Do Not Resist the Evil Person

“Ye have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:’
But I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matthew 5:38-42).

It is not surprising that many in history considered Jesus’ instructions in the Sermon on the Mount as virtually impossible to observe.

Jesus has been contrasting what was written in the Law of Moses, and how it was customarily understood and explained by the Pharisees and others, with what He says (Matthew 5:20-48). Many of Jesus’ exhortations demanded His followers to go beyond concern about behavior and show just as much concern about their thoughts and feelings: they were not only not to murder or commit adultery but should not hate their brother in their heart or lust for a woman in their heart (Matthew 5:21-30). Most recently Jesus has encouraged His followers to maintain a personal standard of godliness and righteousness beyond that demanded by the Law: the Law might allow a person to divorce his wife or to swear oaths, but Jesus’ followers should recognize God’s original intentions, allowing divorce only for the sexually deviant behavior of the spouse, and not swearing, allowing one’s “yes” and “no” to stand (Matthew 5:31-37).

Bloch-SermonOnTheMount

Jesus continued in the same strain in terms of the lex talionis set forth in Exodus 21:22-27, Leviticus 24:19-20, and Deuteronomy 19:19-21. The lex talionis (Latin for law of talion) enshrined the right of retaliation but only in terms of the severity of the original injury; it is also known in terms of the first example given in the lex talionis, the principle of “an eye for an eye.” In the Law of Moses the lex talionis maintained a restrictive and restraining function: it is not difficult to imagine an aggrieved party, having suffered the loss of an eye or limb or some such thing, retaliating and causing far more significant damage to the person who inflicted the original wound. Such was reckoned (and is still reckoned) as unjust and unfair; therefore, the Law of Moses restricted retaliation or the expectation of the payment for damages to be commensurate to the original offense. Even though we no longer, in general, demand the loss of an eye for having taken an eye, limb for having taken a limb (with the exception of capital punishment, the loss of life for taking a life), the legal idea at the root of the lex talionis remains important to this day: we feel a punishment should fit the crime.

Jesus recognized all of this; His quibble was not with what the Law allows. The Law might have allowed for retaliation, to resist the one who did evil to another; Jesus exhorted His followers to not demand an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, etc., but should not resist (anthistemi, “stand against”) the one who does evil (Matthew 5:39). Jesus then illustrated the principle with four contemporary and relevant applications: if struck on the right cheek, turn the other also; if any sue and take your coat, give him your cloak also; if compelled to go one mile, go two; give to those who ask and do not turn away borrowers (Matthew 5:39-42).

These four situations would have been very familiar to Jesus’ followers and Jewish audience, yet Jesus’ exhortation would have seemed extremely radical. Striking (rhapisei, sometimes with the palm, often with an object) would normally begin with the left cheek; the right cheek (lit. jaw) is of greater prominence, and thus such striking would have been considered not just violent but also an insult. It is bad enough to be sued and to be deprived of one’s chiton (a tunic; the inner layer of clothing); giving up the himation (the outer garment) would be an even more expensive loss, which normally would take place at the hands of robbers. Compulsion to go one mile features the Greek aggareuse; the word derives from Persian and the Persian public messengers. They were stationed at fixed positions, and any official could demand for any subject passing by the post station to deliver the message to the next post-station a mile away, whether the traveler was going that way or that far or not (Herodotus, Histories 8.98, Xenophon, Cyropedia 8.6.17; cf. also Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus’ cross in Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21). The Jewish people of Jesus’ day were quite acquainted with forced service; Roman soldiers on the march would frequently compel any passing-by subject of the Empire to carry their baggage for one mile, an especially odious burden on Jewish people who already resented and despised what they saw as the oppressive rule of the Romans. Then, as now, plenty of people begged for resources and asked for loans to be given; then, as now, while some such supplicants might be “worthy” of assistance, having fallen into temporary misfortune, and would pay back whatever was borrowed, most would have been considered “unworthy” and most would not pay back. Yet, in all four situations, Jesus exhorted His followers to absorb the loss, suffering, pain, humiliation, or material loss. Injured and insulted with a strike to the right cheek? Do not hit back, but turn the other cheek. Someone sues you for your tunic? Give it, and your more expensive outer garment as well. An agent of an oppressive overlord demands one mile of service? Go two. People want you to give them your money or want to borrow it? Do not turn them away.

