Reformed Articles

Turning the Other Cheek

Joseph’s story illustrates powerfully how God works through His people when they refuse to let bitterness and revenge rule their hearts (Gen. 37–50). Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, falsely accused of rape, and abandoned by people whom he helped in prison. He was later elevated to commander of Egypt under Pharaoh and used by God to preserve Egypt and the tribes of Israel during a time of famine.



Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:38) probably strikes many of us as odd, at least at first. At best, it seems that Jesus is advocating neutrality from the victimized, and at worst it seems that He would have them welcome more harm. A closer look will show a Christ-centered understanding of the believer’s call to be free from a heart of revenge when wronged by others.

“Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” is a popular verse in movies, books, and songs concerned with revenge. That, however, misreads the law’s intent. This law was not designed as a means to seek private vengeance or vigilante justice fueled with hatred. It was a legal principle in the civil courts. It was intended as a means of making restitution equivalent to a loss, of making sure that the punishment fit the crime and that justice did not devolve into ongoing feuds between clans. It was not given as a means of addressing personal conflicts over minor issues or insults. Leviticus 19:18 states plainly that the Israelites were not to “take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” In Jesus’ day, people were applying “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” to retaliate against minor offenses and insults. Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek is a call for us to use the principle only as it was intended, not for everyday retaliation.

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