"AHA!" I exclaimed after reading Exodus 21:23-24. "You said it yourself, Lord! 'But if there is further injury, the punishment must match the injury: a life for a life, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.' It's right there in the text!"
And, because I was already looking for a good reason to justify my right to treat others in the same way they've treated me, as well as defend the offenses I had stored up in my heart, alongside the grudge I wouldn't let go of, boy, did it feel good to find some Scripture that validated my behavior! I mean, come on! A wound for a wound? However someone injured you, your punishment to them should hurt just as bad? That sounds like my kind of Bible! And, what a relief to find some Scripture that didn't make me uncomfortable!
Exodus 21:23-24 seemed like a get-revenge-on-those-who-hurt-you free card—a great excuse to abuse your abuser, bully your bully, reject your rejecter. After all, the text does say a bruise for a bruise, does it not? Reading that made me feel like I was off the hook.
So, I closed my Bible, wiped any conviction from my hands, and gave myself a little pat on the back—prepared to go on with the rest of my night with all of my offenses still festering in my heart—until the Holy Spirit quickly stopped me with a pretty significant whisper:
"Not so fast."
And, you guessed it!
I tried to ignore it.
But, because His whisper was echoing just a little too loud for me to go on, I begrudgingly circled back to the text.
And, what do you know?
The additional context I didn't want to study revealed how wrong I was to stay offended.
While I could find commandments in the Old Testament similar to Exodus 21:23-24, such as Deuteronomy 19:21 and Leviticus 24:19-20, these same commandments were given context in the New Testament in Matthew 5, as The One who I call Lord and Savior of my life references these verses in His most famous sermon.
In Matthew 5:38-39 NLT, Jesus says this:
"You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also."
In other words:
Don't pay back the injury with a punishment that matches.
Or, to put it simply:
Don't get revenge.
If you're worried that Jesus was contradicting the Bible when He said that, I worried too.
"Are You reversing what was written in Exodus, Lord?" I asked. "Or Deuteronomy? Or Leviticus? But, how could You do that? Wouldn't You be contradicting Yourself? How can one thing be true in the Old Testament but then reversed in the New Testament?"
And, thanks be to Holy Spirit (and perhaps His eagerness to encourage me to let my grudges go already), He didn't let me linger in my questions for much longer, and I soon found myself staring face-to-face with a couple verses before Matthew 5:39—Jesus' challenge to the Old Testament law.
I present to you—drum roll, please—Matthew 5:17.
The verse that made everything make sense.
The verse that convicted the living daylights out of me.
The verse where Jesus says, "Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose."
Meaning, the law that requires the punishment to match the injury?
Jesus came to take the punishment—not just for one injury, but for them all.
Be it abuse, persecution, bullying, rejection, gossip, slander, betrayal, abandonment—you name it:
Jesus already paid for it, so you wouldn't have to.
The punishment He took on matched the injuries we've caused and the injuries we suffer from. In fact, His punishment was so severe that it was to the point of death, which matched the injury that requires such a sacrifice:
For the wages of sin is death, as said in Romans 6:23 NLT, and because Jesus paid the price in full by dying for us on the cross, no punishment can match our sin as well and as sufficient as His.
Exodus 21:23-24 says the wound must match the wound. And, thankfully, Isaiah 53 says that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions. He paid the price for your sin.
And, you want to know what else He paid for?
The sin of those who sinned against you.
Those who wounded you, rejected you, abandoned you, bullied you.
Jesus already paid for what they did to you.
So, you can put down your pitchforks and torches. You don't have to get revenge. You don't have to fight fire with fire. You don't have to satisfy your wound by wounding them back.
Instead, you can do what Jesus says so clearly to do in Matthew 5:44 NLT:
"But I say, love your enemies! [Bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you.] Pray for those who persecute you!"
Why? Because He already fulfilled the law of Moses. His punishment—His death—matched the injury—our sin. And, now? We can come under a new covenant, a new command. We can follow not the law of Moses, but the law of our Messiah.
We can forgive our debtors. Bless our bullies. Serve our haters. Love our enemies. Treat others not how they treated us, but the way we want to be treated. No more getting revenge. No more wound-for-wound. For Christ's death—the punishment He took on—matches their injury and yours. And, by His wounds, we're not wounded. By His wounds, we're healed.