Jesus knew well what He was asking; it is not the only time He instructed His followers in this way (Luke 6:27-36, 14:12-14), and He ultimately exemplified the principles in His conduct (John 18:22-23, 1 Peter 2:20-23). This instruction is not unique to Jesus; His Apostles exhorted Christians to do the same (Romans 12:17-21, 1 Corinthians 6:7, 1 Peter 3:9, 1 John 3:16-18). The challenge and radical nature of Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 5:38-42 is most apparent in how many times and ways those who would claim to be His followers have attempted to countermand or resist it. Some have just written off these demands as impossible to attain ideals; others would like to suggest they only apply to a millennial Kingdom. Even among those who claim to take the Bible seriously as the Word of God attempt to deflect the import of what Jesus exhorted by suggesting He meant it only in terms of “spiritual” and not “secular” or “worldly” opponents, despite the fact that such categories are foreign to Jesus and His context, and the examples all involve very “secular” situations. Resistance is understandable; Jesus is asking us to go against every natural impulse and reaction we have in the face of insult, degradation, and deprivation!

We should not resist Jesus’ exhortation against resisting the evil person. Jesus does not suggest we acquiesce to evil in order to justify it or commend it; as Paul explains, we suffer the indignity because we maintain confidence that God will right all wrongs, and we are called to suffer evil and do good in return (Romans 12:17-21; cf. 1 Peter 2:20-25). Overcoming evil with evil just means evil wins; to truly overcome evil one must suffer it and do good regardless, exemplified by Jesus’ suffering on the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). Thus Christians are not to resist the evil one, whether “spiritual” or “secular”; we must instead suffer the indignity or deprivation. When insulted, we should not insult in return; when pressed into service we should go above and beyond in our service. We should give to those who would deprive us, and be generous, even to those less than “worthy,” and even if we will not be paid back. No one, not even Jesus, said it would be easy; nevertheless, it is part of the difficult road that leads to life, and we can understand why few are those who find it.

We do well to follow Jesus’ example and exhortation and not resist the one who is evil. God will judge the evil in the end; it is for us, in the pattern of our Savior, to suffer the wrong and do good. Such is one of the most difficult things to do; it goes against every natural impulse, and we are constantly tempted to find some reason to justify resisting the evil. When thus tempted, consider ourselves before God. When we insulted God by our words and deeds, did He insult us in turn? When we deprived God of the glory and honor due Him when we selfishly glorified ourselves and our deeds, did He deprive us of life? How many times have we asked of God and He has given freely despite our manifest unworthiness? If we expect God to love us and provide for us despite our own failings and participation in evil, who are we to deny our fellow man the same mercy? May we take the Lord Jesus’ exhortations seriously, cease resisting the one who does evil to us, and glorify God through our suffering for Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Send Someone Else!

And [Moses] said, “Oh, Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send” (Exodus 4:13).

It is not every day that you come upon a burning bush that is not really burning.

Then again, it is not every day that the LORD commands you to deliver an intransigent nation from the clutches of the most powerful empire of the day, either.

Yet this is the situation in which Moses finds himself, at eighty years old, in the middle of the desert wilderness, almost 3500 years ago, according to Exodus 3:1-4:13.

He has left Egypt as a fugitive, having killed an Egyptian (cf. Exodus 2:11-15).  Now God has asked him to return to Egypt, for God is about to fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The Israelites will be redeemed from bondage and be given the land of the sojourning of their forefathers.  And Moses will be their leader.

Moses, however, is not so sure.  He professes humility (Exodus 3:11), wants to have the name of God revealed to him (Exodus 3:13), is confident that the Israelites will not believe him (Exodus 4:1), and declares that he is not eloquent of speech (Exodus 4:10).  Yet with every complaint and concern God more than abundantly provides reassurance for Moses.

And then we get to the heart of the matter in Exodus 4:13– Moses is resisting the call of God.  Moses would rather God send someone else.  For this Moses will gain the anger of God (Exodus 4:14), and Moses finally gets the hint.

This does not seem to be an auspicious beginning.  Nevertheless, as the narrative unfolds in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, we see that Moses grows into the position of leader, and God abundantly provides.  Through God’s power the impossible is achieved.  Through God’s power Moses is able to lead intransigent Israel out of Egypt, through the Wilderness, and to the Jordan River in triumph.

Yet we should be able to sympathize with Moses on Mount Horeb.  The proposition before him sounds extremely daunting.  He does not know the future and how it will all turn out.  Let’s be honest with ourselves: if we were in Moses’ position, would our answer really have been that much different?  Would it not be easy for us to resist God’s call?

We may not be called to lead a nation out of the hands of a powerful empire, but God calls all of us to participate in the greatest work of all time (Ephesians 1:3-11, 3:10-11).  God calls all of us to put our trust and confidence in Him and to do as He directs us– and promises that He is able to do more abundantly than we can ever begin to imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).  He calls us to holiness and godliness and to make disciples of all the nations (Romans 12:9, 2 Peter 3:11, Matthew 28:18-20)– daunting challenges indeed.

