict the same injury on others that they had received. Against this our Saviour remonstrates. He declares that the law had no reference to private revenge; that it was given only to regulate the magistrate; and that their private conduct was to be regulated by different principles. The general principle which he laid down was, that we are not to resist evil; that is, as it is in the Greek, not to set ourselves against an evil person who is injuring us. But even this general direction is not to be pressed too strictly. Christ did not intend to teach that we are to see our families murdered, or to be murdered ourselves, rather than to make resistance. The law of nature, and all laws, human and Divine, have justified self-defence, when life is in danger. It cannot surely be the intention to teach that a father should sit by coolly, and see his family butchered by savages, and not be allowed to defend them. Neither natural nor revealed religion ever did, or ever can, teach this doctrine. Our Saviour immediately explains what he means by it. Had he intended to refer it to a case where life is in danger, he would most surely have mentioned it. Such a case was far more worthy of statement than those which he did mention. A doctrine so unusual, so unlike all that the world had believed, and that the best men had acted on, deserved to be formally stated. Instead of doing this, however, he confines himself to smaller matters, to things of comparatively trivial interest, and says, that in these we had better take wrong than to enter into strife and lawsuits. The first case is, where we are smitten on the cheek. Rather than contend and fight, we should take it patiently, and turn the other cheek. This does not, however, prevent our remonstrating firmly, yet mildly, on the injustice of the thing, and insisting that justice should be done us, as is evident from the example of the Saviour himself. See Joh 18:23. The second evil mentioned is, where a man is litigious, and determined to take all the advantage the law can give him; following us with vexatious and expensive lawsuits. Our Saviour directs us, rather than to imitate him—rather than to contend with a revengeful spirit in courts of justice, and to perpetual broils—so take a trifling injury, and yield to him. This is merely a question about property, and not about conscience and life.

Coat. The Jews wore two principal garments, an interior and an exterior. The interior, here called the "coat," or the tunic, was made commonly of linen, and encircled the whole body, extending down to the knees. Sometimes beneath this garment, as in the case of the priests, there was another garment, corresponding to pantaloons. The coat, or tunic, was extended to the neck, and had long or short sleeves. Over this was commonly worn an upper garment, here called "cloak," or mantle. It was made commonly nearly square, of different sizes, five or six cubits long, and as many broad, and wrapped around the body, and thrown off when labour was performed. This was the garment which is said to have been without seam, woven throughout, Joh 19:23. If, said Christ, an adversary wished to obtain, at law, one of these garments, rather than contend with him, let him have the other also. A reference to various articles of apparel occurs frequently in the New Testament, and it is desirable to have a correct view of the ancient mode of dress, in order to a correct understanding of the Bible. The Asiatic modes of dress are nearly the same from age to age; and hence it is not difficult to illustrate the passages where such a reference occurs. The ordinary dress consisted of the inner garment, the outer garment, the girdle, and the sandals. In regard to the sandals, See Barnes "Mt 3:11".

The preceding cut will give a sufficiently accurate representation of the more simple and usual modes in which the garments were worn.

The following cuts will also show the usual form and use of the girdle. In the girdle was the place of the purse, (Mt 10:9) and to it the sword and dirk were commonly attached. Comp. 2 Sa 20:8. In modern times, the pistols are also fastened to the girdle. It is the common place for the handkerchief, smoking materials, ink-horn, and in general the implements of one's profession. The girdle served to confine the loose flowing robe, or outer garment, to the body. It held the garment when it was tucked up, as it was usually in walking, or in labour. Thence, to gird up the loins became a significant figurative expression, denoting readiness for service, activity, labour, and watchfulness; and to loose the loins, denoted the giving way to repose and indolence, 2 Ki 4:29; Job 38:3 Isa 5:27; Lu 12:35; Joh 21:7.

 

{d} "eye for an eye" Ex 21:24

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