In his latest book, “The Big Picture: Building Blocks of a Christian Worldview”, Brian Harris, Principal of Vose Seminary in Perth talks about three options in dealing with our apparent need for revenge. I talked about it this morning in the latest of a series I am preaching on at Maida Vale Baptist Church – “Facing Giants”. My topic this morning was revenge.
The first option is presented by a man called Lamech. Genesis 4:17 and 18 gives a quick summary of the descendants of Adam’s son Cain. Four generations on from Cain, we are introduced to Lamech.
Lamech had two wives and he said this to them in verse 21 of Genesis 4: “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
Lamech had been injured and in return he killed the person who hurt him, and claimed his right to avenge that hurt 77 times.
The second picture is in Exodus 21 where instructions are given about personal injury. The law it would seem, was to overcome the problems associated with Lamech’s approach. Verse 24 says: 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.
Now that was helpful, because it showed that indiscriminate murder of people who injured you wasn’t appropriate, and it introduced a process of thinking that still exists in law today regarding compensation and just forms of punishment. That was the law that the world lived by for thousands of years.
Then Jesus came, and he introduced a third picture. And that picture was of grace and forgiveness. In the Matthew 5 we read these words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ they certainly had heard that, because that was the standard by which society had learned to live. But then he went on: 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.
And a bit later on Peter comes to Jesus – he’s obviously been thinking about the issue a bit and says: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” He’s got the message that forgiveness is something he needs to take seriously. To forgive someone seven times was radical Christianity for Peter. This was counter-cultural.
But surprisingly, Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. In that statement Jesus showed that the precedent set by Lamech was completely overturned. The law had partially dealt with the Lamech problem, but Jesus came to complete the picture. No longer is revenge to the 77th degree appropriate. No longer is simply an eye for an eye appropriate. The new law under Jesus is forgiveness to the 77th degree.