There will always be plenty of reasons that we can imagine for resisting the call, to ask God in some way or another to send someone else.  But if everyone asks God to send “someone else,” who will accomplish God’s purposes?  We must come to terms with the reality that we are the ones who have been entrusted with the Gospel to preach it and live it.  We must rise above the excuses based in a walk by sight and learn to trust that God is able to do what God has promised to do, and that if our work is in the Lord it is not in vain and it will bear fruit (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58, Isaiah 55:11).

We must stand firm against the cosmic forces of darkness while seeking to exhort all men to faith and repentance.  The tasks are mighty and daunting.  Will we stand up for God or shrink back?  Will we answer the call or will we resist?  Let us learn from Moses’ example that God is faithful and we have no need to resist His call for His purposes.  Let us seek to serve God, trusting in Him, and we will be astounded at what God is able to accomplish!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Departed For a Season

And when the devil had completed every temptation, he departed from [Jesus] for a season (Luke 4:13).

Jesus’ temptations by the devil in the wilderness are a famous part of His work and life. Even though Jesus was physically weak and hungry, He did not give into the temptation to turn stones into bread, to test God by falling, or to bow down to the Evil One. Instead, He refuted the Devil by quoting Scripture (cf. Luke 4:1-12).

The victory, however, was not complete. Luke provides a telling detail not found in the other Evangelists: while the Devil did depart, it was only for a season.

Even though Luke indicates that the departure was only for a season, neither he nor the other Evangelists ever explicitly relate another time in which Satan tempted or tested Jesus. Nevertheless there are many instances in the life of Jesus where we can find a significant temptation in which Satan was most certainly involved.

There is Peter’s rebuke of Jesus on hearing that He will die– “this shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Jesus speaks of Peter as “Satan” in response, indicating that he is focused on the things of man and not on the things of God (Matthew 16:23). It is not necessary to believe that Satan was personally indwelling Peter– Peter is motivated by his passion for Jesus and his mistaken impressions about the nature of His Messiahship and Kingdom and needed no devilish inspiration to come up with such a remark. Nevertheless, Peter was acting as the Opposer, providing a significant temptation for Jesus. Satan could have very easily said the same thing– “far be it that the Son of God should die for sinful men!”

Temptations also came when the time drew near. Satan may have been tempting Jesus while in the garden; without a doubt he was about to tempt the disciples (cf. Luke 22:39-46). While on the cross, the words of the people represented another similar temptation– “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God!” They may have said it in a mocking and derisive manner, but it is a temptation nevertheless.

Again, we do not know every point at which Satan tempted or tested Jesus, but we have great confidence that he did. Jesus was ultimately victorious– He died and was raised again in power– and the power of sin and death was broken (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

As Jesus Himself said, it is enough for the disciple to be like his master, and if the Master of the house was tempted by the Devil, then most certainly the disciples will also (cf. Matthew 10:24-25). We know that we suffer the temptations of the Evil One constantly (1 Peter 5:8)!

Let us learn from the example of our Lord. Lord willing, there will be times in our lives when we successfully overcome temptations to do evil or to avoid the good. When we do the will of God and not the will of Satan, God is glorified, and Satan is compelled to flee (James 4:7). Yet, as long as we live, the victory is not complete. The Devil will return at another season to tempt us again!

We must remember that the Evil One does not play fair. In overcoming one temptation we may fall prey to another temptation. On the other hand, even when we are weak, having fallen for a temptation or in distress and turmoil, the Evil One does not lighten up– temptations are sure to come (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). In good times or bad, in prosperity or poverty, in victory or defeat, the Devil has plenty of temptations available to cause us to stumble and, if we allow it, to lead us away from God.

This is why we must be perpetually on guard against temptation. We must always be clothed with the armor of God in order to resist the Evil One (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18), and if we ever slacken, we will find ourselves in sore distress.

When we are in that distress, it is good for us to reach out to fellow Christians and to be lifted up (Galatians 6:1-3, Hebrews 10:24-25). We must look to help lift up fellow Christians in distress, not with attitudes of superiority or arrogance, but humility and love, knowing full well that we may be the next ones that need lifting up.

Our conflict with evil is not one that any of us chose or would ever want to choose; nevertheless, it is ours to fight. We must stand firm against the Evil One at all times, knowing, as Jesus did, that temptations are sure to come at any moment. Let us stand firm for God no matter what and resist the Devil!

Ethan R. Longhenry